7 Things You May Be Doing That Impair Workout Recovery

WorkoutSimplicity is baked into the Primal Blueprint by design. You eat plants and animals, avoid grains, get plenty of sleep and sun, and spend time doing things you love with people you love, and things just kind of fall into place. You can tinker around the edges and get really into the details, but I try to make this stuff as simple as possible. I’ve especially tried to distill exercise, a notoriously contentious topic, down into a simple, “universal” recommendation – move frequently at a slow pace throughout the day, lift heavy things twice or thrice a week, and sprint once in a while. While I maintain such a regimen will get most people reasonably fit and let them recover easily from their workouts without having to think too hard about recovery, it’s not the same for everyone. Some folks, particularly my harder-charging readers, my CrossFitters, my endurance athletes, and my barbell fanatics could use a more detailed discussion on workout recovery (since, after all, recovery is everything).

Today, I’ll start that discussion with a focus on seven factors that can impair your workout recovery:


Exercise is a potent stressor, and that’s why it works so well: by encountering and overcoming the stress of a heavy squat, or a sprint uphill, or an arduous hike, our fitness improves to make the next encounter a little easier. Unfortunately, dealing with any kind of stress diverts valuable manpower away from workout recovery.

I’m not making this up, folks. This isn’t just a guess of mine. Recent research confirms that “mental stress” impairs workout recovery, and it doesn’t speak in generalities. 31 undergrads were assessed for stress levels using a battery of psychological tests, then engaged in a heavy lower body strength workout. At an hour post workout, students in the high stress group had regained 38 percent of their leg strength, while students in the low stress group had regained 60 percent of their strength back. An earlier study showed that tissue healing – which our muscles must do in order to recover – is impaired during times of stress. Students received puncture wounds to their mouths, and half went on vacation and the other half had exams. On average, the exam group took three days longer for their wounds to heal. You aren’t healing puncture wounds (usually) after training, but the muscle recovery process is extremely similar and places similar demands on the body.

More Workouts

Sometimes, people get the funny notion that the benefits of exercise accrue as you exercise – in real time. These people often assume that more is always better, and that a surefire way to get lean and fit is to cram as much exercise into your schedule as humanly possible, because it’ll only make you fitter. These are the people you see spending hours at the gym every day on the same machines, using the same weights, looking and performing the same, year after year. Well, they’re wrong. Fitness accrues after workouts and during recovery. You don’t get stronger, faster, and fitter working out. You get stronger, fitter, and faster recovering from working out. And don’t be misled by those incredibly fit and strong folks who seem to train all day, every day. They’re not fit because they train that way. They train that way because they’re fit enough to do it.

As a general rule, the harder the workout, the longer the recovery period required.

Excessive Calorie Restriction

“Eat less, move more” is the popular, inevitable refrain from fitness “experts” giving weight loss advice. They claim that reducing your calorie intake and increasing your activity will always lead to simple, easy, inevitable fat loss. And yeah, that’s one way to lose body weight, but there’s one big problem with this equation: you need calories to recover from your workouts. Not a problem if you just want to lose body mass at any cost. Disastrous, though, if you want to improve performance, get stronger, and get fitter, because you need those calories to refuel your muscles and restock your energy reserves.

Plus, inadequate calorie intake coupled with intense exercise sends a “starvation” signal to the body, causing a down-regulation of anabolic hormones. Instead of growing lean mass and burning body fat, starvation (whether real or simulated) promotes muscle atrophy and body fat retention. Either alone can be somewhat effective, but combining the two will only impair recovery.

Inadequate Protein

Your muscles move you, which is why no matter what type of training you do – endurance, strength, MovNat, hillwalking, dancing, Zumba, Tabata skipping, competitive tag, Ultimate Frisbee, long duration room pacing – your muscles need to recover. Some workouts require less muscle recovery, sure, but every form of physical movement uses skeletal muscle. Muscle needs protein to repair itself and recover from exercise; this is perhaps the most fundamental concept in exercise recovery.

How much protein do you need to recover from a workout, exactly? As I said earlier, it depends on what kind of workout you’re trying to recover from. Strength training probably merits more protein than hiking, for example. According to research in athletes, anywhere between 1.8 grams protein/kg bodyweight and 3 g/kg suffices. And if you are practicing calorie restriction while exercising, increasing your protein intake can ameliorate the muscle loss that tends to accompany it.

Lack of Sleep

I recently penned a post devoted exclusively to the importance of sleep on fitness performance. The gist of it was that sleep loss doesn’t always impair performance, but it does impair recovery from exercise. Sleep debt impairs exercise recovery primarily via two routes: by increasing cortisol, reducing testosterone production, and lowering muscle protein synthesis; and by disrupting slow wave sleep, the constructive stage of slumber where growth hormone secretion peaks, tissues heal and muscles rebuild. That’s probably why sleep deprivation has been linked to muscular atrophy and increased urinary excretion of nitrogen, and why the kind of cortisol excess caused by sleep deprivation reduces muscle strength.

