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A man wearing a white and red headband pulls under a snatch with intensity in CrossFit Open Workout 19.4.

Intensity: it brings results, and we try to make it a part of every workout.

But intensity burns, and the body doesn’t really want it.

The brain loves intensity. It knows that pushing just past the comfort zone will bring improved fitness and health, and it’s willing to put up with some brief discomfort to earn the reward.

It can be very hard to bump people out of a comfortable fitness rut. Running the same distance at the same pace every day becomes easier and easier as the body adapts. But running that distance won’t improve fitness. You’ve got to run faster or farther. Or both.

Open Workout 19.4 got people out of the comfort zone twice through a clever combination that created intensity. It’s actually one of my favourite Open workouts of all time.

A woman's face shows intensity as she presses to lock out a bar muscle-up in CrossFit Games Open Workout 19.4.
Everyone wanted time on the pull-up bar!

Intensity in Two Servings

The workout’s first couplet was simple and something just about everyone could complete under 9:00. But to earn more time for the second part, you had to push through Part 1 as fast as possible. Offering just small-ish numbers of snatches and burpees, the workout gave you an opportunity to try for unbroken sets on a light bar before pushing yourself to keep moving on the burpees.

By itself, the workout would have given people a chance to slip into a comfortable pace. Those who have the intrinsic ability to push themselves hard would have done so, but others would have felt less urgency to keep moving.

But in 19.4, everyone wanted a chance to play with the second workout—either to try and perform a gymnastics skill for the first time or to show their gymnastics skill.

So I saw people push really, really hard on Part 1 even though some risked being unable to recover for Part 2. But the three-minute rest turned out to be just enough. It wasn’t enough to leave you totally fresh, but it was enough that you felt recharged for the second challenge.

Read our analysis of Workout 19.3

The Takeaway

For programmers and coaches, 19.4 is a good example of how to set up a workout to create intensity. Short, light couplets are always a good idea, and intervals can help athletes learn to push because they know programmed rest is coming. 

For athletes, it’s worth remembering that you’re capable of movement even when you aren’t fresh. You might want to rest, but you don’t need to rest. 19.4 forced you to move and taste intensity, but you’ll get opportunities to do that in our regular classes.

In upcoming workouts, rest one breath less, pick up the bar 2 seconds sooner, do one extra rep in every set, or push the pace just a little bit. We’re not talking about dramatic increases in intensity. Just small steps outside the comfort zone.

That’s where the magic happens.

A hand grips a wooden pickleball paddle and bounces a white whiffle ball upward in front of a black background.

Pickleball injuries can be avoided, and fitness is the best way to do it.

Common pickleball injuries include muscle strains and knee and ankle sprains. The good news is that you can reduce the risk dramatically with fitness training. 

Injuries are common when people start doing any activity following a period of inactivity. Imagine lunging for a ball when you haven’t performed a lunge in years and aren’t used to moving quickly. Injuries can also occur due to overuse or repetitive strain. Think of constantly using one side of the body to swing a pickleball paddle without training the opposite side of the body for balance.

Our Legends fitness program for people over 50 is perfect for preventing pickleball injuries. We train the entire body to build up overall fitness, and by increasing the strength of your muscles, your joints are protected. 

To prevent injuries to the ankles, knees and hips, we use a number of lower-body exercise, but one is superior to all the others: the squat.

Click here to learn more about how our program helps pickleball players! 

Prevent Pickleball Injuries With Squats

A properly performed squat builds strength in the entire leg and creates stability around each joint. Proper performance of the squat leads to increased range of motion (flexibility) and improved movement mechanics in sport. To say it another way, if you can squat properly in the gym, you’ll be much more prepared for athletic movement in sport. For example, if you lunge to swing at a ball, your strong leg muscles will stabilize you, protect your joints and provide a foundation for your swing,

The squat works many muscle groups in the lower body: the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and even calves. With appropriate loads, the squat also improves core strength.

