Once the required criteria for mechanics and consistency are met, this is when we can begin to add intensity. However, before we begin to increase the intensity, we MUST have the ability to make corrections if mechanics break down. For many athletes, jumping from the learning phase of a skill right into intensity is a recipe for technical breakdown. Choosing one variable to change at a time, observing the outcome, and adjusting accordingly, will allow the athlete to experience success, which will increase enthusiasm and consistent progress over time.
How long is this path to adding intensity? That answer is relative to each individual person. There is no concrete, one-size-fits-all formula. Whether it takes two weeks or one year, it is important to stick to the movement hierarchy; first mechanics, then consistency, then intensity. It is how we, as coaches, minimize the risk for injury and maximize efficacy and efficiency over the long term. The drive to move quickly past the basics is the “novice’s curse” for both the coach and athlete.
What exactly is intensity? Exercise intensity is how hard your body is working during physical activity. Perceived intensity will vary from person to person and change as you progress as an athlete and become more fit. Example: Try doing 10 burpees at an easy pace. Your form probably looks amazing, your heart rate will rise a bit but you will feel pretty good when you get done. Now, try doing 10 burpees as fast as possible. Your heart rate will, most likely, if done correctly, increase tremendously. Your form may begin to break down and you will probably need a few minutes to recover after. That is intensity, the difference your body feels during physical activity. This will be different for every person. More experienced athletes will recover quicker, have great form, and be able to push a little harder. Whereas beginner athletes will take a little longer to complete the reps, may need corrections on movement mechanics, and need more time to recover after each movement or session.
How do we apply intensity in class? In a class, we usually refer to intensity as the “desired stimulus” of a workout. How you should “feel” during the workout. If the coach explains the stimulus correctly, and the athletes LISTEN, everyone in the class should finish the workout around the same time or have relatively similar scores. This is why we have prescribed weights and movements for different athletic abilities and strengths. It keeps the intensity the same for everyone in the class. If the workout is 15 minutes or longer, you usually want to be moving at a steady pace, at a relatively lower intensity, to be able to continuously move for the duration of the WOD. If the workout is shorter, this is where you want to push the intensity and work as hard as possible. The coach will help you pick weights and movements based on your skill level and the stimulus of the workout. As you develop as an athlete, these will change as your body adapts and gets stronger.
During a workout, less-than-perfect movement is inevitable as intensity increases. A small degree of degradation in mechanics is expected as new movements are introduced and as intensity increases. However, “less than perfect” is a different animal than unsafe technical breakdown, and this distinction is CRITICAL to effective and appropriate training. Balancing safety, efficacy, and efficiency is vital, and managing the line between good mechanics and new levels of intensity requires the coach to have a solid grasp of the athlete’s abilities and the hierarchy of development. Decisions to increase or decrease speed in order to improve mechanics are always made in an athlete-specific context. A coach's focus should be centered on the athlete’s adherence to good movement mechanics (points of performance), their overall capacity, and their ability to respond to coaching cues. Driving progress in an athlete-specific context is the “art of coaching’.
This journey is unique to every individual athlete. We use scores at the gym, but your goals should not be centered around “beating” other athletes. Your goals should focus on progressing forward through movement development and should be formed around your own skill level and abilities. The competitive part of Crossfit can be, both, a blessing and a curse. It helps you push a little harder in a workout and gives you a sense of comradery and success but it can also hinder your growth and increase your risk for injury. If you are always trying to use the same weight as someone else (maybe it's too heavy for you) and you lose your form or completely miss the desired stimulus (correct intensity) of the workout, it can hinder your athletic development. Also, if you are struggling with a movement in a workout and refuse to scale appropriately, you will miss the desired stimulus again. This is why we have strength and skill portions in class. To allow athletes to try new movements and to master the mechanics before we increase the intensity. Do you see the pattern…??
In conclusion, the first emphasis at Aerial Athletics is always on moving well, and this process needs to be revisited and applied again and again over an athlete’s development. Reinforcing the process with experienced athletes sometimes requires greater persistence and creativity but keeping everyone safe, while progressing towards your goal, is our number one goal. We want everyone to succeed and progress forward...safely!!