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Dave Castro: Technique vs Intensity by Dave Castro - CrossFit Journal

In Audio, CrossFit, Videos

March 22, 2009

Video Article

Dave Castro talks about technique vs intensity at a CrossFit Level 1 cert in Virginia Beach, VA on July 12, 2008.

In this video by the CrossFit Again Faster crew, Dave addresses the concept of threshold training. Perfect technique and mechanics cannot be sustained at maximum output. Maximum output cannot be achieved without good technique and mechanics.

This conundrum is resolved by ramping up the intensity until the mechanics start to degrade, at which point the athlete should refocus on the mechanics while sustaining as much intensity as possible. Done properly, this practice leads to improved mechanics at higher and higher levels of intensity.

Dave compares three shooters performance with three performances of the workout “Grace” (30 clean and jerks at 135lbs for time). When to speed up, when to keep pushing, and when to slow down and fix mechanics are described.

5min 9sec

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19 Comments on “Dave Castro: Technique vs Intensity”


wrote …

Stupid comment, but where can I get that shirt?????!!!!!


replied to comment from Robert Furloni

CrossFit Aliso Viejo no longer exists.

It is now CrossFit Laguna Beach.


wrote …

This "happy place" Dave talks about. I dont think in the whole time I have been Crossfitting that I have ever been to a "happy place" :-)


wrote …

I love the "blow our asshole out of our pants" imagery.


wrote …

I've blown my asshole out of my pants. Not fun.


wrote …

I've been CF'ing for 16 months, Zoning for about 8 and for the last 6 I have noticed that my strength has reached a level between intermediate and advanced on the Strength Standards posted on the website. My technique is not picture perfect and I do not attempt to maintain great form throughout each WO. My problem is that my intensity and MetCon abilities have dropped to the floor.

This concerns me because I am in the Army and I need to be able to run. I have adjusted my zone diet, bumping up my blocks which has helped a bit but I still find that 2 minutes into a WO and I want to lay down.

How do you handle a client that becomes unbalanced with respect to the 3 pathways...Anaerobic high, metcon low, gymnastic ability somewhere in the middle?

Any suggestions on how to fix this is greatly appreciated. I look forward to seeing more information from this seminar on Intensity.

MAJ Hodges


Daniel Schmieding wrote …

I believe that happy place Dave mentioned is the asshole blown out of your pants place.


wrote …


First, most times its nutirtion, especially when you say its about a 2 minute cut out into a WOD. I know you said you up'd your blocks but did you up all of your blocks (Carb, Prot, Fat)or just your fat blocks? The Zone can be tricky sometimes finding that right metric that works for you. I had the same problem, tripled my fat blocks (maybe even a little more than tripled) and was back on track in about a week or so.
If you try it (or already have) and you still crash you may need to start looking at other parts of your life or training. ie. sleep, stress, overtraining.
Hopefully this helps a bit.


wrote …

Being a firearms instructor, the shooting comparsion really hit home. Now I can better explain technique vs intensity to fellow cops!


replied to comment from Glenn Hodges

MAJ Hodges,

One thing I've noticed is that you do not need as many total blocks per day as you would think. I'm about 175-180, in the same strength range as you, and I found that after dropping down to 16 blocks with 2x-3x fat I don't gas out on the cardio near as much.

That said, I'm fairly new to crossfit, but my cardio has shot through the roof after doubling my fat intake.

Hope that helps,


wrote …

I dont get it...he's showing ambiguious info...We train for intensity...but not bad form. If we get every rep right, we are not training hard enough???? Obviously, you can train and do every rep right the intensity level is sub-standard. But isnt there an apex to proper form and intensity? I get what's being said, however, the message I get is form degrades as you push beyond your limit.



Form degrades as we push beyond our limits, yes. We're shooting for that 80% range. Intensity is a large part of what delivers the "unique" stimulus that CrossFit provides over traditional PT, etc. Even with the occasional form-fault, a properly trained CrossFitter is in far less danger (at full speed) than most common gym-goers.

