Part II: New Cycle, New You? A guide to tweaking your training for adaptation

Welcome back! Continuing where we left off last week, we’ll move on to part 2 of our “Guide to refreshing your training for adaptation,” and learn more about steps 4 and 5. Stick around until the end too, for a few pointers on sleep and stress management (cue a return to a few of Coach Danny’s breathing blogs).

Recall our training notes from last week:

Also recall that we’ve already followed three steps:

  1. If you’re feeling stale, try coming on a different day.
  2. Write down and assess your current workout schedule.
  3. Identify your highs and lows in your current training schedule.

So now what? Let's start with #4.

4. You are now armed with information. You have honestly assessed what your training looks like. Perhaps every day was fantastic, you’re learning loads and doing something you’ve never done before every time you’re in the gym. Keep going! Ride that wave as long as you can! That being said, there are some of you who need a switch. So what do we do? Pick a schedule. What do I mean? Let’s look use our sample week from above:

Quick recap:

  • Monday = great
  • Tuesday = good
  • Wednesday = meh
  • Thursday = not so good (wasted opportunity, if you ask me)
  • Friday = no training
  • Saturday = good, not great
  • Sunday = awesome!

Ideally, we’d have 4 great training days and zero missed opportunities plus, I would argue, at least ONE outside-the-gym-or-something-other-than-CrossFit day to round out five days of training. How to do this:

  1. Adjust your schedule and stick to it! Commit to one of the following schedules
    1. 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 1 day off (3:1:2:1). For most folks, that’s Monday through Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, rest on Thursday and Sunday.
      1. What you get: squat cycle (at least 1 day), weightlifting (likely both snatch and CnJ), a rest day in the middle of the week (what will you do with your free time?!), skills on Friday, longer workout on Friday, partner workout on Saturday.
    2. 5 days on, 2 days off (5:2). For most folks, that’s Monday through Friday, weekends off.
      1. What you get: never miss a squat day(!), weightlifting (at least one of them), skills and long metcon on Friday, weekends free to do what you like (cabin, lake, hiking, breweries, baseball games, whatever your heart desires)
  2. Is one better than the other? NO, not in general. Figure out which works best for you. Know that five days on is a big commitment but it works really well with the traditional work week and hello, Minnesota summers on the weekends!
  3. Tip #4: Pick your ideal schedule and stick to it.

5.  Finally, add variance within your schedule. It sounds simple, right? Frankly, it is; but just like a snatch, it requires practice. Self-determining your training is one of the things we like to throw out the window. We like that we can just show up to class, have the coach direct us through the workout and get it done. That is a benefit of CrossFit – high return-on-investment group exercise that requires little mental input and high effort from the user. Put your head down and go, right? Sure, that works really great for the first six, nine, twelve months. But what happens when it doesn’t? You have to take ownership and that starts with awareness. Let’s learn:

  1. The human body is capable of high intensity efforts for a finite amount of time. That time varies from person to person and it can change. It changes with age, training status (deconditioned vs. conditioned), with season and due to outside influences (food, work, water, family, etc.). Pay attention to what derails even your very best efforts to train at a high intensity.
  2. Intensity is relative person to person (more on this in another blog post). Consider reflecting after each class you take and ranking your effort in the strength and conditioning on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “no effort” to 10 being “I can’t move off the floor or see straight for minutes after because I went so hard.”
  3. Most of us are likely capable of about 3 high intensity efforts a week before we become victim to central nervous system (CNS) fatigue – the feeling when you want to push but your body just will not do it. But Caitlin! I work out five times a week, sometimes six! You’re saying I can only get three good efforts in?! Yes, I am saying that. I am NOT saying don’t work out on the other days.
  4. After you’ve plugged in your high intensity days, the days where you’ll leave everything on the floor, your remaining days should be low to moderate intensity. By all means, still get out and move! We are designed to move and you can even come in and use class as your template for movement, just don’t get caught up in trying to win the workout on these days (more on that as well in another blog post). Use what I call the 60% rule – everything you do in class should be done at 60%. Loads, even those prescribed in the workout, and the pace at which you move should keep your heart rate elevated but moderate, steady (think around 120-140 bpm). Hard to do when you’re doing burpees! But it’s doable with practice and I promise you will benefit from this type of discipline just as much as you benefit from speeding through them. Weightlifting day? Perfect! Focus on technique and don't go heavier than 50-60%. You could also skip the gym, jump in on Track Tuesdays or go for a bike ride or slow walk/jog around the lakes.
  5. Moderate intensity training is the ofen overlooked counterpart to the challenging metcons we do in CrossFit. I promise if you substitute it in 1-2 days a week, you will see great benefit! Tip #5: Add variance in intensity to your training – you don’t always have to stand on the gas pedal.

