Water Cooler Talk.
It happens in offices and gyms around the world.
Hot topic on my mind today…actually it’s been on my mind for a few months now. Something that I frequently hear as people are filling up their water bottles after a tough WOD:
“Man, I really need some more cardio!”
Now, to really answer this question, I am going to do so over the course of three posts. I don’t want to loose your attention if I write one 10,000 word post!
It is my belief that in order to really understand something, you need to be familiar with the details. So, this first post will focus on the physiology, or science-y, parts of developing “cardio.”
Many moons ago I worked at a place down in Bradenton called the International Performance Institute. They now go by the IMG performance institute…not that’s it important to this story. Anyhow, at this facility I was privileged to work with some of the top minds at the absolute forefront of strength and conditioning. Many times, we’d long been experimenting with training modalities and philosophies before they showed up in any research journals or mainstream setting. The environment encouraged that kind of forward thinking. We were always pushing the boundaries of the preconceived notions people had about the limits of human movement and capacity. We tested, refined, and perfected what is the most effective and efficient way to maximize human performance.
Back then, we referred to our conditioning work as ESD, or ‘energy systems development.’ This was a great catch all phrase that recognized the variable nature of the bodies range of ways that we power ourselves. Today, in the context of CrossFit, we use the term metabolic conditioning, or ‘met-con’ for short. Same concept, different terms. Met-cons are what we do after our skill or strength work.
For the sake of simplicity, your body has three main ways from which to derive energy:
1. Phosphahen pathway – lasting a relatively short time, about 25 seconds, this powers you when you’re working at 95-100% intensity; think 150m sprints
2. Glycolytic pathway – lasting up to the 3 minute mark, this powers efforts in the 80-90% range; think 400m runs
3. Oxidative pathway – this lasts a very long time and takes over once we pass the 3-minute mark, but the intensity is very low, in the 60-75% range; think 800m runs and beyond
The first two pathways are commonly referred to as “anaerobic” training, meaning they don’t require oxygen. The last pathway is entirely oxygen dependent to produce energy.
The reason I bring this up is to illustrate that we train all three pathways…all the time.
Research into the effects of aerobic vs anaerobic training are quite impressive. Here are some highlights:
1. Aerobic training, what most people think of when they say “cardio”, only develops low-level power output, sacrificing strength, power, and speed
2. Aerobic training burns muscle, it does NOT build it
3. Anaerobic training produces high power output to improve speed, power and strength
4. Anaerobic training builds muscle
5. Both burn fat, but anaerobic burns it much faster and more efficiently
6. Anaerobic training builds AEROBIC capacity
I really want to drive home that last point. Anaerobic training improves your aerobic capacity. This can be seen almost daily in your WODs. Remember this – each WOD has a specific goal – some are meant to be heavy, others to be light and long, etc. Within each round of a WOD, there is a set time range that people should be able to maintain, an ‘interval’ if you will. The work part is where you develop your anaerobic, or power, capacity. When you are resting, like during a 1:1 interval WOD, the aerobic system takes over to help you recover and provide you energy to keep going. This is why it’s so vitally important to scale a workout correctly…the quick, highly intense WODs like Fran are designed to max you out on the anaerobic side. The longer 8-12 minute WODs (even into the much longer 30-60 minute range too!) develop the whole spectrum.
It’s also worth mentioning that moving through a WOD smoothly and at a consistent pace will yield a much greater benefit than going too hard and hitting a wall three minutes into it. If you go into that wall, you have to take an excessive amount of rest to recover, and when you go to restart you run back through the other pathways again. It’s better to leave a little in the tank for the final round than to burn it up as soon as you hear 3…2…1…GO!
In summary, you don’t “need more cardio”… You just need to show up consistently, scale accordingly, and manage your rest.
Quite possibly the most important one from that list is consistency. The more you show up, the more aware you’ll become of just how hard you can push yourself before hitting that wall. You wouldn’t believe the deconditioning that happens when you take a hiatus for a week or two. Just wait until I release that article!
Next Time: Need More Cardio, Part 2