Intensity vs Volume: Get the basics right first!

It’s not about how much work you put in, but the intensity of that work every time

Often the coaches get asked the question "Do I need to train more?" But is volume the answer? It could be, but there are some other variables you need to address before you can legitimately say that increasing volume is going to get you the results. There are three areas that need to be looked first:

  1. Nutrition: Read here part 1

  2. Sleep: Read here part 2

  3. Intensity Read here part 3a

Once you have looked at these areas and all of them are optimised, if your training is still not progressing, then we can consider addressing the minefield of increasing volume.

In today's post we have a look at Volume vs Intensity


3b. Volume vs Intensity

Intensity can be defined as equal to average power (force x distance / time). In other words, how much work did you do and in what time period. The greater the average power, the greater the intensity. This is observable, measurable fact. 


"Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximising the rate of return of favourable adaptation".

Read that sentence again...and now a third time to let it sink in. In simple terms, intensity gets you what you want - It's where the magic happens - It's where we find the stimulus to adapt and get stronger, faster and fitter.

Now read the last part:  It's where we find the stimulus to adapt and get stronger, faster and fitter.



If you do a single met-con each day, your goal should be to enter 'the dark place' in those 6-10 minutes of your workout knowing that you are there to maximise effort, mental toughness, and physiological thresholds. No breaks, no saving energy – what you have in the tank, you use it all.

Here is a quote from multiple CrossFit Games Team Champions and 6th Place Male Individual in 2014, it sums it up:

"I just did max rep air squat in 2 minutes. Still baffles me how many people think CrossFit workouts are too easy and they need tougher programming"

If you think 2 minutes of air squats is 'too easy' you simply did not go hard or fast enough. That applies for any CrossFit workout, if it felt easy you were just not trying.

Many see the way that the Games athletes train and it is understandable that you may think you should train that way too. The needs of the Games athletes and us mere mortals widely varies. They have built a high capacity over a series of years to tolerate increased volume. Furthermore, their training period isn’t limited to an hour a day.

To quote James Hobart, multiple Games athlete:

Volume is alluring for many reasons. Some athletes who are trying to break into the upper echelons of Open and regional performance look to tack on extra volume in order to try and close the gap, and affliates sometimes attempt to squeeze more and more into the relatively brief CrossFit class in order to follow suit. But don’t mistake volume for intensity and end up training for 90 minutes at 60 percent when 60 minutes at 90 percent might have been more valuable. Similarly, paying little attention to recovery is costly. It’s a fool’s errand to cram multiple workouts on top of each other in hopes of finding a shortcut to fitness. Some strong-willed people just don’t know when enough is enough.


For athletes looking to add more volume into their training, it’s crucial that they have a base of mechanical proficiency in the foundational movements and they are consistent in their approach to intensity.

If you struggle with basic mechanics in movements such as the squat or with overhead mobility, then volume isn’t the solution for you:

Doing workout after workout is not a shortcut to fitness. If you lack good mechanics, it’s a shortcut to the reinforcement of poor movement. The more you practice poor movement the better you will get at poor movement. Top athletes strive for perfect mechanics in foundational movement and have an established training history that allow them to increase their training volume.

For most of us, intensity is where the magic happens:

Find that dark place in a workout and push further until you find an even darker place. Intensity reigns king in CrossFit and this is what separates CrossFit from the majority of other fitness programs. It’s what drives change and produces results. Volume can certainly be used to gain the upper hand in the sport of CrossFit but it should not be added at the cost of intensity.

If your are training for life then there is no need for pure volume. You will improve work capacity across broad time and modal domains with constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity during once-a-day sessions, 3 to 4 times per week.

Those who are looking to compete and have a solid base of mechanics as well as consistency and hit their workouts with high intensity, can then begin to look at a structured approach of increased volume in their training.


If you say to one of the coaches ''I think I need more volume'', they will ask to you, and you should ask yourself:

Are you are actually trying hard enough?

Does your effort when you are training accurately reflect your goals?

If your answer to those questions is 'No',  then guaranteed the answer to your training woes is not that you need more volume.


Be impressed with intensity, not with volume!