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One of the typical questions that we receive when people start CrossFit is “how often should I train?”. It’s a great question and one that is relevant for not only those who are just starting, but those who have been doing CrossFit for any length of time.
The problem, however, is that it’s almost impossible to answer. There is no one size fits all solution and there are a myriad of factors in play when it comes to training frequency.
Everyone should plan their training week based on individual needs. Here are a few factors that need to be considered.
Training is a skill
One of the most overlooked aspects of CrossFit is movement mastery. Everyone can make a certain amount of progress by coming in, throwing technique out of the window and training with maximum intensity. However but poor movement will eventually put a stop to this kind of progress.
The best way to get good at muscle ups, double unders, toes to bar, cleans and all the other technical movements that are a part of CrossFit, is to do lots and lots of muscle ups, double unders, toes to bar, cleans etc. The more you do anything the better you will get at it. However, that doesn’t mean you need to do pull ups until you don’t have any skin left on your palms. There is just as much (and for some possibly more) value in a 15 minute easy practice session, than a 15 minute AMRAP.
Recovery, recovery, recovery
Progress in the gym is inextricably linked to what happens outside the gym. The physiological process of training is that you expose your body to certain stressors and the body adapts positively to this stress. In strength training, the response of the body is to increase muscle size, bone density and tendon/ligament strength to adapt to this new stress.
However, adaption can only happen if the body is allowed to recover. This means getting enough sleep and eating enough food. Plus training stress has to compete with all the other stress in your life. Bossing shouting at you, partner upset because you forgot their birthday, parents getting on your nerves, money problems. Pick your poison. It is all stress that you have to manage.
The right amount of stress creates a positive adaptation. Too much stress creates a big hole from which it is hard to dig yourself out.
Allow the rest of your life to dictate your training frequency. If you are relatively stress free and in control of your life, take advantage and train as often as you can. If you are having a super stressful time at the office, you might want to cut down your training for a while, or at least cut down on the intensity.
Separate training frequency from training volume and intensity
This leads on from the above two points, but is worth repeating.
There is no question that training intensity is a massive factor in progress. Those that come in and work hard make the most progress. If you come in, go through the motions and half-ass the workout, it will be much harder to see success.
However, nobody can go balls to the wall all the time without eventually breaking down. It doesn’t mean that you should stop training, but it does mean that you need to regulate intensity.
A very simple rule of thumb is if you feel good, go hard. If you don’t, come and train but go at 50% or do a practice session. You will get all the benefits of movement without digging a hole from which you will be unable to recover.
Progress, progress, progress
A very simple gauge of whether or not your training frequency is right is progress. Are you making progress? If yes, then you are almost certainly on the right track. If not then you may want to reassess and experiment with either more or less sessions.
What is your mindset?
A great sign of whether or not your training frequency is spot on is your reaction to reading the upcoming WOD. If you look at the program and can’t wait to attack it, you are on the right track. If you check your phone and either cancel your reservation or push yourself to attend, you might be training too much.
Training should be fun. It should be something that you get excited about and look forward to. Does that mean it should be easy and even if you are excited about a WOD, want to kill yourself before the halfway point? No, absolutely not! But if can’t wait to get into the gym and kill your workout, you are good to go.