Updated: Oct 28, 2020
"The measurable amount of force"
If you're just starting on your fitness journey and think functional fitness/CrossFit fanatics are insane for their cult-like following, you can't deny they unveiled an aspect of training that has been long lost until recent years; intensity. If you're thinking to yourself right now "I have no idea what you mean exactly when you say 'intensity'," you're in the right place!
I touched briefly on this in The 3 Golden Rules of Exercise (check out rule #3!). That's a great place to start to get a rudimentary understanding of what intensity is.
Now we're still staying fairly surface level with this concept as it is rooted in physics and that can become cumbersome fairly quick. So, buckle up, we're going to go fast (if you're not a big reader, you can watch some training footage and listen to me read this blog!)!
WHAT THE HELL DOES CROSSFIT HAVE TO DO WITH PHYSICS?
Work= Force X Distance...Power (Intensity)= Work/Time.
Coaching for a number of years has lead me to learn one thing. If more than 3 people under your watch are doing something incorrectly, it's your fault, not theirs. If you ask 100 people what CrossFit is, I'm sure you'll get 100 different answers. So, as your coach for the day, we're going to ensure we can describe what CrossFit is but more importantly, how we can borrow their widely popularized methodology of intensity. Once we've done that, we can apply it to any style of training we like!
CrossFit defined itself as "constantly varied functional movement executed at high intensity" (see, there's that word again!). Now, if this is your first time hearing this, you're probably having the same reaction I had. "What the f*&k does that even mean?" Basically, it means to do exercises that mimic daily motions or use large portions of the body in as many combinations as possible, as fast as possible. The purpose of doing this is to "increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains." Jeez, they are really killing it with the jargon here! In normal people speak, the goal of doing a lot of whole body movements in a lot of combinations quickly (CrossFit) is to increase your ability to accomplish physical tasks in a variety of situations.
Whew, why didn't they just say that to begin with!? I wish I had an answer for you! But they borrow intensity from physics and it can become confusing when explained. But, momma' didn't raise a quitter so we're diving into it! Hang in there.
When we go to workout, we're accomplishing "work" (cleverly named activity there). Work is defined as force X distance. So work= force X distance. "Force" is synonymous with "load". So if you're using a barbell, 45lbs would be input as your load. "Distance" is synonymous with "Repetitions". So every rep you do adds to the distance of the workout. So for simplicity sake it can be thought of as Work=Load X Reps.
Power (also synonymous with intensity) is work divided by time. So power ( or intensity)= work/time. This means, the more work (moving a load over an amount of reps or distance) you do in less time, the higher intensity you're maintaining. As an example, let's say Johnny and I are doing squats with 500lbs (I know, we're really strong). We put a clock on for :60. He does 9 reps, I do 7. He moved the same load a further distance in less time than I did. He had a higher intensity level. Same :60 on the clock and this time Johnny and I both do 9 reps. However, I used 550lbs and he used 500lbs. Even though we did the same reps (or covered the same distance) in the same time, I use a heavier load which in turn increased my intensity or power. Now, last scenario here. Same weight is back on the bar (500lbs). Johnny and I both do 9 reps again. This time it took Johnny :30 and it took me :45. He accomplished the same work (load X reps) in less time, therefore he held a higher intensity.
GREAT, NOW HOW THE HELL DO I USE THIS?
If you're still fuzzy on this whole thing, check out this short video. That should point you in the right direction!
Hopefully we've caught onto a few ways we can increase our intensity.
First, we can increase our load used. Like when Johnny and I were using 550lbs. vs. 500 lbs. This seems fairly simple and intuitive. If you want to get stronger, progressively use heavier and heavier weights so the body can adapt to it. Only problem I see here is some folks don't know how much weight is too much to use week to week. Too much too soon and the body can't keep up. Too little too late, the body won't change.
Another aspect we can manipulate in order to increase intensity would be increasing the distance travelled in a workout (or reps). Just like when Johnny did 9 reps and I did 7. The more reps we do, the more this adds to our overall work and intensity. However, if I'm not using an adequate load, let's say a toothpick, I can do 1,000 reps and the body won't respond in the manner we want.
The last and most underrated aspect to be manipulated to our advantage (in my opinion) is time. I can easily up the intensity of a workout by DECREASING the time of a workout. Only thing is, my load and reps can't be sacrificed in an attempt to up go faster. That would take away form the overall equation. Just like when Johnny and I both did 9 reps at 500lbs except he finished in :30 and I finished in :45. We arguably are using an adequate load (I pray to God 500lbs qualifies as adequate!), traveling a decent distance (9 reps), and are finishing as fast as possible (:30-:45).
The last and most underrated aspect to be manipulated to our advantage (in my opinion) is time.
In short, intensity allows us to get more work done in less time. This is not only awesome from a time management stand point but also from a physiological side. Using the same weights over and over again or not using heavy enough weights won't progress us in the right direction. We want to caution on increasing load though. Too much and we won't make it. Not enough, and we will stay the same. Increasing our overall rep count (distance) is a great way to build volume and up intensity but if we're using weights that are too light, we fall into the same pitfall again. 1,000 reps of a marshmallow curl won't help us (but it sure would be tasty!).
The number 1 one in my book to get a better workout is to not change either the weight or reps of your current workout routine. I challenge you to keep everything else the same, but go faster. Making sure form doesn't fly out the window, whatever you're doing now, cut down the rest between movements. Try to speed up the movements. Instead of jogging a mile, RUN that mile ALL OUT.
As always, thank you for the read and I hope you learned something! Comment with any questions you have and share with a friend who you'd think would enjoy this.
I'll see you on the next one!