The Evils of Undertraining

The Evils of Undertraining

By Jon Gilson

[This was originally published here on September 4, 2007.] 

If you’re not making progress at CrossFit, you’re not trying hard enough. More specifically, you’re not trying often enough.

Coaches and athletes are quick to blame nutrition, sleep, and overtraining for lack of progress. While these factors can certainly slow your journey to speed, strength, and power, I’d bet they aren’t the principal reason you’re still languishing in the CrossFit minor leagues. You just don’t workout enough.

Contrary to the popular ideal, working out three days a week is a crappy path to fitness. While a tri-weekly program will sustain weight loss, muscle size, and (perhaps) strength, it will not enhance recovery ability, metabolic capacity, and power output beyond set levels.

The name of the game, whether you’re a CrossFitter, a cyclist, or an Olympic weightlifter, is to train as hard as possible as often as possible. This places ever-increasing stressors on the body and mind, forcing adaptation. Training below this threshold—whether you’re sandbagging or just staying at home—causes stagnation or worse.

The rub in our formula—train as hard as possible as often as possible—is the word “possible”. Fear of injury, general fatigue, and conventional wisdom dictate a cautious approach to training, causing athletes to underestimate the limits of possibility. Forever training within the margins, they fail to make progress.

Keep in mind that “as hard as possible” may vary from day to day, based on accumulated training load, but your perceived intensity must always be at 100%. Simply, you need to give every ounce of your being every time you’re in the gym. It may not result in world-record times every day, but it will result in progress.

“As often as possible” is easier. Get out of bed and get to the gym at least five times a week. The effects of consistency are absolutely astounding. You’ll make progress, even if you neglect just about everything else. I’ve seen this first-hand. Those who climb the record boards are those who show up. They may drink their weekends away, supplement a solid Zone lunch with Twinkies, and sleep six hours a night, but in the end, they’re in the gym. They have great gym days and bad gym days, but most importantly, they have gym days.

Next time you want to skip your workout, don’t. Get up and get your WOD done. You’ll make progress—guaranteed.


Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and a member of the CrossFit L1 Training Staff.