There is a common thought among many CrossFitters that if some is good, more must be better. This is not necessarily true, and is often dangerous. More often than not, athletes pick bits and pieces from different programs, trying to mix and match haphazardly. Following Gymnastics Bodies, The Outlaw Way, and Smolov simultaneously is not a good idea. It can lead to overtraining, adrenal fatigue, injury, and mental burnout. It is possible to increase training volume, as long as it is done intelligently to avoid overload. To better understand this, we must first look at how the body adapts to training. After all, getting fitter is a process of forcing the body to adapt in certain ways. Therefore, it is the adaptation, not the training itself, that is the goal. This is a very superficial overview of how we adapt to training.

How We Adapt to Training

Original State Diagram

Take a look at the line graph above. The solid line represents you and your current abilities right now. Strength, power, stamina, endurance, you name it, the line encompasses it. Your body’s main goal is to keep you alive by maintaining normal functions at this state through a process called homeostasis. When we experience an external stressor, be it family stress, illness, or training, our state degrades and homeostasis is disrupted. The dotted line in the above diagram represents the maximum amount of degradation our bodies can withstand and still be able to recover. As I just mentioned, training is a deliberate stressing of the body. Our goal with training is to stress the body enough to force it to adapt in a beneficial way, be it increasing alveoli in the lungs so that our wind improves, or building muscle so that we’re stronger. This is done through a process called supercompensation, and is shown in the graph below.

How We Adapt to Training

Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel Cunningham Siff: Supertraining

Looking at this curve can lead to the assumption that the greater the stressor, the greater the supercompensation. This is, unfortunately not the case. If you look back to the first state diagram, remember that we have a maximum recoverable volume. If we exceed it, we don’t recover. If we don’t have enough training stimulus, we don’t have any adaptation. Therefore, we need to have enough of a stimulus to encourage supercompensation, but not so much that we exceed our maximum recoverable volume. This is called the minimum effective dose. A more detailed supercompensation curve that illustrates this is shown below.

How We Adapt to Training

Peter Klavora: Foundations of Exercise Science: Studying Human Movement and Health

This is pretty straightforward when it comes to single modality training like strength or endurance training. The more you train, the greater your capacity in that specific modality, and the greater stimulus you need to progress. This is why sitting on an elliptical for an hour a day at the same speed stops showing results after a few weeks. This also increases your base state, and your maximal recoverable volume, as shown below.

How We Adapt to Training

State Diagram Over Time

When we mix modalities, as we do in CrossFit, it makes things a little more complicated. To illustrate how, I’m going to ask you to recall some high school physics, and the concept of interference. When we look at waves, if two interfere, the peak of the wave increases. If we look at different training modalities that affect the body in the same way – say, max effort deadlifts and max effort sprints, our training stimulus looks like the two interfering waveforms. If we superimpose the interfering waveforms on our state diagram, we get this:

How We Adapt to Training

Constructive Interference

How We Adapt to Training

Interference Exceeding the MRV

This makes it easy to see that if we mix and match different programs haphazardly, with zero regard for the stimulus they provide, we can easily surpass our maximum recoverable volume. This is why simply adding volume to our training is not inherently good. The key is to mix modalities while minimizing interference. To do this, our current abilities must be considered, and workouts must be scaled appropriately. This is why our coaches tell you the intent of the workout before we do it. Maybe we’re going for lightweight done at high speed, maybe we want the workout to be heavier. The bottom line: listen to your coaches when it comes to the WODs, and if you want to add some supplemental work, talk to them about how to do it so you can avoid overtraining.