The Importance of Rest and Recovery

Paris Vannata

Here’s a scenario that I see often – A new member comes into our gym, and falls in love with all things CrossFit. Maybe this is the first time they ever worked out regularly or have ever really enjoyed working out. They are seeing amazing results, making some friends and getting really getting involved in the community. Another scenario is a long-time member who is really starting to get good and believes that training more frequently will be better, but this is not the case.

Proper rest allows your body to adapt to the stimulus (training) being placed on it and to repair and rebuild the muscles. Too much intensity or too little recovery will stall progress and lead you to a plateau rather than improvement. As athletes, we are continually chasing after constant improvement, whether that means physical performance or appearance. We’ll do whatever it takes to get better, but tell an athlete to take a rest day to improve and you’ll sometimes get a blank stare. While CrossFit is infinitely scalable for every ability level, it is intense. At least as intense as you want it to be. However, intense training without proper rest can actually be detrimental to your progress. It may lead to some nagging injuries if you’re not listening to your body and can cause Central Nervous System (CNS) Fatigue. I think getting nagging injuries is fairly self-explanatory. If you continue to overuse and abuse your muscles and joints without allowing them time to properly rest and recover, you will increase the likelihood of injury – pretty straight forward. However, what about the Central Nervous System? What does your CNS do as it relates to training? To keep it simple, the CNS includes your brain and spinal cord which connects to your muscles through the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system controls your muscles. When you contract a muscle, a message travels down your brain and spinal cord where it eventually connects to the individual muscle motor units through a neuromuscular junction. The muscle receives your message telling it to contract and fire and tension is generated. When the central nervous system is fatigued, all major muscle groups will be negatively affected. With too much central nervous system fatigue, you will become over-reached and/or over-trained. Think of it like this, the central nervous system has a limited pool of energy and when used up, it has a ripple effect throughout the body. It has the same effect as throwing a rock into a pool – it effects all your body movements. Have you ever heard the sayings, “You don’t grow when you train, you grow when you rest”, or “If you under-train your progress will be slow, but if you over-train your progress will be zero”? Well, both are true.

CrossFit Bradenton now offers gym hours 7 days per week including open gym time on Sundays, but that doesn’t mean that you should train 7 days per week. I can’t stress enough how important rest and recovery is to long-term, productive training that will lead to results. There is a difference between rest and active recovery. Rest means taking the day off and allowing your body to physically and mentally restore itself. Gasp! Yup, you heard that right, you can just be inactive for a day. But what does “Active Recovery” mean? Active recovery to me means light aerobic work such as jogging, swimming, hiking, rowing, biking, etc. at about a 60-70% effort and not much more. It can also mean doing some mobility and body maintenance work. Either way, it definitely means taking some time away from CrossFit and the pressures of the WOD. Also, if you are coming in on a regular basis of 3 or more days per week, I would also highly recommend scheduling some sort of restorative body work at least once a month – you are worth it and your body will thank you. That may mean getting a massage or a chiropractic adjustment. I do both and it helps tremendously.

Whether you are an aspiring competitive CrossFit athlete or someone just looking to get fitter, remember more is not always better, but better is better. Listen to your body and learn to be ok with skipping a day in order to take care of yourself. You will get stronger and faster if you allow your muscles a chance to recover. While reducing rest days may help speed progress in the short-term, it’s unsustainable long-term. Be smart and go with the long-term plan.

Credit for some content to: Kelly Baggett of Mind and Muscle, Nuno Costa of CrossFit Invictus and Nicole Christensen of CrosFit Roots