Intensity can be defined as "exactly equal to average power (force x distance / time)”. In other words, how much real work did you do and in what time period? The greater the average power, the greater the intensity.
Technique can be defined as “a skilful, correct, safe and efficient way of performing movements”.
Intensity and average power are the variables most commonly associated with optimising favourable results. Do more work in less time (without overdoing it), and you’ll get fitter, faster, Fact. In order to improve, we have to be prepared to push ourselves, often to 'uncomfortable' levels.
There is a fine line between intensity and technique.
If we are focused on absolutely perfect technique every time we train, then our intensity will be much lower. On the flip side, if we go super hard all the time, it's likely that our form will suffer and we are at risk of injury. The key is finding the middle ground where you can go hard, but stay safe.
So where is this fine line between intensity and technique?
Let's use CrossFit's favourite example.... let's take a look at three imaginary athletes who are all going to do "Grace" (30 clean and jerks at 60 kg, for time) and they all finish exactly on 3 minutes.
Athlete A hits it first. He puts on heavy metal to work out to and gets himself all pumped up by running around the gym screaming and grunting, slapping his chest and face and throwing chalk everywhere. 3, 2, 1, GO!
The clock starts and he proceeds to yank the bar off the ground with a rounded back, he reverse curls it with little to no technique. He then strict presses overhead while heavily arching his lower back. Every rep is performed in the same way. He finishes his workout in exactly 3 minutes and drops to the ground in the fetal position, a sweaty, heaving, panting mess. He doesn’t move for the next 30 minutes.
It's Athletes B's turn, so he changes the music to his 'Chillin' on a Sunday' playlist. The clock starts and he calmly walks up to the bar, he spends what feels like an age getting into a perfect set-up and proceeds to clean and jerk with perfect form. He drops the bar to the ground and takes a couple of steps back and assesses his next approach. As the workout continues, he takes time to talk to the coach about his day. He too finishes at 3 minutes, he has not broken a sweat and he walks away feeling refreshed.
Finally, it's Athlete C's turn. He changes the music over to his favourite workout tunes and hits some dynamic mobility drills while he’s waiting to begin his workout. When the clock starts, his clean & jerk technique isn’t perfect – he has an early arm bend, and could probably open his hips up a little more – but it’s pretty good. His coach yells a few lifting cues, the athlete corrects his technique and strings together 10 good reps before dropping the bar. He gives himself 15 seconds before forcing himself to pick the bar back up and finishes the workout in 3 minutes, flat. When he’s done, he is sweating and breathing hard. He composes himself, takes a gentle jog and brings his heart rate down to normal levels in a few minutes.
All of the above athletes finished at exactly the same time and all the athletes lifted 60 kg so we can say that the athletes all performed "Grace" with the same absolute intensity. What we see in our descriptions is a big difference between the athlete’s relative intensity: the ability for each to push themselves physically and mentally.
For Athlete B, his movement was perfect, but his intensity was very low. Do you think his performance will improve his overall fitness in the future? He may have looked technically perfect, but because he lacked the intensity, his fitness is less unlikely to improve in the future.
On the flip side we have Athlete A aka 'Mr Intense'. He went so hard that he had no form, he was at risk of hurting himself and probably those around him. Although the intensity was super high, his lack of technique will likely result in little improvement next time he does this workout as he did nothing to work on his efficiency.
Athlete C is right on the money as he balances CrossFit's requirement of high intensity and good technique. He had a few technique errors, but nothing serious and he was able to correct them when cued by the coach. He was also able to push himself hard. If he performs like this on every WOD do you think he will improve faster than the other two athletes?....Yes!
Here are some tips that we have found helpful in our training...
Aim to lift more than last time. For example, if I am doing front squats for sets of 5 reps, I check back in Beyond the Whiteboard of what my 5 rep max is. If the last time I did front squats for 5 reps my heaviest set was 100kg, then I always go into the session with the goal of my last 1-2 sets being above this weight. Even if it's just by 2.5kg, it’s still an improvement and every kilo counts!
Embrace the suck. I know that as I approach a new rep max, I may lean forward a little more than I would like and I will be in a battle to keep my knees tracking my toes perfectly. Provided it's only very minor deviations in form, the last couple of reps of each set should have you wondering whether your are going to make it! If you're unsure, speak to your coach if you have any questions or would like feedback on your form before you add weight, that's why we're here!
Keep rest periods short. The more resting you do in a workout the lower the intensity will be. One tip is to decide that each time you rest, it's only going to be for X seconds (10-15 seconds is more than enough). Keep an eye on the clock and time yourself. No matter how you feel, you will get back to work once those seconds have passed time and you will surprise yourself at how much more you can do.
Go in with a strategy. Decide how you are going to break up the work...make it a challenge!
Have a mantra. It's easy to convince ourselves to take a rest, but it's much harder to convince ourselves to keep working! When the going gets tough and I want to stop I just focus on the next rep, and nothing else. I actually say "another rep". Once I do that rep, I say again "just one more rep". Before you know it, you've done 5-10 more reps before you actually rest.