An older woman in black pants and a blue top performs squats as part of a program that can prevent pickleball injuries.
This is a beautiful squat! Note that the hips are lower than the knees, and the lumbar curve of the back is visible.

How to Squat

If you have not squatted in a long time, please perform your squats near a stable object you can use for support if you lose your balance. Some people will perform squats to a stable chair as they build strength. You should not feel any joint pain as you squat, though your muscles might feel like they’re working.

Here are the steps:

1. Put your feet at shoulder width with your toes turned out slightly.

2. Slowly send your hips back and down. Avoid the tendency to send the knees forward like a back catcher in baseball. Send the hips back and down.

3. Make sure that your knees are moving directly in line with your ankles. If they start to roll inward, actively push them back in line with your ankles.

4. Try your best to keep your chest upright. For many people, this is a challenge at first. Do your best to sit tall. In a perfect squat, the lumbar curve in the back is maintained just as it is when standing tall. For some people, it helps to squat with the arms extended in front.

5. Descend until your hips are slightly below the top of your knees unless you are too weak to do so. If so, stop short of full range of motion, but make it a goal to squat just a little bit lower next time. When you squat to full depth, you engage more muscles that stabilize the knees. 

6. Stand up.

Here’s a video demonstration:

And here’s a link to a woman performing squats from a chair: CrossFit.com

Without knowing anything about you, it’s hard to tell you how many squats to perform. Those who haven’t squatted might be tired after a single rep, while others might not be tired after 10. Other will need to add some weight to build strength.

The important part now is just learning how to squat properly, so practice every day—even when you rise from seated after dinner! If you do, your leg strength will increase dramatically, which will improve your speed, power and agility. More than anything else, you’ll dramatically reduce your chances of injury and joint pain, leaving you free to enjoy pickleball.

If you’d like to learn more about how our program can help you or someone you know, click the button below!

Book a Free Consultation

A shirtless, tattooed man exhibits significant strict strength in performing a handstand push-up.

Workout 19.3 was a test of strict gymnastics strength, not conditioning.

Athletes needed a degree of conditioning to get to the wall, but the time cap wasn’t overly harsh. The majority of athletes in our gym got through the lunges and step-ups and still had a reasonable amount of time to flip upside down.

And that’s where the workout turned into a true test of strength.

Strict Strength

For years, people have demanded strength tests in the CrossFit Games Open, but my guess is the calls most often came from the barbell crew, not the gymnasts. Heavy deadlifts or a max squat would likely please that crowd.

But instead we got a straight-up test of upper-body strength in 19.3—which is fine with me. The handstand push-up—”headstand push-up” to gymnasts—is actually just an inverted partial-range-of-motion body-weight barbell press. It requires a significant degree of strength, and the actual amount depends on your body weight.

With that in mind, it might be tempting to say the workout favoured smaller athletes, but I don’t think any short people enjoyed the box step-ups very much. If anything, I think shorter athletes had to perform more lunges and disadvantaged step-ups until they got to make up some ground at the wall. Most didn’t get past that, so the handstand walk is irrelevant. 

Overall, I think the workout actually favoured athletes with balanced levels of strength and conditioning. All-around athletes.

Sounds like a pretty good CrossFit workout, right?

Read “19.Too Strong”

Building Strict Strength

If you got stuck at the wall, or if you got fewer reps than you wanted, I’d encourage you to dig into strict work over the next months. You can do jerks and push presses, and you can even kip once in a while, but I’d make sure I get to every class with strict pressing and strict gymnastics work. I’d focus on building strict strength.

Doing so isn’t quite as fun as maxing out a jerk. I don’t need much weight to max out a barbell press, and it’s always a humbling experience when the bar stops moving at the bridge of my nose.

But regularly performing strict pressing movements will help you build strength. And if you really commit to our gymnastics progressions, you’ll find even more success.

