If you’ve been around Crossfit for a little while, you’ve probably got a good grasp of the concept that the workouts often involve a high level of intensity. You’ve also probably realized that you can’t actually work at a really high intensity forever – the longer the WOD is, the lower your average rate of work has to be. Most of us have found that out the hard way – usually by charging headlong into a grinder like filthy fifty, dying out by the third exercise, and then struggling to finish (personal experience!). The key to maximizing performance in Crossfit WODs is therefore a subtle balance – you want to push the intensity to get a good time and a good workout, but not so much that you “fly and die”.
Going all out into a workout does have benefits though. Specifically, the higher the intensity you generate in a workout, the larger stimulus there is for a change in your fitness level. Definitely a certain threshold of intensity is necessary to create gains in fitness and rushing headlong into WODs will get you above that minimum level. On the other hand, the resulting crash that can happen could lead to rapidly diminishing technique in addition to a very stop-and-start finish to the WOD as you struggle through the last reps or rounds. Crashing out of a WOD can also be a frustrating occurrence and isn’t fun if it occurs too often.
If you always govern your intensity level and never crash, you’re missing out also. Lower levels of intensity have less of an effect on fitness level in the time domain we often train in (6-15 minutes), so shortchanging your effort in WODs will lead to lower fitness gains in the longer term. Also, it is necessary to hit the wall every once in a while just so you know how far you can push your performance. Many times, our minds create performance ceilings that are below what our bodies can actually achieve. There’s a worse feeling than crashing in a WOD and that is just missing a time or repetition goal that you could have achieved with a bit more pushing (I experienced this in the Fight Gone Bad Challenge). I tend to be an “intensity governor” by nature which serves me well in some WODs but leaves me short on reaching my goals in others.
The length of the WOD is another factor to consider when deciding how aggressively you will tackle it. WODs that typically involve shorter time frames like Fran, Isabel, and Grace can be entered into with a full head of steam if you have scaled correctly. Having knowledge of the general time frame of a WOD helps a lot in making your decision. This is where your training log or a little bit of research will help. Use your previous time on the workout to set a performance goal and adjust your intensity as needed to reach it. If you haven’t experienced a certain WOD before, check out the times on the whiteboard so you get a rough idea of how long it took people who scaled to the same level as you.
To summarize, I believe there are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches, so like the main Crossfit training principle, perhaps the best way to go is “constantly varied”. Definitely newcomers to Crossfit will benefit from easing into WODs and seeing how the first rounds/reps go whereas more fit/seasoned Zoners can experiment a bit. What do you think? Discuss in the comments!
Buy In – muscle up practice
WOD: “Wacky Total”
• 6RM OHS
• 6RM Bench Press
• 6RM Strict Pullup (weight added or bw or band)
Cash Out – Stretch