Additionally, sleep loss can increase the risk of injuries by decreasing balance and postural control. If you trip and fall, or throw out your back due to poor technique, you won’t even have a workout to recover from.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Active people are “living more,” which puts greater demands on the body and increases the amount of “stuff” it must do to maintain health and basic function. Since every physiological function requires a micronutrient substrate – vitamin, mineral, hormone, neurotransmitter, etc. – and physiological functions increase with exercise and recovery, active people require more micronutrients in their diet. “More of everything” is a safe bet, but there are a couple key nutrients that working out especially depletes:

Zinc: Exercise, especially weight training, works better with plenty of testosterone on hand to build muscle and develop strength. Zinc is a key substrate for the production of testosterone, and studies show that exercise probably increases the need for zinc. In fact, one study found that exhaustive exercise depleted testosterone (and thyroid) hormones in athletes, while supplementing with zinc restored it.

Magnesium: Magnesium is required for a number of physiological processes related to workout recovery, including oxygen uptake by cells, energy production, and electrolyte balance. Unfortunately, as one of the main electrolytes, lots of magnesium is lost to sweat during exercise. The same could be said for other electrolytes like calcium, sodium, and potassium, but most people get plenty of those minerals from a basic Primal eating plan. Getting enough magnesium, however, is a bit tougher, making magnesium deficiency a real issue for people trying to recover from workouts.

Infrequent Workouts

You know this specimen: the weekend warrior. Every other weekend or so, he gets amped up and goes on a big bike ride, does a 10k, swims a few thousand meters, attempts to deadlift twice his body weight, tries to climb the local mountain, or performs some other impressive feat of human endurance/strength/pain tolerance that he hasn’t done for months. He feels great doing it and feels incredibly accomplished, but by the time Monday rolls around he’s wracked with crippling DOMS that prevents him from performing simple physical tasks like shoe-lacing and back-scratching, let alone going to the gym for an actual followup workout. Since he can’t work out – or even lift his arms over his head – it’ll be another couple weeks until he exercises again. By then, any progress he made has already disappeared. He’s back at square one.

The presence of any one of these factors in your life can and likely will affect your workout recovery. Having several – or all – of them? Good luck with that.

Next time, I’ll talk about some recovery tactics. Thanks for reading, folks. Be sure to chime in with any thoughts you have on impediments to workout recovery!

TAGS:  prevention

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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90 thoughts on “7 Things You May Be Doing That Impair Workout Recovery”

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  1. Love this- especially the points about stress and lack of sleep. I think that those factors are responsible for soo many ailments, including of course, slow recovery. and its interesting that too many workouts as well as too few can have equally negative effects. just proves life is all about balance and finding that sweet spot!

  2. Good article! I struggle with the calories, i.e. ensure that it is not too restrictive. And trying to find a “paleo friendly” dietician in my part of the world is well nigh impossible. And due to the fact that I do crossfit and not eating enough (I think), I am constantly fatigued. But I hope to get there.
    Looking forward to rest of this “series”…

    1. “Crossfit … the gift that keeps on giving”. A common saying among physical therapists. I don’t understand if you are constantly fatigued where you thing “there” is? Your trainers (who attend a couple of weekend seminars, so they are experts, right?) are telling you to keep training harder I’ll wager. You should carefully reread Mark’s article and take it to heart.

      1. I’m sorry, but you just can’t lump all CrossFit coaches and boxes into one idea. I’m a graduate student at The University of Texas, a CSCS with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and hold training certs from CrossFit to Krav Maga. And I’m a CrossFit coach by trade.

        I don’t regularly send people the ER or train them into adrenal fatigue. I know a lot of people, including my own coach, who don’t either.

        1. Well said, Jeremy. Athletes are in part responsible for their own training, even if they’re working with a coach/trainer. The athlete has a much better grasp of how fatigued they are than anyone else. A good trainer or coach can recognize it and recommend/direct time off as required – yes, even if they’ve only been to a couple of “weekend sessions”.

          This myth that all CF trainers have a weekend session and no other fitness experience is frustrating. While there are some out there like that, there are also some very good CF trainers with long histories of other types of fitness training who understand these concepts and apply them.

          Just because one is a CrossFitter doesn’t make them less responsible for their own bodies, either. The idea of simply trusting your training entirely to a coach or trainer without listening to your own body is absurd to me. Your box may program a WOD, but that doesn’t mean you have to go that day any more than a triathlete has to absolutely positively stick to every training session in their training plan. Recovery is essential.

        2. We need more of them like you. I’ve seen plenty who are good at working and are fit, so they decided to get the level-1 cert and start coaching.

          A lot of these bros have that bro-mentality. Again, we need more like you.

      2. Well, that’s what happens when you join a cult, turn your brain off, and start listening to others instead of your body.

      3. Caveat emptor with CrossFit: some affiliates are indeed bad, but others are VERY good. I think the problem more often lies with the student than the coach, people think they’re getting a personal trainer and that’s just not the case. You have to be responsible for yourself when it comes to knowing when to push and when to ease up. That’s not CrossFit’s fault, it’s inherent in any group exercise. Personally I combine CrossFit with regular visits to my chiro/pt guy not because I’m hurt, but to ensure that I’m on the right track and I don’t GET hurt.

