Too Much Volume or Not Enough Fitness?


It seems like whenever a CrossFit.com workout appears with more than 50 repetitions of a single movement, the Facebook physiologists show up. They’re the ones commenting “Too much volume,” “Excessive,” etc.

For example, CrossFit.com recently programmed “Annie” and posted a video of Dave Castro performing it with GHD sit-ups as the WOD demo. On Facebook, Dominic Munnelly expressed concerns about “that volume of GHD sit ups.”

To be sure, performing 150 GHD sit-ups might be excessive volume for some people. But are the CrossFit.com workouts written for the masses to perform them all as written?

The correct answer clearly is “no.” The CrossFit.com “How to Start” section states,

“It must be understood that CrossFit.com workouts are extremely demanding and will tax the capacities of even the world’s best athletes. You would be well advised to take on the WOD cautiously and move toward completing the workouts comfortably and consistently before throwing yourself at them 100 percent. The best results have come for those who have scaled the workouts down to establish competency before maximizing intensity. Workouts can be scaled—or modified—by adjusting the length, number of reps, loads, distances or even movements.”

There are two key points to digest here. First, these workouts challenge the world’s fittest athletes. So if you think that 150 GHD sit-ups (or 200 pull-ups, or a 15-k run, or whatever) is excessive CrossFit.com programming, then you must think it’s excessive for the population that the workouts are designed to challenge: the elite. Would anyone then argue that 150 GHD sit-ups is “too much” for Mat Fraser or Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir? It was not too much work for Dave Castro.

Workouts that challenge the world’s fittest might not always be appropriate, as written, for the masses. This brings us to our second key point: the need for scaling. If you’re not as fit as CrossFit Games athletes, you are probably going to need to adjust the “length, number of reps, loads, distances or even movements” from time to time. The CrossFit Training Instagram page provides scaling options for every CrossFit workout.

People do seem to understand scaling when it comes to heavy weight. CrossFit.com regularly programs loads in workouts that are out of the reach of most people. Take 170411:

5 rounds for time of:

225-lb. clean and jerks, 4 reps

6 bar muscle-ups

40-ft. handstand walk

I didn’t notice anyone saying that 225 lb. is too much weight for 20 clean and jerks in a workout. Yet it clearly would be too much loading for many athletes.  If people understand that 225-lb. clean and jerks should be scaled down for most people, wouldn’t the same principle hold true for 150 GHD sit-ups? There are myriad ways to scale 150 GHD sit-ups, depending on the athlete: lower the reps, decrease the range of motion, implement regular sit-ups instead, perform some combination of the preceding, etc.

The human body is capable of astounding feats of stamina. Take CrossFit Seminar Staff member Danny Watson, though. Watson performed 4,907 strict pull-ups in 24 hours in order to raise money for charity–quite an impressive feat, especially for well-rounded athlete who also has a 57-second 400-meter run and 2:18 Fran. Now consider the world record for pull-ups in 24 hours is 2,399 repetitions more than Watson’s 4,907.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 11.20.56 AM.png

CrossFit Seminar Staff member Daniel Watson completed 4,907 strict pull-ups in 24 hours. Source.

While CrossFit is not designed to specialize in these feats of stamina and endurance, it’s not designed to ignore such qualities, either. And in light of the full spectrum of human capacity, it is a bit ridiculous to suggest that a hundred or two hundred repetitions of a basic calisthenic movement constitutes excessive volume for those aspiring to achieve elite fitness.

So next time someone claims that a couple of hundred reps is excessive in a CrossFit.com workout, remember that the CrossFit.com workouts are expected to challenge the world’s best. And improving your fitness across broad time and modal domains means you have to actually train across broad time and modal domains.

2 comments

  1. I would say the same is true for mental activities and nutrition. Start low and go slow. Extreme mental challenges and nutritional feat also often take years of slowly “scaling up”. There is always room for improvement it even the fittest or wisest person. It is also a good idea to find some experienced folks to guide you. There are only two ways to gain wisdom–make a lot of mistakes and learn from them or find wise people and learn from them. Most of us spend our youth using method number one but you need to utilize method two to really make outstanding progress!

  2. Pingback: Saturday, June 10th – Thorbeckes Crossfit

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