The recent rise in popularity of wearable sleep tracking technology has shed light on something that we’ve always kind of known but have had a lot of trouble quantifying:
Most of us aren’t sleeping or recovering hard enough to keep up with an intense training program.
CrossFitters pride themselves on pushing through the toughest workouts – whether it's pushing through the suck of a WOD, pushing through the sticky part of a lift, or pushing ourselves to go to the gym when we really aren’t feeling it, CrossFitters are great at the grind.
But this go-go-go attitude has a dark side when you ignore the need to rest and can’t wind down at the end of the day.
If anything, CrossFitters need MORE rest and MORE sleep than the average fitness aficionado or weekend warrior.
1. WOD’s are “Constantly Varied,” but also not varied enough.
Even if you’ve got excellent programming, the nature of the functional movements in CrossFit mean there is rarely a muscle group that gets time off in a WOD. Pushing, pulling, pressing, squatting, hinging, lunging – you might only have two or three of those in each workout, but you’re always going to have some combination of those movements, and nearly always going to have involvement of your arms, legs, core, shoulders, and back.
Multi-joint, functional movements are great for you, but they’re also extremely fatiguing.
Here's a good general guideline for balancing training and rest & recovery: The more joints you’re using in your workouts, the more time you’ll need between the sheets to recover.
2. CrossFit WODs focus on strength AND cardiovascular output.
In addition to using many different muscle groups, you’re asking both your muscles to work hard AND your cardiovascular system to work hard—which means both are going to need to recover hard.
Beyond the physical structures that need to be repaired and remodelled after the microtrauma of a workout, there are also energy systems that need to be replenished (think glycogen stores) and metabolic by products that need to be cleared, like lactic acid.
This all requires time and energy, specifically time and dedicated energy while you’re not awake.
3. CrossFit requires skill work.
Double-unders, muscle-ups, toes-to-bar, butterfly pull-ups, handstand push-ups, Olympic lifts—these are all complex, technically demanding skills found in CrossFit. They’re seemingly impossible and incredibly humbling to beginner athletes, and something we all strive to be better at.
Have you ever noticed how much harder it is to do a workout that involves movements that you suck at?
That’s because it takes tons of resources and mental energy to learn and perform new physical skills.
The scientific literature shows that we need sleep to retain new skills.
Your brain doesn’t really grasp new motor patterns until you’ve slept on it. Even more exciting is that people get better at a skill that they’ve been practicing after they sleep—even without additional practice!
Sleep science also indicates that periods of intense focus and learning lead to more time spent in deep sleep the following night—an indication that your body desperately needs those Zzz’s.
4. 'No Rest Days' is culture in Crossfit.
We’re not trying to be critical. We get it. We’ve been there too. Our obsession with fitness means we’re the most reluctant to take rest days off for recovery, even when we need them.
If taking rest days stresses you out and you're committed to doing 'rest day WODs' then you need to focus even more on getting great sleep every night.
While there is lots of individual variation for exactly how low each of us spends in bed, everyone's need increases when they are demanding a lot of their body. Crossfit burn out is prevalent. It's also avoidable.
While managing your program volume and intensity goes a long way, it's also imperative that you treat sleep as an important part of your fitness. Sleep should be tracked, planned for and supported. Great sleep performance is the best way to avoid over training and burnout.
If you've been working on improving your sleep and recovery game, we'd love to hear about it! Put a comment below or tag us on instagram @ThirdzyHQ
Dr J & the Z team
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Rasch, Björn, and Jan Born. “About sleep’s role in memory.” Physiological reviews vol. 93,2 (2013): 681-766. doi:10.1152/physrev.00032.2012
Walker, Matthew P. “The role of slow wave sleep in memory processing.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 5,2 Suppl (2009): S20-6.