A few years ago we released an article about how long it takes to improve in CrossFit. Using “Fitness Level“, our robust measure of an athlete’s physical capacity, we looked at improvement rates across all levels and abilities. We found that on average it takes about 5-6 months to improve your overall Fitness Level by 10 Levels (e.g. going from a level 60 to a level 70).
In this article we will be exploring whether working out additional days per week is worth the extra effort. For years, many prospective CrossFitters have wondered if working out five times a week was worth the time commitment. Is three days a week enough to see good improvement? What about two days?
Fitness Level Overview
Working out 5 days per week week produced 27% faster improvement than 3 days per week.
After analyzing the data, we found that working out 5 days per week week produced 27% faster improvement than 3 days per week. Even increasing from 3 to 4 days per week is associated with 10% faster improvement. We’ve often heard people discount the value of only working out 2 days per week, but the data shows that those athletes only progressed 7.5% slower than their 3 day per week counterparts.
So is it worth it? Well, that depends.
Clearly there is a substantial performance benefit to working out 5 day a week. But there may be some downsides as well. For one, many gyms charge more for 5 times a week vs. 3 times a week. If that’s how it works at your gym, the additional cost is something to consider. If your gym only offers unlimited memberships, then coming 5 times a week gives you more for your money.
Also, the additional workout time is a factor to consider. Working out 5 times a weeks requires 66% more time than 3 times a week, for only 27% faster results. If you’re already strapped for time in your weekly schedule, this tradeoff may not be worth it for you.
Another issue is recovery and injury risk. The more days you workout, the less your body gets to recover. This can set you up for endless days of soreness and could possibly put you at a higher risk for injury. As always, listen to your body and rest when you need it.
Ultimately, the answer to the question depends on your goals. Are you just trying to stay healthy? Or are you trying to make Regionals this year? If improving as fast as possible is your number one priority, then you should strongly consider increasing your workout days to 5 (or more). If you’re just doing it for fun and health, then there is no need to push your luck. Pick the numbers of days that fit in your lifestyle and that allow for recovery, and you’ll be well on your way to improving your fitness for the long haul.
To answer these questions, we analyzed the data from athletes whose Fitness Levels have improved by a least 10 levels on our site. We only included athletes who have logged enough results to have a Fitness Level with a confidence level of 2 or 3 (yellow or green on BTWB). The sample included a wide range of athletes, some who improved from 20-30 all the way up to those who improved from 80-90. We then calculated their average Workout days Per Week (WPW) during their period of improvement. Next, we compared how many months it took them to improve 10 Fitness Levels against their WPW. Finally, we conducted hypothesis testing to see if there was a statistically significant difference in average improvement times depending on WPW. We found that there were statistically significant (p<.001) differences in average improvements times for each WPW category (Two, Three, Four, Five, and Over 5 WPW). The WPW categories were defined as follows:
Here is some more information on the breakdown of these athletes. Most of the Fitness Level improvement data came from athletes who improved from 50-60 and 60-70. Most of the athletes averaged Three or Four Workout days Per Week (WPW). The ages of athletes ranged from 18-65 with an average age of 34.8, which matched the site-wide average age. The sample was heavily male (77.5%). The site-wide male percentage is 66.9%, meaning this sample was skewed more towards men than our entire site is. See the charts below for more details on the demographics of our sample.
We hope you enjoyed this analysis of WPW and Fitness Level improvements. But there are a lot of other possible variables that may effect how fast you improve in CrossFit. These include Age, Gender, Height, Weight, Sleep, Nutrition, Programming as well as many other variables. We hope to analyze the effects of as many of these as we can in the future. The next variable we are going to be looking at is how age affects Fitness Level improvements. Be sure to check back for that one to see whether blaming slow progress on your age is a reasonable excuse.