Volume or Intensity?
Written by Invictus Athlete Josh Littauer
As a CrossFit coach, I have been approached several times recently by athletes with the question,“What else can I add in on top of my normal CrossFit class?” or “Can you make up extra stuff for me to do outside of the gym so I can get more work in?” These questions are raising an interesting topic that will take us back to the original intent of CrossFit.
The Current Trend – Desire to Increase Volume
There seems to be a trend happening in CrossFit boxes around the country and among many CrossFit athletes that an increase in volume will expedite the fitness process. This is true among competitive athletes who are trying to get the Regional or Games level, or your everyday members at your local affiliate. James Hobart, of CrossFit HQ’s seminar staff recently wrote a post on this subject that is full of great information 1. I will break down some of his thoughts and add a few of my own here.
When CrossFit started to become popular it was because of its potentially devastating effect on the body in such a short workout period while still causing tremendous health benefits. The simplicity of combinations of weightlifting, gymnastics and mono-structural movements was completely effective in developing a well-rounded fitness that worked across broad time and modal domains. The original prescription in a structured CrossFit class was a warm-up, short workout, and a cool down; perform five days a week and voila you have elite fitness.
Somewhere in the past few years we have adopted this idea that just a one-hour CrossFit class is not enough to create a full fitness program. So we added in additional volume in the form of an extra metcon, more weightlifting, more skill sessions, and before you know it your one hour of CrossFit has turned into two hours of a compilation of randomly designed workouts that may or may not actually be effective. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten the original intent of CrossFit.
Intensity is King, NOT Volume
So here is my thought. Intensity is King and will rule over the servant of Volume any day. Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit has said, “Be impressed with intensity not volume.” In its original intent CrossFit was made to be short in duration and high in intensity. Many times it is easy to get into a mentality of, “more is better” or “maybe if I add volume I’ll expedite the fitness process”. James Hobart says in his article, “Volume is not the cure-all; effective coaching is.” If an athlete is going to a normal CrossFit class and there is a well-rounded program in place, then that is sufficient for making continual progress. Even if slow, progress will be there; remember intensity is King. A single effective dose of CrossFit a day is enough to obtain and sustain lifetime fitness.
Different Needs for Different Athletes
As a coach it is important to understand an athlete’s goals with their training and work towards achieving those individual goals with each athlete. On the topic of additional volume, there are two cases that occur most often. The first is the athlete that wants to be competitive in CrossFit. The second is the athlete who has experienced some weight loss but progress has slowed. In both cases one of the biggest factors in deciding if more volume is appropriate is mechanical consistency in the athlete’s movement. The athlete should be able to move well, consistently at a high intensity, and be able to make improvement in movement with verbal cues from a coach.
For the athlete who is seeking to be competitive, an appropriate amount of skill work added to a normal prescription of high intensity CrossFit will suffice for making progress towards the desired goals. As for the second case, it is common that when an athlete sees quick progress in CrossFit and loses weight, but then progress becomes slower as they approach a much lower body weight that athlete will try to add volume as a way to continue the large amounts of weight loss. Again, intensity is King. To see continual progress in CrossFit, just doing more CrossFit is not the solution.
Understanding Power Output
A classic example could be a workout like Fran. A simple couplet of thrusters and pull-ups that is potentially devastating for the athlete that pushes deep into their anaerobic threshold. The transverse would be something like running a 5k, longer duration and much slower pace than the typical Fran. These two represent opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes volume and intensity. Fran would be relatively low volume, yet high intensity. While a 5k would be higher volume, but much lower intensity. Now is there place for longer workouts with a lower intensity threshold, yes; however these workouts should not be the staple of a CrossFit program.
Many people will assume more is better. Even so much as saying that the longer CrossFit workouts are actually “better” than the shorter ones. This is not the case, and in most CrossFit programs rarely will you see a workout that lasts longer than 30 minutes. Why? Because as the time period increases the intensity decreases. To simplify it, we can look at intensity in terms of total power output. Power output is equal to force multiplied by the distance divided by total time (P=(f*d)/t). In this case, if the time it takes to accomplish a similar task is longer than the effect it has is a much lower power output. Lower power output = lower intensity.
Developing Lifetime Fitness
In many cases, an athlete who tries to add more volume over the course of time will end up doing more harm than good. Remember we are talking about lifetime fitness, not quick gains. In a lifetime of fitness it is not necessary to sacrifice a dose of high intensity for more volume for the sake of just doing more. A complete CrossFit program that is effectively programmed to be completed in an hour class will suffice for developing a lifetime of health and fitness. For an everyday athlete, a single dose of high intensity CrossFit is sufficient; Intensity is King over Volume.
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