Something that I try to emphasize with any client or patient that I work with, is the importance of listening to one's body. I've always believed that your body knows what it needs, and now as I'm going through my first pregnancy, that is resounding with me even more. Trusting that my body knows what it needs, and I'm doing my best to listen to it.
So why should you listen to your body? It can improve recovery, decrease risk of injury and guide rehab after injury. I'm going to focus on the first two points first.
Improve recovery. Your body knows what it needs. Owning a CrossFit gym with my husband, we see a lot of people that "drink the Kool-Aid", a phrase referring to the addictive nature of CrossFit and working out in general. The excitement of progress, trying new things and doing things you never thought were possible, makes us happy and understandably want to continue with this behavior. However, there is a such a thing as too much of a good thing. If some is good, more is not necessarily better. The human body operates by really one guideline that everything else falls under- maintaining homeostasis or equilibrium. It's important to keep a balance in function, and physically it's important to have a good balance of strength and flexibility.
So with working out hard, your body needs time to recover. That hour of CrossFit class is hard, and it obviously takes a lot longer for your body to recover. The more days in a row you put your body through that physical stress, the more the negative effects can build up. For this reason, we recommend at our gym to not workout more than 3 days in a row. Obviously for someone who is a high level athlete (I'm talking on the national or international scale), that is a different game. Those individuals are using their athleticism for a career, and likely have access to most recovery options, in the effort to optimize their recovery without sacrificing training.
Even if you take those rest days, it may not be enough. Nutrition, sleep, stress, wellness care, etc. can all have a huge impact on your health and recovery. Also, strictly abiding to two rest days a week, whether your body feels good or not, can be detrimental.
Decrease risk of injury. If you've been feeling a bit more sore than normal or have had some lingering/nagging aches and pains, taking some extra days off definitely will not harm you and will very likely help you. When you workout, microscopic tears occur in your muscles, which your body heals and the muscle becomes stronger. However, if that muscle is continuing to be stressed, causing microscopic tears, but your body is not getting what it needs to heal it- nagging injuries can begin.
CrossFit can create a lot of demand on the shoulders, for example. There are lots of overhead barbell movements, and quite a few gymnastic movements that are shoulder dominant. Kipping is common in CrossFit, to maintain a high intensity, which helps provide results. However, if someone is constantly kipping or just beginning to kip, without a good foundation of strength, that tremendous stress will begin to wear on the shoulders, causing pain.
Whether it's been a tough week of training, stressful week at work, or you're coming off doing a competition, listen to your body. Pushing your body to the limits when it's on the borderline is asking for something bad to happen.
Guiding rehab after injury. So you've been injured and are feeling better, starting to work your way back into normal training. Easing yourself back into training is super important to avoid the two steps forwards, one-two steps back dance. Many times, I will recommend to clients to avoid going back-to-back days when first resuming training. Taking those extra rest days will help your body readjust to the new demands, while giving it the time it needs to heal.
Pushing yourself into pain provides NO gains. That whole "no pain, no gain" mantra is stupid. Pain is your body asking for something to change, because what's happening is detrimental (unless we're talking chronic pain, which is a whole other ball game folks). Respecting what your body has to say and avoiding pushing it too far, will make a smoother and faster comeback.
Something to ask yourself is "why do I want to go to the gym today" or "why do I feel I need to go to the gym today". Do you want to go because you're feeling good? Do you want to go because you feel like missing a day will completely derail your progress? Do you want to go because someone got a "X" and you feel that should be able to do that too? Knowing the true motivation behind your feelings may help you realize if you need to take a rest day or not.
A few days ago, I made the decision the night before to take Monday as a rest day, based on how my body was feeling. I didn't feel that going to the gym was the best decision for me that day. However, I struggled with that decision all day Monday. I packed gym clothes, "just in case". I debated throughout the day about going and "just take it easy" or going in and "just do an easy row". And then I said "self, you are not going to lose anything by taking today off. But you will feel better tomorrow and your body (and baby) will thank you for it." Telling myself that it's ok if I don't go to the gym is hard- I admit that I've judged my own self-worth a lot by what I can do in the gym. I'm not sure if it's because we own a gym, or it's a side of me that most people only see. I'm slowly learning to set goals and identify myself outside of what I'm physically capable of performing. And if that's all you see me as, or anyone else (including yourself) for that manner, I ask that you not be so shallow.
Listen to your coaches. Listen to your healthcare providers. Listen to your family. And above all, please listen to your body.