5 Lessons from a 2-Month CrossFit Break

5 Lessons from a 2-Month CrossFit Break

Asking a CrossFitter to give up CrossFit is like asking a sugar addict to put down the chocolate.

But that’s what my nutrition coach asked ok recommended I do earlier this summer in June.

A few years ago I would have politely said, “You’re crazy and no thank you.” But after taking time off now and then for adrenal recovery and injuries, and realizing that I wouldn’t gain a bunch of weight and spontaneously explode, I reluctantly accepted the experiment.

Why I Took the Break

In the springtime, I had been trying to do a “cut,” meaning a period where I reduced my food to eat for fat loss. It wasn’t overly aggressive since I have a history of adrenal fatigue and my stress and sleep are still a work in progress.

Along with my coach, we tried some different approaches but my body didn’t change much. So one next step to try was cutting out CrossFit and intense exercise.

There were a few reasons for this:

  • It’s easier to manipulate calories when you’re not doing high-intensity exercise several days a week.
  • High-intensity exercise like CrossFit can create an inflammatory state in the body, which causes water retention and a “puffy” look. (Some people can get super lean doing CrossFit, and others tend to stay kinda puffy. Pretty sure I’m in the puffy club.)
  • After trying out different macro approaches with CrossFit, changing up my workout was one more variable to play with.

What I Did On the Break

I got a cheap membership at another gym — yes, known as a dreaded “globo gym” to many CrossFitters. I did bodybuilding style lifting workouts 3-4 days per week. At the end of the lifting sesh, I walked on the treadmill at an incline for 15-30 minutes.

For my diet, I switched off between a week at maintenance calories and a lower carb / high protein week at about a 17% calorie deficit. Again, not an overly extreme approach.

Most weeks, especially the low weeks, I didn’t go to CrossFit at all. On the other weeks, I sometimes went once on a low intensity, lifting day.

What Happened

  • I could definitely see a difference after a few weeks. It wasn’t extreme but I lost a few pounds and felt less puffiness. (I forgot to take true “after” pictures at the end, but next time I do this I will!)


  • I could already see a visible difference in muscle tone that I’ve never been able to get doing just CrossFit classes. I even had multiple people comment on it, which really surprised me.


  • Once I went back to doing typical CrossFit metcons, I actually felt amazing. I felt stronger and didn’t lose any of my cardio like I thought I would.


  • Now for the negative… I typically need to workout out first thing in the early AM. And since my bedtime fluctuates (still a work in progress), I often prioritize sleep over working out when I go to bed too late. Well, during this time I pushed myself to get to the gym more tired mornings than usual because, if I was going to give up CrossFit, I really wanted to do this experiment right. But between this lack of sleep and reduced calories, I started feeling run down and low in energy. I also ended up getting sick at the end, so that’s when my coach and I decided to stop the cut. These are all warning signs that my body needed a diet break and was heading back down the adrenal fatigue path. (I took time for recovery and went back to eating maintenance calories before jumping back into CrossFit.)

Even though my aesthetic results didn’t go quite as planned, I still wanted to share this experience because I think there were some valuable takeaways.

I’ve been on a journey for a while now towards finding a balanced approach to diet and exercise, and this break really reinforced several of the lessons I’ve been learning along the way.

Lessons Learned

1. Recovery is just as important as exercise.
I invite you to stop and marinate on this one. Do you actually believe it? How often do you prioritize workouts over recovery? If you never let yourself fully recover, you’re not going to get optimal results. It’s not helpful to keep piling on soreness and fatigue, especially when you’re also not eating enough, sleeping enough, and dealing with life stressors.


2. You don’t need to feel like you’re dying after every workout to stay in good shape.
I recognize “good shape” is relative here, but for the average person trying to look good, feel good, and perform well, it’s not necessary. And if aesthetics is your main focus, it’s absolutely not necessary or optimal. Now, there may be times where you want to push your limits more often, but that brings me to my next lesson…


3. Periodization is key for both diet & exercise.
This simply means having one main focus for a period of time. So when it comes to diet for people who want to lose weight and get stronger (i.e. just about every CrossFitter I know), working on one at a time will help you get better results. The same goes for training. If increasing your endurance and cardio is the goal, perhaps you do want to be pushing hard in metcons for most of your workouts. When strength is the goal, you may want to minimize those long cardio WODs and add more lifts. (This can be hard with the typical CrossFit class format, but if you know the programming, you can choose which days you show up and any work you do outside of classes.)


4. Sometimes it’s not the right time to diet, and that’s ok.
When you’re feeling crappy
not sleeping great, feeling tired and lethargic, struggling with anxiety or depression or stressed out from work/life it’s not the right time to underfeed your body. (And it doesn’t have to be an extreme case for those either.) That’s the time to focus on eating enough, getting plenty of nutrient-dense foods, balancing blood sugar and making health your top priority. Then when it comes time for fat loss, your body will more easily work with you rather than against you.


5. Taking a break from high-intensity can be a good thing.
If you’ve been hitting hard workouts 5-6 days a week since you can remember or you haven’t felt strong in a workout in awhile, you might want to give your bod a break. No, you won’t gain a bunch of weight or lose all your fitness. It might be just what your body needs to reach a new level of awesome!


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