Volume vs. Intensity
Volume and intensity are typically pitted against each other; the more volume you do the lower intensity it tends to be.
For today, let’s assume that we’re measuring intensity by perceived exertion & power output (effort, pace, work rate).
Higher volume equals slower paces.
Higher volume equals lower density.
Higher volume equals less power.
All these statements are rooted in biological laws.
However, this doesn’t answer the question…
“What is the best way to build pace, density, and power?”
Often doing more work at lower intensities allows an athlete to express higher effort work over a shorter time domain.
So how do you know where you should be at?
I chalk it up to four factors…
(1) Current Training Volume
(2) Competition for Which You’re Preparing
(3) Cycle of Your Competitive Season
(4) Phase of Your Athletic Career’s Trajectory
Current Training Volume
“Program Design Begins Where Athlete Ability Ends”
In other words, if you want to get accurate directions for your fitness roadmap you first have to know where you currently sit.
This is why we do fitness testing, but also serves as the foundation for all coach-athlete conversations around their athletic development.
My Advice: Don’t make dramatic changes in volume in either direction. Slowly progress the athlete through an increase in volume to improve their sustainability or through a taper to increase their ability to express intensity.
Related: Deload Week for an Elite CrossFit Masters Athlete [Video]
Competition for Which You’re Preparing
Each CrossFit competition is different. Each has its own structure, number of events, venue, style of programming, movement selection, etc. And there really are no rules, so each event organizer can essentially do whatever they want.
Wodapalooza programming looks dramatically different from the Games. The Open has different requirements than the Quarterfinals. The environment at one Semifinal is different from another.
For a detrained, powerful athlete looking to prepare for Quarterfinals, their lead up might be largely about volume tolerance & improving their aerobic system.
For a seasoned Games vet, preparing for a peak at semifinals might be almost exclusively about strength & sustained power expression.
My Advice: Do your homework on the event you’re preparing for and weigh that analysis against your individual strengths and weaknesses. Train to plug your holes to avoid bleeding points.
Cycle of Your Competitive Season
Once your competitive season has begun and you’re in more of a “base” phase of training, you want to progressive build volume. This will mean intensity takes a back seat, temporarily.
This looks like an environment with lower fatigue, practicing & refining your skills. The goal should be to avoid compensatory movement patterns by building sub-maximal quality movement.
As your competition nears, you begin to strip away the non-sport elements of the training and slowly increase the pressure on the items that will be tested.
My Advice: For athletes with glaring holes, plan to work on those holes all the way up to your competition. This means more intention progress and less “CrossFit chaos.” For athletes who are well-rounded veterans, focus on rebuilding the components of your fitness that have lost their edge, and then go through a sharpening period of practicing your sport.
Phase of Your Athletic Career’s Trajectory
A 32-year-old athlete who has trained 10+ sessions per week for the past 10 years has a different relationship with volume than a 19-year-old with a training age of 3 years.
Veteran athletes, especially those with high neural drive, probably won’t benefit from increasing their volume.
They’re more likely to break than dramatically increase their volume tolerance ceiling.
And for younger athletes, practicing quality reps is the most important thing. More total work means more opportunities to do this. That is, if the athlete goes into the training with the right intention and focus.
Don’t overdo it. There’s a sweet spot: not enough training and you won’t be able to express properly when your intense training rolls around, and too much volume and you will only be training through chronic fatigue, resulting in maladaptation.
Take on too much volume and your primary concern will be surviving it rather than attacking it. Do this and you’ll be the worst thing a CrossFitter can be… slow.
My Advice: If you’re young in your fitness journey and are looking to make this your career, you may not be able to afford a 1-on-1 Coach, but you certainly can’t afford not to hire one.