The Great Cardio Debate: Is it Good for CrossFitters and Strength Athletes?

I just released my latest E-Book, “Do What You Want”, which is all about concurrent training. The book combines:

  • Weightlifting
  • Powerlifting
  • Strongman
  • Bodybuilding
  • CrossFit
  • Endurance work – specifically 5K training

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...
and DO WHAT YOU WANT.

Most of the book is filled with information I already knew. However researching the endurance work opened my eyes to some pretty interesting possibilities. I grew up in an age where combining strength work with basic cardiovascular work was taboo. The thought process was that if you trained slowly, you’d be slow. There is some truth to that, but then again it’s all about the way you train. Plus there are a lot more benefits that outweigh possible negatives. Before you read this, I want you to know that Alex Viada’s work helped show me this new world. It actually completely changed the way I look at cardiovascular training. Alex directly influences most of my work on anything cardiovascular, so I want to give him credit.

Let’s Take A Look

It’s important that you know some basics about energy systems. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is what makes the body do its thing. It’s the fuel necessary to make muscles contract. There are two main ways your body replenishes ATP for energy:  anaerobically without oxygen, and aerobically with oxygen. Here’s the way it goes:

  • For the first 10 seconds or so, the body replenishes ATP directly from phosphocreatine (PCr). This is the fastest way the body replenishes stored ATP. This is the alactic system as no lactate is produced.
  • After that, and up to a few minutes of high intensity activity we enter the lactate system. The anaerobic glycolytic system is the primary energy source.
  • After that, we are relying on the oxidative system. This is aerobic activity utilizing oxygen.

Aerobic training of course strengthens the heart. Aerobic training also increases the vascular network used to pump blood back to the heart. This allows it to have stronger and faster contractions for sustained periods of time. This should already be raising some eyebrows of you CrossFitters and even Strongmen.

The heart’s stroke volume (blood pumped per contraction) also increases. That means that with each beat the heart is sending out more blood to the body for improved performance and recovery. This doesn’t seem to be the case for HIIT or resistance training due to muscle occlusion and straining – no blood is flowing during muscle contraction and less is being returned to the heart. So even though your heart rate might increase, that doesn’t mean blood flow does. However, in highly trained aerobic athletes, they are still able to maintain blood flow during HIIT and resistance training allowing for increased performance and recovery.

Another benefit to aerobic training is the capillary network to all working muscle is increased dramatically. That means more blood flow to all the muscles of the body, which leads to increased performance and faster recovery. Once again this is why all CrossFit athletes should spend lots of quality time building their aerobic capacity. Basically, increased strength and improved aerobic capacity makes everything in CrossFit easier to improve upon.

One of the most significant adaptations of endurance training is an increased number of mitochondria. Mitochondria are responsible for energy production at the cellular level. They produce ATP from both glucose and fatty acids. This happens independent of anaerobic glycolysis. That means less glucose lost to the lactate production. Lactate is a fast source of ATP Production, but it is limited in two major ways:

  • Increased acidity that can actually slow down of stop muscle movement.
  • Lactate production of ATP runs through glucose stores much faster with the same amount of work being produced.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line: if the aerobic system runs more efficiently, you are able to handle more work for longer because you can to tap into fat more efficiently. After the first 8-10 seconds of resistance training, you tap into the lactate system. You also start to use the aerobic system. The more efficiently your aerobic system fires the lesser the depletion of the body’s glucose stores. You’re able to perform more work and the same fatigue level, or the same amount of work with less fatigue. Either way, a strong aerobic system is important.

The only negatives I found in my research of aerobic training are the rule of specificity and aspects of recovery. If you are an Olympic weightlifter, long distance running or cycling might be a bad idea. Your goal is to be as explosive as possible, so running slow could teach the body to be slow. A better choice might be swimming. If you want to perform sprints, recovery becomes a major concern due to muscle damage caused from sprinting. It’s very similar to high repetition squats with extreme eccentric and concentric contractions of similar muscles and acute joint angles needed to perform these activities. You could perform sprints with the workout if you took them into consideration. However, you wouldn’t want to perform sprints the day before a major squat session. The same would go for bench pressing and trying to perform the ski erg. You probably want to perform the stationary bike.

So whether you are a CrossFitter or strength athlete, there are some obvious benefits of performing some cardiovascular work. Man, I wish my professors in college had realized this. I remember so many arguments between Dr. Stone (all about strength training) and Dr. Niemen (all about cardiovascular training). If they had come together, we could have learned a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. If you are a CrossFitter, I would spend a majority of my off-season on cardiovascular work, strength training, and practicing skill movements. This would help build a better overall anaerobic glycolytic system. If you are a strength athlete, I would do the same thing for better recovery and more work capacity. Of course, you want to taper off the cardiovascular work when a competition nears. Now we can all be fit and strong. I hope this leads to a healthier lifestyle for all of my strength athlete brethren.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...
and DO WHAT YOU WANT.

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