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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 01-11-2010, 07:13 PM   #1
Robert Callahan
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Intensity vs Form

This is a topic that has a colored past I know and I don't mean to re-hash pointless argument. But it is something I have thought about and thought I'd see what others thought.

So I recently read this thread: http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=10982 (wfs)

In the thread Coach Glassman and Coach Sommer (among others) discuss the virtues of Greg Amundson doing ring dips in a workout video.

The debate is interesting and I have no trouble identifying true statements made by each party. What got me is an underlying question though that is not identified by anyone. That is what I want to pose here.

So I understand the CF definition of fitness, Work Capacity across broad time and modal domains. So we are going for power output. In that pursuit we go as hard as we can, and as a consequence form will suffer. This is an unfortunate but unavoidable truth.

At the same time though practicing a movement, whether it be pull-ups, squats, DL, or L-sits, with partial or improper range of motion will ingrain poor movement patterns that will need to be unlearned later on down the road in order to maximize among other things our work capacity.

How do we reconcile these two ideas?

If we are trying to test what our maximum power output is then we are going to have slop. But does every workout need to be a test? Does every workout need to be preformed at maximal intensity to get the benefit? Or would it be acceptable to work most the time at a slightly lower intensity so that proper form could be ensured in practice and only occasionally jack up intensity to test power output?

I suppose as a coach it is your job to always walk this line and judge when intensity is appropriate and when form work is needed. But it is interesting to point out that in many situations ensuring proper form with full ROM will improve work capacity even without maximal intensity.

In an intensity driven community I think it is good to take a step back and think about these things from time to time.
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Old 01-11-2010, 07:25 PM   #2
Tom Seryak
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Re: Intensity vs Form

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Originally Posted by Robert Callahan View Post

If we are trying to test what our maximum power output is then we are going to have slop. But does every workout need to be a test? Does every workout need to be preformed at maximal intensity to get the benefit? Or would it be acceptable to work most the time at a slightly lower intensity so that proper form could be ensured in practice and only occasionally jack up intensity to test power output?
I've been messing around with this a bit, only "testing" once a week or so. I don't really feel like I've cheated myself, it helps me recover better so that when I "test" I can go harder. Recently in the Journal, Mikko talks about never falling down after a WOD, but at the same time putting forth full maximal effort. Stress test anyone? They make you run UNTIL you fall off the treadmill. So, my guess is that Mikko doesn't actually ever hit MAX intensity but something close to it.
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Old 01-11-2010, 09:08 PM   #3
Adam Acosta
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Re: Intensity vs Form

I've never coached anyone, so can't draw from broad sample to say one way works better than another generally, but sacrificing form for maximum speed early on gave me better times. Slowing down a bit to work movements correctly through a full range of motion allowed me to finally be able to do the heavier and more technically-demanding workouts as prescribed. I can't really compare my slower prescribed times to my faster scaled times, but my run times have increased during this period, which tells me my metabolic conditioning probably did decrease a bit, at least in the longer-duration energy pathways (although I'm also heavier). On the other hand, I'm stronger and can do all the workouts as prescribed. One of my gym's mantras is to drill form and get to prescribed weights with near-perfect execution first, then worry about intensity, so that's what I did.

On another note, one thing that didn't seem to get mentioned in that thread was the competitive nature of CrossFit. It's not just a training methodology, but at this point, somewhat of a sport. People compare themselves to others and even directly compete at judged events. To be able to actually compare performances without simply giving out awards for greatest calculated average power output during a workout, there needs to be a uniform standard that everyone is held to. To be able to meet that standard in competition, you'll have to practice meeting the standard in training.
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Old 01-11-2010, 09:58 PM   #4
Vanessa Richardson
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Re: Intensity vs Form

At my recent Level 1 Cert, we were taught that you should aim for an 80% solution - ie 80% of the reps to be spot on both in form and ROM, and for intensity sake consider you may sacrifice form (but NOT ROM) on the other 20% of reps.
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Old 01-11-2010, 11:05 PM   #5
Jared Ashley
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Re: Intensity vs Form

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Originally Posted by Robert Callahan View Post
If we are trying to test what our maximum power output is then we are going to have slop. But does every workout need to be a test? Does every workout need to be preformed at maximal intensity to get the benefit? Or would it be acceptable to work most the time at a slightly lower intensity so that proper form could be ensured in practice and only occasionally jack up intensity to test power output?

I suppose as a coach it is your job to always walk this line and judge when intensity is appropriate and when form work is needed. But it is interesting to point out that in many situations ensuring proper form with full ROM will improve work capacity even without maximal intensity.
I am not a coaching/training expert, but I do have some insight here, and I say that absolutely YES we should train at sub-maximal intensities most of the time.

