“Earn Your Intensity”
I didn’t coin this phrase. Many people in the industry have adopted a similar mantra. However, I love it as if it were my own flesh and blood. It reads as a concise manifesto for the culture we’ve created at CrossFit Webster.
What does it mean?
Simply put, it means that we are not capable of working out at 100% intensity, all the time. If you’re a member at the gym then you’ve already read about, and heard me talk about this (and may even feel like I’m beating a dead horse). We come to the gym to feel good about ourselves, to improve our health, and to look better in the process. Most of us do not come to the gym to qualify for the CrossFit Games. The reality is that most of the time we spend in the gym should be ‘training,’ not ‘competing.’ Training does not (and should not) need to be at 100% effort every day. It’s not sustainable.
I didn’t always see it this way. When I first joined CrossFit, the competitive element of each workout was intoxicating. Everyday, for years, I would push myself to the max, and every workout would leave me in a heap, on the ground, gasping for air. Rinse and repeat. I learned the hard way that this doesn’t work in the long term. What good is a workout that steals your soul if you’re not able to train the next day? The typical cycle of the CrossFit experience sounds something like this:
- We join the gym – Everything is new, and as we learn how to do the movements, we make tremendous strides. All of our lifts go up, we’re hitting huge personal bests almost every time we lift (“Gainz”). The reality is our ‘training age’ (The amount of time we’ve spent lifting weights, learning gymnastics, doing conditioning, etc) is very low. Many of us are experiencing it for the first time, and the progress we see is akin to ‘learning to walk.’ We may even be learning some of the more complex movements like kipping pull ups, or the Clean and Jerk in a class setting, without building the prerequisite strength needed to do so. You can probably picture the athlete I’m talking about – the one who takes 2-3 steps to jump up to the bar and do a pull up. Regardless, we’re making progress, it’s intoxicating, and we end up showing up to the gym EVERYDAY.
- We Plateau – The newness of the training has worn off (our ‘training age’ has increased), and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find those “Gainz” that came so easily. Athletic development is not linear. It takes years to build real strength. We get frustrated, and search for answers. Magically, we all come to the same conclusion. “I know what the answer is,” you’ll say to yourself. “The answer is to spend even MORE time at the gym!” So now we’re spending hours at the gym, everyday, at maximum effort (because we haven’t learned to moderate intensity).
- We break down – Not all at once, of course. It happens in phases. “My back hurts,” or “I can’t squat today, I’ll do Power Cleans.” Soon we’re paying for Chiropractors, Massages, and Physical Therapy without feeling better or seeing results. We’re pounding Bang energy drinks to get through workouts, and ‘Monsters’ to get through the rest of the day. We get headaches, get sick, and can’t figure out why. We’re taking a week (or more) off from all physical activity because we have to. I’m writing from personal experience (Not Bang or Monster though, that shit is disgusting. Real talk). I was this person! It got to the point where I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning because my back hurt. I couldn’t sleep on my left side for about 6 months because it hurt my shoulder! What was I doing???
As I planned for, and opened the gym, my mission was to approach fitness in a different way: Let’s build a healthy, supportive community, and develop a sustainable way to train. Let’s focus on giving each member the tools and awareness to be a better athlete by focusing on the fundamentals, and building foundational strength. Understand that there is life outside of the gym’s 4 walls, and encourage the members to go hiking, do yoga, go for a walk or at the very least – take a freakin’ rest day! It meant designing a program where many of our workouts are “Not For Time.” On some days, we don’t touch a barbell. On others, there are no prescribed weights (and no ‘Rx’ on the board), in an effort to encourage our members to do what they feel they need to get through the workout on that day. You will make more progress by working out at 80% effort for 300 days a year, than you will at 100% effort for 225 days. We’re 5 months in, and I’d like to think we’re already there.
Why bring this up again? Why is the timing of this post relevant?
If you are a part of the CrossFit community, you’re probably aware that we’re just about 2 weeks away from the CrossFit Open. ‘The Open’ is the annual test of fitness for the entire CrossFit community. All 14,000 ‘Boxes’ do the same workout, every weekend, for 5 Weeks. The Open is very important for ‘the best of the best’ – the top athletes in the Open will qualify for the CrossFit Games. For the rest of us, it’s a fun way to test all the training we’ve been doing, foster a competitive atmosphere, and give us an ice breaker with anyone else that does CrossFit (favorite Open workouts, Open workouts that crushed us, etc).
The Open is intense. The Open is challenging. It’s an excuse to give 110% to a workout once a week to ‘see what you’re made of.’ The Open is FUN! It can also be a double edged sword for members of the gym. If we are working out at maximum intensity, every day, we’re putting ourselves in a state where we may not be fully recovering between workouts. Throw a weekly competition in to the mix and you’re asking for injury.
Many athletes will attempt the same workout two or three times In the same weekend to ‘improve their score.’ I get it, and yet, looking at it from the comfort of my couch it seems ridiculous – no one at the gym (besides Emmy – #Games2020!) is going to qualify for the 2020 CrossFit Games, so why put your body through that? Read the workout above. Have you ever tried to do 53 Chest-to-Bar Pull-Ups as fast as you can 3 times in 4 days? Imagine the toll that takes on your body. The toll it takes on you mentally if you try 3 times and STILL don’t do as well as you think you should have. How would it feel to show up to the gym on Tuesday and workout as hard as you can that day, too? Is that healthy and sustainable?
Football season is upon us, so let’s use an analogy, shall we? The Bills play a game once a week, on Sunday (or Monday, when they’re good). What do they do for the rest of the week? They’re studying film. They’re getting in practice reps. They’re game planning. They’re training. Do they play a full game on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday to prepare for Sunday? Hell no! That wouldn’t be sustainable or appropriate. What should we be doing to Prepare for the Open, then? Let’s get in some practice reps. Let’s game plan. Let’s prepare during the week so that we feel refreshed and prepared for Friday’s workout. Let’s train.
As we’ve prepared for the competition, our programming has been designed in a way to build proficiency in many of the movements that will typically show up (Wall Balls, Rowing, Pull-Ups, and Barbell Cycling to name a few). During The Open, we’re going to practice what we preach. We’re going to be very selective with the intensity. We’ll have workouts designed for recovery, for pacing, and for maintaining our strength. Our dose of intensity will be the Open Workouts, themselves. After The Open, we’re taking our foot way off the gas, and getting back to the Fundamentals. We’re ‘hitting the reset button.’ This will get us back to what I’d argue most of us go to the gym for, anyway: To feel good, move well, and look good naked.