Does that make sense?


Obviously, you can train and do every rep right the intensity level is sub-standard. But isn't there an apex to proper form and intensity?

Keith, Excellent question and like most the answer to most excellent questions, the appropriate answer is "it depends."

Yes, I think there is an apex, or a maximization of form and intensity, and that apex shifts towards form or intensity based on at least the following variables:

1) Most importantly, I agree with Dave in that there is a spectrum of form faults, on one side most dangerous and the other side least dangerous. For instance, rounding of the back is a more serious and dangerous form fault than reverse curling. Maybe back rounding should only be "allowed" 3 reps out of 30 (10%) and reverse curling can be up to 18 times (60%).

2) What does the form look like when the athlete does the exercise in a non-performance environment? Maybe the athlete is just excited and nervous causing form faults during the WOD but not in practice. Or maybe they have the same form faults in practice.

3) Where are the majority of faults located in the workout? Are they intermittent throughout the workout or are they all near the end? If the faults are spread out through the workout maybe the athlete hasn't quite learned the movement correctly before adding the intensity.

4) Where is the athlete in his career? If an athlete is just learning the C&J the apex might move closer to technique than intensity. Regarding your comment: "Obviously, you can train and do every rep right the intensity level is sub-standard." Not necessarily obvious, remember, you are training for adaptations that take a while and skills that build on one another. Turning the volume down on a workout or two to get the movement bullet-proof to have several great workouts in a month or two rather than a pretty good workout today is a valid decision.

5) Finally, are the damages from the form faults going to affect tomorrows workout? Is this person going to get in the car 5 minutes after the WOD and drive home, sit in front of the TV, stay up late and be 70% the next day or are they going to take a few minutes to eat, stretch and ice and be 90% the next workout? If an athlete doesn't take both intensity and recovery seriously then maybe you have to make some choices for that athlete to protect both of you.

There is an apex to form and intensity as Dave showed with his hands near the end of the clip. While it is different for everyone, there are a few factors, or evidence points, that make the form/intensity apex easier to determine.


wrote …

The often misunderstood relationship of technique and intensity is one of the great keys to success in training. There is really only one goal in GPP (General Physical Preparedness) training, and that is fitness.

Fitness in layman's terms is the ability to handle what life throws at you. Obviously, this varies tremendously depending on what your life is like. But, the demands vary in degree not kind. Everyone has to be able to control and move their own body through space, and everyone has to be able to control and move external objects. The variations are in degrees of specificity, dominance and intensity.

Fitness in technical terms is increased work capacity across broad time, modal, and age domains. This definition is referring to exactly the same thing as the previous paragraph. Work capacity is the ability to do real work. Broad time and modal domains means that capacity should be broadly applied (not specialized), and provide a base or ready state for any and all specialized work. Broad age domains means that the work capacity should be maximized throughout life.

Increased work capacity is intensity. Intensity is average power (the amount of work that you do in a given time). The calculation of your average power for a given activity is your work capacity for that activity. The ability to generate greater intensity is fitness.

That's the end of the story.

What about technique? What we call technique is simply using the most efficient, effective, and safe mechanics to maximize work capacity. There is no other benefit to technique.

Now, how do we develop the most efficient, effective, and safe mechanics to maximize work capacity? This is the question that the video is about. Saul speaks to several factors in how and when you modify an athletes training to develop intensity. I could add many more. This is the subtle art of training. Human performance is immensely complex, and anyone who claims to understand it fully is either deceived or deceptive.

Again, and this is my main point, technique has no inherent value in and of itself. Its benefit is only in maximizing work capacity. And, if you buy our definition of fitness, that work capacity should be broad in time, modal, and age domains.

