Intensity, Volume, and Skill Development

By: Mako Athletics


“Be impressed by intensity not volume.” – Greg Glassman

Distinguishing the difference in intensity and volume is important. Intensity is how hard you are pushing during a particular workout, measured by weight, speed, and reps. Volume is the overall amount of work done in a specific workout measured with total reps or total weight moved.

CrossFit works due to the high intensity the workouts are designed to achieve. For most people working a fulltime job, or going to school, with family responsibilities, the one hour class is designed to maximize your time spent in the gym. It is meant to push you in a short period so you can get the results you want without spending wasted hours in the gym. If your goal is to be fit, live long, and be happy, this is enough to keep you progressing if you are pushing yourself each day and listening to your body.

Now, with that said, there is a place for more volume for any athlete when done correctly. Athletes that are training for the “Sport of CrossFit” have to prepare with more volume mostly to practice more skills and close the gap on the rest of the competition more quickly. The more fit the individual is going into it, the more volume they can handle while still hitting everything with relatively high intensity and that is key. The athlete that is not fit enough to train the same volume wastes time by filling their days with low intensity, grinding workouts, that yields little results because they never break through the threshold to learn to move faster.

Still, many athletes want to progress faster, and I don’t blame you. I understand and want to help you see and approach your progression with a little more accuracy. If you are that athlete that has limited time, wants to be healthy, and has skills you want to achieve here is how to approach it; pick one, work a progression, work it consistently. Focusing on one skill at a time allows you to be consistent and use your already limited time, wisely. Working the proper progression will ensure you are doing the right things to improve upon this skill without doing too much – minimum effective dose.

Assessing where to begin with a skill you have to consider the limiting factors. The three I focus on when evaluating an athlete trying to acquire or improve a new skill is Strength, Coordination, and Range of Motion (ROM).

Let’s use the Muscle Up an example. Here are the limiting factors and quick, low volume, protocols to work towards achieving this.

Strength: Lacking the ability to do 5 strict pull-ups and 5 full-range Ring dips will limit the person from achieving the MU.

Protocol: 1-2 x week
A) Banded Strict Pull-Ups or negatives – 3-5 sets close to failure
B) Banded Strict Dip or negatives 3-5 sets close to failure
* Completing these with full range of motion and control
C) Static Ring Holds can improve confidence in the rings- accumulate 1-2 minutes.

Coordination: Having the strength but lacking the ability move your body through either the swing (hollow/arch), the turnover, or the kipping dip.

Protocol: 1-2 x week – depending on your struggles – pick from the following
A) Hollow and Arch – on the ground: accumulate 1-3 min each
B) Ring Swings – 3-4 sets of 10-12- use a towel between feet for a bonus
C) Ring Turnovers – strict or in a band – 10-15 total reps

Range of Motion: Limited backswing due to tight T-Spine or shoulders. Also, a tight bottom position in the dip can limit your confidence to catch in an MU.

Protocol: 1-2 x week- without trying to dissect precisely what is limiting you, you can always work on holding an optimal position.
A) Spend 2-3 minutes using the following stretches (breathe using a 4 in, 4 hold, 8 out to sink further into the position.

You can use this same principle with any skill you are trying to improve; from pushups and pull-ups to cleans and snatches. It is all about being consistent and not trying to do too much all at once. If you are unsure where to start sit down with a coach, or take video to discuss; we are more than happy to evaluate your movements to help you achieve your goals. If you still need or want more guidance, personal training or programming is the fastest way to see results. I hope this helps you better understand intensity, volume, and skill development. See you in the gym.

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