To complement our steps, I also strongly encourage you take a good look at what you’re doing outside the gym and how that might be affecting your performance. It’s not fair to you if you’re being hard on yourself for not seeing improvements in your back squat or your “Helen” time if every weekend you’re out eating pizza and drinking beer. Now, if that’s what you enjoy and that enjoyment outweighs how your performance in the gym makes you feel, then go for it. There’s no judgement here (I, in fact, very much enjoy pizza and beer). However, don’t set your expectations in the gym high when you’re consistently sabotaging your performance out of the gym. Be honest with yourself.

(Note: There certainly is a way to balance great gym performance and the occasional pizza and beer outing, but that is for another post. In short, you can have your cake and eat it too.)

Nutrition, sleep and stress make up the base of most health pyramids. If you Google CrossFit’s Training Pyramid, you’ll see those three things laying the foundation of your training. If they are not dialed in, you cannot honestly hope to build up the next layers of the pyramid.

Does this mean you need to eat only chicken and broccoli, never have a drink, go to bed every night when the sun goes down and practice meditation every day so your chakras are always aligned? No. Does this mean you should probably try doing some of those things regularly in your routine? Yes.

Let’s make this simple. If you’re up to the challenge, for the next few weeks, try this:

  1. Nutrition – during the week (M-F), prepare and bring your lunch to work. Make sure it has lean protein, some kind of green veggie (or veggies!) and healthy fat. If you’re going to be working out later, add some sweet potato or brown rice.
    1. Guaranteed the process of preparing food will jump start getting into this groove for other meals during your day. It also just promotes a conscientiousness about what we’re putting in, rather than “foraging” at the best fast food options during our lunch break. Plus, you’ll feel better!
  2. Sleep – during the week (M-F), turn off the TV/computer and put the iPhone away at 9-9:30pm. This is right about the time it gets fully dark outside and if we limit our “blue light” once daylight goes away, we will fall asleep faster and get to deeper sleep quicker.
    1. Want a bonus challenge? Invest in some blackout curtains (if you don’t already have them) and make sure your room is about 63-66 degrees Fahrenheit. The cool air and the lack of light will also assist in keeping you asleep deeper and longer.
  3. Stress – when you encounter a situation that causes you stress, be mindful. Step back from it, take 3-5 deep breaths through your nose and out your mouth and consider: Is this something that will affect me tomorrow? In one week? In one month?
    1. If the answer is no, move on. Practice letting little things go.
    2. If the answer is yes, make a plan. We like action in the face of adversity and making a plan, even if you don’t execute it, will help you feel like you’ve taken action towards mitigating the stressor.
    3. Go revisit some of Coach Danny’s blogs about breathing and consider implementing some of his recommendations into your weekly or daily routine. Watch the change. You’ll be amazed at how a little bit of mindfulness and presence affect how you handle things at work, at home and even in the gym.

And there you have it. I challenge you, especially if you are feeling burnt out or like you’re plateauing, to try steps 1-5. Give an honest assessment of your workouts. Give an honest assessment of your habits outside the gym. Use these assessments to set realistic expectations of yourself and your training.

If you want even more help with this, don’t hesitate to talk to a coach, set up a meeting time and get some support from the people around you. And remember, you do not have to be perfect at this. Habits are not formed in a day or even a week. But as long as we practice them regularly, eventually they will stick and we get to reap the rewards.

-Coach Caitlin

P.S. Track Tuesdays start NEXT Tuesday, May 9th! Meet me at the gym at 5:30pm and we’ll head on down to the Greenway to get our run on!