Less is More: Fitness for the Ninety-Nine

Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise.”
– Greg Glassman, CrossFit Founder and CEO

In 2002, Greg Glassman told us, “Be impressed by intensity, not volume.” Translation: be impressed by how quickly the work is completed, not the amount of work that is performed. However, in recent years, the distinction between CrossFit, the training methodology, and the CrossFit Games, the sport of fitness, has become distorted.

Since February 2001, CrossFit has published a daily workout on the website (crossfit.com). That is ‘workout,’ as in one, singular task. CrossFit has never posted more than one workout per day, not ever. The workouts are designed to develop a broad, general, and inclusive fitness (i.e. fitness for life). The majority of workouts short and intense, and consist of constantly varied, functional movements. Every workout is universally scalable. In other words, it can be modified to accommodate any fitness level or training experience. This is fitness for the general population, the 99%.

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There’s a pervasive thought process going on in kind of the competitors’ circle that more volume equals better, and I see that leak into our regular classes where everybody wants extra work to do.”
– Ben Benson, Owner of CrossFit Terminus

As the spectacle that is the CrossFit Games gained popularity, the daily workouts programmed by CrossFit affiliates began to transform. The Workout of the Day (WOD) became the Workouts of the Hour. Affiliates began posting two, three, and even four-part workouts that were to be completed within a 60-minute CrossFit class. People began to believe that more was better; volume became the point of fixation, and intensity was all but lost. Unfortunately, the ‘Volume Epidemic’ has yet to be controlled. CrossFit affiliates continue to over-program and under deliver. Intensity has been diluted. Rather than giving 100% effort on a single workout, people are ‘gaming’ two or three workouts simply in order to survive.

Over-programming and ‘gaming’ result in the following:

  1. Lack of intensity
    • When multiple workouts are programmed into a single class, the intensity at which each component is performed will be insufficient to produce the desired adaptations
    • For the 99%, it is not possible to maintain intensity across multiple workouts in the same session; fatigue will diminish the efforts
  2. Inadequate skill development
    • The standard CrossFit class is 60-minutes. Accounting for a 10-15 minute warm-up, 5-10 minutes of explanation and demonstration, and a 5-10 minute cool down, only 20-35 minutes remain to perform the workout
    • The 20-35 minutes that remains to complete the workout does not include the time required for instruction, set-up, and breakdown. It is not possible to eliminate the set-up and breakdown, therefore the only means by which time can be preserved is to remove the instruction
    • Lack of instruction results in inadequate skill development and increased risk of injury. Without instruction, people will not get better; it is that simple.
  3. Over Training
    • Completing two or three workouts within a single training session has detrimental effects on the body
    • Multiple components in one session will likely lead to greater fatigue, muscle soreness, and potential injury
    • Over training will lead to decreased performance, increased perceived efforts, excessive fatigue, and lack of motivation

For 99% percent of the population, one effort per day is more than adequate to move from sick to well to fit. There is a reason crossfit.com has never programmed more than one workout per day; less is more. Intensity, not volume is the catalyst to improved functionality and greater longevity. CrossFitters need to understand that volume is not the answer. ‘Strength + Metcon,” is not the solution, it is the problem. It is time to adopt a new perspective and better understand why we are training. The .001%, the CrossFit Games athletes, earned the right to train at high volumes. These men and women are training to be the fittest on earth. The rest of us, the 99%, we are training to kick ass in church-league softball and pick-up basketball, to outlast our kids in tag and hide-and-go-seek, and fit into our favorite pair of jeans. We are training for life.

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