        But sometimes, yeah, the coaches suck.

      4. I would gather that you haven’t spent much time in a legit CrossFit Gym Derek

      5. I see cross fit patients in my office nearly everyday for neck, shoulder and back issues. From different locations and even other states. A little more mindfulness would be a smart application. This isn’t to blame the coaches and trainers, some are well trained others simply are not. I remind my patients it is they who are doing it to themselves. It always comes back to personal responsibility

      6. Do people who think this think that CrossFit coaches first exposure to CrossFit is literally the weekend certification coarse? I mean, think about this. Do you think these trainers saw a flier, thought, “Hmm… CrossFit certification? Never heard of CrossFit but this sounds easy and cool.” No, these coaches have probably done CrossFit a few times. There is something to be said about practicing what you preach. And also, there are a lot of injuries in yoga and in running, but I don’t see people jumping all over yoga or running anytime it is mentioned anywhere.

    2. I have some of the same problems. The hardest thing to address is, when i’m eating really clean, i’m just no where near as hungry…. This makes it too easy to under-eat, which undermines performance.

      I’m totally not a “numbers” kinda guy, and thats what ultimately is so attractive about PB living…. Nevertheless,I feel like I might need to incorporate some into my planning for a while just to make sure I fully understand what my targets should be.

  3. How much did they pay those poor college kids to get puncture wounds?

  4. “You don’t get stronger, faster, and fitter working out.” — YIKES!

  5. You should be careful with the phrasing of how much protein you need to recover. It might be interpreted as “post-workout intake” rather than throughout the whole day. 1.3-1.8g/kg seemed a bit high to me until I read the source.

  6. Great read guys keep up the good work I’m learn every day.. 😉

  7. I have struggled with the eating and sleeping more to help recovery efforts after a workout. It’s basically trial and error and everyone is different-no one size fits all. I have been keeping a really casual food/workout journal but think I should also add sleep to it and how I’ve felt pre/post workout to get a better idea of what’s lacking and where I need to step it up. I can tell you for sure as a mom of three, sleep is the number one area I need to address (maybe when they’re in college, right?!). Great post Mark!

  8. The last one….impulsivity at its finest recently caused me to overdo it just a tad with a heavyweight leg workout. I ended up with rhabdomyolysis and a CK level around 150K where normal is 150. “Build up to it” is now my mantra.

  9. You forgot Prancercise…

    (highly recommend a youtube search if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

    1. Prancercize is totally Primal… but only if you pretend you’re a grass-fed, pasture-raised horsie… 😉

  10. Is a good article, especially the part about taking recovery days. As a self-proclaimed CrossFit addict I find it hard to take more than a day off because I worry that I won’t make gains if I do… and yet each time I do and go back to my gym I make more progress than I would if I was training while still exhausted. I am starting to listen to my body rather than the voices in my head that want me to over or under train.

    1. I hear that! Been feeling shoddy all day for not training this morning – but when tomorrow’s handstand push-ups arrive, I’m hoping I’ll be glad of the extra sleep! Have to keep working on convincing myself: rest is good, rest is good, rest is good…

  11. As a woman who squatted 405 in the late eighties I can attest that less is more.
    Recovery is crucial. Remember, the body cannot differentiate between good
    stress (i.e. exercise) and bad stress (money woes, hard day at work, etc.) Where
    I train I often see people, as Mark said, performing the same exercises daily, not
    recognizing that when they are in the gym they are tearing down, not building up
    lean tissue. Also, so common to see people train the same body parts on consecutive days. Understanding proper biomechanics and being knowledgeable
    about the function of each muscle is critical. Less is more.

    1. Holy crap. Seriously? That’s insane. Good for you!!!

      (erstwhile super proud of squatting 205)

  12. Cringing! Realized this summer that I haven’t taken more than 2 days off in a row in probably 20 years. Even when stricken with flu in the malaria realm, after 2 days I have to do something!! Chronic systemic aches, pains, and lack of healing encouraged me to take a week off this summer and take it slow for several weeks thereafter. Go figure, stuff getting better now, finally…

  13. The sleep always gets me! I am pretty good at everything else but sleep is the hardest to get at this time! 3 month old, work, crossfit. Go to bed by 11pm if lucky than wake up for feeds if I help out my wife than work out at 5 AM because that is the only time I can. It does take its toll!. Any suggestions to help the sleep part? Maybe more recovery time? I crossfit 3 times a week and lift heavy twice a week.

      1. Agreed. Roger, give it a rest. You’re killing yourself. Take some workout days off and see the improvements.

    1. Probably not what you want to hear but maybe you should drop those 5 am crossfit sessions. Probably doing more harm than good. Try to keep your twice a week weights tho. If you want to get a little conditioning in with your weights I would recommend implementing some sort of EMOTM workout. Something like 5 clean & jerks at 70% of your 1RM for 5 minutes. It just seems like crossfitting at 5am with a busy lifestyle just wont work.

