Good Morning Catacombs Community–
I want to talk to you today about intensity. I often tell new folks or those inquiring about CrossFit that intensity is the “secret sauce” that makes CrossFit work. It is the key to moving all significant health markers in the right direction. It is as simple as doing more work faster yet the only way to know intensity is to experience it. The CrossFit Journal recently published and article on intensity. You can read the full article here, but I will summarize what I think the important components are below.
Intensity is not a mythical creature born of grunting loudest, sweating most or cheering excitedly. It is also not a matter of opinion. It’s physics. Scientifically speaking, intensity is defined as power: force multiplied by distance, then divided by time. Many of us in past exercise lives have evaluated our exercise based on volume. How many miles, how much weight, how many repetitions. This is a great first step but it does not incorporate the intensity component. My suspicion is that we address this component last because it is the least pleasant. In other words, intensity hurts. But that discomfort—doing 5 more reps when all you want to do is stop—is how you become fitter.
“Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise,” says CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman. Favorable adaptation includes improved body composition and improved health markers such as fasting glucose and triglycerides. It takes people from sick to well to fit. In my opinion, this is one of the main reasons that we do CrossFit.
What is the converse of intensity? Again, in my opinion, it is superfluous volume. In other words, if a 12 minute workout is great, than a 24 minute workout must be AMAZING. WRONG! I understand this logic, but it runs counter to the point we are making today about intensity. If you perform a workout in 12 minutes with maximal intensity, there is no way that you can maintain that intensity for 24 minutes. As volume increases, intensity must decrease. This is one of the reasons that we vary the length of our workouts. Again, as Glassman says, “Be impressed by intensity, not volume.” Translation: Do more work in less time—not more work in more time.
How do we develop intensity? Understanding the intent of workout allows us to modify loads, repetitions and movements across our athlete population so that each athlete is working at their 100% capacity for the duration of the workout. Some days we prioritize load. Other days we prioritize speed. Every day we prioritize technique. The answer is different on any given day, but it is not a whimsical answer. We are not judging you as an athlete in suggesting you take weight off or perform less reps. We are trying to preserve relative intensity. As a coaching staff, we spend significant time talking about and agreeing on the desired stimulus and appropriate scaling. Why? Because you trust us with your fitness and we take that VERY seriously. The results you are looking for depend on it.
As a postscript, I’d like to remind you that we pride ourselves on our skill in tailoring workouts to individual needs. While YOU might be annoyed that you need to modify or scale movements, we most certainly are not. Our goal is to keep you moving. I smiled when I looked across the noon class on Thursday and watched athletes recovering from surgery, rehabbing injuries, or growing babies in their 3rd trimester all getting after a good workout with appropriate modifications. You guys inspire us.