Mechanics, Consistency, and Intensity

Why do they matter, especially in that order?


What is it? 

The definition of CrossFit: Constantly varied, functional movements performed at a high intensity. While this definition is both descriptive and prescriptive, the accompanying mechanics-consistency-intensity charter further elucidates how the program should be implemented by providing a hierarchy of concerns and establishing a progressive timeline for movement development. By implementing the right mechanics, consistency, and intensity, you will reap the true benefits of the CrossFit methodology and keep your body injury-free and healthy!

First, learn how to perform each movement correctly and, if possible, to its FULL range of motion. Second, come to class regularly. Third, scale each workout appropriately to get the right amount of intensity in your workout (also known as the workout “stimulus”).

Since CrossFit’s inception, it has faced criticism due to the misguided assumption that intensity is the singular, most important characteristic of the methodology. We often see this accusation of “intensity above all” stemming from a misguided understanding of the fundamental beliefs of the program, combined with improper form and movement patterns.

For example, an athlete is seen performing a movement poorly either during a workout or simply while practicing. Upon observing this struggle, the viewer is quick to assume this single point on the development of a skill is the permanent endpoint of the athlete’s development. This judgment denies the reality of learning and practicing new skills; beginners will look like beginners long before they ever reach the point of smooth, precise execution. Not allowing athletes to struggle during the learning process means tacitly accepting that these techniques are reserved only for those who have already refined them. This is nonsense. Even those with generally good technique will have moments of technical failure. But after proper mechanics, this should be a rare occasion.

A second misconception occurs when watching advanced athletes or CrossFit Games competitors deep in the heart of a difficult workout. The athlete wears their effort on their sleeve, quite visibly uncomfortable and pushing the limits of their current capacity. The assumption is then made that anyone new to the methodology is going to move like this and be pushed to their limits. This is untrue. For Games athletes, this is their CAREER. They are competing for money and the risk of injury is very high at this level. They will “die” for points. This is NOT a justification for your poor movement in a group class though. These athletes have built up the musculature through years of work, to support the high volume work on their joints (think high rep kipping pull-ups, HSPU’s, bouncing out of squats). This is not how they look or perform during “training” while in their home gyms/boxes. If you don’t believe me, watch their social media videos, lots of slow/strict work.

The actual intention and direction of the CrossFit methodology holds that while intensity is an essential building block of the program, its implementation is described not as an absolute metric but rather as an effort that is relative to the physical and psychological tolerances of each individual. Further, fitness is defined as a long-term venture. Intelligently balancing safety, efficacy, and efficiency is essential to long-term success. This is one of the key tenets that is stressed in the CrossFit Level-1 and Level-2 Certificate Courses. The foundation of movement proficiency serves as the base for athletic development.

Once movement mechanics are drilled and ingrained, the next step is to test consistency. Can the athlete perform the movement in a correct, predictable fashion from one day to the next? Can they do so without constant corrections from the coach? Can the athlete continue the correct movement patterns with load, different rep ranges, and under fatigue? Has the athlete been training three or more times per week in order to gain the requisite conditioning? If the answer is a resounding “Yes!” then and only then is an increase in intensity warranted.

This means, the charter for implementing constantly varied functional movements, executed at high intensity (CrossFit) requires mechanics, consistency, and THEN intensity. This provides the athlete and coach with a simple blueprint for applying the methodologies in a way that supports long-term fitness and health.

While this process/methodology is pretty easy to map out for new athletes, it also should be revisited and applied throughout an athlete’s “career.” All athletes will have some weaknesses that will be best addressed by lowering the intensity and deliberately focusing on mechanics and consistency. This is often seen with more complex weightlifting and gymnastics movements. 

An example would be an intermediate athlete who struggles with maintaining proper form and movement patterns when performing a clean. The WOD or stimulus can be changed to drill the movement with less weight for fewer reps and at a lower intensity until the mechanics are consistent enough to perform higher levels of intensity. In this way, the mechanics-consistency-intensity progression provides a practical framework for movement development. 

We are going to dig deeper into this topic in the coming weeks. If you have any questions, please ask a coach!!

Mechanics, Consistency, and Intensity

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