Intensity versus Volume

“be impressed by intensity, not volume” – Greg Glassman

marathon runners and distance walker often focus primarily on volume, i.e. the distance run/walked, in a weight lifting context we see ladies with baby weights lifting for hundreds of reps.

“volume” refers to how many reps or sets are performed, and “intensity” indicates how much weight is lifted, a relative percentage of your maximum capability. so in the debate between Intensity versus Volume what it comes down to is – who is the better athlete – the athlete that can lift 100lb 100 times, or the athlete that can lift 1000lb 1 time. On the surface its a hard one to debate 100lb is a reasonable amount of weight after all and 100 reps is a lot. but what if we add in the variable of a time frame? 1 rep takes a second, if that, how long would 100 reps take? does it include breaks? what if you rested 5 minutes between each 100lb rep, would it still be impressive to do 100 reps?

Generally the relationship between volume and intensity as being inverse, i.e. the more reps that you do, the lower the weight that you can lift, where Crossfit Differs however is that the element of time is added, intensity in Crossfit isn’t just about how much weight is lifted, but also how quickly its lifted. if we take the example about as fix the volume – which athlete is stronger the athelete that can do 100 reps at 200lb in one day or the athlete that does 100 reps at 100lb in 10 minutes?

as you can see, intensity (in the context of limiting time) changes the dynamic of who is the ‘stronger’ athelete significantly. The reason for this comes down to physics – power = work/time. conventional training typically doesn’t fact time.

In Crossfit, we strive to increase work capacity (work) over broad time and modal domains (time/weight etc) – simply put – get more powerful.

now, we’ve only focus on strength and perhaps cardiovascular endurance, but don’t forget the other general physical skills. with time not being a factor, maintaining these general physical skills is relatively easy, once you add time as a limiting factor, fatigue plays a significant role and you’ll see various aspects of the general physical skills begin to deteriorate, being a strong athlete also means being able to sustain the quality of general physical skills over the intensity of the workout whether that is weight or time.