CrossFitters can be extreme about their workouts. They push the hardest to be the fastest and strongest – no matter what it takes. On some level, it’s the very essence of the sport. But on another, that extremism has the capacity to break you.
I’m writing this confessional because I was extreme. I pushed hard. And I broke myself.
I started CrossFit in 2010, and like many of you, I quickly fell in love with the competitive aspect. I wanted to be the best, and I believed the best way to do that was to train harder, faster, stronger, and more frequently. I started training 8-10x per week, often skipping my rest days.
In November 2015, my left knee starting hurting. Like, a lot. I pretended it wasn’t an issue; rolled out the connected trouble areas and ignored it. My medicine was to push past the pain. So, I did.
Three months later, I went to Utah for a fun-filled weekend of snow, skiing, and sippin’ hot chocolate. On the second day of skiing, I was jogging down the slope with my friend when suddenly my knee just collapsed.
Pop! Crack! Pop! And I fell to the ground.
Much to my embarrassment, I was taken to the ER (by snowmobile, might I add) for some tests. After a few x-rays, they concluded that my patella (knee-cap) had split in half and I had blown out a few ligaments and tendons – just for good measure.
Just to give you an idea of how badly I messed up my body, only 1% of the population manages to wholly split their knee cap. Reattachment meant two screws in my patella, and treatment meant a brace for four months and very intense physical therapy.
I had built a lot of who I was on the fact that I was physically strong. However, when you can’t even stand in your own shower, you begin to realize physical strength is fleeting. Over the corse of those four months, I watched my once muscular leg turn to mush. I watched other people excel in CrossFit. And I watched all those hard-earned hours in the gym deplete back to zero.
I could have been angry. I could have pleaded with God; begging for explanation. But this self-inflicted catastrophe was exactly what I needed.
I needed to rest.
Rest days are the best days
Professional athletes spend hours and hours (and more hours) training. In and out of the gym, they are pushing and molding their bodies to peak performance. They are working with the world’s top athletic trainers to design programs that will help them perform at an elite level. And guess what? Those trainers program rest days — because even elite athletes need to rest. And these people not only understand the incredible value of rest and recovery, but the dangers of overtraining.
Our friends at CrossFit Central wrote about this – stating that “overtraining can best be defined as the state where the athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. The “overtraining syndrome” is the name given to the collection of emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms due to overtraining that persists for weeks to months. These symptoms include:
I know first-hand the symptoms of overtraining, because I lived them. And then my knee broke. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking time off. Regardless of where you are in your physical journey, live by this rule of thumb: three days on, one day off. Some people even suggest just two days on – but you know where your fitness levels are, and only you know what your body is telling you.
And let’s be clear: “active rest” is not synonymous with “long bodyweight grinder WOD”. Active rest is a walk with your dog, one of our Flow classes, a leisurely stroll through the Greenbelt, or an enjoyable dip in Barton springs (not laps). It’s a deep tissue massage, or, if it fancies you, cryotherapy.
Respect your gift of physical capability. I know I sure will.