Volume vs. Intensity: How to Break into the Top 10%

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The 2014 CrossFit Games season had just come to a close, and the podium finishers are all lined up ready to be interviewed on a full year of training.

Here we have Jason Khalipa (3rd place), Matt Fraser (2nd place), and Rich Froning (4x CrossFit Games Champion) being asked a question that many coaches and athletes are still trying to fine-tune today.

“How much time do you spend training each day?” asks the interviewer, with each athlete proceeding to give a vastly different answer than the previous one.

Khalipa says anywhere between 2-4 hours, that he gets the workouts in when he can at the gym and does extra work at his own home.

Fraser replies that he trains 1-2 hours a day, stating clearly, “I have a real job.”

And then we all know how Rich trains: typically 6-8 hours a day he is doing something to increase his fitness level. This could include skill work, playing hockey, or heading out for a mountain bike ride with his buddies, but for Rich, training is a lifestyle – all day “ereday”.

Now obviously our sport looks quite different 7 years later.

FAST FORWARD 7 YEARS

Khalipa has officially hung up the competition belt, Rich has transitioned to team competition where he’s proceeded to dominate every year outside of 2017 (courtesy of our very own Wasatch Brutes) and Fraser’s “new” full-time job is training for his 6th CrossFit Games Title.

In order to be at the top, you need to train and recover like it’s your job, plain and simple.

However, with the announcement of the 2021 CrossFit Games season and the all-new Quarterfinals competition, those athletes that aren’t quite ready to give up their lives and their first born to compete at a higher level than the CrossFit Open now have a chance to throw their hat into the ring.

This brings us back to an important question; What should YOU be doing to break into the top 10% and advance to the next round of competition.

As a training athlete, should you be doing more workouts? More skill work? Learning to play new sports…more often? More metcons in a day? OR should you be doing less better?

Should you instead do 1 workout a day and attack it like there is no tomorrow? Maybe have 1 skill per day you focus on with all your heart in order to maximize the results?

How about instead of always building to a heavy snatch/clean and jerk followed by some accessory strength lifts and then a metcon followed by some intervals (If this sounds like you, you might want to READ THIS)..you simply warm-up, do skill work for the metcon and hit it, no holding back, no pre-fatigue.

There are a couple of ways we can tackle this beast head-on. Let’s take a look from both sides.

The Volume Approach

There are advantages to working out more often than others, period.

Increased work capacity, increased ability to recover. You will be able to finish 3-4 day competitions better than your lesser-trained competitor.

You will have had more exposure to unique combinations of movements, modalities, time domains, you name it.

But how hard are you really able to train during your 5th hour of the day? Do you ever find yourself saving just a touch of energy because you know something is coming next? How about on your AM1 strength session for your Olympic lifts – do you leave out 1 or 2 more attempts on your clean and jerk that may be your breakthrough reps in order to save up for the AM2 session of front squats?

Does all the volume actually slow your body’s ability to respond to proper strength training, therefore slowing/blunting potential GAINZ?

An even more applicable question is, in your PM1 session at the track, do you let off the gas just a touch in order to save yourself for your evening metcon because that is more “important?”

Maybe you don’t even make the standards for your run paces due to the fatigue from your earlier strength session. In that case tell me, what was the purpose of the track anyways?

Just to do more because “more is better,” right? Well, of course the fittest men and women on earth train each day, hours on end, so that is what you must do to become great.

Wrong.

If you want to be like the best, you need to speak with the man upstairs and see if he will allow you to choose new parents, so let’s stop the madness of “Well Matt or Tia does it…”

CrossFit was founded on the unique principle that intensity is what sets us apart from others, and what will make each of us great in our own abilities.

A ton of volume earns you a big engine and a smooth-and-steady pace through workouts (learn how greater amounts of volume can actually improve your ability to perform shorter metcons HERE), but will that be enough to be great going forward?

The Intensity Approach

Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing the rate of return of favorable adaptation. In short, intensity gets you what you want. It’s where the magic happens!

