Working out is awesome, so working out more is awesomer.
There’s a problem, though – we have a limit to the amount of training we can do and still improve.
A limit to the awesomeness.
Training is stressing the body enough to adapt, but not too much that it self destructs. Doing more than what your body is capable of adapting to stops being training and starts being a controlled self-demolition.
Your training should be at this level – where there is enough physiological stress to cause adaptation but not so much stress that the body can’t catch up. This is a concept called Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV). It’s cliche’, but more is not necessarily better.
Before you jump into increasing your current volume of training, here’s a quick checklist, followed by some explanation:
1) Do I need more work or harder work?
2) What is my current level of fitness?
3) How long have I been seriously training?
4) What are my innate physical gifts (genetics)?
5) Will my ability to recover/recovery habits support a higher a volume of training
Quality is Better Than Quantity
When we hit a training plateau, or become dissatisfied with where we’re at, the easiest answer is “I need to do more.” Do your gym’s workout in the morning, then grab a workout from Invictus, finish with some skill work, and then some cardio.
But the first place you look shouldn’t be to more but to better.
Better training comes from quality movement, high intensity, and disciplined consistency. If you are lacking in one of those areas, aim to improve what you’re doing now rather than adding to it.
Are there movements that “just aren’t getting better”? You’re not working hard enough on technique and skill. Are you dropping the barbell too often, slowing down too much, and finding yourself wanting to pace everything when things start getting uncomfortable? Time to fight for more intensity. Does your motivation come and go – two hours in the gym every day one week and then a couple hit and miss sessions the next? Focus on disciplined consistency.
Got all these boxes checked? Head to the next section.
What You Want Isn’t Where You’re At
There’s a difference between where you’re at and where you want to be. While it might seem obvious, a giant pitfall in programming is confusing the two.
“I want to squat 600 pounds, so I’ll do Smolov.” – currently squatting 300 pounds
“I want to go to the CrossFit Games, so I’ll follow _______ programming” – the blank is any Games level athlete, while this athlete places 15255 in their Region during the Open.
“My snatch/clean and jerk need to go up so I’ll do Olympic work in the AM and CrossFit stuff in the PM” – the athlete who has…..a lot of technique work to do.
Desire is great. Doing lots of fun fitness-y things is great. But desire and fun don’t change who you are right now or what is best for you right now as an athlete. Are you humble enough to accept that 60 minutes of training four times a week is more than enough for you? Are you motivated enough to accept that in order to achieve a goal you have, you’ll need to commit to more time and effort in the gym.
Then head to the next section.
Train What Your Momma Gave You
“Genetics” is a word we tend to avoid. Especially in a physical culture where “You can do it!!” is screamed a thousand times during a WOD, we like to avoid the idea that there might be things we can’t do.
If you need a reminder that there are just more gifted people than you, head over to Instagram. 14 year olds will clean a jerk twice your deadlift. Someone will have a twenty second Fran after “two months of CrossFit”. Someone else will get their first muscle-up their first day in the gym, and then hit 29 more in under 4 minutes.
Some people can just do more out of the gate.
I’m not saying pointing this out to rain on your gainz. But asking the question “what do I have to work with?” is on the places to start when figuring out your MRV.
You might be someone who needs to scale down the workout of the day, every day. The thought of doing even more training after that sends you into dry heaves and heading for the door.
You might be someone who scales up the workout of the day, every day. You might need two plus of training every day in order to improve.
While most of us as somewhere in the average of these two examples – some previous experience with sports, around average physical ability, average recovery habits/abilities, not a genetic mutant. I know personally I can handle a higher volume of training for around two weeks before performance starts to degrade and need to back-off. This is important to know for long-term training goals and longevity.
How do you respond to “more”?
If you want to do more work, you need to do more recovery. You can’t spend more money if you don’t make more money, and the same holds true for training.
If you’re currently sleeping 6.5 hours per night with one hour training four times a week, it would be foolish to think that you could expand your training to two hours per day and keep the sleep the same. It doesn’t work and there won’t be long term progress.
Some people have jobs, children, or other responsibilities that limit the quality or quantity of recovery habits like sleeping, nutrition or stress management. These are not the people who should be looking to drastically increase their volume of training, because their lifestyles don’t support it.
If you don’t have these limiting factors in your life, but your recovery habits are crap because of stubbornness, laziness, or ignorance, they need to be fixed before you look to higher volume.
Next up: Part II – The How to Increasing Training Volume