What is intensity and how you might be doing it wrong

Joey ScafidiinstructionLeave a Comment

intensity gauge

I saw a post from Jon Gilson the other day that made me want to write about this and also because this same subject came up at one of our coaches’ meetings recently. Jon Gilson’s been around the CrossFit scene from the very beginning. He runs a great business seminar and always puts out lots of great content geared towards CrossFitters.

Here it is..

“A quick note on CrossFit advancement:

The prescription is Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity. This should not be confused with Mechanics, Consistency, Load. They are not equivalent.

Put another way, load is an input into Intensity, but not a determinant, and too much load will blunt intensity needlessly, limiting adaptation.

At its most basic, this means you should take longer to add load than you believe necessary. Bias toward speed and mechanics. This will keep intensity high, thereby fulfilling the prescription, and ensuring proper progression.”

This is something that we’ve told every single one of you from day one at your introductory lesson. “Technique first, then consistency and only after you have those two things then, intensity.”

  • Technique – Moving correctly and safely. Easy
  • Consistency – Moving correctly and safely all of the time, even when you’re tired. Easy
  • Intensity – Screaming? Elevated heart rate? Going hard!?

Intensity’s always been mistaken for things that it’s really not.

So, here’s what it is.

Intensity is exactly equal to power and power is equal to force*distance/time.

How much weight did you move. How far did you move it and how long did it take you? That’s power.

Let’s say that we have 2 identical men do the workout Fran – 21-15-9, thrusters with 45kg and pull ups.

Both men are 175cm tall and weigh 85kg.

Athlete #1 does Fran in 3:00 (very impressive!)

Athlete #2 does Fran in 8:00

It should be obvious that athlete #1 produced more power and therefore got a better workout by getting a much faster time while being the same height and weight as athlete #2.

We can see in the table below, from CrossFit Rockwell, that athlete #1 produced .501 horsepower during the workout and athlete #2 produced only .185 horsepower.

If athlete #2 wants to increase his power output to be more in line with athlete #1 and therefore get a better workout, guess what he should do??

Go Faster!

“But the bar’s too heavy he can’t go faster!”

…….See where I’m going with this yet?

Let’s say that by dropping the thruster weight for athlete #2 to 30kg he’s now able to match athlete #1’s time of 3 min.

This more than doubles athlete #2’s previous power output of .185 horsepower to .437! And I guarantee that the feeling he has after that workout will be much different than the 8 min workout.

“Ok, great! Who cares?”

YOU should!

Want to get fitter, lose weight, get more tone, get stronger?………The answer had better be yes!

Moving with intensity is going to get you there faster than not.

“Intensity is almost always the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing the rate of return of favorable adaptations.”
– Greg Glassman

That’s a big mouth-full, right?

What it basically boils down to is this – Intensity is the shortcut to improved fitness. And if power is intensity then raising your power output during the workouts is going to make you fitter, faster!

Check out this short 6 minute video from one of my favorite CrossFitters, the Flowmaster at my Level 1, and now one of the commentators for the CrossFit Games, Pat Sherwood.

“Now that I know what intensity is how do I apply this to my daily workouts?”

Stop going Rx!

Yep, I said it. Sometimes going Rx is not doing you any favors. Yeah, it feels good to do the workout exactly how it’s written on the board and in SugarWod your name is under the Rx column, which you might care too much about. Other than that though, there’s no real benefit.

Imagine that you just PR’d your thruster with 60kg (awesome!) and now you’re thinking about doing Fran Rx.

Probably not so awesome.

A 45kg thruster would be 75% of your max thruster! The thought that you’ll be moving with much intensity at that weight is probably not going to happen and intensity is the name of the game when performing Fran. Your goal should be to choose a weight that lets you complete the workout in around 5min.

To get the proper intensity from the thrusters in Fran you should be moving with a weight that’s no more than 50% of your thruster max. Light enough to crush it.

Now, having said all of that, occasionally it is good to slap on some more weight and grind through a workout.

This can give you the confidence that you can, in fact, complete the workout with the prescribed weight. A great feeling! It also just feels good to throw around some heavier weights.

But don’t forget that the WODs are also known as Metcons or metabolic conditioning. (Check out Ryan’s article on the different metabolic pathways that he wrote a couple of weeks ago.) The goal during these metcons is to improve your cardiovascular endurance. The focus isn’t on getting stronger, that’s what our strength sessions are for!

So, to conclude, when choosing weights and deciding on gymnastic progessions to use in the workout always refer back to the scaling guide that’s always listed in SugarWod under the workout description. Your goal should be to finish somewhere in the lower half of the time or rounds listed. And yes, that’s not always the case but it’s a good general guideline to follow.

“Intensity is the key to improving fitness, not volume. Games athletes need more volume, the rest of us don’t. Keep intensity high.”
– Pat Sherwood




CrossFit video on intensity:

Fran Power output calculator:

What is Power:


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