  14. The stress connection is fascinating because it seems to work the other away around too: if I work out too hard, am really needing recovery, work and family stresses can seem worse than if I wasn’t fatigued…it’s all a balance.

  15. Mark, great Apple today. I am a young 73, on the Paleo diet and working your plan. It has improved my quality of life immeassurably. You spoke of stress today. Due to personal factors I won’t go into here, I am dealing with a lot of emotional stress. Can you comment on the various factors you feel are good for dealing with stress. I get plenty of sleep (10-11) hours nightly. I walk daily. And I eat a healthy paleo diet.

    1. Just off the top of my head, and things that typically help me deal with stress: journal/writing, spending time with family and friends, hanging out with a furry friend, meditating (preferably in nature), yoga/deep breathing exercises, and plain old venting to a good listener.

      Sometimes life throws us stress that can’t be helped, but I find the above helps to mitigate that stress, even if only temporarily. I hope you are able to cope with it in some way, and maybe eventually eliminate it. All the best!

  16. Two things:

    The stress affecting your recovery I lived through first hand. College was super stressful for me and I still tried working out 3-4x a week and I never felt 100%. It got to the point where even working out was stressing me out because it was time away from the books. I know I was a nerd like that.

    More is not always better. I have taken on a minimalist style of training that I write about, practice and teach. I am getting the same results if not more and staying injury free from doing less work!
    In response to the CrossFit Comments: There are both great coaches who know what they are doing as well as idiots who just like doing CrossFit and have an extra $1,000 to pick up their stage one cert. Jeremy, coaches like you belong in boxes like that because you have the background, passion and history (not that that means you are an expert) but you are educated. On that same note there is no room for uneducated coaches or clients in the high demand sport that CrossFit has. I have personally been apart of the CrossFit community before and whether you have a great coach or not there is still a lot of responsibility that comes with participating in that. Unfortunately, people don’t understand that so they go into it with the wrong mindset and wreck their body. Personally, I will never do CrossFit again but I do have respect for the participants who are good and do it RIGHT.

  17. Great post. Another thing that has really helped me is to (almost) never go to failure on any of my lifting sets. I have been able to increase my overall workout volume and strength without running into recovery issues this way. The old-timers used to call struggling with a heavy weight “grinding against the nerve” and I did that for many years (30 or so), but now that I stop at about 95% of what I could do with an extreme effort, it has helped significantly. Incorporating “speed” days that focus on explosive movement with lighter weights is a big help also and again, does not create the recovery issues that a maximal effort does…

    1. I like that you pointed this out. When lifting heavy last winter, I was usually flying solo, so I would stop one rep short of what I felt like would be “failure,” mainly because I didn’t have a spotter. Thinking back though, my recover seemed a lot easier and this allowed me to lift heavy twice a week. I would do 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps. Worked really well for me for a couple months!

      1. Stace, your comment reminded me of several things that might be of use to people. ..
        – A lot of people default to a schedule based on a 7 day “week” without really thinking about whether a 7 day schedule is the right one to space workouts for good recovery. The problem with this is, at least for me, that any workout that involves significant involvement of the spinal erectors or butt/hip muscles takes at least three days to properly recover from and 4 if you go to failure, and a weekly schedule would imply that you will only have two days rest between one of the workouts. Other movements can take a bit less time to recover from, but for me at least it still takes at least 3 days if you go-to-failure. So… I think it’s better to not schedule by the day of the week but rather by how long it takes to recover based on the type of program you’re using.
        – Another advantage of leaving a little in reserve is that you can work on proper (specifically safe) form. I see people all the time struggling with a weight they clearly can’t handle with decent form and inviting chronic joint damage by doing so.
        – It used to be that everyone thought that progress came from maximal intensity (and some people still do) and while this may be the best way to demonstrate strength in the short run (less than 4 weeks or so) I have not found it to be the best way to build strength in the long-run. When I trained in go-to-failure mode I would make great progress for 4 weeks or so and then often stall out. I have found that more volume at slightly lower intensity gives much better long-term progress.
        – For me there was a psychological addiction to always going heavy that was hard to break until I realized it was often counter-productive. When I first started lifting many years ago, everyone used a heavy-day light-day week routine over the course of a 7-day week, and it was accepted knowledge that the heavy day was what produced progress. Being the genius that I thought I was, I converted to an 8 day and later a 10 day “week” so that I had 3 or 4 days of rest between similar workouts, and thus would get more heavy sessions in over time. This seemed to work moderately well and I didn’t question that it was better, except that I never got very far beyond what I could lift on the original heavy day/light day approach. I finally realized after becoming aware of the “speed day” concept popularized by Westside Barbell, that a lot of my original gains were likely coming from the “light” day…

        So there you have it. Too much thinking can be dangerous…

  18. I have tonic-clonic seizures and am always wondering how to recover faster. They are one hell of an intermittent work out. Any ideas?

    1. I have the same. It takes me all day to recover – I can barely walk my legs are to sore/tired and am so physically drained. I don’t think one will ever be able to recover faster from them.

