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