One of the hallmarks of CrossFit training is that it is a form of “high-intensity interval training.” This means you do various types of exercises at an intense level, but what does “high-intensity” really mean?
That’s a great question! Let’s start with what it DOESN’T mean. It doesn’t mean insanity. Once in a while people completely lose their ever-loving minds when they are doing the WOD. It happens to everyone once in a while. Usually it’s when the right mix of endorphins, the spirit of competition and the right song at the right time coming through the system at just the right volume all collide. You brown out and God only knows what happens afterward. No surprise, this level of insanity is also when a lot of injuries happen.
Now that we know intensity and insanity are two different things, how do you achieve the proper level of intensity, and does it really even matter?
First of all, be clear that intensity is not about running around all crazy and out of control. That is a hallmark feature of insanity and we already agreed that intensity and insanity are different! Intensity can be gauged by your heart rate as well as your effort. A 400-pound one-rep max deadlift is an intense movement, but when you do it your heart-rate probably won’t be in the stratosphere. Similarly, 20 burpees unbroken is pretty intense for most people and while it may not wear you out for the rest of the day, your heart will likely be exploding out of your chest by the end of them.
Secondly, yes, intensity matters a lot. Too intense and you will compromise form and probably hurt yourself. If your intensity is too low, then you’re sandbagging the workout and you won’t really see any results from the work anyway, so what’s the point?
Another feature of intensity is that it varies by the athlete. For some people the 400-lb deadlift mentioned above is barely a warm-up, or they could do 50 burpees unbroken without breaking a sweat while reading the paper and holding a cup of coffee, not a drop spilled. For others, either one of those efforts could land them six feet under. So, it’s important to note that intensity is about YOU, not anybody else.
Intensity is something you and your trainer will need to set for you throughout the workout.
Remember the endorphins and other stuff mentioned above? You as an athlete cannot always be trusted to set your own intensity level, so you have to trust your trainers to help. Your trainer is like your designated driver when you’re working out.
The right level of intensity is when you are working hard enough that just the most minor breaks in form are starting to show through. If those breaks get more obvious or more risky, you and/or your trainer need to dial you back, either slowing down your reps, dropping some weight, or both. The proper intensity is a balancing act between good form and bad form, in other words, and the right level of intensity for you pushes you to the brink without letting you fall over the cliff. Don’t feel bad self-regulating your intensity and don’t argue with your trainer when they dial you back during a WOD because they are doing it for your own good, just like when a designated driver snatches your car keys from you.
Be intense. Don’t be insane!
Contributed by Steve Agocs, DC, SFMA, FMT, CF-L1