In the last article, we talk about G.A.S and how properly managed stress leads to adaptation. We also touch on how if you have too much stress without the proper recovery it can lead to exhaustion.
We want to avoid exhaustion in training whenever possible. Prolonged time in this state can cause strength to stagnate or even decline. Worst, it can lead a breakdown or injury.
So how do we know if we’re overtraining? Here are a few ways people have found over the years.
HRV – heart-rate variability
HRV is a measure of the time gap between individual heart beats while your body is at rest. The heart speeds up when you inhale, and slows down when you exhale. This difference is known as HRV. A healthy, well-rested body will produce a larger gap, and higher HRV than a stressed-out, overtrained body. I use the ithlete app with a Polar H7 monitor.
Resting Heart Rate
As soon as you wake up in the morning, find your pulse. Using a watch, count the number of times your heart beats in 20 seconds. Multiply this number by three and you have your resting heart rate (RHR) in beats per minute (bpm). Record this for a few weeks to find a baseline average number.
Now after three to four weeks or so of regular activity check your resting morning heart rate in the two or three days after a hard workout. If the number has significantly elevated from its normal average (7 or more beats per minute), that’s a sign that you haven’t fully recovered from the workout. Remember, there is going to be some variability in your daily heart rate regardless of your recovery level, don’t be concerned if you’re 3 to 4 bpm over your normal average on a given day.
Yup. Perhaps the simplest most useful measure of how you’re recovering is how you feel. Keep a notebook by your bedside. As soon as you wake, draw a ‘smiley face’ that best suits your current mood. If you consistently find yourself creating one’s and two’s (see above) it’s time to back off the workload and focus on the subject of our next article.
Next up: Enhanced recovery.
People often get in stuck in the notion that the thought “the more work I do, the better I’ll get.” This, unfortunately, is not entirely true.
“The more work you can fully recover from, the better you become.” is far closer to the truth.
You see the real benefits of the work you do in the gym come from your body (and minds) ability to recover and adapt from to it.
In any sports training (or physical rehabilitation), the SAID principle asserts that the human body adapts specifically to imposed demands. In other words, given stressors (Lifting, WoDs) on the human system, whether biomechanical or neurological, there will be a Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID).
But for SAID to work correctly, you’ll need to manage your GAS or General Adaptation Syndrome. The concept of GAS was put forth by Hans Selye, back in the 1930s and has three distinct stages.
Stage 1: Alarm Reaction: The initial reaction to a stressor that causes an activation of protective processes. Resistance training creates stress such as increased amounts of force on bones, joints, muscles, connective tissues, and the nervous system.
Stage 2: Adaptation (aka Resistance Development Stage): With continued exposure to the same stress the body eventually increases its ability to respond to the demands placed on it. For us, adaptation is where the magic really happens. Given time and the right resources, the body increases its functional capacity to adapt to stressor via super compensation.
Stage 3: Exhaustion: If one is exposed to the same stress (or too much stress overall) for too long they will enter the Exhaustion Stage. At this point, the prolonged stress overwhelms the system. An extended stay in this state can cause one’s strength to stagnate or even decline. Additionally, it can cause a breakdown or injury. Overtraining would be an example of a situation where one has reached this point.
So the name of the game for us is to work back and forth between Stage 1 and Stage 2.
Introduce a stressor then recover and improve;
Introduce a stressor then recover and improve;
Introduce a stressor then recover and improve; ad infinitum…
And unless lives or big money is on the line, we should avoid Stage 3 whenever possible. Exhaustion only serves to slow progress and open us to the possibility of injury.
Next up: Recovery
I was having a discussion with my coach a few days ago and the topic of ‘values’ surfaced. What was important to me. What were my goals and how could we achieve them via training and lifestyle habits?
After some thought, my current value set revolves less around a specific set of movements or numeric goal, like a 500-pound deadlift or a strict L-muscle-up. No, my objectives at the moment are less quantifiable than that.
I currently place a premium on how I feel, both physically and emotionally, my sleep patterns and cognitive performance.
These may seem a little unusual until you get into my personal background. The last few years I’ve been working myself out of a state of Adrenal Insufficiency, more commonly known as Adrenal Fatigue.
A prolonged battle with stress (loss of a loved one, running a small business, etc.) impaired my bodies ability to deal with stress. Insomnia, Brain Fog, Fatigue, Anxiety, difficulty rising in the am, and suppressed thyroid function.
After dealing with all that for a solid three years, I can say I care more about staying as far out of those conditions as possible than what my hang power snatch numbers are. (Note: I truly enjoy Olympic lifting and recognize the value they provide. However, if I focus on them too much it taxes my nervous system too much and slow progress towards what I’m actually after.)
I know my training, diet, and lifestyle are all working right if I sleep well, wake with good energy and maintain it throughout without a ton of (caffeine and sugar!). Also, I need to be able to deal with the daily stressor of owning a small business (and life in general) without being overwhelmed with anxiety.
In a nutshell, I place a value on function, vitality, and longevity.
Should these be everyone values? Absolutely not! Some people want to to be highly competitive in their given sport while others want to look good at the beach. These are all worthy pursuits. The point is you and your coach should be adjusting your training, lifestyle and habits so they’re in line with your goals and values.
What are your values and is your training moving you closer to them?
So you’ve just finished your first Tabata workout. It was a mash-up of Dumbbell Squat Cleans (DBSC) and Sit-ups (SU). You pushed hard and got a great sweat, but now you’re wondering what to do with all these numbers!
First things first. You want to record your totals for each exercise and then add them to for your overall score. Now when you come back to this workout in the future, you’ll know whether you’ve improved or not.
But how can we leverage this data to help enhance our scores moving forward?
First, we need to look at the data.
Yup, in CrossFit your scoring is data and as such it can serve as one of the most valuable tools if you used correctly.
So, if in the example workout above your numbers looked like the follow.
DBSC = 52 (6.5 per round)
Sit-ups = 71 (8.875 per round)
Total = 123
Simply put this athlete came out too ‘hot’ and gassed out
Now let’s say we go back in time and convince this person to pace a bit try for a more steady pace. 7 or 8 DBSC and 10 sit-ups per round. Assuming they could average around those numbers per round, they could be looking roughly 60 DBSC’s and 80 Sit-ups. Total score 140. Total improvement, nearly a 14%. All that from just looking at a little data and applying some pacing.
Now let’s assume you had a different set of figures
DBSC = 67 (8.37 per round)
Sit-ups = 83 (10.3 per round)
Total = 150
This person is either holding back or doesn’t understand what they have for an engine hiding under the hood! On the surface, this score might seem great. Unfortunately, without pushing their limits, there will is no reason for the body to try to adapt. So what do we do here?
The answer is simple. Let’s take them just a little bit outside of their current comfort zone. We’ll ask them to maintain a pace of 10 DBSC and 12 Sit-ups for as long as possible. Based on the numbers above this is clearly very doable for them but will require a bit of a push a the end to maintain.
DBSC = 75 (9.375 per round)
Sit-ups = 86 (10.75 per round)
Total = 161
So again just understanding our numbers and tweaking them a bit we’ve increased the power output and with created a stimulatory response which will force a series of positive adaptation in our athlete.
For more on this check out ‘Know your numbers’