Intensity: Are You Doing it Wrong?

If you have been around CrossFit very much then you have probably heard  that it is constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.  You get that it is constantly varied.  You do something different every day.  Anyone who has been to CrossFit more than a few times knows this.  You probably also get the functional movement part.  We do movements that the body was meant to perform.  They mirror movements outside the gym.  What has gotten gotten confused a lot is the high intensity piece.  What exactly does this mean and how can you apply it to your training?

I think that most people think of high intensity as being laid out on the floor after the workout not being able to move.  Throwing up would be a positive.  This is a message that has been greatly misinterpreted and has led to a lot injuries, plateaus, and burnout.  There is a difference between high intensity and maximum intensity.  Not only is maximum intensity every day not a good idea, but it will also set you up for failure.  If you are pushing that redline every day and making yourself sick and sore, eventually you are going to break.  This is not sustainable and will not let you make progress for very long.  Every day you lift you should not be going to failure.  Every workout you should not be wiped out on the ground for 15 minutes afterwards.  We should not be maxing out our intensity every day we walk into the gym.  So what should we be doing?

I have started saying relatively high intensity when describing how people should be going about their workouts every day.  What this means is that we go hard relative to our own fitness levels, not someone else's.  We focus on our own effort and not on the effort of someone else.  We also go hard relative to how we feel that day.  If we feel awesome then we push it.  If we had a bad night of sleep, are feeling sore, are stressed from work, or just generally aren't feeling that great then we give what we have to give.  We don't try to push it just because we feel we should.  This is how I would encourage you to attack each day of training.  There is a time and a place for being wiped out after a workout.  It's not every day though.  Depending on the person, that should only be once or twice a week, or even less.  The rest of the time we should feel tired after a workout but energized.  

The main way we try to monitor our athlete's intensity at our gyms is through the program.  We try to vary the weights in the lifting sessions so that some days we are maxing out, some days we are doing percentage work, and some days we are doing lighter accessory work.  We do this with our gymnastics so that some days we are doing holds in positions, some days we are doing light skill work, and some days we are going for volume.  We do this with our workouts so that some days we are going long with simple movements, some days we are going short and heavy, and some days we are in between.  Our goal for our athletes is that about 70% of the time they should be living in the 80-90% effort range.  The other 30% of the time is a mix of less than 80% effort and more than 90% effort.  We have found that this way of training is very sustainable, keeps you progressing, and keeps you healthy.  Pushing the intensity higher more often is a recipe for disaster.

The quickest way to halt or reverse your progress is to go all out every day.  This works for a little while until it stops working, and then your body will break down.  Learn to listen to your body and let it tell you what it needs that day.  If you feel good then push the pace in the workout or the weights in the lifting.  If you don't feel great then drop down to that 80-90% range and get a good workout and live to fight another day.  If you learn how to do this then you will keep coming back for years.  Remember this.  Fitness is not achieved in a day, a week, a month, or even a year.  It is achieved over years, decades, a lifetime.  The goal should be to make progress every time you step in the gym, not to make yourself so sore that you can't walk right for a week.  It is not a sprint but a marathon.  Act accordingly.