      1. You’re lucky to only be sore and tired for a day. It takes me about 4 to 5 days until I can move my legs without sore muscles at all.
        The only one I ever recovered from quickly was when I got into the hospital with oxygen and saline drip. But that involves doctors! And they all want to put me on a thousand meds when I (for the most part, I have still have the very odd occasional seizure) have it quite under control with dietary intervention.

  19. Thanks, Mark! To combat the nutrient deficiencies cited, a suppose good post-recovery smoothie may have an ingredient list something like this…

    Coconut Milk (for protein absorption)
    Full-fat Greek yogurt (magnesium heavy)
    Pumpkin seeds (zinc & magnesium heavy)
    Cocoa powder (zinc heavy)
    Spinach, avocado &/or banana (magnesium heavy)

  20. Infrequent exercise is not necessarily a bad thing. I would highly recommend reading “Body by Science.” I have been doing heavy weights once a week for years, yet I have no trouble going on a major backpacking expedition, canoeing trip or sprinting with my children for fun at any time. Could I be stronger – certainly. Would I destroy my body long-term doing it – most likely. Depth of workout and recovery time are the keys. Check out the book. You won’t be sorry.

    1. Last year I discovered MDA and Primal Blueprint. Saved me from chronic running (and some other “healthy” stuff), but didn’t really help with exercise addiction. Reading Body by Science and later some other HIT authors changed my mindset regarding exercise. One of the best pieces I have ever red about exercise is this article by Ken Hutchins https://www.renaissanceexercise.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Exercise-vs-Recreation.pdf Really eye opening. Now I usually do short slow BW(+backpack sometimes) exercise session to failure or close to it, once every 4-10 days. All other time just move around and try to avoid “sitting marathon”. No guilt at all for not working out full week.

  21. very timely article for me.
    i just started barbell training on Monday and last nite DOM’s kicked in pretty good so I need to adjust my schedule from 3 x’s a week to 2 x’s a week until my recovery time shortens a little. didn’t realize how weak i was until hitting the barbells.

    the biggest struggles I am having is caloric intake and sleep. I have been eating so much more healthy the last 5-6 months I am not getting hungry so I today started eating a predetermined amount of food in 2 sessions (lunch and dinner) and IF’ing the rest of the time. I am not used to counting calories to make sure I get a minimum, feels kinda weird. I can’t really address the sleep and get the 8 hrs i want, 6.5-7 will have to do when dealing with an active 2 yo.

    i look forward to hearing your recovery tactics (hopefully next week).

  22. why are some people so quick to condemn/ insult crossfitters?

    do what works for you, and remember what Mama says- ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say…’

    1. Exactly! If you don’t like CrossFit, don’t do it, but stop with the name calling and condemnation.

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been trying to teach athletes about the stress: recovery connection with little interest! This article and the references will help immensely!

    My favourite tool for reducing stress is this easy technique based on accupuncture meridians called EFT or the Emotional Freedom Technique. Some people refer to it as tapping. It’s really gaining popularity, just do a google or youtube search and you can learn it in five minutes! It changed my life!

  24. Great points,

    This summer I have decreased my amount and duration of workouts to fit in more golf, and I have actually gotten leaner (although I was already at 10% body fat), with no impact on my strength and power production. I have not increased my performance, but at the very least have easily maintained it.

  25. As a Firefighter who works at a busy hall (often many runs past midnight on a 24hr shift), and a part-time Crossfit instructor, I find that I can relate to a lot of this first hand.

    You can’t out run your lifestyle stressors and your workout regimen needs to reflect that in both volume and intensity you take on. I see a lot of people at my gym that have trouble taking true rest days, or even backing off when life comes at them hard. You can often lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    Im somewhat hypocritical for saying that, as I decided to give XC Mountainbike racing a go this summer after a multi year layoff. Aerobic sports + Shift work, even with good sleep on your days of and a P-Blueprint esque diet = BAD news. What did I notice?

    – High volume aerobic training, with intensity mixed in, burns you out. Everything you read here is true. I won a National Championship for my age group a month and a half ago and I haven’t rode my bike since. I came in overtrained and raced because I had made commitments, otherwise I would have bailed. Since then my workouts have gone back to a Strength/Olympic lifting bias with minimal conditioning and Im feeling stronger, more energetic, and happier overall. Im just as lean as I was riding 13-14hrs a week.

    – Aerobic sports decrease your ability to perform as an athlete. In 6 months of focused bike training, I went from Squatting 365lbs for 3 solid reps, to squatting 275lbs for 3 shaky ones. All of my olympic lifts went down considerably as well. No dice.

    – Overtraining is a zone that you don’t want to enter. I allowed myself to overtrain while being aware of the signs and symptoms associated with it as a bit of a project. I knew it was coming, but I wanted to see what it felt like so I could explain it to athletes at the gym first hand as dumb as it sounds. The amount of people I see now with similar symptoms happens very regularly and it makes it very easy for me to point out as a trainer.

    What did I learn from this? I love riding, but it isn’t for me. I love feeling strong, athletic, energetic and enjoying riding for what it is. Getting out in nature and having fun riding with your buddies From here on out Im sticking to my Olympic lifting bias with 1-2 days of either riding or some sort of conditioning. My health is far to important to me to take it on full time.

