You Don’t Need to Work More, You Need to Work Harder
There is a very particular type of person that is attracted to CrossFit. The ones who stay the course are, for the most part, motivated, competitive and determined to improve. Commonly referred to as a ‘Type A’ personality, they frequently express another trait; impatience. This is the other edge of the Type A sword, and it is just as sharp. Not only do I want to be better, I want to be better now.
So what bridges the gap between where we are and where we want to be in our training? Work. There’s no getting around that. The logical conclusion, then, is that doing more work will help an individual reach their goal in less time. Social media is awash with competitive athletes training multiple times per day, and if it’s good enough for them… Right? Not exactly.
The most common issue I encounter with individuals adding in additional work is that they focus on entirely the wrong things. They’re trying to build upon faulty foundations. What separates us from athletes in the social media spotlight isn’t the amount of work they do, it’s the quality of work they do. Intensity is only effective when it is layered on top of a base of sound, consistent mechanics. If there’s variance in the quality of your movement, prioritise consistency over load. Spending half an hour working on squat mechanics isn’t as good an Instagram post as heavy snatches, but it’s just as important.
Assuming that mechanics are sound and consistent, we need to distinguish between volume and intensity. Volume is simply doing more work. If I decide to do 100 kettle bell swings per day, I can do ten swings every hour over the course of the day until I accumulate the hundred. I’ll burn some additional calories, and if I were an untrained individual it would likely have an effect on body composition, but otherwise the effects will be negligible.
Intensity, on the other hand, would be to do twenty swings every minute for five minutes. Intensity is uncomfortable, nudging the edges of aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. It results in the greatest amount of adaptation, but is also the time in which we are most likely to deviate from optimal mechanics. This is why we don’t allow WODs in open gym. Imagine you’re heading to open gym after a CrossFit class on competition day; you’re a bit sweaty and out of breath, but you can hold a conversation and are looking forward to your 5k row/squat program/1RM snatch attempt. I’d suggest that instead of that extra work after the class, you’d be better served by pushing harder during the class. Even at a subconscious level, knowing that there’s more to be done later will result in you holding something back. You don’t need to work more, you need to work harder. You simply can’t maintain the required level of intensity to stimulate adaptation for two sessions. Either the class performance, the additional work or (much more likely), both will suffer. If you do it right, you should be unable to think about doing ANYTHING else after class.
Let’s move to the individual who moves well, who attacks classes with intensity without scaling and wants to take things to the fabled ‘Next Level’. The first consideration when adding extra work is defining a specific goal. Athletes at this level will be generally well rounded with one or two things that need work. Skills, most commonly high order gymnastics movements like handstand walks, kipping toes to bar, etc., are prime candidates for additional work as they don’t have as significant an effect on recovery as, for example, a weightlifting program. As such there’ll be much less interference with class programming. If your goals are more general, i.e. you need to build an engine, improve your gymnastics AND get stronger, you don’t need extra work, you need more CrossFit (Please see above for advice on Working Harder.)
There are other areas where the time could be more useful to you. Instead of that extra hour in the gym, get an extra hour of sleep, or spend an hour preparing good quality meals to sustain the rest of your training for the week. Training is one side of physical development, rest and recovery are oft overlooked but just as valuable and deserving of your attention. As hard as it is to hear, you can’t outwork a poor diet or lack of sleep with an hour of open gym. Master the basics, not just in movement but in lifestyle. If you’re not eating well or routinely getting by on 6hrs sleep a night or less, this is where you need to focus your attention as the rewards will be far greater.
All of the above is succinctly summed up by James Hobart in his article ‘A Deft Dose of Volume’; ‘Don’t mistake volume for intensity and end up training for 90 minutes at 60 percent when 60 minutes at 90 percent might have been more valuable.’ There is no shortcut to better fitness, nor should you want there to be. Stop working more and start working harder.