More Isn't Better: How to Avoid Overtraining

More Isn't Better: How to Avoid Overtraining

Advice from OPEX Director of Coaching Mike Lee



“After the open competitions, and say you didn’t necessarily make it to the goal, which was to reach the regional level, there’s this weird time where individuals feel like they need to start training immediately in order to get prepared for the following season. It’s actually the complete opposite of what they need to do.” – OPEX Director of Remote Coaching Mike Lee

Typically after the CrossFit Open, CrossFit athletes jump back immediately into intensity. They channel their disappointment at their performance into excessive training volume which inevitably leads to an overtrained state. But what is overtraining?

Overtraining occurs when individuals exceed their body’s ability to effectively recover from training. When an individual reaches this state, they may experience a decrease in performance and plateau as a result of not being able to recover properly. Some of the symptoms of overtraining include:

  • Altered resting heart rate
  • Insatiable thirst
  • Extended muscle soreness
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Personality changes
  • Frequent sickness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Increased injury
  • Decreased motivation
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Halted progress

In relation to CrossFit, athletes who become chronically overtrained are unable to remain consistent with their training. As Lee states, “all of this leads to is inefficiencies, mechanical fatigue, and CNS(Central Nervous System) breakdown.”

Clearly, overtraining and experiencing the above symptoms is something athletes should avoid at all costs if they wish to continue improving. Unfortunately, CrossFit is unique in that many of its athletes don’t really have an official ‘off-season’. At least, many of them don’t actively create one for themselves. It may seem counterintuitive to getting better in the Sport of Fitness, but you must learn to recover first and foremost. If you feel like you are overtraining or in an overtrained state here are a few things you can do to bounce back.

  • Take a Break
  • Reduce Training Intensity
  • Increase Your Sleep Time
  • Deep-Tissue or Sports Massages
  • Assess Your Calorie and Macro Intake

Still, the best policy is to put yourself in a position in which you never have to experience a bout of overtraining. This can be accomplished by properly periodizing your training. Periodization is a term used to describe a systemic approach to athletic training. The aim of periodization is to reach the best possible performance for the most important competition of the year, in this case, the CrossFit Open. Too often, athletes rely on poorly designed templates and gym programming to help them improve their fitness. In reality, many of these designs are not well thought out, lack direction, and have no purpose aside from ‘tiring’ the athlete out. You can avoid overtraining by sticking to a training plan designed specifically for what your competition goal is, or be getting an individual designed training plan.

However, we aren’t suggesting that you should avoid intensity or volume when it comes to CrossFit competition training, only that you tackle the two in an intelligent way. Intensity and volume based training is absolutely critical to success in the Sport of Fitness. Lee goes further into detail, “If you’re going to compete in the sport of CrossFit, you eventually have to get to a point where you can handle the intensity that’s required for CrossFit. Now, that doesn’t discount that it takes a lot of time, training volume, energy, balance, all those things to prepare for the intensity that is CrossFit. I’d be lying if I said you didn’t have to do the sport to be good at the sport. You definitely do, but in general, if we look at individuals that are currently successful in the sport overall, again, it’s that we think that they’re doing a lot intensity, but to them, when they actually do it, it’s not intense work.”

When we look at the athletes competing on the floor at the CrossFit Games, we assume that the work they are doing is intense. The reality is that the work is not intense relative to their level of performance and accrued training volume. In order to compete at their level, CrossFit athletes generally overexert themselves to accommodate the perceived difference in exertion. This ‘perception’ is part of the reason why so many CrossFit athletes are chronically overtraining in order to prepare themselves for high levels of competition. Lee explains, “I think overtraining is very prevalent, but the most resilient humans are the best in the world currently at the sport, so it really doesn’t matter what they do. I’ve said this multiple times, they can do a lot of anything and everything and still get really good. A lot of those individuals, we’re talking about a very small percentage of people, so we can’t compare the masses to a very small percentage of people that are having success doing whatever they want. Most people need regimented planning and a regimented overall structure and design to continue to improve in the sport.”

What Mike means by this is that the period of time following a competition, say the point in time we are in now for many CrossFit athletes should be structured in a way to accommodate their end goal. This goal typically means an improvement over last year’s CrossFit Open score. An example of a style of training we adopt post Open for our athletes is something we call Functional Bodybuilding. Functional Bodybuilding is radically different from CrossFit style training in that it is primarily focused on slow controlled movement patterns with minimal weight in order to prepare the mind and body for the rigors and intensity of CrossFit at a later point in time. If you’re curious to check out the benefits of a Functional Bodybuilding program, be sure to download this free training template.

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