    1. In the last paragraph, I meant to say racing isn’t for me. 1-2 short mtb rides a week now are going to be the norm.

    2. I’m in the middle of my own personal experiment similar to yours, but reversed. I am working Oly lifting and CF into my regular tri training regimen in order to really maintain strength through the season and see how my performance changes. My strength continues to improve without losing speed over three months, but I am concerned that it’s affecting my muscular endurance during my sport (swim, bike, run) workouts. The question is, are the strength gains worth the effect on the rest of the training? Conventional wisdom says no, but we’ll see.

      The other challenge has been managing overtraining. Being keyed in to my symptoms helps a lot in that regard, and then I back off for a day or two (or three… or four… depending on how bad).

      1. https://www.tabatatimes.com/taking-the-long-road-why-crossfitters-and-endurance-athletes-alike-benefit-from-the-same-12-week-oly-program/?fb_action_ids=10152133856504979&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210152133856504979%22%3A492376134172233%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210152133856504979%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

        Thats a great in season program you could consider. I would not suggest adding in Wod’s on top of it. Stay strong during your race season and maybe get back into Crossfit as a means of Crosstraining in the off-season. In season, I would train with intensity mainly and cut back on the LSD miles. Most importantly, recover harder then you train. Getting blood-markers drawn fairly regularly would be a wise idea to keep track of how your body is responding.

        As much as I love endurance sports, what they do to your body hormonally is a bit of a $hit show. I would like to continue racing, but not enough to sacrifice my quality of life off of the bike. Balance is key

    3. Interesting read. I also ride but these days it’s a fast 1 hour ride on both Saturday & Sunday. I find it is easy to get caught up in the thrill of the ride and I can easily over train on biking alone. During the week I do “convict conditioning” and some kettlebell work as well.

  26. Recovery is definitely key for me. Since switching to a more Primal approach to fitness, I’ve gotten stronger and faster. When I first switched to Primal a few years ago, I did it in conjunction with P90X, and I found that if I was really strict about eating the right number of calories, but getting them from Primal sources, I actually got weaker. Never mind the two seconds I tried Insanity. I simply could not recover enough from one day to the next to make that effort worth it, and the same goes for CrossFit.

    Now I’m playing around with even longer recovery and a focus on slower movement. I’m embracing non-athletic forms of yoga and riding my bike around town more. I also picked up karate just for funsies (the play part of my routine). At this point, I’m only lifting anything of significant heft (deadlifts, kettlebells, or my trainer’s new favorite, atlas stones!!) once every two weeks, sprinting only once or twice a week, and making the rest of my activity yoga, walking, biking, and karate. So far, in a few weeks, I noticed that I can kill it during those heavy sessions and the few pushups, planks, and squats we do in karate and perfectly enough to maintain.

    It’s almost as if by deciding that I’m “fit enough” and chilling out on the workouts a bit more, the workouts got more fun and more productive. I’ll take it!

  27. really interesting article especially dietary balance….gave me lots to think about and correct about my workout regime

  28. Good article – thanks for sharing. I was just having a conversation with several young ladies participating in a bootcamp this week. I asked what they were doing for protein to help their muscles recover after their workout, as a QUALITY shake makes it easy to fuel your body post workout. I was not surprised they are doing nothing as so many people are of the mindset to cut calories no matter what. At least the ladies admitted their trainer stressed the importance of nutrition going hand in hand with what they are trying to accomplish. It seems a waste of money to pay for a bootcamp if you are not going to follow through with all parts of the equation to fitness.

    For the night owl…any way to get to bed before 11 pm? Reality for many is a morning workout is all that will fit into a schedule that includes a full time job and often, evening commitments. Whether it be CrossFit or other type of exercise.

    I am guilty of fhis myself…my fatigue is my own doing with not getting enough sleep. I don’t blame morning walks or bicycling. It is the one area of my life I know I need to work on.

    If anyone is in the Madison, WI area my nephew runs a CrossFit gym that is open every day of the week throughout the day. CrossFit Sanctify. I know that he also posts workouts on line for members who want to do their squats, box jumps, etc. at home. CrossFit is not for me, but I know he is good at what he does.

    This is a very good article and I plan to forward it to the ladies I was talking to this week – who also don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is probably a major player in poor health for many Americans as we over commit ourselves in a fast paced world.

  29. Great article. I struggle with getting enough sleep and I’m probably more stressed than I think I am, as all the stress symptoms have been popping up. I could probably improve my workouts by cutting out some carbs and consuming more protein as well.

  30. hi Mark and audience, would like to hear from a primal expert what the theory on exercise whilst sick is? lol. realising as I type prob the same as while stressed – as clearly the body is stressed while recovering from say a cold. However, I’d like to know specifically Mark – are you saying very very little exercise during these times? I instinctively lean this way, just wanting to confirm. Still a bit of a newbie here, but love all your posts, the thought processes behind them, the research, theories and so on. I agree with so many, both from experience and yes that instinct and the ability to listen in on my body. I was always amazed at how little I had to do to stay fit at High School – sports captain, high achiever – and now I’m beginning to fill in the gaps in my mental understanding of this. It’s all so useful and helpful. If only we had this all available as lessons in school. Oh and primal Canteens 🙂 hehehe. well, just wanted to put my bit in, would love to hear a confirmation re the above from someone who really understands primal. thanks.