My sport of choice is 4-way formation skydiving... without getting into details, the skill-set bears similarities to a gymnastic routine except instead of practicing the entire routine you only get to practice individual movement, which are combined at random the morning of the competition. In competition, moves must be executed as fast as possible AND with "perfect form" as defined by the rules.

In training, my teams have all learned that you can't just go balls-to-the-wall every training dive because you can't stay under control and learn the skills, and you can't recover from mistakes. Most training therefore focused on 1) executing movements perfectly and 2) learning new and more advanced skills. Every now and then, either as a test or to break through a plateau, we would intentionally turn the speed up to 11 and say "to hell with form," but this was a relatively rare thing to do (less than 10% of practice).

This is not to say there isn't a place to put it all on the line... when my team went to the Nationals, we only reigned in our speed enough to avoid having a catastrophic meltdown; anyone who's done something like this knows it's a razor-thin line to walk between maximum repeatable performance and utter failure. They also know that one CANNOT walk that razor's edge unless they have built a solid foundation of muscle-memory by executing movements to perfection, many many times, and at sub-maximal speeds/loads/whatever.

What people don't seem to realize is that training at 100% of your physical capability 100% of the time is both impossible and ineffective. Intensity should be at the 7-9 range most of the time (on a scale of 10), while gradually increasing loads, time, distance, or whatever, and designed to "peak" at competition, when you pull out all the stops. Occasional all-out efforts are appropriate to measure progress.

Anyone who thinks this is untrue should consider the fact that world-class athletes of all disiplines almost always set personal records in competition, not in training. Is this fueled by adrenalin and competition? partly, yes, but moreso it's because at meet day they're taking a risk and holding NOTHING back, and the rest of the time they are, because they don't want to get hurt or overtrain.
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Old 01-12-2010, 03:55 AM   #6
Darryl Shaw
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Re: Intensity vs Form

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Originally Posted by Vanessa Richardson View Post
At my recent Level 1 Cert, we were taught that you should aim for an 80% solution - ie 80% of the reps to be spot on both in form and ROM, and for intensity sake consider you may sacrifice form (but NOT ROM) on the other 20% of reps.
Regardless of what you were taught sacrificing form for speed is dangerous and will almost inevitably result in injuries. Trainers who want to avoid being sued by clients injured as a result of the infamous "Crossfit slop" should keep that in mind.
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Old 01-12-2010, 04:02 AM   #7
Vanessa Richardson
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Re: Intensity vs Form

I think they meant that it might get a little ugly (which doesn't always mean unsafe). In no way did I get the impression they were suggesting we allow unsafe form, just ugly form will occur at some point when you work at intensity, which is what is usually being asked for in CF. Perhaps I didn't word it correctly! Personally I am a technique nazi and am in my clients ear constantly correcting every rep when it is needed.
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Old 01-12-2010, 05:48 AM   #8
John Alston
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Re: Intensity vs Form

Better to aim for 100% form knowing you might not always hit it than to lower the bar from the start.

Being in the ear to help cue moves correctly is good and helpful; non-critical encouragement is just cheerleading.
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Old 01-12-2010, 08:06 AM   #9
Nic Kirkland
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Re: Intensity vs Form

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Originally Posted by Vanessa Richardson View Post
I think they meant that it might get a little ugly (which doesn't always mean unsafe). In no way did I get the impression they were suggesting we allow unsafe form, just ugly form will occur at some point when you work at intensity, which is what is usually being asked for in CF. Perhaps I didn't word it correctly! Personally I am a technique nazi and am in my clients ear constantly correcting every rep when it is needed.
At my level I, they gist of what they said was the same. That is, if you're doing perfect form on rep 1-30 of Grace, it probably is not heavy or fast enough for you. However there are clear go/no-go's on form that they pointed out. For instance on deadlift, you never let the back round; however if your form degrades and by the end of Diane you're not maintaining proper hip-shoulder relationship during the first phase of the lift (i.e. Stripper DL's) or your starting position puts your upper legs parallel to the ground so you're practically squatting the weight up, that's not dangerous so much as it is inefficient, and working with maximal loads, it would not fly, but for the purpose of a high intensity WOD done at sub-maximal loads where the goal is to move large loads long distances quickly, it'll pass.

On strength days, 7x1, 3x5..., that all goes out the window. Perfect form every rep or dump the weight. That's my philosophy.
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Old 01-12-2010, 08:40 AM   #10
Mike Mallory
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Re: Intensity vs Form

Hang out on the injury forum for a while and then come back to this thread!

there's no reason to push past form, unless you're in a competition.

The body will always remember the last bad rep, and theres no reason to train that way.

you'll sacrifice a little bit of time if you want to have perfect form, but you can still judge progression month after month while keeping good form.
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