Just when you think you're tough enough

Cross Train CrossFit

Maximising Intensity in Crossfit – Drop Sets, Super Sets and More

Is your goal to become fitter, stronger and healthier, or to become leaner and more muscular? Well, this is something of a trick question – with Crossfit, you don’t have to choose. In terms of fitness goals, the cardiovascular and strength-building benefits of Crossfit are well-documented. As for aesthetic goals, when was the last time you saw a pudgy Crossfitter? If you really want to take your physique to the next level, however, you need to make sure you keep your workout intensity high.


What is Intensity?

You may have heard of the term “workout volume”. That refers to the total number of reps you do of any given exercise. So if you’re aiming to do 5 sets of 20 reps of squats, your squat workout volume is 100 reps.

“Workout intensity” refers to your workout volume divided by the number of minutes you spend on that particular exercise. So if you spend 20 minutes (including your warm-up and rest-time) doing 100 squats, your workout intensity is 5 squats per minute.

Why Intensity?

Keeping your workout intensity high has two main advantages.

First, you maximise the cardiovascular benefits from your workout. If you spend ten minutes lounging around on the floor of the gym in between sets, your heart isn’t going to be challenged at all. If, however, you keep your rest periods short, your heart is continually pumping blood around your body to support your muscles and nervous system.

Second, you maximise muscle-building. Packing on muscle is all about tearing muscle fibres. Provided you’re consuming enough protein, your body automatically repairs those fibres to make them bigger and stronger, so they won’t tear quite as easily next time. The more muscle fibres you recruit in every exercise, the more muscular gains you’ll enjoy! Your body has a tendency to keep certain fibres “in reserve”. Think of these as your body’s “emergency stash” of muscular strength. If you raise the intensity of your workout, you can exhaust your body’s primary fibres and force it to turn to its “reserve fibres”, harnessing its full muscular potential.

How Do You Maximise Intensity?

As we’ve previously alluded to, the key to keeping intensity high is to keep your rest periods short. This challenges your cardiovascular function and forces your body to recruit additional muscle fibers.

If you really want to push your body to its limit, drop sets are a fantastic technique. Let’s say you can squat 50 kg for 10 reps. After you finish those ten reps, reduce the weight to 30 kg, and do another 10! And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, reduce the weight to 20 kg after that, and knock out another 10 reps. Your quads will be screaming for mercy, but you’ll see dramatic improvements in your endurance and muscle mass.

Supersets are another painful but worthwhile technique. They involve performing two different exercises back-to-back, with no rest in between. Ideally, both exercises should target the same body part so you can really exhaust that muscle. If you’ve just done a bench press set to failure, head immediately to the cable machine and do a set of cable flyes. The pump you get will be mindblowing.

Of course, these techniques should be used sparingly or you risk overtraining, which exhausts your nervous system and compromises recovery. Throw in 2-3 drop sets and super sets each workout and target a different body part each time. You’ll get more benefits from your workout than ever before!

Article by Joel Niven