Are Too Many CrossFit Metcons Stealing All Your Gains?

 Just doing my usual post-WOD, wishing-I-was-dead pose...

Just doing my usual post-WOD, wishing-I-was-dead pose...

"There’s bodies all over the floor...

This is as uncomfortable as I’ve ever felt...

I'm covered in a paste-like mixture of chalk and sweat...

I can’t move...

But lying down feels awful too...

Maybe I’ll put my legs up in the air...

Bad idea. That made it worse...

I can’t breathe...

I’m gonna try laying on my side…

Nope...

    That also made it worse...

Why can I feel my heartbeat pounding in my arms?

And my legs?

And neck?

That’s not normal, is it?

I might die… I think this is what dying feels like…

I still can’t breathe…

This is definitely what dying feels like...

But nobody knows what dying feels like, do they?

Well, I suppose dead people do…

I need to take my shoes off...

I’m gonna take my shoes off...

I can’t reach my shoes…

Fuck it, the shoes are staying on…

Why did I just do that?

I knew what was gonna happen…

I paid money for this…

What the hell is wrong with me?"

 

 It's not fitness unless it's leaves a disgusting mess all over the floor.

It's not fitness unless it's leaves a disgusting mess all over the floor.

            

This is the feeling I’ve somehow come to associate with getting work done in the gym. It’s the pain of progress, and it’s a feeling that most CrossFit athletes, both amateur and competitive, are addicted to. The constantly-varied, highly-intense nature of the CrossFit WODs means it can hurt a million different ways on a million different days, but the psychological response seems to be the same. I feel like I’ve been to the brink of death, and that must mean I accomplished something.

 

But is there a point of diminishing returns? How much is too much? I’m sure cardiovascularly there’s no downside. I’m sure that pushing yourself to your breaking point will increase your work capacity and allow you to work past the point of discomfort over time. But what if your goal is to look better? That’s why I got into CrossFit, and for me  it’s been incredibly effective thus far.

CLICK HERE to read about the 33 Things I Learned After Losing 60lbs 

Some days I have to miss my scheduled class time, and I usually just replace it with a Powerlifting/Bodybuilding-style workout later in the evening. For some reason, I still feel like I didn’t get anything done because I’m not on the verge of throwing up and my mouth doesn't taste like blood.

Here at Massenomics, we’re fortunate to have Professor Schanz, our resident expert in all things Gainz, so we’re going to launch our new and recurring Q&A format,  “Ask Professor Schanz”. This will give you the opportunity to get your questions answered by The Professor himself. Simply submit your questions via email to getbig@massenomics.com , post them on our Facebook page (make sure you LIKE the facebook page while you’re at it), or leave them in the comments below this article.

 

So I’m gonna kick this off with an in-house question-

 

"Dear Professor Schanz,
I’ve been doing CrossFit workouts for a little over a year, and find myself really addicted to the metcon portion of the workouts. It’s gotten to the point where I almost take it easy on some of my strength work because I want to “save myself” for the Workout of the Day. I currently do 5-6 classes a week, and my primary goal is to improve my body composition and lose fat. Is this too much high-intensity work, and would I be better off doing fewer metcons and more strength sessions? I want to keep doing CrossFit as much as possible because I really enjoy it, but I want to make sure I’m still maximizing my muscle-building potential. Any tips?"
 
 

     Well, I think having a clearly defined goal here is important. At one end of the spectrum you would have maximizing muscle-building and on the other end of the spectrum you would have maximizing fat loss. If your primary goal is fat loss, then lots of high-intensity metabolic conditioning will help you achieve that goal, assuming you are able to recover properly from it.

     However, if improved body composition to you means maintaining as much muscle as possible first, while dropping as much fat as possible second, then strength training is going to need be of higher priority. Given the high metabolic activity of muscle (meaning it requires a lot of calories to maintain), Strength training needs to take at least an equal amount of your training currency, or likely more than what is spent with your metabolic conditioning.

     High metabolic activities coupled with the large stress (cortisol) outputs as a consequence of those activities, with a lack of  necessary strength stimuli to maintain muscle mass, is a recipe for catabolism. The high energy demands of metabolic conditioning can cause your body to breakdown muscle tissue, especially without that proper strength stimuli. So, while it can be effective for fat breakdown, it can also be effective for muscle breakdown.

     There are a few things you can do to maintain your muscle mass while shedding as much fat as possible during your metabolic conditioning:

 

1. Place a high importance on strength training .

     Consistently providing a stimulus to your muscles through heavy weight training will make sure your body goes through the proper pathways for muscle retention and maintenance. Without this stimulus, your body is apt to breakdown muscle tissue as it does not need to maintain it, and finds it actually inhibiting to the type of conditioning work one is trying to adapt to.

2. Make sure you are adequately recovering from your metabolic conditioning workouts.  

     If you are placing too high of a demand on yourself from these workouts and are approaching over-training territory, your body will enter a metabolic environment conducive to muscle breakdown. In scenarios like this, catabolic stress hormones (cortisol) are elevated, anabolic hormones are diminished (testosterone) or become resistive (insulin). Ensuring proper volume, rest days, and sleep can go a long way to enhancing your ability to recover from intense conditioning sessions.

3. Ingest proper workout nutrition.

     Ingestion of amino acids before/during your workout can jump-start protein synthesis while contributing to protein retention. Including carbohydrates with those amino acids can stimulate the secretion of insulin which can blunt the effects of cortisol and add another anti-catabolic component to the mix. All of this adds up to preservation of muscle mass.

     Fasted metabolic conditioning on the other hand may stimulate maximal fat loss, but it would be an ideal environment for muscle breakdown, also.


      So, to recap, a surefire way to lose muscle faster than being a vegan shipwrecked at sea, is to do tons of metabolic conditioning without recovering from it properly, lack an adequate strength training component, and do it in a fasted state or without proper workout nutrition.

Avoid these mistakes and you can have your metabolic conditioning cake and eat it, too.  Also, I am not very good with analogies.

 

  • Professor Schanz
 Now get yourself a Massenomics tee.  Click the picture!

Now get yourself a Massenomics tee.  Click the picture!