Do Better: the story of Intensity
I’m seeing a lot of posts of various workouts with hundreds of reps. One recent example was a workout of 200 air squats/100 KB swings/50 pushups/50 box jumps, then repeat for half of everything, for a grand total of 600 reps. That’s a lot. Is there a point?
Not a lot gets through my old, calloused cranium, but the lesson that seemed to lodge in that orbiting ball of spam and lime jello known as my brain was that quality trumps everything. Why do my athletes improve? They work on doing things better. And since our path for holistic usefulness places a great deal of importance on the carry-over from workout to real life, it is important to recognize that the quality of life often has a direct correlation with the quality of your training… but not so directly with the quantity.
In fact we should take a look at the essential alchemy that helps us put a big check in the ‘yes’ category when asked if we are useful. The magic goop that puts glitter on our unicorn horn is Intensity.
This ain’t new gospel from my pulpit. In fact the premise of Bodytribe is the quest for intensity as a game, and life, changer. Strength is ability. Physically, it’s the ability to overcome obstacles. Metaphysically… well, basically the same thing. Face a challenge and deal with it. And, as with mastery of anything, we practice it. Our physical training is simply creating challenges and then slapping them around to make them our bitch. Or at least attempting to.
Therein lies a dilemma. Our limited time on this big blue party fun ball is already rife with challenges. Why would anyone want to create more challenges? Why would we want to purposely put real physical obstacles in our own way, simply to move them? Because it is a skill, this obstacle crushing. And to improve our skills, we should practice.
The good news is that we can have a blast doing it. And the outcome, says those around us, is an increase in our mate-able worth (I believe I called it ‘fuckability’). Oh, and the real big news? There will be ass kicking in the future. Your tribe gains a super hero, if you chose to use your powers for good (and you will… that’s why I like ya).
So why is volume not always the answer? Isn’t Volume intense? Hold on, my friends, we’ll be there soon.
Have ya heard this one? “Everything in moderation.” I call shenanigans. Switch Moderation for Balance. They’re not synonymous. Moderation doesn’t address homeostasis. Balance does.
Moderation would be always living in the middle of the ends of the spectrum, between nothing and too much. But life exists out on the ends of that spectrum, and Balance is knowing how to play on either ends of the spectrum equally, thus never letting the spectrum tilt. In the movement and strength world (and, frankly, everything), Intensity is key, essential to creating change, but must be balanced with the recovery of mind and body. Moderation would be watering down the intensity instead of Balancing it.
But what is intensity? Don’t google this one. It won’t quite solve the riddle. I see the strength athletes with their hands up. Calling on one of them would get me an answer about percentage of 1RM. Intensity for them is the all out effort of a max effort lift.
But the metcon junkies are going to counter this with a power output proposition. And the yoga contingent will pitch a case for focus and awareness.
And yes, someone will make a case for volume. Doing a lot of something sure does feel intense, right?
You are all right, but it’s a math question, and none of you showed your work. Well, metaphysical math, but Intensity is a formula nonetheless.
The amount of investment X the level of challenge. That’s right. Investment times challenge. Simple, right?
Now we’re masters at busy-ness, which is a bunch of investment in unchallenging things. And many of us have strangleholds on walking away from giant challenges, maybe after a half-ass effort. Those, obviously, fail at being transformative. According to our formula, no intensity.
But the examples of intensity you answered with earlier – 1RM, focus, metabolic meltdown – all plug into our equation with a net sum of a high intensity quotient. So yes. Intensity can come from volume. High numbers represent a big challenge, and by meeting that challenges with a super revved purpose, your investment x challenge formula will definitely ring in the red zone. Beware. Not all intensity is the same
Can intensity be abusive? Heck yes. Its transformative powers can turn metal into gold or shit into a bigger pile of shit. I’ve oft quoted the legendary Tommy Kono as saying practice makes permanent. If you’re finding your intensity through practicing a volume fest of crap, guess what you’re making permanent?
We’re organic machines. We come out of the factory (so to speak) unfinished, but with a ton of built-in software and potential. We differ from manufactured machines in that we create ourselves. Intensity can turn us into the super high performance vehicles for an equally amazing set of components and programming. But we do share something very important with manufactured machines…
Abuse it and lose it.
In other words, Intensity as abuse does create change. It breaks the machine.
There are many malleable factors to physically create intensity within a workout… speed, movement selection, position, time, duration, distance, load and, of course, volume. When I see 50+ reps of a movement within a combo or WOD, it usually indicates that volume was the ONLY factor changed to increase intensity. There are often way better choices. A rep is not just a rep, so adding more of them might often be the last thing to consider. There are too many effective ways to eek the most out of the rep(s) before choosing to do more of them, whatever the goal. If you can do 50 reps, that’s your body saying okay, we got this, now let’s change the fucking challenge already. Heck it was probably saying that at rep 20.
Using the original WOD mentioned at the beginning, there are many far more important things I’d want to know about my athletes before I want to know if they can do a total of 300 air squats. High volume through repetition should be quite low on the Good Coaching priority list.
Keep in mind, the Holistic Athlete strives for usefulness. Coaching that athlete means understanding Purpose.
We’ll delve into more of this soon, especially about Intensity as your best friend and most brutal mentor. The three stages of our movement journey, Initiation, Engagement and Embodiment, are all based on the quest for intensity as a transformative tool. Yup, sometimes intensity looks like a very heavy object, other times a grueling collections of tasks. But sometimes stillness, reflection, play or understanding are all concepts with very intense properties.