Understanding Your CNS & Recovery Needs

by Kristy Parrish | March 3, 2015 2:00 am

Understanding Your CNS & Recovery Needs[1]
Working with athletes online allows me access to a wide range of folks I may otherwise not ever have the privilege of working with, and many of them are CrossFitters. Often people contact me when they are not making the progress they want and they need help — usually they are frustrated with their training or their box. I truly enjoy working with these folks in particular.

The primary problem I see is that most folks I deal with just do not understand how to get stronger all that well.
Ironically, the very root of the discipline of weight training  is to make its participants stronger, yet that seems to be the hardest part for some of these athletes. How the heck can a discipline that is solely designed to make you stronger not be making you stronger? You must be doing something wrong. My athletes continue to make gains at every level all the time. Real gains, not 2 kilos a year.

I hear people talking about training for 6 months and adding 2 kilos to a barbell lift. Really? Two kilos in six months to a year? As a coach and as an athlete, that is suicide watch for me if that’s all I am gaining in a stretch that long. These clients tell me all about how hard they are working and how much effort they extend in areas like diet and time spent at the gym. They buy the best gear, sleep right[2], live a healthy lifestyle, and still are not seeing real gains. What the heck?

I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble here, but most of these folks are not at the top of the charts in any area of strength[3]. For example, if you’re a man and your back squat is 325lbs, you should be able to put 2 kilos a month on with half the effort they seem to be currently applying. Ladies who squat 115lbs, same story — too much effort with too little result. It is much easier to get stronger when you are in the first few years of a training career.

The primary problem I see is that most folks I deal with just do not understand how to get stronger all that well. This situation is something I see over and over in CrossFit.

Are You Recovering Enough?

While there are many factors that go into the strength equation, one of the keys to the whole process is an understanding of your own central nervous system (CNS) and recovery needs[4] as well as what your individual developmental training needs are.

The fact that CrossFit is so diverse in its aims serves to heighten further the need for a better understanding of the CNS and its role in your training. The more diverse your training, the greater the role of the CNS, since you have much more to adapt to.

For comparison’s sake, consider that my young male athletes in top physical shape, who are also bull-strong (I have 142-lb lifters deadlifting 570lbs) will have different needs and recovery ability than a middle-aged office worker. In the case of my West Point athletes, they must meet rigid conditioning standards as well as strict physical requirements, so don’t think we just lift heavy and don’t do all the other things CrossFit does, because we do. (The 142-lb athlete I referred to above also runs 2 miles in just under 13 minutes.)

And yet I find sometimes the office worker may be doing more work than my 23-year-old athletes. This is not because they have a greater CNS recovery ability; I assure you our athletes are running at peak performance. It is because they think more is better, and in many cases it is not.
Learning to set your training schedule (or recovery schedule) up properly will help you more than you can imagine.
Understand that unless you are properly recovered, training again only slows down the whole strength gain process. In fact, it slows down the entire process CrossFit is geared toward improving. I hear of people training big compound movements and then doing similar work the next day, working the same areas they just cooked the previous night. They come in a day or two later and do it again. This process goes on over and over. Then they wonder why they are getting hurt and not making gains.

You must learn to understand your recovery ability and how important it is to your overall development. You simply can’t train effectively if your body is not recovered. Learning to set your training schedule (or recovery schedule) up properly will help you more than you can imagine.

How Are You Filling Your Pail?

How Are You Filling Your Pail?[5]
We train 4 to 5 days a week, yet each session is set up differently in regard to volume and exercise selection, according to the previous few days’ training or rest. I came up with an easy way to look at and understand your training and recovery. In your mind picture three different size glasses of water: large glasses (16 oz.), medium glasses (8 oz.), and small glasses (4 oz.). Each of these glasses represents exercises, and next to those glasses you have a small 48oz. pail into which you will dump your glasses of water.

The large glasses represent big taxing exercises. Medium glasses are medium-size exercises, and small glasses are small, not-too-taxing exercises. Your pail (representing your CNS) has a small hole in it which will allow drainage (representing your body’s recovery ability). The better your general physical preparedness (GPP), the larger the drainage hole in your pail.

Let’s say you dump three big glasses of water into your pail (i.e. you do 3 big movements). That is all the room you have — anything further does no good because your pail is full. Any more and the water just spills over. You pail is made of thin metal, and all the excess that flows over will weaken the outside of the pail (representing your risk of injury[6]). Continuous overflow will cause your pail to collapse and need to go in for repair (injury).

