Training age and its relationship to training is not a very talked about thing in the CrossFit world. You actually don’t hear much about it in the world of sports either. Training age refers to the number of years an individual has spent in training and participating in various sports. Over time an individual’s training age impacts their ability to perform and recovery. This is why we see many top athletes (in sport and CrossFit) peak in their mid 20s and then drop off. Hundreds and thousands of training hours takes its toll on the body. This is why I believe that training for frequency is more efficient than training for volume for the aging CrossFitter. Training frequency refers to the amount of sessions in a given week, typically measured by days per week. Training volume is the total amount of work done within a day or training session, typically measured by hours per week.
Most competitive CrossFitters, especially younger ones, will train at a higher volume to get better at the Sport of Fitness. This is a good idea for some, but detrimental for others. For younger competitive CrossFitters with a high training age this can work out quite well. We can assume that they have a higher baseline than the average because of their higher training age. They acquire difficult movements and skills faster and their bodies still recover well after brutal training sessions. With proper progression and coaching this is a recipe for a star athlete. This avatar looks something like an athlete in their early to mid 20s and is a former collegiate athlete (or hardcore recreational athlete) that has found their new love in CrossFit. However, as time goes on this athlete may need to rethink their training methods to continue seeing great performance results.
Let’s fast forward into another 5 years of CrossFit training for this type of athlete. They are now approaching 30 (or maybe into their 30s) and now we begin to see the same patterns. Nagging pains and injuries which sidelines them from training as frequently. Sessions are not hit with the same kind of intensity as before. Rather, they cannot sustain the same kind of intensity session after session. Even though they may still see PRs, they are much more rare. They also notice they are sore a lot more often and they take “recovery sessions” very seriously. You start to hear this young adult chuckling “I’m getting old” when things are achy. Hearing this makes you laugh because obviously they can never be beat up because they are much younger than you! This is where training age catches up to our elite athletes.
For the aging CrossFitter, high volume training will start to take its toll on the body. The biggest impact comes from recovering after the high volume sessions. It simply becomes harder and harder as time goes on. Even with a few extra rest days, good nutrition and active recovery, it is still an uphill battle. This athlete will also find themselves being forced to take more rest and active recovery days because their bodies cannot keep up with the physical demands of each training session. The big point here is that the same training volume would not affect this person the same way if they were younger or had a lower training age. But there is still a way to maximize training and see gradual results!
They key is to cut down the daily training volume (even overall training volume slightly) and increase your training frequency. So in other words, workout for less time each day (volume) and work out more often (frequency). Let’s use a very typical CrossFit athlete training template. It will look something like 5 days of training with 2 rest days (in whatever combination, it doesn’t really matter). The amount of total work that is done is 3 hours per day, so 15 hours per week total. Instead, cut the sessions downs to 2 hours per day and spread it across 6 days, bringing you to 12 total hours. This is slightly less volume overall, but is much less training per day. This will result in your body not feeling as beat up. You will actually have the energy to train for 6 days straight. You will find yourself taking less extra rest days, less active recovery days and being injured far less. Even though the overall volume looks lower each week, when you look at the big picture of the entire year, you will see that you are training more consistently overall. When you’re injured or in pain you either have to take days off, modify and/or muster through a shitty workout.
The best thing about lowering training volume and increasing training frequency is the quality of each session will be far greater. If the quality of each session is greater, you are able to push more and dig deeper. Training harder is far more important than training longer. I know I would rather hire an employee that gives me 4 hrs of extremely productive work in a 4 hour day than someone who can only give 2 hours out of an 8 hour day.
Training for higher frequency and lower volume will leave your body feeling much more fresh for each training session. This will allow you to not only get a better training session each day, but you will recover much better after each session. It took me a long time to figure this out and my body has thanked me ever since. I have more productive workouts, I am less stressed and I am still bettering my fitness. As the founder of CrossFit, Coach Glassman, has said “impress me with intensity, not volume”. Take care of yourselves and stick to the long game!