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Practice vs. Intensity

Practice vs. Intensity

Intensity is something we talk a lot about when it comes to CrossFit workouts.  You may hear a coach say to you mid-workout, “pick up the intensity.”  Or perhaps you finish a workout and say, “man, that was intense!”  It makes sense that the word intensity would come up during a CrossFit class since CrossFit is defined as: constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity.  However, if you only focus on intensity when coming to a CrossFit class you could be missing another important aspect in increasing your overall fitness: practice.  To understand how to focus on practice during class or how to implement it yourself, we need to understand the difference between intensity and practice.


Intensity is not how much you grunt or sweat during a workout, and it’s not how high your heart rate gets during a workout.  Intensity is work divided by time, also known as power.  The more work you are able to complete in less time, or the higher your power output, the more intensity you have.  Think moving large loads, long distances, quickly.  This is a major reason why we record our workout results. We want to see if your power/intensity output is increasing.  This can be seen by getting a faster Fran time or more rounds and reps in a workout like Cindy.


In the CrossFit L1 Training Guide, practice is defined as “an activity that improves performance through changes in the nervous system.”  With proper practice you will have changes primarily in coordination, agility, balance and accuracy.  Practice is not coming to the gym and writing up additional metcons to complete. Practice is low intensity efforts performed at light loads and focusing on one task.  A good example of practice is the skill development section of a CrossFit class.  When we do slow overhead squats with a PVC pipe, this is a time to focus on positioning and balance. Then, when we move to a barbell or heavier loads, your nervous system knows how to respond with proper movement.

How to Implement

When it comes to intensity, keep going hard at 3..2..1..go, and remember to measure your results after a workout and be aware of where your intensity is at.  This can help you understand how to approach other workouts of the same kind, or it can point out a weakness.  For practice, really focus in on your movement patterns during skill work in class.  Be aware of how your body is moving and notice different muscles working. Practice is not a time to focus on intensity.  If you want to implement practice during open gyms, pick something you need work on and perform reps at very low weight with plenty of rest between efforts.  An example would be sitting on a box and working on wrapping your feet around a rope.  When that becomes easy, close your eyes and keep doing it.  Practice is not always the “sexy” side of CrossFit, but it pays huge dividends.

Lactate Threshold

Lactate Threshold

Have you ever wondered why during or after a workout you feel like your muscles are aching or burning? Why you cannot catch your breath to save your life? The answer is a phenomenon called Lactic Acid.


Energy Systems

The body has two main ways of producing energy: the Aerobic and Anaerobic systems. The aerobic system uses oxygen to produce energy and is used for longer time period events such as a 5k run or rowing. The anaerobic energy system uses phosphocreatine and glycogen to fuel the body for events that are short and intermediate such as a one rep squat or intervals.

In order to talk about the lactate threshold it is important to first understand these energy systems. As people exercise lactic acid in the blood increases due to the intensity that is being stressed on the body. The lactate is released by the muscle cell in order for the body to convert it into glucose in the liver for the body to continue to produce energy. Glucose that is produced from lactic acid is important for the body because the body will use that glucose to produce energy and that energy in turn will fuel your body to continue to exercise or work harder. When the intensity increases and the lactate is being released too quickly for the body to convert it we hit our lactate threshold.  This is the stage where your muscles are burning or aching, and your performance will decrease quickly or more cause you to stop the activity to recover.

Why is lactate threshold relevant to me? 

Some people may be wondering why hitting the lactate threshold may be important to them. As high intensity workouts such as a Crossfit WOD (Workout Of the Day) are done, your body is producing high amounts of lactic acid. This isn’t a bad thing, it is simply how the body responses to the stimulus. This is actually very good for your body! Why you ask? Because as you continually train, and lactate is regularly being released into your system, your body will learn to convert the lactic acid back into glucose faster and faster for your body to use for your training session.


This is huge because as the conversion gets faster and faster, your performance level and lactate threshold go up. During 16.1 (20 min AMRAP Walking lunges, burpees, chest to bars) you were probably feeling a burning sensation in your legs later in the workout, but it was important to continue to work in order to better your scores. This in turn helped your body push the lactate threshold that it was accustomed too. Just by pushing the limit to a tolerable end your lactate threshold will increase and you will see differences in performance and recovery.

Coach Ben