Rest Day Protocol

By Colin Farrell

If you can’t remember the last time you took a rest day, that should be a strong indicator that you are past due.

In a previous series of articles (Sleep Hygiene), it was mentioned that it is the unfortunate case that our lives . . . work, school, family, etc. . . . do not revolve around us eating well, working out, and recovering. It is unlikely your boss is so cool that you can text her or him after an intense workout at the gym saying, “Hey Chief, not going to be in on time today. It was squat day today and I’m going to need to spend some time in my Normatec Boots before making it to the office. See you a little bit before lunch,” and have them be alright with that. So, as ever, do the best you can given the circumstances; control what you can control, buffer against things that are beyond your control.

The CrossFit prescription for work/rest ratio is 3 days on, 1 day off, repeat in perpetuity. If athletes are truly hitting workouts hard with a good solid warm-up and cool down, a lift or skill session, and a properly scaled metabolic conditioning workout, after three days it will become necessary to take a day off. If athletes were to continue to four, or five, or six days in a row, intensity levels would surely drop (intensity is the aspect of CrossFit mostly closely associated with positive adaptation), or movements would become sloppy and, therefore, dangerous.

There are a great many variables to consider when figuring when is an appropriate time to come in to the gym, and when is it an appropriate time to stay home. But here are some parameters to follow, if you can:

By all means, if you can follow the 3-on/1-off schedule, try it for a month or two, and adjust based on how you feel, your increase (or decrease) in fitness, and how productive your workouts are. Most individuals’ work and personal lives do not always allow for that, so alternative work/rest plans may become necessary.

I advise against athletes simply coming every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, especially those of you that come to Potomac. If athletes never come on Tuesdays or Thursdays, they will rarely be exposed to heavy pressing (most every Tuesday) or gymnastics and accessory work (most every Thursday). Athletes should attempt to switch up which days of the week they attend: Monday/Wednesday/Friday this week; Sunday/Tues/Thurs/Saturday the following week.

Try rest days in between work days, try two or four days in a row, then rest. Mix it up as much as you like and are able to, but do your best to come on different days each week, in different intervals, and ensure rest days are popping up on your calendar at least every 3rd day.

Many athletes go a bit stir crazy if they do not get to the gym at least 5 or 6 days each week. If that is the case, if it is so deeply ingrained in your routine, then let’s be as intelligent about it as we can. If you are an L2 athlete who needs to be in the gym 5 days a week, have a structured plan in place:

  • Days 1 through 3: I will go as hard as I can, I will aim to do everything at L2 if possible, and maybe dabble in Rx movements when I can
  • Day 4: I will take everything one level down from what I am capable of and decrease intensity
  • Day 5: I will skip the lift or accessory work, instead opting for some light recovery rowing, and I will do the metcon one level down from what I am capable of and decrease intensity
    Our lives, for most of us, are largely sedentary and, to be sure, your coaches love that you want to be in the gym eight days a week. However, you are supposed to leave the gym in a better place than when you came arrived. CrossFit is some really potent stuff, it’s hard, and it can be hard on the body. Get some sleep, take a day off, get out of the gym and use or fitness or work on some active recovery.