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Training Cycles

The first year of a new athletic pursuit is an exciting time. You become exposed to your new sport, purchase gear, and begin to make space in your life for a commitment to fitness. As a coach, I love celebrating an athlete’s first year of CrossFit. They’ve usually got a jump rope, a gym bag, some callouses, and most important, they have some training cycles under their belt.

Training cycles, like intervals, come in all shapes and sizes. I belong to a strength and conditioning gym where CrossFit programming is offered as our primary conditioning tool. Let me say it another way – we lift weights every day. And we don’t just lift them when the WOD calls for them, instead strength training cycles are independently programmed in the gym weekly. Some of you work out in similar gyms, where you essentially do two workouts in each class, a “Strength,” and then the WOD. While training cycles vary in design, length, and intensity, they all share three core components – load, recovery, and adaptation. Let’s break these three components down and look at them from both a physical and spiritual perspective.

In physical fitness, load is exactly what you think it is, weight. But it’s not just weight, it’s the number of times an athlete will move the weight combined with the distance the weight will travel all held together by a time cap. This is the formula for fitness. In spiritual fitness, load is a combination of deliberate disciplines, or exercises combined with the stress and struggle of everyday life. What many athletes fail to realize is the high overlap in their bodies between the physical work in the gym and the demands of life. Which is why you need the second component of the training cycle, recovery.

Contrary to the whole “sleep when you’re dead” philosophy espoused on social media, recovery is a good thing. You need to recover. And I like to look at recovery in two distinct ways. First, there’s micro-recovery. Think of this as the 23 hours between workouts, or your rest days. I think we learned just how little recovering we were doing when COVID shut the world down. All of a sudden, we were sleeping longer, doing less outside the house, and prior to remote learning for the kids or the novelty of Zoom wearing off, it was a generally slower time. But you also need to consider macro-recovery. These are longer periods of recovery, usually five to seven days. I try to plan these around vacations where it makes sense. I already know I’m going to be away from the gym, so I give my body a physical break from training and just enjoy being active. A quality training cycle should address both.

Recovery needs to happen in your spiritual life as well. Now I don’t mean taking a two-week break from the reading the Bible, but yes, I am going to encourage you to switch things up. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck in a rut you think is a routine. If it’s difficult for you to read every day, make a plan to read for a few weeks straight, then take some time to recover. You’ve also got to realize the load of life and plan some recovery time there as well. Maybe summer camps for the kids can wait two weeks so no one has to be up early prepping meals and delivering kids. Maybe you need that marriage retreat with your spouse more than you think you do. Maybe you just need to put up some boundaries for a few weeks, giving yourself permission to say “no” so that you can say “yes” to more quality time with God. Because that quality time without load makes way for the third component of a training cycle, adaptation.

Just like your physical body adapts, so does your spiritual body. I can’t tell you how much I love spiritual transformations. Well, I guess you probably know since it’s like what I do for a living. And this is where your close community of friends on this journey with you become so important. It’s not always that easy to see changes in our own bodies. Usually someone else points them out to us. The community is there to encourage one another. Healthy communities are built on encouragement. When you see spiritual change in your community or family, affirm it. When people see change in you, receive it. Adaptation is the spiritual growth God supplies for the next training cycle on your horizon.

And then the cycle repeats – load, recovery, and adaptation. Spiritual fitness is a journey to conform our hearts to the image of Christ as we live a life ordered in and around the rhythm of God. And it’s made up of hundreds, if not thousands of these cycles. When you’re ready to discover more of who you are or what you’re capable of, God will be there with a training cycle.

Questions for Reflection:

How aware are you of the recovery component of your spiritual life? Do you practically engage in it?

What are some of the adaptations you’ve seen in your spiritual life? Can you correlate them to a practice you started, or a life struggle you faced?

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