As an example, don’t make it a goal to do a kipping handstand push-up. Make it a goal to first do a series of long, slow, controlled eccentric reps first. Or to hold a handstand against the wall for 2 minutes. Think of those things as your base. On top of that, add regular pressing, and join in the curl-offs that seem to be happening with regularity at the dumbbell rack. They’re fun. Then come find me on Sundays and let’s hit the bench press. That’s fun, too.

Slowly build your strength. And always work on your conditioning.

Actually, just come to class regularly. We hit strength and conditioning every day.

Read “Fitness Training and Your Period.”

A smiling bald man holds a 25-lb. plate and gives a high five after doing CrossFit Games Open Workout 19.2.

In the CrossFit Games Open, your eyes always skip to the loads when the workout is announced.

“I can lift that,” you think, completely ignoring all the stuff you have to do before you get to lift.

I’ve made that mistake many times, perhaps first in 12.2, which featured many snatches at 75, 135, 165 and 210 lb.

“I can lift 210,” I thought for a brief second before my inner coach brought me back to reality by reminding me that my conditioning isn’t good enough to come close to that bar.

Over the years, I’ve made the mistake less often, but when the right workout comes up, I still wonder.

“Maybe I’ll need 225 in 19.2,” I thought for a fraction of a second.

But, of course, I left the extra 45s on the rack, confident that I would not make it out of the cleans at 185. And I was correct.

Don’t mistake this for a lack of self-confidence. I know we like to say every single person can be president and so on, but getting to 225 was not realistic for me in any way, and it’s wise to recognize your limits.

Can I clean 225? Yes. But I don’t have the wind to get there. The 135 bar destroyed me.

I’m 19.too strong.

Strong Enough to Get Tired in the CrossFit Games Open

And I’m not really that strong overall. But my strength levels are far better than my conditioning levels, and that won’t get you very far in a fitness competition.

I’m aware of an argument that does hold a bit of water: An absolute strength test would be a valid part of general fitness competition. I’ll certainly nod to the burly philosophers in the corner who suggest 20 deadlifts at 365/225 could precede a gymnastics couplet, not follow it. I get it. Strength tests need not always follow conditioning or be sandwiched by it.

But as a gym owner, I don’t want a pure strength test in the CrossFit Games Open. I don’t want people maxing out for 4 days straight just to add a pound to their score, and I don’t want others to be disappointed by impossible loads that prevent them from having a great workout. I want broad participation, sweat and smiles. We can test absolute strength on our regularly programmed heavy days in regular classes.

Click Here to Read Why We Don’t Focus on Competition

A tattooed, bearded man performs a barbell clean during CrossFit Games Open Workout. 19.2.

Strong Arguments

I want some heavy lifting in the Open, too. But I’m OK with earning a trip to the heavy bars through conditioning. I know that won’t please the strength crowd, but I’ve never been a part of it even if I very much prefer squats to running. Over the years, I’ve seen that many arguments from the strength crowd don’t really show an understanding of CrossFit and overall fitness. Here’s an example:

“If you drive up your max, all submaximal lifts are easier.”

That’s true for about 45 seconds. A guy who can deadlift 600 will generally crush 225 until his conditioning lets him down, which almost always happens in Minute 2 after one huge, unbroken set that makes recovery impossible. Games athletes are rare exceptions, of course. The have the strength and conditioning to apply it. But I’ve seen so many winded strong people that I can make a statement with confidence: Strength doesn’t compensate for a lack of conditioning. You can’t deadlift your way to a sub-3:00 Fran, and you can’t snatch your way to victory in the CrossFit Games Open.

You Get the Score You Earn With Fitness

All this doesn’t mean I haven’t made a personal choice to slightly prioritize strength. I love lifting, and I definitely invest more time in it. I could go on a running program, and I could do more conditioning. Both would dramatically improve my results in all CrossFit workouts. But I’m not going to.

I’m always going to lift just a little bit too much and do conditioning work because I know it’s good for me. But that prescription isn’t going to make me the best all-around athlete I could be. It’s going to make me 19.too strong, and I’m not going to get to clean 225.