So, these factors must be included in any assessment of technique and the safety, efficacy, and efficiency of the mechanics. In other words, if you develop a technique for one movement (say the split snatch) that doesn't carry over to other movements (say the overhead squat), we'd say that's an inferior technique. Or, if you trained in a way that maximized your work capacity today but would send you to a nursing home a decade early, that would be suboptimal training.


wrote …


This is the first time I have seen Crossfit add "age" as a domain to the definition of fitness. I saw Coach Glassman's lecture's on adding age to the definition of fitness to produce a measurable definition of health, but up until now it was my impression that Crossfit was confining age to the realm of health.

I am concerned that the addition of age to the definition of fitness may imply a contradiction with Crossfit as sport. s

For one, a Crossfit competition is most likely going to occur in a very narrow portion of one's life. This would make testing fitness across broad age domains impossible, whereas we can very easily test across broad time and modal domains.

Furthermore, we have seen in other sports that attaining elite performance often involves levels of training and "hormonal therapy" that are contrary to the goal of health. You allude to this possibility in your last sentence: "If you trained in a way that maximized your work capacity today but would send you to a nursing home a decade early, that would be suboptimal training."

It is very possible that the winners of the Crossfit Games five years from now will have elite fitness across broad time and modal domains, but will have attained this level of immediate fitness while sacrificing some of their fitness across broad age domains. There will be thus a gap between Crossfit's measurement of fitness (the Crossfit Games), and the Crossfit conceptualization of fitness (work capacity across broad time, modal, and age domains.)

I am sure you have thought this through, so what's the Crossfit HQ approach to this problem?


wrote …


My hypothesis is this: the age domain may become compatible with the time and modality domains through the competitive nature of the program, i.e., it may be that those athletes who can train intensely and consistently enough to become elite CrossFitters must do so through means which are not only effective and efficient, but safe, because otherwise injury would occur too often to allow such consistent and intense training.

For example: OPT's squat clean form is super efficient, through near perfect form. As a result, it is also (probably) very safe. On the other hand, take Jason Khalipa: his squat clean form is miles back from OPT's (no offense to Jason, he is an amazing athlete,) but I would argue that his form degradation is only enough that it affects his ability to EFFICIENTLY get the work done, not his ability to SAFELY get the work done, at least in the short term. If his form was "safer," he would probably be more efficient...however, he is not injuring himself, as far as I know. If his form stays for the rest of his training career as it is now, it may lead to injury in the long term. But I think that the competitive nature of the program - the sport - will motivate him to better his form, because he knows that this will lead to a increase in performance. With time and practice, his form will get better, and we will see his times drop even further. With that improvement in form, he will also better guard himself against further injury.


wrote … I am lacking intensity. I have never been wiped out and dizzy and I so desire to be! Even today, I finished and thought "all my reps were perfect, form was fabulous" and my coach noted the same. But this video really showed me that you don't need perfect, you need "good enough" to stay in the game....that is all. I can practice technique and form in the warm-up (more incentive to be early and get up earlier!) but the WOD needs to kill me....right now I really enjoy every minute of it, but I never get that nervous anxiety in my tummy.

Thank you Dave - I am so grateful for this seminar in brief!


alvin scafidi wrote …

what is it about this guy that rubs me the wrong way?? i can't put my finger on it..


replied to comment from alvin scafidi

I'm revising for my level one cert and have found the video very useful in trying to comprehend threshold training. So crossfit is a gpp methodology and essentially having good gpp means increasing work capacity across broad time, modal and age domains. Broad time and modal domains means that gpp should provide a base for any and all work. I've struggled to understand the age point but it means that work capacity ( the holy Grail of crossfit) should be maximised throughout life. There's another lecture where coach is saying that life isn't necessarily about longevity and living to be 150 while being fed jelly through a straw, but about being capable physically ( the sickness, wellness, fitness) continuum.
So increased work capacity is intensity- this is demonstrated on the power curve. Intensity is average power. Technique is simply using the most efficient, effective and safe mechanics to increase work capacity. Sorry for regurgitating what was said in an earlier post just trying to put this together for the test!

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