Recently I have found myself training more and trying to push myself harder during workouts, mainly due to upcoming competitions and wanting to be in ‘peak’ shape, competing against training partners and even just to punish myself for eating too many biscuits at the weekend (more about this later).
However, I have not necessarily seen the results I was hoping for. My strength continued to improve (thanks to the CrossFit Northumbria front squat programme) but during both long and short conditioning WOD’s I was fatiguing faster and staying sore for a MUCH longer period afterwards. This got me thinking more about my recovery (or lack of) and how it can be improved . . . enter Google.
Over the last few weeks, I have been trying to implement as many of the tips listed below as possible and I am definitely seeing progress. My energy levels are up, muscle soreness has decreased and the PB’s are back (back squat and snatch)… and who doesn't love a PB! So to make it easier for you lot and to save you hours of reading in the depths of the WWW here goes:
1. Recovery Work
Yes, you read it right, ‘work’ - recovery isn't easy. A common recommendation from top coaches in the strength & conditioning field is that for every hour trained, you should also do an hours recovery work. This can include foam rolling (or other forms of self myofascial release), stretching, a massage, or an active recovery walk, swim etc. Now I know what you are thinking… no way can I find time for that, we all live busy lives, so 3-5 hours recovery time on top of our training sessions may not be achievable. My recommendation is that something is better than nothing. Instead of sitting on the sofa watching Great British Bake Off, sit on the floor and stretch!
2. Hydration & Nutrition
We’ve all seen the inspirational Instagram posts “Abs are made in the kitchen” and “You can’t out train a bad diet” and whilst not everything on the internet is true, these most certainly are. So punishing yourself in the gym after scoffing a whole pack of chocolate digestives is not going to do you any good. Dial in the nutrition.
Without the correct fuel in the engine, you aren't going to reach your potential, and you won’t be replacing all the nutrients and vitamins that you have used up during those intense CrossFit sessions. There isn't a one size fits all guide for hydration and nutrition, so, unfortunately, you will have to do some of your own research on this one. There are plenty of different nutrition plans out there including Zone, Paleo, Primal, Macro Controlled etc. So check them out, give them a go and see what works for you (remember: your body type, dietary requirements, training time and work routine can all be a factor here). The important factor here is that you are trying, and if you’re still a bit lost on this one, speak to a coach. We will always try and help you out, and if we don’t know the answer there and then, we will try our best to find it for you. Alternatively, you may prefer to get in touch with a nutritionist and see what services they offer, it’s always worth having some experience in healthy eating and weighing/measuring your food before taking this step.
Supplements: “A thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it”
A very quick note on supplements. They are not miracle workers, they will not solve all your problems, and they certainly shouldn't be the foundation of your diet (see definition above). A well-balanced diet of good quality whole foods will provide you with the majority of your vitamins and minerals. Personally, I only supplement with Cod Liver Oil (look for the highest EPA and DHA content that you can afford), WHEY Protein and ZMA (assists in getting a good sleep - which is coming up next). In summary, this is not Hocus Pocus, we don't need a whole range of potions and powders!
This is something I certainly struggle with. Getting to sleep isn't the problem, getting enough of it is. With all that intense activity during WOD’s, busy jobs and home life, getting the recommended 8 to 10 hours of good quality sleep can be tough. I’ve done some reading up on how to improve sleep and tested a few of these out, so maybe give these a go and see how you get on.
- Keep your bedroom cool: A cool room (16 to 18 degrees) is said to be the optimal temperature to help you drift off to sleep. Research has also shown it to improve the quality of sleep too as you are less likely to fidget and move around.
- Try to get in to a routine: The human body likes routine as this helps to regulate your body clock. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time can really help. Having said that, if you miss your bed time, don't stress about it. Stress is a stimulus which may then cause you to have a poor sleep, so just get to back to your routine as soon as possible, we all have hectic weeks or unexpected things pop up.
- Reduce caffeine after 2pm: It can take up to 7 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so to help get a more restful sleep try to reduce, or remove, caffeine intake in the afternoon.
- Blackout curtains can be very effective as well as trying to remove any sources of light and noise from inside your room. These are typically from electrical items, such as stand by lights, and mobile phones, the light can disturb your sleep, even once you are asleep. Putting your phone away and turning your TV off an hour before bed can also help you to get to sleep quicker. The blue light TV’s omit stimulates your brain. Try reading or listening to a podcast (See Item 4.)
Extra Tip: some smartphones have a night shift mode on them, this changes the colour of the screen from the white/blue to a warmer orange/red (a quick fix this may help slightly).
- Pen & Paper: If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night worrying about something… write it down! Offloading your worries can reduce stress and by writing it down you have recorded it as a reminder for the day that follows.
4. Work Smarter, Not Harder
I can’t speak for all the coaches but I have certainly fallen foul of this one. As I mentioned in the intro, you can train more often, for longer and push yourself harder, but this is not going to be sustainable long term. By training in this way you are reducing recovery time, increasing the risk of injury, and stressing your nervous system.
CFN’s programming is carefully considered and planned to give you the best workout, and therefore adaptation, week on week. Yes there maybe some “less intense” days however, this is deliberate. Just because you weren't lying on the floor in a pool of your own bodily fluids after a Wednesday morning workout doesn't mean you should do some crazy metcon on Thursday. Chances are the class programme will have something up its sleeve, so trust the programme.
I could go on and on with this topic but someone much wiser than me has already done this. Find a few spare minutes in your day and check out the Real Chalk Podcast by 4 x California Regional athlete Ryan Fischer. https://soundcloud.com/realchalk/ep006-work-smarter (also available on iTunes). Maybe not on public transport though, as you get some funny looks for laughing so much!
FINAL TIP: Do NOT try and do all the things listed above in one go. Pick the easy wins first and see how you get on with them over 3 - 4 weeks. Once you are consistent with the easy ones, try adding in another and repeat the process. Consistency is key to everything we do, so even if you only improve by 0.01% everyday…it is still an improvement.
Hopefully you will find this helpful, should any of you have any questions on any of the above, please give me a shout if you see me around the gym. Happy Training (& Recovering)!