Volume vs. Intensity: How to Win the CrossFit Games

Everyone wants to know what they must do to win the CrossFit Games. You don’t need to go much further than the video of the podium winners, specifically the male side, to find out that there is no one way to get to the top.

In the video below, the interviewees consist of Jason Khalipa (3rd place), Matt Fraser (2nd place), and the champ, Rich Froning (4x CrossFit Games Champion). They are asked a slew of questions just shortly after finishing the Games this past 2014 season. The one question that stands out the most to curious athletes and coaches is, “how much time do you spend training each day?”

The replies so greatly differ that it leaves one scratching their head. 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 the champ trains: typically 6-8 hours a day he is doing something to increase his fitness level. Now, he is no dummy and doesn’t treat his body like a wrecking ball. He may be doing skill work, playing hockey, or heading out for a mountain bike ride with his buddies, but for the champ training is a lifestyle – all day “ereday”. With that being said, what should YOU do?

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 front squats, overhead squats, snatch grip deficit dead lifts, banded clean pulls and then a metcon followed by some intervals……you simply warm up, do skill work for the metcon and hit it, no holding back, no pre fatigue. WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? What should we do going forward as training athletes? Let us 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 man on earth 4 years in a row trains each day hours on end, so that is what you must do to become great.

Wrong.

If you want to be like the champ, 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 Rich does it…”

Greg Glassman founded this strength and conditioning program 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 (particularly long ones on long weekends of competition), 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 Games competitor. 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 cool down 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, enjoy what you do. Others manage just fine with only 1-2 hours a day as stated above (Fraser, Khalipa).

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 4 days of competition that can stretch over 5 days and be filled with up to 13-14 workouts or tests. Can you prepare for that by only training 1-2 hours a day? What will happen to your body after 2 workouts that you’ve visited the dark place 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? And then the next day? Not to mention against athletes pushing you past your normal physical tolerances of your home gym. Yes, this is 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. With 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.

Take note that Rich Froning was always fast enough to hang around the top until day 3/4. The big moves usually started at night under the stadium lights on day 3, and carried into day 4 with 3 consecutive jaw dropping first place finishes with the same speed that he started the weekend. It looked as if someone took a dagger to the back of the ribs of the rest of the field and left the champ unscathed and feeling great—it seemed unfair. Will we see these types of finishes ever again? Unless you come from the same exact gene pool, don’t expect to do it by the same means as Rich; you go ahead and do you.

Here is to the show of the 2015 CrossFit Games, can’t wait to get started!

If you are serious about your training and you need help, you know how to get in touch with us here at brUTE. Email us at info@brutestrengthtraining.com and let’s begin our journey together.

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