There are those who say that there's no such thing as overtraining; there's just under-recovery. While that may be true in a literal sense (you're overtrained if you can't recover from your workout), I think there's some benefit to maintaining the semantic distinction. Just remember that the two are inextricably related.
I tend to thing of overtraining as a failure of programming and observation. You eat great, you sleep 10 hours a night, you take time to stretch and do soft-tissue work, but you simply pile on too much work to maintain performance over time. This happens to elite endurance athletes like cyclists, who get too far "out on the razor," leaning out in response to training and being able to positively rip up a mountain pass early in the season or at the beginning of a stage race, but then finding they lack the reserves to recover. They're eating all they can; they're getting daily massages; and they're sleeping as much as they can, but they peaked too soon and trained to hard early on to succeed later in the season or the race. They are a classic example of someone who is overtrained. For them, the fall from grace is swift and hard. They are so specialized and up against such severe physical challenges that they can't rely on a different energy system or a different group of muscles to help them compete. They, as they say, start to go backwards quickly.
In the CrossFit world, we don't load ourselves up with such specialized training, where the same muscles and energy systems get hit day-in and day-out. As a result, overtraining is not as obvious to us. The programming of CrossFit, in fact, is designed to maximize intensity while minimizing the potential for chronic overtraining. There's enough variety of exercise and workout duration that broad, intense stimulus can be delivered day-in and day-out with a less severe risk from overtraining. Still, working like a dog three days out of four will catch up to just about anyone eventually, no matter how disciplined you are with your recovery when you're not working out. That's the reason that the conventional wisdom for following the mainpage WOD is to do it on a 12-week cycle where every 4th week is performed at ½ intensity and every 12th week is taken off from training entirely (or similar variations on that theme).
Don’t underestimate the value of those ½-intensity sessions. These are prime opportunities to dial in form refinements that will lead to improved performance down the road. Alternately, the light weeks provide an opportunity to learn new skills that can’t yet be performed at an intensity that might inhibit recovery.
Bill Starr says that when people get overtrained, it’s almost always because they do too much work on their light days. They throw some isolation exercises in to get those beach muscles pumped up or they add a metcon to work up a sweat. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with incorporating a variety of activities into a program (heck, CF is grounded in such variety), doing additional work without rhyme or reason is the surest way to interfere with recovery and inhibit progress.
Missing workouts every week makes it easy for me to avoid overtraining. However, that doesn't get me off the hook. The things that keep me at work until after the gym closes produce their own form of systemic stress that can produce the symptoms of overtraining. In this case, however, it's related directly to under-recovery, rather than my workout programming. I don't have time to foam roll; I don't eat quite as well; and I wake up at 3:30 every day thinking about what I have to do today. Still, I have to make the same adjustments to my programming as if I found that I piled on too much work the previous few days. Therefore, I bagged catching up on the much-needed chipper I missed yesterday, in favor of something that while difficult, wouldn't beat me down so much that I caught the family head cold (at least that's my hope).
Row 1,000m 3:41.6 (D6, 28spm) - sped up my stroke rate and this felt much easier, like a warmup even
Hip mobility drills
Front squat 45x5, 95x5, 135x3, 185x2, 205x1, 205x3, 215x3, 225x3, 235x2 + fail
Back squat 45x5, 225x17
Tabata rowing 1,017m (D8)
- 15 Glute-ham raise
15 GHD situp
The high-rep back squats were surreal as always. I staggered forward after the 16th rep and ended up with my right foot a good 8 inches in front of my left. I tried to put it back to parallel, but I just kept picking up my foot and placing it down in the exact same spot, like a horse counting to three. It wasn't that I didn't have the strength left to adjust my feet. I quite simply had lost control of my extremities, like some elongated character in a Dali painting.
The tabata rowing was a first and a suprisingly good showing. I did add some extra meters on there, because I needed to do a soft-pull to get the timer to keep going for a full 10-second rest, but I'm sure I've still got a 1K row with stricter timing. I think the form work is paying off. Thanks to Tom Taylor, Erin Davidson, and Kempie for some helpful tips.