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Intensity versus Volume in CrossFit Training

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“Be impressed by intensity, not volume.”

— Greg Glassman

Intensity is defined as power: force multiplied by distance, then divided by time. In simpler terms: doing more work, faster. Intensity starts with getting comfortable being uncomfortable — doing five more reps when your body and mind are telling you to drop the bar and rest. In addition to that gem above, Glassman goes on to say, “Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with favorable adaptation to exercise.”

Favorable adaptation meaning improved body composition, lower blood pressure, faster Fran time, and all the other things we work so hard for. Essentially, do more work in less time as opposed to more work in more time. If you did a workout like Diane (21-15-9 reps of deadlifts and handstand push-ups) in 9 minutes, then decided to do another workout because “9 minutes wasn’t enough,” you failed to complete the workout with intensity. If done correctly, a workout like Diane should leave you on the floor for a while, struggling to get your breath.

If you fail to get to this point in any of your workouts, you have yet to master intensity. If you really gave 100 percent to today’s class workout, there’s no way you’ll have anything left to stay for a 360 class. Remember — more is not better. Better is better. So ask yourself, if I haven’t mastered intensity, should I be adding volume? Probably not. With the continued growth of online “competitive” CrossFit training programs (MisFit, Comp Training, and Invictus, among others), high-volume training has taken over intensity in CrossFit. This is not the way Glassman and the founders of CrossFit intended.

We need to start separating CrossFit as a sport and CrossFit as a fitness program. Most of us use CrossFit as a fitness program — we want to be stronger, fitter, and feel and look better. So why are so many of us training like competitors? Games and regionals athletes are able to do more because they’re so freakin’ fit that they can maintain intensity over multiple workouts in a day. If you’ve already done heavy deadlifts, snatches, and practiced your handstand walks, you can’t be mad when you don’t PR your Diane time.  

Stop gaming workouts. Hit one workout and hit it hard. Go home knowing you gave 100 percent to that workout, instead of giving 60 percent to five workouts. This doesn’t mean you can’t slowly add volume once you’ve figured out how to truly perform at max effort. Emphasis on SLOWLY.

Add an extra day of squats or stay after class and do a skill EMOM of strict pull-ups, push-ups, and double unders. Do some Assault Bike sprints or accessory work for pistols. Do some snatch technique work with light weight. These are things you can easily add to the existing program that will help you improve and won’t beat you up or cause injury. Adding volume doesn’t have to mean 2-hour training sessions.

CrossFit often gets a bad rap for “causing injury.” Well, the majority of these CrossFit injuries are caused by overtraining — aka doing too much too soon. So be smart, scale appropriately, and listen to your coaches!

So, you think you’ve mastered intensity and you’re ready to add some extra volume? Stay tuned for a 6-week cycle of extra work designed to improve your conditioning!