CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman once wrote, “The road to mastery necessitates practice and continual refinement.” That is our 1% Better mindset. We can’t become elite level athletes overnight, so we must continually strive for better each day. One general guiding principle we use as coaches to help enact this mantra is M.C.I. - Mechanics, Consistency, then, and only then, Intensity. You may have even heard us talk about this acronym and reference it as we coach our classes. Let’s break down each of these and discuss how they pertain to the whole.
Mechanics refers to technique and your ability to move properly through our core movements and achieve all the points of performance. This is our first step. This is the main reason we start everyone with One-on-One Foundations sessions. We start in a controlled setting with a coach who leads us through the points of performance for each of the movements we will be doing in group class.
Can you perform an air squat that maintains proper lumbar curve, full foot on the ground (including heels), while you descend below parallel (when the fold of the hip passes below the top of the knee)?
Can you perform a shoulder press with an empty bar that starts with elbows slightly in front and bar resting actively on the shoulder and finishes with the bar directly overhead, elbows locked out, and proper lumbar curve maintained?
Can you perform a deadlift that maintains a proper lumbar curve throughout, pushing through the heels, and a strong finishing position with shoulders resting behind the plane of the bar?
These are our fundamental movements. We must start here. It is essential to the CrossFit training program that we meet all the points of performance before moving on. If you still struggle with the mechanics of a movement, there is no benefit to adding in more reps (consistency) or load (intensity). In fact, it can even be unsafe! We must first master the basics.
Consistency refers to your ability to consistently maintain the points of performance. Once we show that we can squat below parallel, deadlift without rounding our backs, press overhead to full range of motion, then we must show that we can do this consistently over time.
Do your “heavy” sets look the same as your “warm up” sets with the empty bar?
Does your last round of a workout have the same unwavering technique as your first round?
Do you consistently show up to CrossFit class to maintain proper exposure to our many movements and workouts?
Do your times and scores show consistency in similar workouts, or are your scores scattered all over the place?
This category is where most of us lie. If you’ve been through our Foundations and worked out with us for awhile, you should know WHAT each of the movements are and HOW to do them, but doing them that way every single time is where we struggle. We can hit all the points of performance during the warm up, but when we get out of breath in round #4, we’ve moved away from ideal movement patterns. Per the cliche, consistency is key. This is where we hone in.
This step is by far the most important. We cannot skip this step. If we try to jump to more intensity too soon without proving over time our ability to consistently move with sound mechanics, we are moving away from our goals and worse, at risk for injury. If we pick weights for a workout that are too heavy, either our form will break down and we risk injury, or we miss the purpose, or intended stimulus, of the workout. So even if we CAN do the weight, if it takes us twice as long as designed, we are missing out on the fitness benefits that the class was designed to give!
Then, and only then, Intensity
Intensity in the CrossFit world refers to higher power output. Power is the rate at which we do work, or in simpler terms move large loads, long distances, quickly. We have three factors to increase intensity and power. We can increase the weight or loading (force), we can increase the reps or distance the weight travels, or we can decrease the time in which we perform the same amount of weight times reps or distance.
We ONLY want to approach intensity once we can consistently show we have mastered the mechanics of each movement. Intensity is where you make your money. As Greg Glassman puts it, “Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with the rate of return on favorable adaptation.” In other words, you get the mojo. The fat loss. The muscle gain. The mental clarity. That’s where you get the results.
And that’s why so many people jump straight to intensity. That’s where adaptation lies. But if we skip the necessary building blocks and put the wagon ahead of the horse, we are actually making our fitness worse and moving further away from the mojo. Further away from “getting abs”. Further away from relieving our pain in movements.
All Three Working Together
So how do we balance Mechanics, Consistency, and Intensity? How do we know where to draw the line on certain movements? What do we do if we fall into that middle grey area?
Because the intensity factor is so favorable towards adaptation, we want to use a principle called relative intensity. We want to incrementally increase intensity in safe doses where appropriate. That’s why we start each day warming up with PVC pipes, empty bars, lighter kettlebells or medicine balls, easy rowing and biking, a shorter box. We want to start each class at a low intensity, then slowly work our way throughout the class.
Intensity levels differ from person to person based on an infinite number of factors. That’s why we all use different weights, and distances, and rep counts, and some people do muscle-ups while others do jumping pull-ups. We want intensity to meet us where we are, not where we are going. Then, once we can display consistency at the next notch of intensity, then we can add more.
One of the reasons we made the switch to CompTrain Class is the quality of their warm ups and designed teaching sections. We are constantly given nugget after nugget to add to our repertoire of sound mechanics. We start each class with a group warm up at lighter loads, reps, distances, and time requirements. CompTrain Class provides an environment favorable towards fostering consistently sound mechanics. We are so excited for this change because we know how important it is to build a wider base to our fitness pyramid before we try to build higher.
What’s your role in all this?
To start off, make sure you are consistently attending class. We can’t even get the mechanics if we aren’t consistently at the gym.
Next, come with a humble attitude. We are here to get better, not check the Rx box in SugarWOD. Trust your coach’s judgment. They truly have your best interest in mind. Your coach isn’t telling you to use less weight in a workout or do less reps per round of pull-ups because they want you to fail. At CrossFit Eta, our goal is to be a health center that promotes long term, quality health/life. That’s what our coaches want for you. All our modifications from what’s written on the whiteboard are with your long term health in mind. This isn’t a short term thing. The CrossFit design is meant to be for the long haul.
Lastly, come with a hungry attitude. Hunger to learn. We want you to show up to class with a will to improve, ridiculous work ethic, and fanatical attention to detail. As we broaden the base of our pyramid with better mechanics, then it becomes easier to move with more consistency over time. And as we broaden that middle section of our pyramid with consistent movement whether we are tired or fresh, heavy or light, breathing heavy or warming up, we make more room to build upon with our relative intensity. Even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, there’s always something new you can learn.
“Once you think you have mastered the basics, start over again. This time paying closer attention to detail.” -Greg Glassman