For over a decade, CrossFit has been a huge part of my training design. Throughout the years, I have experienced many variations of the high-intensity, constantly varied, functional movements that make-up the skeleton of what we do here at Vitality. There are so many different ways to skin the cat and get the desired stimulus as it relates to programming. Over the years, I have heard many athletes talk about this style of training not working for them or being either too easy or too difficult. I wanted to take some time and explain how this issue can be resolved and that it isn’t a function of the design as much as it is a function of the athlete’s intensity or lack thereof coupled with an increased awareness of personal abilities.
So let’s take it one issue at a time. Let’s start with the issue of, “It’s too easy, I don’t get a good enough workout”. This is something I have heard many times from my athletes. This is directly resulting from a lack of intensity from the individual athlete. At Vitality, we are very cautious with how we add intensity for our new members. Our goal is to get them moving correctly before we increase the intensity. The issue that this causes, at times, is that as athletes increase their proficiency in these movements, they tend to keep their intensity to where it was when they first started. Over the years, so many people have looked to the workout as the catalyst to increasing fitness. They are looking at the wrong piece of the puzzle, it’s the intensity piece that determines how our fitness will be affected. For example, look at this very basic workout as an example:
There are a few scenarios that could play out with the workout above. The more likely scenario is that an athlete hits this by taking the 200m runs pretty easy, takes some breaks during the burpees and breaks up his pull-ups even though he doesn’t necessarily have to. The athlete that completes is like this will finish the 10m out of breath but eager to immediately go and do some core work or tell those around him/her that are laying on the ground that the workout wasn’t bad at all and they wished it was longer. This is the most common problem that I have come across over the years.
The less likely scenario happens when an athlete sees the above workout and: Attacks the runs, does the burpees at an uncomfortably fast pace, and hits the pullups unbroken. The discipline to fight the urge to shuffle on the subsequent runs is what separates many athletes. For those that hit the 10m AMRAP like this, the 10m clock expires and these athletes find themselves sitting on the floor wondering what in the world just hit them. The thought of doing abmats or speaking is as unimaginable as wishing this workout would have been a few minutes longer.
Now, as with anything, there are caveats to the above examples. If an athlete is newer to Fitness, we would encourage them to pace the runs and keep the intensity lower by breaking up the work. However, it is rarely the newbies that are complaining about workouts being too easy. Their only thought is another day of survival in this crazy world.
I can guarantee you that if you watched Mat Fraser do the 10m AMRAP above, you would reconsider what you thought was an easy workout. The “easy” is controlled by the athlete who is directly in control of the “intensity”. If you think workouts are too easy, stop hiding behind intensity and get out of your built-in comfort zone. The issue is that results don’t happen in the comfort zone, they happen far outside “comfortable”. Spend the time to get really good at the basic, fundamental movements, and when that foundation is strong, then increase the intensity and watch the magic happen.
The 2nd most prevalent issue I have run across in the past decade is athletes wanting to scale-up or Rx+ workouts in order to indirectly AVOID intensity. This happens frequently. For ease, I will use the same example as above:
An athlete sees this workout and decides that they need to do C2B Pullups instead of chin over the bar pullups. Seems like an innocent decision right? In their mind they actually think they are making the workout harder by doing more advanced movements, in reality, they are making the workout easier by decreasing the intensity. Workout starts and they hit the run hard, just like they should, keep a great pace on the burpees, they then hit all 10 C2B Pullups unbroken, just as the Coach had explained in the brief. The problem lies with what happens next. The next round begins, similar to the 1st but when they jump back on the pullup bar for the 2nd round of C2B, they hit a set of 3, rest 15-20 seconds, another set of 3, another 15-20 second rest, a set of 2, longer rest, and the final set of 2 C2B pullups. Now, the workout stimulus has completely changed for that athlete. Instead of finishing 4+ Rounds, this athlete barely finishes 3 Rounds. The amount of time rested between the athlete above and someone who did the workout with the proper scaling prescription differs drastically. The athlete who did C2B finishes the workout not overly fatigued because of the forced rest that they needed to have during the pullups.
As appealing as it may sound to Rx+ or scale up a workout, the answer for the majority of the athletes is: Don’t scale up the load or the movement, scale up your intensity. Another easy example that shows this is the difference between someone doing “Fran” Rx and getting a time of 2:38. Compare the stimulus to an athlete who did “Heavy Fran” with 135# Thrusters and C2B with a time of 8:15. The stimulus of these two workouts are extremely different. I am not saying there isn’t a place for “Heavy Fran” or these Rx+ workouts, but it is important to understand the desired stimulus of the workout and make sure you understand intensity before you fall into the trap of scaling workouts up.
We all fall into one of the two categories above once in while. It’s not the end of the world. just recognize it and make an effort to make better choices next time you are getting ready to tackle a workout.
The bottom line that I want you to remember is this: It isn’t the workout that matters. It is HOW you complete the workout and WHO you complete the workout with that makes the difference. Too many of us think we need this elaborate program designed for us with layers of complexity. What we need is a positive, motivated community of athletes to push us to hit any workout to the best of our ability at the maximum level of intensity that our current fitness level allows. Next time you want to say a workout was too easy, instead, say that you didn’t feel like pushing yourself today.