Crossfit’s methodology is, “ Constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity.”
Constantly varied is easy enough to understand. Exercises, repetitions, and time domains will be different from one day to the next.
Functional movements are even easier to understand. Functional movements are those movements which involve many muscles and many joints. Squatting, deadlifting, and pressing are all functional movements. We train these movements using a plethora of different exercises. But all of the exercises have one thing in common. They all involve as many muscle groups as possible to complete, and in doing so, allows us to get the most out of our training time.
The last piece of the equation is intensity. This is the difficult part. We know that consistently performing near our maximal fitness capacity will maximize the rate of return on favorable adaptation to exercise. Ie… We will get stronger and fitter more quickly giving our best efforts each and every day.
But what does this look like day in and day out? What does it mean to train near maximum fitness capacity? In order to improve, should a person be laying out on the ground after each workout struggling to flush the lactic acid in their muscles or catch one’s breath? This is what max intensity looks like in most people’s minds. But is it what is needed to improve health, fitness, and longevity? What does it truly mean to be performing at “high intensity” each and every day?
First, let’s understand what controls intensity. You can increase intensity by increasing the loading used. You can increase intensity by increasing the speed at which a weight is moved. You can increase intensity by increasing the number of repetitions you move a weight. Increasing any one of these factors will increase the effective intensity of the prescribed workout. I would often program “Deload” weeks which consisted of using mostly lighter loadings than typical. People would always complain at the end of the week that they felt even more tired using the lighter loadings/movements. The reason being, they took those lighter weights and moved faster and for more repetitions and therefore increased the intensity of the work being done by a great deal and thus did not have a deload week, but rather a training week that was more intense than what was normally completed.
According to many articles and much research. Exercise intensity must be at moderate to vigorous level for maximum benefit. But what is considered moderate to vigorous level of intensity? You might be surprised to know. One does not have to be laid out on the ground after a workout to have what is considered to be an intense workout session.
Here are some clues to help you define your exercise intensity:
- Feels somewhat difficult, but manageable.
- Breathing quickens but you are not out of breath.
- You develop a sweat after 10 minutes of activity.
- You can carry on a conversation, but you can not sing.
- Heart rate generally stays around 50-70 percent of max heart rate.
- When workout is complete, you feel good and you are recovered within a minute or two.
- Feels very challenging
- Your breathing is deep and rapid
- You develop a sweat after only minutes of activity.
- You can not say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath.
- Heart rate is over 70% and upwards of 85% of max heart rate.
- When workout is complete, you may need 2-5 minutes to feel somewhat recovered from the workout.
Over extending yourself (maximum intensity) during your workouts:
- Performed at a pace or loading that can not be maintained for more than 1-2 minutes
- Breathing is shallow and rapid.
- Sweating profusely.
- Can barely say a single word without gasping for air.
- Heart rate over 90% of max heart rate.
- When workout is complete it takes more than 10 minutes to feel somewhat recovered.
To calculate your estimated max heart rate simply subtract your age from 220. This is a very rough estimate and can be off by as much as 20 BPM. But this will get you in the ball park.
To train at moderate intensity day in and day out for someone my age (50 Years old), I would need to train with a heart rate between 85-119 BPM to be considered moderate intensity. Training at this level of exertion each day will reap huge benefits over time and decrease the likelihood of injury, fatigue, and burnout.
To train at a vigorous intensity for someone my age, I would need to train with a heart rate between 70-85% of maximum. Which again for someone my age, is 119-145 BPM. Training at this level of exertion will provide faster results than moderate intensity. This is a level of intensity that can be trained regularly after a base of fitness is already established.
For me, I feel good training at about 155-160 BPM for a sustained period of time. But it did take me a while to get to this point of training at this intensity.
Great information, now what the heck do we do with it all to get the most out of training time and enjoy our experience. Most days you train should be at moderate intensity. You should feel great after your session, be able to walk around fist bump or high five your fellow class mates. You should be able to recover very quickly from the days work and carry on with the rest of your day feeling energized and ready to take on the world.
Does that mean that I should never try to go hard during a workout? Not at all. But this is not something you should do more than once per week. Training at this intensity level is great when you are testing your current fitness, or pushing yourself to see how far you have come in your health and fitness journey. But it should not be a daily occurrence. Think about it this way, how much would you learn in school if you only took tests daily? Probably not very much right. Why would we want to test our bodies each and every day? We want to train our bodies each and every day. We want to enjoy the training. Doing this in a moderate intensity is more than enough to reach our goals over the long term. Training at too high of an intensity regularly will make you feel more tired, more sore, and will often give you less desire to train as you may still be trying to recover from a previous session.
Here is the prescription to follow to allow for someone to train regularly and get the best results.
- Train at moderate intensity 80-90% of the time.
- Train at high intensity 10-20% of the time.
- Reserve maximum intensity for competition or testing.