In my opinion, the two most important aspects of training for the vast majority of our athletes are strength and intensity. These are completely different aspects of CrossFit, and more specifically, CFW programming and they seem to be misunderstood.
The single biggest factor in your CrossFit success will be your strength. I believe that there is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to strength training beyond a certain level (as it pertains to being better at CrossFit) but the vast majority of our members aren’t anywhere near the level where that should be a concern.
Why is strength so important? Put simply – it makes everything easier. Consider Fran as an example. You can have all the wind/motor in the world, but if your one-rep max front squat is 155 pounds, Fran is going to eat you alive. You simply can’t do 45 thrusters at 95 pounds (more than 60% on your one-rep max) in anything less than 4-5 minutes. On the other hand, if you can front squat 275 pounds, the weight isn’t a concern and you can focus on intensity (more on that later).
Why do I mention this? Because many of you are not strength training properly. We provide detailed worksheets that outline a strength program tailored to each individual athlete based on weight and rep schemes that we know work. Despite that, it’s far too often that I see athletes working above/below the weight we have programmed for them, not performing the ancillary exercises (eg, band pull-aparts), or worse yet, avoiding strength altogether. All of these deviations have the same outcome – sub-optimal results. Not only is this research-based, not only has it been my personal experience – I see it in the gym every three months when we test max lifts. The athletes putting in the work see results; others continue to stagnate or even regress.
Is it hard? Yes – it’s supposed to be hard. The same is likely true for any other meaningful achievement to which you endeavor. Put in the effort. Work from your true one-rep maxes, follow the programming as we provide it and put in your best every time you are at the gym. Do that and I will guarantee results by the end of the next cycle in June.
Perhaps sharing one of the same issues as strength training, ego can stand in the way of progress, particularly as it pertains to intensity. Intensity is what separates CrossFit from an hour at the globo gym, a 10-mile run or the hours spent on a bicycle or a hike. We score and/or time our workouts and ask you to give everything you have during that short window of time.
WODs can be broken into two categories – task-specific or time-specific. Fran is a task-specific workout – everyone does the same rep scheme and same number of reps (21-15-9 of thrusters and pull-ups for time). AMRAPs are time-specific workouts – everyone works for the same length of time but the amount of work performed will vary by athlete. How fast you finish Fran and how much work you complete in an AMRAP will vary based on your intensity. Intensity – as opposed to volume – is the goal of the majority, but certainly not all, of CFW workouts.
Both volume and intensity are important but our programming generally favors intensity and we vary the level of intensity from workout to workout. It’s done that way by design as almost every athlete we have benefits more from intensity than from volume. Intensity can have many enemies most of which are mental. But the single biggest enemy of intensity I see? EGO.
The beauty of CrossFit is that a newbie can work out next to a college athlete, next to the best CrossFitter in class and next to Rich Froning and they can all do the same workout at the same relative intensity. The art of scaling allows this to happen. Too many athletes get caught up in doing a workout RX (as prescribed) and lose intensity as a result. [Note – The opposite problem happens as well – athletes don’t challenge themselves enough and scale beneath what’s appropriate for a workout and lose intensity.]
Intensity is why we ask athletes to post their times/scores on the board and why we ask you to track progress in your journals. If you see almost every athlete for the day finish in a wod in 8-10 minutes, it’s a signal that you should shoot for that range too. If you have to scale the weight in order to do so, don’t let your ego sabotage your progress.
Going back to our Fran example –some might finish Fran in 9:05 as prescribed and feel a great sense of accomplishment that they completed the workout RX. While I won’t take that away from them, that accomplishment (driven by ego) got in the way of progress. It’s a large factor in why we list hard time caps for our workouts and why we discourage or even refuse to allow athletes from working beyond those time caps.
I have heard the counter-arguments, and rather than re-invent the wheel, will leave off with some thoughts Jon Gilson of Again Faster and CrossFit’s L1 staff has shared:
“The vast majority of your training time, regardless of your aim, should be spent at general physical preparation, embodied in simple couplets and triplets, strength training, and the occasional long-duration effort. Short, hard, intense.
This intensity is much more important than volume. Remarkably more important.
Volume accumulation, the method by which athletes are able to endure ever-more reps within any given time period, is not the product of a week of training. It is the product of a lifetime of training, years of consistent focus.
Treat intensity and volume accumulation like two different things, each with a different trajectory. Intensity is created in the moment, embodied through intelligent programming that allows for maximum output. Volume is accumulated over months and years, an extraordinarily gradual layering of intense workout upon intense workout. Don’t confuse the two.
If intensity and volume accumulation are confounded, the result is generally setback: injury, movement deficiency, short-term success at long-term cost.
Be consistent in your training, but never overzealous in frequency. Never confuse simplicity with inadequacy. Never confuse volume with intensity.”
Success is a lifetime pursuit. Treat it that way.”