Coach Mike returns with some insights into Intensity….

Scientifically, intensity is measured in several ways. Depending on factors like weight, time, speed, distance etc. One basic way to look at intensity from an exercise perspective is the RPE scale or Rate of Percieved Exertion. Typically this is on a scale of something like 1 to 10. 10 being super intense and 1 being super easy. This is problably the least scientific way of measuring something because how we ‘feel” about something depends on so many factors. The weather, the time of day, how many meaningful hugs you didn’t get, if you had an argument with your friend this morning, if you saw your feel good FaceBook cat in a skirt picture of the day or not, if you’re wearing those lucky underpants…for many people these are all feelings based issues that effect the way we perform tasks. Human sensitivities are not very scientific so we typically do not use the RPE scale for measuring progress in CrossFit. Weight, Time, Speed, Distance, Reps, Heartrate…these are all set, very measurable constants so using them and recording your progress by them is a far better way of measuring intensity.

Simply put; do more work, faster and your intensity has increased.

Our nutrition is what drives our intensity. Crossfit, is about achieving adaptation by pushing your intensity which drives hormonal and physical change.

Notice I said “Your” intensity not John Smith’s, not “Whiteboard Leader” BigRich, and certainly not Rich Fronings. Every person’s fitness is different, thus every person’s intensity will vary. It is about achieving a task as efficiently as YOU can. Multiple CrossFit Games Athlete Chris Spealler states “it’s about being comfortable with the uncomfortable”

My biggest love hate relationship with our gyms is the whiteboard. It’s the first place members go at almost every gym but that isn’t what bothers me. What bothers me is what people look for which is generally, the best times, the most reps, the heaviest loads. I get it, I am a very competitive person. It’s part of why I love Crossfit. However, too often that person’s next thoughts go to generating some equation for how they can lift more load, more reps, at a quicker pace, generally a lot less safe, based on what someone else achieved. This is a recipe for disaster and diminished progress. Sooner or later something will give and it’s likely to be an injury.

Before I dig deeper, I want to backtrack and reiterate a point from my last blog (Failure to Thrive). The athletes winning the workouts in your gym (big gyms or small gyms, elite gyms or average gyms) are or have been, weighing and measuring their meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit little starch, no sugar. If you are not, you should not expect and will not succeed in chasing the highest levels of intensity. Sure you will make limited progress, which may seem great for you but it won’t be your best. It is a difficult realization for many but folks need to understand, if their goals are to meet peak levels of performance and intensity their diet will need to be addressed first.

With that said, in regards to “whiteboard watchers” I often see two things happen regularly:

  • One, that athlete tries to pace their workout based on someone else’s intensity, burns out well before the required work is completed, and is left devastated struggling to accomplish the rest of the work.
  • Two, the athlete goes at a subdued pace, does ok and gets tired. They finish the workout breathing pretty hard BUT 5 minutes later this same athlete is doing extra programs, “added cardio”, strength training, or asking for extra work. Both of these athletes have failed to get fitter.

The first athlete pushed past their intensity threshold and learned nothing from the workout. They could have answered questions like, how many reps can I do unbroken consistently, what pace can I carry on the rower or bike, can I touch and go at this weight or are singles more efficient, how will my body transition between movements, can I adjust to a heavier loads with a high heart rate. There was no take away, the athlete failed to practice and they certainly didn’t push through the feeling of uncomfortability. This athlete went rouge and committed suicide. This is typical for newer athletes and it’s something coaches need to educate new clients on. It is also something that takes practice.

The second athlete misses the target on several levels I want to touch on. One, this athlete failed to push their intensity to “uncomfortability”. No one likes to be uncomfortable. Being good at it is a skill that needs to be developed through consistent practice just like double unders, muscle ups or walking on our hands. This skill promotes the most adaptation but for most it is not the priority. This is a majority of our athletes and these people will meet their “check in the box” fitness, stay well, be healthy, make incremental gains but they will not maximize their fitness.

To the athletes asking for more work or adding volume post WOD “Workout of the Day” I’d say GO FASTER! If you’ve ever done Fran or multiple max effort 1 minute Assault Bike sprints you know you are left wrecked and rendered useless on the floor like a baby. If you are not, you’re not doing it right. These athletes are generally the people looking to push their fitness to higher levels. For these athletes it’s important to outline their goals with milestones. Without doing this they will not see progress. Progress is what keeps people motivated and pushes further improvement. Simply, progress makes people happy.

Lastly, I see a huge nutritional fault happening with Athlete two. Now knowing nutrition rules all, this athlete is missing a golden opportunity to recover, build lean muscle and get fitter. Thirty minutes post workout is your best opportunity to get your body the nutrients (carbs and protein) required to improve your fitness. For most athletes it is not possible to keep the level of intensity needed throughout one let alone 2 or 3 workouts. Instead of wasting time doing half hearted work, do the required work and get your body the proper nutrition you need immediately. This will provide a much larger adaptation than more work.

This issue of volume vs intensity is a constant topic discussed within all Crossfit gyms. I want athletes to understand volume WILL NOT get them fitter. It is something that can help but only if these nutritional and intensity levels are developed, maintained and practiced. Even then volume should be added slowly in a structured manner. This individual also needs to understand increased volume creates a need for increased food consumption, more active recovery (stretching, foam rolling, mobility work), more sleep, and a more structured lifestyle. This is something that is not available to most of our members. Instead, focus on intensity and nutrition to improve their fitness.

Greg Glassman states “Coaches, be more impressed with intensity than volume.” Coaches should be thinking about this when guiding clients through their fitness journey. Be relentless about pushing your members outside the gym as much as inside it. Educating them on how to recover and train with proper intensity, and if they are ready for increased volume how to adjust all the other components of our program. For those starting i’d recommend getting used to hitting our workouts 3 to 4 times a week for several months before adding additional days. Just like anything there is a progression. Allow your body to adapt to the stimulus, be patient, hit the workouts hard and grow to thrive.