Let’s look at what it may look like to train for 1-2 hours a day as a high-level athlete.

You walk into the gym, your warm-up lasts 15-20 minutes, and the next 10-15 minutes are spent doing skill work for the movements that will be included in the conditioning session, along with some gymnastics static holds and positional work.

You then spend the next 35 minutes hitting a few heavy clean and jerks and then getting through a series of heavy front squats.

Following that, you begin the metcon that lasts 6-10 minutes, followed by a cooldown of 10 minutes. A lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time, right? And your ability to get it done in such a short window allows for a long recovery between sessions from day-to-day.

The primary advantage is that time spent in the gym is short and you can leave everything you have right there in that specific session. You visit the dark place in those 6-10 minutes of your metcon knowing that you are there to maximize effort, mental toughness, and physiological thresholds to the point of muscle failure.

No breaks, no saving energy – what you have, you expend it.

What else do you get? Speed! Something that competitors in our sport generally overlook is the value of going extremely fast for 3-6 minutes.

Why?

Because it hurts, really, really bad, but a workout that comes up like that at a competition or the Games is worth just as much as the 12-15 minute chipper, is it not?

What else do you avoid by getting in, training, and getting out? Less mental fatigue.

You hear about it all the time from competitors: “Oh I’m just feeling burnt out, I don’t even know if I want to compete this year, it is so stressful/time-consuming.” Well chill out bro, maybe workout a bit less, and enjoy what you do.

But then the question still remains, are you doing enough?

Ok, so you worked out really hard, but most competitions are still 3 days long, and many of them include 3 workouts each one of those days. We all know that the Games have now grown to weeklong events consisting of 13-14 workouts or tests.

Can you prepare for something like that by only training 1-2 hours a day? What will happen to your body after 2 workouts that you’ve given it your all on? How will you respond to warming up, working out, cooling down…..3 separate times throughout 1 day? And then how about doing it again tomorrow or the next day?

Not to mention against athletes pushing you past your normal physical tolerances of your home gym.

Yes, this is a more traditional “Old School” CrossFit, but this is now a highly rewarding and competitive sport!

What about your running and rowing? You only hit 1 gymnastics skill today, what about the others? You just saw someone post on Instagram that they hit 6 workouts today, aren’t they going to be better than you now?

Did you do enough?

HOW DO YOU KNOW?

Fact is, there is more than one way to skin a cat. With this “Sport of Fitness” there are a bajillion and one ways (literally, and yes I said that).

Do you want Intensity? Yes.

Do you want volume? Yes.

How do you balance it? That is going to be up to you and how you can fit your training into your life. I would also encourage taking an even deeper look into your athletic history, your age, your current strengths and weaknesses, your durability, how well you recover, your current stress levels, how well and how much you sleep, your nutrition…and the list goes on.

All of these things should influence how you train day to day, cycle to cycle, and year to year. If you need work on how you perform in the open, focus on INTENSITY like it is your job. If you are a Games athlete that looks around on day 4 and sees yourself getting passed or left behind by lesser athletes, then maybe you need to look at your training volume and make some increases at certain times.

If you have no idea where to start, if you don’t know if you are training too much, or not enough, assess if you are improving.

If the answer is yes, you are doing good things. If you don’t know where to go for guidance or what to do, how to break up sessions, how often to do double or triple days, and how often to just do a good old CrossFit.com main site workout and walk away, then you should seek out help.

Here at Brute, different athletes are on different programs.

Some train multiple times per day every day and some train once. Different athletes need different things, and it is up to us to help guide you in the proper direction.

If you’re one of those athletes that have their eyes on one of those quarterfinal spots but also want to maintain a quality life outside of the gym, Brute Compete is right up your alley.

Each training day is a highly focused 90 minute or less training session that targets your weaknesses with the intention of peaking you for Open style competition.

If you’re looking to take it a step further and join the best of the best, check out Games Prep or even consider hiring one of our 1-to-1 Coaches. They’ve collectively sent over 100 athletes to the CrossFit Games and even have a few championships to show for it.

 

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