Understanding Intensity: The High Wire Act

If we understand the objective view of intensity as it being perfectly equal to power (p= (f*d)/t) then we can unlock extremely important keys to your fitness journey. There’s a sweet spot in every training day for every athlete. The closer you can walk the line of your own relative intensity, the more you can extract in terms of adaptation from each training day.

If you care to do the math, you can scratch out the numbers yourself. Regardless, this is fairly simple to imagine. We’ll use the wall ball as an example. If we’re doing a classic CrossFit workout “Karen,” which is (unfortunately) one hundred and fifty wall balls for time we can begin to plug in the numbers for an objective measure of intensity (or power). The workout calls for a twenty pound ball for men and a fourteen pound ball for the women to a ten foot target. There is a sweet spot for every athlete to maximize his/her intensity here and, all things being equal, choosing the right medball has everything to do with this.

Of course, choosing a heavier ball has the opportunity to produce more power (or intensity) than a lighter ball, but only to a point. Imagine doing the heaviest med-ball possible, but only performing a repetition every few minutes. With this heavier ball, you’ve increased the force created in each effort, but you’ve also significantly increase the time required to perform the task. Our equation for power, therefore, would spit out a fairly unremarkable number for intensity even with the heavier ball.

The ego of the athlete can make for some counter productive scaling choices in training, and while using heavier weights can seem more productive in the gym, the reality is it depends. Using a twenty pound ball (f) to a ten foot target (d) times the one hundred and fifty reps assigned divided by the five minutes it took to accomplish the workout (t) gives us a clear output of 5,000 foot-pounds per minute. If a second athlete, in an effort to one up the intensity of the first athlete, performed “Karen” with a thirty pound ball, he’d have to do it faster than nine minutes to best the intensity of the first athlete.

While I don’t expect any of you to calculate the intensity of your workouts, it is empowering to know that it is possible. This insight can, at least, shine light on those times when your ego is distracting you from the point. Getting the most results from your training possible will be a high wire act walking as closely to the edge of your capacity as possible to achieve ideal intensity. Ironically, the best, most experienced athletes have the clearest understanding of their abilities and are able to spend more time accurately achieving their peak expression of intensity. The best athletes get the most out of training intensity.

When it comes time to pick your weights and movement styles in class, pay close attention to the insight your coach gives to the context of the training day. Choosing your scaling based on this information will help you maximized the desired intensity.


Logan Gelbrich


2/14/17 WOD

Complete 8 rounds for time:

6 Burpees

8 Box Jumps (24/20)

1 Clean (~80%)

-Rest 1 min-


**Athletes receive one score (total time)