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Workout Frequency: How Many Days?

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Seriously. How many days a week should we be exercising? CrossFit is so much fun – even if our faces don’t show it right before the WOD. It’s easy to show up everyday of the week to see your favorite coach and your friends. However, there’s got to be a point of diminishing return – right? Remember going to the gym before CrossFit when training looked something like this?

  • Monday – Chest/Triceps
  • Tuesday – Rest
  • Wednesday – Back/Biceps
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Legs

Even if you are new to CrossFit, those days are likely long gone. So how many days a week should we be aiming for?

What Are Your Goals?

Like many other things in life, the answer is – it depends. That’s not a satisfying one for anyone who’s looking for an ironclad answer, but it depends on what your goals are. Old school gym templates have rest days built in to programming, because the rest day is when you actually build your muscle. Exercising causes microscopic tears in your muscles, and cells called fibroblasts repair it during rest. This repair process is what heals and grows your muscles. You can still workout on consecutive days, but bodybuilding doctrine would have you space out the muscle groups being targeted so the “injured” muscles can heal. If your goal is only to build muscle and gain strength, you might benefit more from solid rest days in-between heavy training and lifting days.

If your goal is to improve your cardio, however, that’s a different story. In a previous article, we discussed cardio performance wears off quickly if your training program is stopped. The body gets used to maximizing oxygen flow when training and optimizing respiratory ability. Any gains in performance in this area will diminish quickly if ceased. However, exercising 3 to 5 times per week will maintain or even improve your cardiovascular fitness if you are keeping an eye on your aerobic zones and keeping blood lactate low. At a low to moderate heart rate, it is perfectly healthy and beneficial to exercise everyday. Even the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week – that translates to about 20 minutes per day. At a higher heart rate, however, overdoing cardio is more taxing on the body and could result in injury and even loss of muscle mass. High-intensity cardio should be spaced out with rest to let your body recover and avoid injury, but 30 minutes of low to moderate aerobic activity per day is safe and healthy.

A Note Professional Athletes

If you want to look like your favorite CrossFit athlete, you may want to train the way they do. Many athletes train twice a day, and each training session could be between two and three hours. Of course, one must factor in optimum nutrition and rest. Even Matt Frazer says he trains once a day (in 2014), because he had a full-time job and didn’t have the same time for training as Rich Froning, who remarked that CrossFit is his full-time job and will train every few hours from 10 am to 7 – 8 pm. Most of us don’t have the same time, resources, or goals as professional athletes. Training twice a day for a normal human could quickly become overkill.

Listen to Your Body

No matter what studies I cite or articles I reference, you are the person who knows your body best. Whatever your goals may be, injury certainly isn’t one of them. If the body is feeling worn-out, depleted, or even just cripplingly sore, maybe it’s time to take a rest day or even mix up the class you attend. Maybe that’s the day to try out a cardio class instead of a max push press day and the WOD is Fight Gone Bad. If you don’t always trust your body, like yours truly – it’s always demanding tequila and tacos – you could get yourself a Whoop band, worn by many of our coaches. The whoop band analyzes heart rate variability and resting heart rate to determine a recovery score. It also measures key metrics to give you a strain score that helps you know when it’s time to push or time to rest.

Bottom Line

It depends – unsatisfying isn’t it? If you want to build muscle only then take your rest days as seriously as your lifting days. If you want to lose body fat only then you would benefit from daily cardio sessions at a moderate hear rate, but since we are talking about CrossFit Dark Horse, we know that there are few classes if any that will result in a moderate hear rate, so rest accordingly. Coach Jameson reminds us the CrossFit doctrine is 3,2,11: meaning 3 days on, two days rest, one day on, one day rest. If you want to work up an awesome sweat, see your friends, favorite coach, and feel great for the rest of the day, come as often as you can and workout safely (or just mobilize while cheering on your fitfam!).

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