  31. Thanks Mark!
    Perfect for my DOMS affected body today. I’d like to know how IF post workout fits in with recovery, and whether this effectively slows recovery or not. I often fast for 6 or so ours before workout and sometimes 4 hours post workout til I am really hungry even after a crossfit class. Did I get it wrong and do I need to refuel earlier to help recovery?
    With thanks,

  32. Can someone explain to me why i with my desk job should only lift about 3 times max a week in fear of overtraining, while other people have a physical job thats about as exhausting as my training AND can lift on top of that? This fear of overtraining sounds to me like someone knew his target demographic well, people who hate working out and want to be told that less is better. Also, what about adaptation? If i work out more, my body should adapt to that in some way instead of destroying itself, given i do it in a sane manner.

    1. Hi Mat,
      Yes.. I think you are right. I am a woman so maybe my fitness objectives are different than yours but I understand your point. I personally fell off the wagon so many times just because I was giving myself all this recovery time. It is hard enough to force yourself to start exercising if you are sedentary and have sedentary job and doing it only 2- 3 times a week – it seems that you never really get off the ground. So after years of starting and failing I discovered that more frequency works just fine. I was reading someone elses blog – this person uses the workout system I am using and it struck me that she is doing strength training 5x a week plus she runs 2 times a week (this is what she likes). And this is when I thought – ok so the system is designed to work out 3x a week but this lady – who has a great success in it and could easily get on the cover of fitness magazine is doing more!!!! I started to aim to train every day and see what happens and it turns out that doing 5x a week is easier. I take a break on Sunday as it is usually unrealistic to fit in a training and I also usually have one day a week off when I feel tired and I just take it easy. I also do yoga once a week. With this frequency of training I may have some soreness in the muscles especially if I do both Yoga and strength on the day, but it is never to the point that I am looking funny when going down the stairs. I started to see real results in my body shape and strength only after 4 weeks. Also I think it is really crucial if you want to lose weight (or fat I should rather say) it is just not enough to go primal. You can overeat on primal like on any other diet/ lifestyle and you need to be aware what you eat in energetic (calorific terms) – if it is too much you are not going to loose fat – end of story. I love Mark’s musings and I think a lot of it makes sense there are only 2 “buts”. Having Fit organizm – like him or his wife’s usually allows you intuitively up regulate your food intake and stay within your weight range – this does not happen with someone who has put on fat and been sedentary for years – it takes concious effort. I can say this from a perspective of someone who was fit and how easy was this and how I knew what to eat and how much intuitively – and my perspective now – when I decided to loose more than 20 pounds and get myself back to fit state. And anyway – have you seen the posts of Mark or Carrie when they talk about their day – this is definitely not desk jobs, you cannot make up for the overall activity that people who are moderately active having jobs where the move around and hike regularly if you are a city hermit just by training 3x a week. In all honesty -to make this work you have to do as much training as you can. See if you can do 5x a week. If you want to loose fat – look at the calories you eat – until I have done it – nothing worked. And yes – your body will adapt to more training – it is probably only 1 week when it is hard and then it goes easy. Much much easier if you give yourself resting time – which is “prescribed”. If you feel you have energy to train – do it.

      1. Thanks so much for your encouragement! I recently started doing some light bodyweight exercises on my “off” days, which was totally fine, so i will do as you did and build on that and see where it takes me. 🙂

  33. I really enjoyed this article! I am new to Crossfit and think this really helps keep the big picture in mind. I am also interested to see/learn on how working nights (9pm-7am) and sleeping during the day affects recovery and digestion.

  34. It all comes down to nutrition. I just discovered this recently after doing a food journal where I realized that I was about five hundred calories under my goal. I also realized I was actually eating WAY too much protein and not enough fats or carbohydrates for recovery.

  35. What if the only time you have to workout consistently is on the weekends? Like a Thursday through Monday. Should I just give it up?

    1. Heck no, don’t give it up. Twice a week is plenty. Some people do strength (super slow reps) once a week and call it good enough.
      You could also do exercise in ten minute bits. That works pretty well. It’s usually possible to find ten free minutes here and there, do some push ups, shake a tail father, walk, jump rope, etc.

      1. I meant to add, because exercise is mainly for the purpose of feeling good, expressing the joy of having a body, and being able to get up out of your chair when you’re 80.

  36. Mark, another brilliant article as always! Apparently the only benefit Cross fitting doesn’t offer is thick skin as is evident from all the offended cross fitter replies. :{

  37. Lack of stress and lack of sleep are such a huge factor. But I agree that nutrition is key. I have found liquid magnesium to be a really big help in recovery and taking mineral supplements. Also coconut water is a great healthy alternative to replace electrolytes.

