Rest Day Rant: Why Do I Stink??? Part Deux

Posted: August 19, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts

Disclaimer: This is long. You will do yourself a disservice if you do not read all of it carefully.

Last week we discussed one of the two reasons I believe some people see slow or no results in CrossFit: poor nutritional practices. Hopefully, last week’s rant encouraged you to take a hard, honest look at how you fuel your body. Let me reiterate that I truly believe you will never see ultimate results with poor nutrition. Now, let’s talk about the second reason. Recall this quote many of you have heard me say often:

“Intensity is the house in which your results live.”

As all new CrossFit Infragilis members are told, there are three keys for CrossFit to cause positive changes in your body: mechanics, consistency, and intensity.

Briefly, mechanics simply means performing the correct and full range of motion on any movement. There is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to squat in CrossFit, for example. That’s why beginners are not allowed to move much, if any weight. Only the right movement will give you the right result.

Consistency can be defined as performing the right mechanics most of the time. Mechanics and consistency must be achieved at a high level before an athlete should be pushed to engage in high intensity movement. But what is intensity?

“Well, Jim, Ellen, and Katie are always screaming about heart rate, so intensity is the same as heart rate, right?” Wrong Intensity is correlated to heartrate, but heartrate does not define intensity.

“I leave a pool of sweat (and some blood) all over the floor. I grunt really loud and my face gets super red. I’ve got veins bulging out of my veins. That’s got to be intensity.” Really? Uhh…no.

CrossFit has a simplier definition of Intensity:

Average power (force x distance / time). In other words, how much real work did you do and in what time period? The greater the average power, the greater the intensity. This makes it a measurable fact, not a debatable opinion.

So intensity is all about power.  How much work? How much time? What’s more impressive: a 220 pound athlete moving 220 pounds five times in 10 minutes or a 130 pound athlete moving 185 pounds 10 times in 2 minutes? Yes, a huge deadlift is impressive, but can you move 80% of your 1 rep max really fast?

Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with optimizing return.

What exactly does this mean? Well, in science, an “independent variable” is the thing an experimenter manipulates, or changes, to see its effect on some outcome behavior. Are you trying to burn body fat? Then you must have intensity in your program. Want to gain muscle? Then you must have intensity in your program. Becoming leaner, stronger, and faster are all ultimately dependent upon your intensity. You must perform more work in less time. You cannot talk about intensity without considering force (load), distance (how far the load moves), and time (how fast you move the load).

Do you remember your first attempt at the front squat? How many of you started with the PVC “Zombie Squat” we use with beginners? Now think about the first time you put a little weight on the bar. Let’s say you front squatted five reps at 35 pounds. If you just learned how to safely, correctly, and consistently air squat, then 35 pounds likely felt like quite a load. Whatever that first “true” weight was, do you remember how your legs shook and quivered and felt like Jell-O? Remember how hard that seemed to you?

Now recall the second time you attacked the front squat. Maybe you tried the same weight. Likely it was still challenging, but you were pleased with how much stronger you felt this time. You see, when you were first introduced to this movement, you had a very low capacity to move weight through the front squat. As you continue to train, however, your work capacity increases. In other words, you get stronger; you get fitter. Here’s a major mistake that many people make, not only in CrossFit, but in just about any fitness program imaginable: they never increase the stimulus that produced this initial increase in work capacity. Some people call it plateauing. If you’re still front squatting 35 pounds for five reps six months after you started training, then this movement is likely not maximizing your returns (i.e., you’re not seeing any results).

Here’s what happens: I train. I master my mechanics. I see increased consistency with my movements. Now I’ve entered the realm of the third key for CrossFit yielding results: intensity. When your front squat was hard at 35 pounds, your capacity to squat weight one time was probably not much higher than 35 pounds. Six months later, however, your capacity to squat weight has increased to some now unknown number. You’ve become better at this movement. And when we get better, we must push harder to continue seeing results.

Two factors interact to produce your unique and relative intensity. We just discussed the first: physical tolerance. At first 35 pounds was really hard. You had low physical tolerance for that work. Six months later, you have much higher physical tolerance.  Let me make it simple: If you don’t change something about what you’re doing with our various movements – if you’re not lifting more weight, running faster, developing double unders, learning handstand pushups, getting OFF than dang band for pull-ups – if you’re not trying to consistently do a little more work than you performed the last time in the gym, then you will see ever increasing diminishing returns.

So let’s review. Your intensity is not defined by how much you sweat. It’s not a function of how loudly you grunt. While focusing on your heart rate is a good starting point, you must ultimately think about your performance. Did you run that mile faster than the last time you ran? Did you snatch a little more today than last week? Did you take a few seconds off your “Fran” or “Helen” times? Are you getting closer to performing the Workout of the Day as prescribed?

Some of you are beginning to see a flattening of your results mainly because you refuse to increase your work output. Stop it already. Get fierce!


Take an honest look around you: are people who started after you came into CrossFit now wiping the floor with you? This just shouldn’t be so, my friend.  Has it been a long time since you earned a new personal record on a lift? Are you still on the placebo band?

My job and the responsibility of every trainer at CrossFit Infraglis is to encourage you to push harder, run faster, lift heavier, while keeping an eye on your form and safety. But we cannot force you to increase your intensity. Hear me on this point: increasing your intensity at first is a function of continued practice and then it becomes a choice. This highlights the second variable that mingles with physical tolerance to produce relative intensity: psychological tolerance.

While I could write ten pages on the reasons why people have low psychological tolerance to increased work capacity and, therefore do not choose to increase their intensity, I want to consider one that I believe is pervasive: discomfort. Consider this coach by Coach Glassman:

“Performance is directly correlated with intensity. Intensity is directly correlated with discomfort.”

When’s the last time you were really, really blown away by something? When’s the last time you were on the floor gasping for breath after a WOD? When’s the last time 5 sets of 3 cleans really kicked your tail? Are you starting to emulate those people who spend 30 minutes on the elliptical and talk on the phone? I’m reminded of one of my old CrossFit trainer’s favorite saying:

“If you’re talking, you’re not working hard enough.”

To succeed in CrossFit, you must learn and choose to differentiate between pain and discomfort. Many of us confuse these two physical states and allow discomfort to force us to stop or back off. To continue yielding results in CrossFit, must always push our threshold of discomfort. Pain, on the other hand, is our body’s adaptive signal to stop whatever we’re doing because we are causing injury to ourselves. We must push through discomfort. We don’t “work through” pain. The thing about pain versus discomfort is this: pain is usually manifested in a severe breakdown in movement mechanics that cannot be corrected after feedback. If you can correct the movement, then you are likely experiencing discomfort brought about by fatigue.

Vince Lombardi once said, “fatigue makes cowards of all men.” If we crawl away from our discomfort, and then ultimately learn a pattern of behavior that allows us to avoid discomfort altogether, then we have chosen to be a coward. Cowards do not see results in CrossFit.

Unlike some places, the trainers at CrossFit Infragilis do not push you to a level of intensity that will break you. We never suggest a weight we do not confidently believe you can do. When I come outside and chase you, it’s because I know you have more than you’re showing me. These things have only one goal in mind: to make you better.

So, embrace the suck. Let yourself become a hot mess in class. Push yourself to the utter brink of disaster, but never cross the line. Get off the bench and get out of your comfort zone. This week, think about trying to jump a little higher, lift a little heavier, run a little harder, and stop a little less often. When you chose to become uncomfortable, then you will truly become unbreakable.

  1. […] Rest Day Rant: Why Do I Stink??? Part Deux […]

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