February 15, 2016 by Bronson Dant
One of the hardest concepts to grasp for a CrossFitter, especially a beginner, is the elusive Rest Day. At first glance, it seems counter-productive. I mean, you’re constantly improving and getting better every time you come into the box. Why would you stop? The short answer is because your body needs you to.
Active Recovery vs. “Be the Cat”
In my experience, there are two types of rest days: Active Recovery days and “Be the Cat” days. Let’s start with the latter because it’s my favorite and, if you click the link, there’s a funny picture of a kitty at the end.
Be the Cat. I’m not going to claim this as my own but I loved it from the first time I read it 3 years ago, so hop over here to read: http://www.defiancegym.com/articles/be-the-cat/ If you didn’t click the link, then let me briefly summarize. Take a day off…from everything. Relax on the couch, watch a movie, play some video games, read a book, whatever. Don’t come to the box for 1 day (it still pains me to say that) and let your body recover from all of your hard work. For one day, don’t lift, don’t WOD, don’t do burpees (I shouldn’t have to tell you this), and just be the cat. When should you be the cat? These can be planned or unplanned rest days, which we’ll get to later, so use them to your advantage and enjoy them. Sometimes you can plan ahead when you know you’re going to be working out for countless days on end, but other times you can just feel that your body needs it. Regardless, you need to learn to listen to your body. Most grizzled CrossFitters talk at great lengths about listening to their body. We’re not some kind of magical wizards or great spiritual beings that can “sense” a disturbance to our chi. We simply know what over-training feels like.
Now, unfortunately, not every rest day can be a “Be the Cat” kind of day. Most rest days, I suggest doing some sort of active recovery. Whether it’s going on a light run, doing a light row, or doing some light mobility. Notice the one word that’s in each of those activities? LIGHT. By light, I mean don’t go anywhere near 100% effort. All I want you to do is move around a little bit, so get out and have some fun. Get outside, go for a bike ride, play with your kids, #bemorehuman…whatever activity you decide, it should leave you feeling energized, not depleted. Yes, you can come into the box for an active recovery rest day, but don’t give into the temptation of your friends or the WOD. This is your time and you are on your schedule. If you can’t think of anything to do, ask a coach!
Planned vs. Unplanned
If you’re as calculated/detailed/neurotic as me, you have all of your rest days planned out for the entire month. Think I’m kidding? Ask Lyndsey and she will show you my spreadsheet. We try to drive home this concept with CrossFit’s recommended workout schedule of 3 days on and 1 day off, and then repeat. The only problem with this is a little thing called life. Sometimes kids get sick, sometimes we get sick, sometimes <insert anything that’s guaranteed to happen in life here>. Just remember that you may have to adjust those planned rest days for the following week(s). Life happens and that’s a good thing.
You also have to be reasonable and understand that some days are harder than others. Maybe you just fought through a Hero WOD on a Saturday and then got talked into something crazy like “Karen” at Open Gym on Sunday. Your body is likely wrecked but your scheduled rest day isn’t until Tuesday! Adjust. Take a day off if you need it and most importantly, listen to your body. Unplanned rest days are the epitome of “listening to your body.” On the flip side, don’t take an unplanned rest day because of general soreness. Learn to train sore. Odds are that once that clock starts beeping, that soreness magically goes away.
Remember that this lifestyle you’ve chosen isn’t a short-term fix. All of us have tried cutting corners in fitness (damn you Shake Weight!) or nutrition and look how far it got you. You’re in this for the long haul. If you miss a WOD, so what? There’s another one tomorrow. Take care of your body. Cherish your rest days. Meow.
-Coach Mike Condon