Compound this with the understanding that all the other stress factors in your life (lack of sleep, work-related stress, relationship stress, and of course the big one — MONEY stress) also act as clogging agents in the drain of your pail, which will slow the recovery process, obviously.

Wanting to do more is common, but understanding your cost-to-gain ratios is what controls your progress.
Therefore if you train the following day and try to do more big glasses — even though you are doing different work — you are going to overflow your pail because it hasn’t drained enough from yesterday’s training (again causing further risk of injury to your pail). Yet if you understand this scenario and set your day up so you do the medium and small glasses, you can make progress and not go backward or sideways.

I find that if we have a blow-out big-time training day, we do best with two days of recovery. But — and here is where you need to tread carefully — you can do some small non-barbell recovery-type work. This is to be light work, like bands and stretching. Very light work. The problem is that most people get carried away and do too much, so unless you understand what you’re doing, you are better to not go to the gym at all. Doing completely different random training may not be advisable either, because that is something your body and CNS are not used to, which becomes stress as well. Like I said, that part is tricky.

Learning to create this balancing system is what allows us to train optimally each session. You will not get weaker or slower; rather, just the opposite will happen: you will make better progress and reduce your risk of injury tremendously. Overuse injury is a super risk issue for the average CrossFitter.

Train Smart, Not Just Hard

Wanting to do more is common, but understanding your cost-to-gain ratios is what controls your progress. Why do we make better gains at Ultimate Advantage[7] and West Point? Part of it is understanding our CNS recovery and working to its pace, not just trying to build a fatigue tolerance by constantly adding to our workload. We get stronger and have more stamina with less injury risk because we handle this phase of our training with conscious attention.

We are always making gains at a pretty good pace. Again, the very nature of the game is to make you stronger and faster. If you are a beginner or intermediate athlete (regardless of age or gender) and not making consistent, solid gains, then you are doing something wrong. I am willing to bet this situation is playing a part.

Learn to understand what you need to progress — those needs are as individual as you are. Your CNS is one of the most important factors in your training. I suggest you learn how to use it correctly, or you will be frustrated to no end and not make the gains you so badly want. Can’t always train harder; sometimes you gotta train smarter.

What if you had a chance to work with one of the best strength coaches in the game today? Well, here is that chance: for a limited time, Coach Rick Scarpulla is offering online training. Get programming advice and critique directly from Coach over the phone and through online contact. Get the same information as he’s giving his top athletes.

For more information, contact Coach Scarpulla at rick@myultimateadvantage.com[9] or visit his website at myultimateadvantage.com[10]. You can also follow Coach Scarpulla on Facebook[11] and Twitter[12].

Tags: Rick Scarpulla[13], Ultimate Advantage[7], sleep[14], strength[3], CNS fatigue[15], injury[16]
  1. [Image]: http://www.tabatatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/article_590_5.jpg
  2. sleep right: http://www.tabatatimes.com/7-ways-you-are-sabotaging-your-sleep/
  3. strength: http://www.tabatatimes.com/absolute-strength-is-the-key/
  4. central nervous system (CNS) and recovery needs: http://www.tabatatimes.com/overtraining-syndrome-and-cns-fatigue/
  5. [Image]: http://www.tabatatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/article_590_SMT1.jpg
  6. risk of injury: http://www.tabatatimes.com/avoid-crossfit-injury-tips-average-judy/
  7. Ultimate Advantage: http://myultimateadvantage.com
  8. [Image]: http://www.tabatatimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ON-LINE-TRAINING-BANNER.gif
  9. rick@myultimateadvantage.com: mailto:rick@myultimateadvantage.com
  10. myultimateadvantage.com: http://www.myultimateadvantage.com
  11. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UltimateAdvantage?fref=ts
  12. Twitter: https://twitter.com/RickScarpullaUA
  13. Rick Scarpulla: http://myultimateadvantage.com/about.cfm
  14. sleep: http://www.tabatatimes.com/7-ways-you-are-sabotaging-your-sleep/
  15. CNS fatigue: http://www.tabatatimes.com/overtraining-syndrome-and-cns-fatigue/
  16. injury: http://www.tabatatimes.com/avoid-crossfit-injury-tips-average-judy/

Source URL: http://www.tabatatimes.com/understanding-cns-recovery-needs/