You need a day off. Yes, I’m looking at you, person who runs, lifts, does CrossFit twice a day, and then goes to hot yoga 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Rest and recovery is a critical part of training. While many people separate their gym life from their home life, what many athletes need to understand is that your training doesn’t end with your most recent snatch PR. Instead, your training is a summation of everything you do in your life, not just what you do inside the four walls of your box. Instead, your training is a combination of not only your training, but also your nutrition, your recovery, your sleep, and most importantly, your days off. In music, they often say that silence is the most powerful sound there is. That the absence of sound is almost more powerful than the sound itself. The same can be said for Crossfitters, Olympic Lifters, powerlifters, and any sort of athlete. It’s easy to get sucked into the mentality of “no days off.” It’s everywhere. Every Nike shirt, motivational video and Olympic athlete practically screams the idea of “no days off” and drives home the idea that more is always better. Unfortunately, this is not always true. With the exception of Rich Froning and Superman, no athlete can function without rest and recovery.
Something that is often misunderstood when it comes to CrossFit and any sort of training really, is that your strength and muscles aren’t built during your training session. Instead, they are built when you are at home sitting on your couch drinking a protein shake, and watching the Patriots. When you lift and workout, you are causing small tears in your muscles. As you sit on your couch eating chips, drinking protein shakes, and yelling at Tom Brady, your muscles slowly begin to repair themselves, and grow back stronger than they were before. In fact, it might take your muscles even longer than you think to recover. Many serious lifters who concentrate solely in Olympic Lifting and gaining strength and muscle only lift three days per week, because they need to give their muscles 24-48 hours in between training sessions to recover. Is this recovery and building of your muscles that makes you strong. Of course, if you never show up to the gym in the first place, you’ll never have any muscles to recover and build. However, if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’re probably not the person who fails to show up to the gym. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re quite the opposite. And so therefore, I’ll say it again, “you need to take a rest day.” And I’m not talking about your “active rest days,” which some crossfitters have taken to mean “go climb a mountain” and “run ten miles.” For a crossfitter who is training an hour or more per day, you need to maintain a ratio of two rest days for every five days of training. It’s an old rule that’s often forgotten. The five days on, two days off rule. It was developed for a reason, and it works. While you can choose to make one of your rest days “active,” active rest day does not mean climb a mountain. It means go for a walk, get on your feet and get moving. Don’t simply sit on your couch watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls while you absent mindedly consume an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. However, one day needs to be a complete rest day. No questions asked. No sneaking into the gym to “get your blood flowing.” Rest. That’s really all you need.
Aside from taking the day off from the gym, let’s discuss rest in its most simple form. Sleep. One of the most important types of rest comes from sleep. While sleep may have once been an important part of our lifestyles in elementary school, when parents forced us against our will to bed, and teachers offered us nap time during the day (which now looking back, we wished we’d taken better advantage of), slowly those sleep habits began to fade away replaced by all nighters in high school and college and early wake up calls when the real world hit. Now, you’re lucky if you get six hours of sleep a night. But, what people don’t realize, is that sleep is an important part of your recovery. Sleep is the time when your body gets its first chance to rebuild itself. R.E.M sleep (deep sleep) also gives your brain a chance to work out problems that you encounter during the day. Those double unders you can’t seem to make your brain understand? Your brain is probably working on them as you sleep whether you know it or not. Sleep is essential. The average adult should shoot for more than seven hours a night, with eight being ideal of uninterrupted sleep. While not every night will be a perfect night of sweet dreams and deep sleep (we all have those nights), there are some habits that you can get into to improve your sleeping patterns. The first habit, is to set a bedtime for yourself. Your body likes rhythm and it wants to follow patterns. If you set a consistent bedtime for yourself, your body will thank you and you may find yourself falling asleep faster the more consistently you hold said bedtime. The second habit, is to power down, and by that I mean completely. No phones, tablets, TVs, or any sort of electronic device with some sort of backlit screen. The reason for this, is that numerous studies have found these to hinder the ability to fall asleep, that is your brain never really shuts itself down. Make it a goal to avoid electronics starting one hour before your bedtime. Read a book, relax, meditate, or find some unique way to start to relax your mind and body. Whatever it is you do, make it something that alerts your body that it’s time to get ready to go to bed, so when your set bedtime roles around, your body is already set and ready to go to sleep. Put these rituals into practice, and you may find not only your performance at work, but also your performance at the gym increasing dramatically. It’s amazing what a good nights sleep can do for snatch practice and AMRAP scores the next day.
So what should you take away from this. The first, is that you need a day off. No matter how much you love that post workout high or how many times Michael Jordan tells you he’s never taken a day off, you need to take at minimum two days of rest for every five days of training. Rest is important and sleep is important. Just like silence can be one of the most profound moments in music, rest is one of the most quintessential parts of your training. It’s the thing that allows your muscles to recover and grow and eventually will lead to more PRs and more success in your training.
Kaylyn Wiese has been CrossFitting of more than five years and has been competing against athletes from across the country since age 16. She currently coaches and trains in Boston at CrossFit Coolidge Corner and is a sophomore at Boston College studying business and data analytics. Find her on Instagram @kaylynwiese and Twitter @kaylyn_wiese.