  38. Hi Mark

    Great article your wrote, once again.
    regarding sleep, remember to sleep in a room totaly dark not even digits from your clock must show. belive me you can feel the difference.
    as a guidance i use a app to messure my puls resting in the morning when I am ready for workout my morning restingpuls is 36-38 beats pr min. when I am not fully recovered I is normal 4 – 5 beats higher telling me that this day, will only be a light running i the forest with my dog.

    I love to workout 2 times a week full body, using Kettelbells Maxwell challenge, and body weight plus joint mobility, running at a slow pace with my dog in betwin

  39. Hi Mark

    Great article your wrote, once again.
    regarding sleep, remember to sleep in a room totaly dark not even digits from your clock must show. belive me you can feel the difference.
    as a guidance i use a app to messure my puls resting in the morning when I am ready for workout my morning restingpuls is 36-38 beats pr min. when I am not fully recovered I is normal 4 – 5 beats higher telling me that this day, will only be a light running in the forest with my dog.

    I love to workout 2 times a week full body, using Kettelbells Maxwell challenge, and body weight plus joint mobility, running at a slow pace with my dog in betwin

  40. Mark,
    what is excessive calorie resrtiction? What about IF? I personally IF up to 15 to 18 hours and perform high intensity workouts in a fasted stated, would not have it any other way. That being said, there’s not much room left in the day to eat due to IF, so I eat what amounts to a protein snack (tuna/olive oil) and shake post workout, then have my last meal in the evening.. and it’s big (12 to 18 oz of fatty animal protein, mixed veggies, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and some berries)

    No idea how many calories, but I am fat adapted, lean and posses good muscle mass. Workouts are always high performance, 4 to 5 times per week, anywhere from 15 to an occasional 30 minutes (ugh), no weakness issues.

    So, when you say calorie restricted, what do you mean? My primal eating is a self regulating calorie restricted plan. Did our deep ancestors eat numerous times every day? IF is primal in my opinion, and very beneficial from what literature I have read.

    By the way, I have never felt better. I cannot fathom training in an “non-fasted” state.

  41. Just saw this on the cover of Wall Street Journal –

    “Life in the Slow Lane: Some Bikers Savor Leisurely Rides in the Salle – Clubs for the Deliberately Plodding Cyclist Take Off; Dodging the Spandex Crowd”

    It’s called the Slow Bike Movement, and it seems to jive with Mark’s advice to move frequently at a slower pace.

    “Participants say slower riding is a backlash to today’s hardcore fitness world, brimming with boot camps and mud runs.”

    No spandex needed!

    1. No thanks, I’ll stick to my 20 mph rides. I feel so rejuvenated afterwards. A slow ride does nothing for me, I might as well go for a walk instead.

  42. Crossfit the gift that keeps on giving? Spending hours in the gym is overtraining short high intensity training is not overtraining don’t blame crossfit

  43. I use BodyPump to train because you chose the weights and reps you want. Sure, the classroom environment gives you the drive not to be the “quitter,” but I constantly modify the weights to suit my workout frequency. By that I mean if I am able to work out two or three times per week, I can handle heavier weights, but if my other obligations (work) keep me away from the gym a day or two, I have to back off five or ten pounds. It makes a difference. As others are saying, what good is it to feel like a failure when you are trying to succeed. The sweet spot for me is knowing I’m there, I’m in the game.

    Good article! I’d like to see Mark tackle the “what if some of those factors just aren’t negotiable right now” scenario. Which ones are the most necessary, and which are the most expendable?

  44. Would you recommend taking a ZMA supplement (usually intended for deeper sleep) after a workout to combat Zinc and Magnesium deficiency?

  45. Ironically I just started taking zinc and magnesium supplements a few months ago, so at least I’m on the right track.

  46. For client’s to achieve optimal exercise performance, the personal trainer and fitness professional needs to be proactive in planning recovery into the training program.

  47. I really appreciate the use of the word “thrice” in this post.

  48. Love this! I realize it’s older but I am doing some research on recovery and stumbled across it, but am so happy I did. One thing I don’t think people realize is that what they do OUTSIDE the gym affects what they do inside the gym…I do have a question for you though. I struggle with the overtraining sometimes myself – as an instructor I often teach 3-4 classes a day when subs are in high demand. Good example is yesterday and today – yesterday I taught 3 and today I have 4…3 back-to-back-to-back.

    While I know it’s not my workout and I do move around, check form, etc. its sometimes hard for me (and de-motivating to my students) when they see I’m not working hard right along with them. It’s like if they don’t see me dripping with sweat they think they get a free pass.

    Any advice on how to “fake it” and trick them into thinking I’m working harder or any extra advice on some recovery foods & stretches in my short breaks between classes that can help me with the process? Friday and Saturday are complete off days for me this week, so I do have that to look forward to!

  49. Great article mark, excessive calorie restriction makes a lot of sense. I think that was the problem my client had, he was always complaining of sore muscles, and his deficit was quite high.

  50. Wow. That stress impairs recovery is definitelly an eye opener for me. Thanks for the great article.