Today marks the 4th anniversary of what I consider to be the turning point in my mother’s health. 4 years ago today my mom, Joyce, did her first ever CrossFit workout. To understand the significance of this achievement you have to know a little bit about my mom’s history. My mom raised my brother and me as good as any mother could, but in doing so, she often prioritized our needs over her own. There were not many times (if any) that I can remember my mom taking time for herself and her needs over the needs of the family. Raising two very different boys meant that she was always pulled in many directions. This left very little time for herself, and she quickly succumbed to the life of a busy, working mother who often relied on convenience: eating fast food and snacks, drinking soda, and sleeping poorly rather than focusing on her own health. As a result at the age of 57, she was overweight, had high triglyceride levels, pre-hypertensive, pre-diabetic and struggled to perform light to moderate physical tasks.
After coming to the gym a few times to see what CrossFit was all about, she finally began to feel comfortable enough to engage with some of the other members at the gym who assured her that she could definitely do CrossFit, so she worked up the courage to do her first workout. Her first workout was 4 rounds for time: 10 wall balls with a 6-pound medicine ball and 40 single unders. The most poignant moment I can remember is my mom requesting to sit down or to “take a break” after each set of 10 single unders as she was very winded and immensely uncomfortable. She went back and forth saying either “I can’t do this” or apologizing for needing to take breaks. I continually reassured her that I didn’t care how many breaks she took, and that all I truly cared about was that she was in the gym and moving her body. The entire workout lasted between 10 and 15 minutes, and at the end, I could tell that she was pooped. After the workout, we walked around the outside perimeter of the gym, and I explained to her that her time didn’t matter, the movements themselves didn’t honestly matter, what mattered is that she came in a moved her body, and that alone was the key to improving her health.
Fast forward 4 years and my mom is committed to her health. She now attends the CrossFit MF Windham Affiliate 3 times per week, and has lost a significant amount of weight, has regular triglyceride numbers, is no longer pre-hypertensive or pre-diabetic AND she can now run over 800m without stopping. I couldn’t be more proud. Now, this feel-good story is only one of many transformations that have occurred in gyms around the world, but I genuinely believe this transformation would have never been possible without a real understanding of the term “relative intensity.”
The goal of relative intensity is to train your clients a level that is in-line with their physiological and psychological tolerances to exercise. Different clients need different levels of intensity, each unique to the individual. When we program for the gym as a whole, we strive to challenge our fittest athletes, and then we scale each athlete individually to a level that matches their fitness. In doing so, we ensure that each athlete is adequately challenged and is performing the workout at a level that allows them to continue to improve their fitness. When scaling appropriately, athletes will stay healthy, get a great workout and will continue to progress for years.
Never forget that our job as professionals to properly understand and navigate our clients through an effective training session each time they attend class. Echoing the sentiments that “RX” doesn’t matter, times do not matter, weights do not matter, and scores do not matter, but focusing on safety, improving technique, building consistency (both in their movements and with their attendance), and intensity does. Finally, one personal note from me to you, never be afraid to scale someone “too far”, as it is better to leave them chomping at the bit for their next session rather than laid up on the couch with an inappropriate level of soreness and/or an injury.
Now get back to work!
P.S. Love you mom, I am super proud of you!
Written by Matt Sherburne