One Word Secret to Getting the Most from Your Workout
That word is…..nah, can’t unveil it yet. This would be the shortest article ever! Instead let’s do a little self-discovery 😉
Remember back to the shadow of your current self that walked through the doors on your first day. You remember that person right? That not quite as fit or strong person filled with nervousness but chomping at the bit to figure out what this CrossFit thing was all about. We brought that person over to the board, had a few laughs, and then answered that question with one simple phrase – “constantly varied, functional movements, executed at a high intensity.” I can still see the puzzled looks on everyone’s faces as they tried to figure out what in heck that actually meant. As much as I’ve always wanted to just leave people hanging with that definition for the sake of comedy, I inevitably break that down piece by piece. We started first with functional movements and how they are natural, safe, compound movements that we do on an everyday basis. We then moved on to constantly varied where we declared routine the enemy to our fitness and explained that we vary with purpose. Finally we touched on high intensity. We always make it a point in this section to hammer home the ability to scale for everyone. In fact we do it so well that it often overshadows a subtle but incredibly important statement – “Studies have shown that intensity is the most important factor in eliciting favorable body adaptations.” In other words, intensity is what makes the good stuff happen! Want big muscles and washboard abs to show off at the beach? Intensity. Want to drop some pounds, tone up, and look good naked? Intensity.
So, yes that one word secret is intensity.
Awesome, so what does intensity really mean?
I have a little story to answer this one.
I was extraordinarily lucky to learn how to coach, move, and compete from one of the greatest in the business, Austin Malleolo. One day I watched him finish up one of the more disgusting workouts I’ve seen a person do and he promptly sat down on the ground desperate for his body to recover. You would have sworn he had just finished competing at the Games! I walked over to him for an encouraging fist bump and complemented how hard he pushed himself. Amidst his gasping for air he looked at me and said, “To truly get fit, you have to go to that dark place at least 3 times a week. It’s hard to do but you have to go to that place where you know you don’t have anything left.”
I immediately thought to myself, “I’ve totally gone there…….once” (gulp). Those simple words of wisdom set off a light bulb in my head. I was showing up for my hour class, getting tired, seeing good results, but I wasn’t truly maximizing my fitness because I wasn’t truly maximizing my intensity level! It then became my mission to “go to that place” frequently. It wasn’t easy but I almost immediately noticed huge gains both physically and mentally. I uncovered a whole new set of limits and it was exhilarating!
To oversimplify, intensity means taking yourself to and sometimes past your perceived physical and mental limits.
Got it. So how do I increase my intensity?
Awwww yeah – time to get geeky. Don’t worry, it’s not that bad.
Intensity is directly equal to power which equals (Force x Distance)/Time. Thus, we increase intensity by moving large loads long distances quickly. In laymen’s terms this means you increase your load, increase your reps, and/or do it faster.
No, I asked how do I (as in specific to me) increase intensity?
The answer to this question depends on the individual, how they move, what goals they have, what injuries they have, etc.
Volume. In general, I view volume increase as the last resort. An increase in volume is harder on the body, which can make it harder to recover and easier to succumb to overuse injury. If you are a competitive CrossFit athlete then consistent high volume is necessary, but for the everyday person a large dose of high volume doesn’t pass my risk/reward smell test.
Weight. Quick – what are your typical repping weights for cleans, deadlifts, and push press? Think about it a little longer……ha, it’s a trick question. If you have a typical repping weight, then it’s probably time to try something a little heavier assuming you move well. Even an extra 2.5 lbs or 5 lbs can do the trick. Yes, it will feel heavier and yes you will be a little slower…at first. Then suddenly that new weight becomes your typical repping weight and it’s time to go up again. Remember – heavy weight doesn’t hurt you – bad movement hurts you, so all of this assumes proper movement, which is what we are there to help with!
Speed. Once again, I am going to assume you are moving well and to standard. We move faster two ways – increase rep speed and decrease rest time. Experiment! If you have a solid deadlift then try to do it a little faster with bigger sets. If you are doing cleans and those hammies are yelling at you to stop but your form is still good, then try one more than you typically would. See what you are capable of…it’s the only way to know what your limits truly are!
So what: We will always prioritize proper movement over all else, but don’t forget the importance of intensity! If you have been doing this stuff for a while, trust yourself and trust us. See what you are capable of and you will be rewarded! We see limits in all of you well beyond your own realization. Now it’s time for you to discover them for yourself!