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Defining Intensity

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I’ve been struggling lately with the concept of Intensity.  A while ago, I wrote an article on Intensity v. Volume (HERE) where I discussed the need for intensity and its importance in achieving results.  However, what that article didn’t discuss is how someone can tell when they are completing a workout with maximum intensity.  What does that mean?  Intensity?  We know that increasing your intensity increases your results, but if we don’t have a way to define how intensity feels then we have to just wait and hope we “feel” it some day.

This came to light recently when I watched one of our members finally push a high level of intensity during a Saturday morning WOD.  She pushed and pushed to complete the WOD and then had to go outside and walk it off before she crashed to the ground in a pool of sweat.  To help seal the moment, I told her, “Pay attention to this feeling.  This is how you should feel all the time.”  And that got me thinking, “How can I describe this feeling to someone else?”

To be very technical, CrossFit provides us an equation for Intensity.  (FxD)/t=Intensity.  F=Force (weight), D=Distance (the distance the weight travels), and t=Time (the amount of time the weight travels over that distance).  This also happens to be a basic equation for horsepower.  As such, we are able to take someone who is deadlifting (for example) measure the distance from the floor to his/her hip multiplied by the number of reps, measure the weight being moved, and measure the amount of time the individual is working, and that spits out a result.  I can then compare that individual’s power output to someone else.  However, this is simply data and doesn’t help me explain to a member what intensity feels like.

The more I thought about intensity, the more I started listening to high level athletes talk about it.  Some describe it as going to a dark place.  It’s like you black out and just keep moving until the WOD is over.  Furthermore, there is a lot of talk in the competition community about mental strength and perseverance.  That’s where I found my answer.

When we complete a CrossFit WOD there are two primary internal factors determining our level of output, our body and our mind.  Our strength and endurance will partially determine how long we are able to move.  Will our muscles fatigue?  Will our lunges keep up?  Are we able to hold on for a little longer before our grip lets go?  The other factor is our mind.  Do we have the mental toughness to keep pushing?  Do we have enough positive self-talk to push negative thoughts out of our brain?

With these questions in mind, I have come across an idea that works for telling someone how to “feel” maximum intensity.  When your mind is telling you to stop and rest, but your body wants to keep going, you are not at maximum intensity and you never will be.  However, if you are able to develop mentally so that your body is telling you to stop and rest, but your mind is telling you to keep going, that is intensity.  If your mind is weak, but your body is strong, you will never push hard enough to effectuate long term changes in your body.  If your mind is strong, and your body is struggling to keep up, then you will always be able to push your body to its limits.

The felling of intensity = When you mind says keep going, but your body wants to rest.

You cannot control your body.  However, you can control the choice of whether you let your body control you.  You will progress as an athlete simply by showing up and developing the ability to move large loads over long distances faster.  However, if you do not first develop a positive and strong mind that is ready to overcome adversity, your long term progress will be limited because your mind will quit before you body.  Think about this the next time you attack a WOD.  Are you resting because your body won’t move anymore?  Or, are you resting because your mind is telling you to?

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