Which is just fine. I got the score I deserved, and I know what I need to do to improve that score.

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A young athlete stands behind his mother and points to a wrestling championship belt as she rows in Workout 19.1.

19.1 isn’t a good workout.

Good workouts are fun, challenging and creative. 19.1 isn’t really any of those things.

19.1 is probably best described as simple and boring. It doesn’t have any sexy movements, it doesn’t take a lot of skill, and its 15 minutes don’t hold a lot of excitement.

That’s exactly why 19.1 is a great workout, not a good workout.

I’m old school, and I firmly believe that simple workouts are the most effective, even if community experts have found all sorts of ways to make programming look more and more creative and exotic. I could be wrong, but I’ve long suspected that the “hardest” workouts created in the community in the last 5 years generally earn the label through volume, not intensity.

Volume is easy to apply if you just want to make people work and say, “That was so hard.” Go do 1,000 burpees. Hard workout, right? EMOM 100: 2 muscle-ups, 15 double-unders. Also hard—but not good.

The hardest workout I’ve done in the last year: 5 rounds of 5 deadlifts and 10 burpees. It took about 5 minutes, and I didn’t need to do anything else before I left the gym that day. Not 1 additional rep. And I coughed for 2 hours.

We’ve spent 10 years trying to find ways to make people step out of their comfort zones without resorting to mindless volume. From Day 1 at 204, I’ve told new people that we want to make them work about 10 percent harder than they would on their own, and you can’t do that with volume. You need to find a way to make people do things a little faster, and adding a bunch of reps doesn’t do it.

So beyond 19.1’s Da Vinci Code nod to this year of our lord, you have a full-body pushing movement followed by a full-body pulling movement. I’m thrilled it wasn’t programmed for 19 minutes as well, where it would have really started to drag. At 15 minutes, you’re working for a lengthy period of time, but you’re still not in the category of “long workout.”

A bearded man rows in a CrossFit gym while two brothers stand beside him and humorously say "no rep!"
How do you no-rep a rower?

Better than all of that is the rep scheme as applied to the movements. For many people, 19 unbroken wall-ball shots are doable—at least in the first round. But I also saw many people dig deep to go unbroken in later rounds, so 19 really is a great number—a reward dangled at the end of slightly more work than you want to do. Even for people who didn’t go unbroken, 19 isn’t a huge, spirit-crushing number, and it encourages you do use as few sets as possible simply to be rid of the irritation. For those who absolutely hate wall balls, they’re already more than halfway finished when they hit double digits. 

Wall balls also have a maximum pace determined by gravity: No matter how fast you squat and throw, physics still provides a rest break as the ball rises, stops moving for an instant and is delivered back to you by Sir Isaac Newton. That’s why the fittest athletes can do wall balls forever: They recover while the ball is in the air. You might not think wall balls are “rest,” but consider the happy feeling as the ball leaves your hands to the weight of the bar on your shoulders as you rest between thrusters.

Pair the ball work with the rower, a piece of equipment that allows you to generate huge amounts of power in short bursts. And it comes with a chair. That means you can choose your level of suffering as you work, but you can’t really rest. I don’t think I saw anyone sit on the rower and rest much before starting. Most people started pulling no matter how tired they were; those who were more fatigued just pulled slower—but they still pulled.

Overall, here’s what I saw: I saw some people doing unbroken sets before rushing to the rower go pull the fastest pace that would still allow another unbroken set. That’s a formula for impressive levels of sustained intensity.

I also saw other people doing sets that were slightly out of their comfort zone because “it’s only 19 reps.” They might do 10-9, 8-6-5, 5-5-5-4 or some other scheme,  but they were usually working hard to get the work done in as few sets as possible. Then they passed on rest to get on the rower and pull. In other words, they stayed moving most of the time. That’s another great formula for intensity.

So 19.1 found a way to keep people of all fitness levels pushing just out of their comfort zone for 15 minutes with two complementary movements.

That definitely isn’t a good workout.

It’s a great workout.

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