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The BIGGEST CrossFit Training Mistake People Make

The BIGGEST CrossFit Training Mistake People Make

You’ve been heading to your “Box” religiously several times a week for the past couple of years and have made pretty good progress. You’ve gained muscle, lost fat and improved your cardiovascular fitness. Hell, that might even be an ab…

But something strange has happened. Your MetCon workouts, the ones that leave you gasping for air and half dead on the floor. MetCon workouts are a staple of most CrossFit programs, and arguably what most people think of when they think of why CrossFit has stagnated. Maybe even regressed. You were told that you “needed a bigger engine” to start progressing again.

So you’ve tried everything: lifting more to get stronger, doing more power work to get faster, even doing more “metabolic conditioning” work. None of it has seemed to help. You start out during MetCons and Hero workouts strong but find yourself “gassing out” early and unable to maintain power output as the MetCon goes on.

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    Photo via: Runar Eilertsen

    What’s going on Here?

    You’ve probably neglected the one area of fitness that would actually help your performance – your aerobic system.

    In my experience, many of the best CrossFitters have a very average aerobic system compared to their strength and power capabilities.

    This happens because the CrossFit community tends to focus on building the aerobic system through MetCon workouts, essentially high intensity interval training, and not dedicated aerobic work. While this will improve the “conditioning” of beginners and those with poor aerobic systems/fitness to begin with, eventually using strategies like the famed Tabata will stop working and may actually be what’s holding back your performance.

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    Energy Systems 101

    The human body uses the compound adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for cellular metabolism. Basically, anything a cell needs to do, it needs ATP for the energy to do it. The body produces ATP through three different pathways:

    1. Alactic Anerobic (ATP-CP) – This is the shortest (activity lasting 1-12 seconds), fastest acting, and most easily depleted.
    2. Lactic Anerobic – This is what most people refer to as “anaerobic” training. This lasts from from 60-90 seconds.
    3. Aerobic (oxidative) – This is the primary energy system we use the vast majority of the time. It is the dominant system, resting after 90 seconds of activity.

    Keep in mind that all three systems are actively producing energy constantly. The contribution each one makes varies greatly based on the duration of an activity – not the intensity.

    The Aerobic System

    Your aerobic system is how the body produces the most energy (ATP) per cycle. During aerobic metabolism one molecule of glucose yields 36 ATP, compared to only 2 during anaerobic metabolism. The only drawback to aerobic metabolism is a slower process than the other two. While it takes some time to churn out those ATP, you can use the aerobic system literally for hours without fatiguing excessively or “gassing out”.

    The PC-ATP and Lactic Anaerobic systems are depleted quickly. When this happens fatigue sets in. You can observe this in marathon runners who perform continuously for hours primarily using the aerobic system, while sprinters are completely fatigued at the end of a 10 second 100 meter sprint where the ATP-PC system is dominant.

    The aerobic system has some other important qualities to remember:

    • It plays a role in the resynthesis of creatine phospate, which is used during the first 6-10 seconds of activity.
    • It helps return you to a calm stat. Initiating the rest and digest system (parasympathetic tone) after intense efforts initiates the fight or flight system (sympathetic tone) .

    This last point is important because stressful, high intensity, or fatiguing training initiates the fight or flight system. The aerobic system helps to manage the response to the stress. While we want the fight or flight system to start up, we do not want a larger response than is needed. An overly larger sympathetic response will only cause the heart rate to skyrocket and remain elevated. This will initiate the Lactic Anerobic system, fatiguing the athlete sooner than necessary by keeping the athlete in a (sympathetic) state and not allowing them to recover properly. A good aerobic system will help properly manage the response to a stressor (exercise).

    Mitochondria: Where the ATP is Made

    Often referred to as the powerhouse of the cell. This is where aerobic metabolism takes place. The more aerobic training you do, the more mitochondria you build. The more anaerobic (lactic) training you do, the more mitochondria you destroy. If you remember nothing else, please remember: Building more mitochondria is the key to producing more energy (ATP).

    The Efficient Heart

    With all this talk about creating energy with or without oxygen, we can’t forget the muscle that is responsible for getting that oxygen to the muscles and ultimately the cells.

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    The heart is made of four chambers. Deoxygenated blood enter the right atrium, flows into the left ventricle, goes through the lungs to pick up oxygen molecules, re-enters in the left atrium, and is pumped out to the rest of the body with the left ventricle.

    When the hearts of athletes were compared, it was found that the left ventricles had substantive differences. While endurance training is known to create a larger and more elastic left ventricle, weight training or any high intensity anaerobic training of the sort is known to have the opposite effect. Anaerobic activities create a thickening of the left ventricle wall, which leads to a less elastic and smaller left ventricle. This means anaerobic athletes have a smaller ejection fraction, pumping much less blood per beat of the heart, compared to aerobic athletes.

    Anaerobic Threshold

    Everyone has reached that point where fatigue starts to rapidly accumulate. Your legs, lungs, and arms start to burn – and you’re really hating life. At this point, you’ve passed your anaerobic threshold: the point at which we can no longer clear the waste products (hydrogen ions) from ATP production. An acidic environment is created in the cells and fatigue starts to accumulate rapidly. Training in this area can be very valuable. There are enzymes, phoshofructokinase (PFK) and phosphorylase produced that will help you resist fatiguing when training here.

    It feel terrible while you’re doing it, but it’s also very physically and mentally draining. Thankfully, after 6-8 weeks you’ve maxed out your possible improvements. Keep in mind that while you’re doing this type of training you’re actively destroying mitochondria and limiting your overall ATP potential. The longer you train, the more you stress this system, and end up destroying even more mitochondria.

    Repeated Sprint Ability

    Most MetCon and Hero workouts are nothing more than a series of sprints with short rest periods. One of the most popular protocols is the Tabata. Essentially, you work very hard for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds, repeating this process for 4 continuous minutes. While this is a misrepresentation of what the original Tabata study entailed, it’s what the Tabata has become.

    Framing this in the context of energy system training, it seems like it would be nothing more than 20 seconds of primarily Lactic Anaerobic training followed by a rest period. Because of this we should focus on training the Lactic (LA) system. However, the research on repeated sprint ability has shown us that this isn’t the case. Remember: all energy systems are interrelated and turned on constantly, only the contribution changes.

    energy-production

      The first graph is sprint #1, the second is sprint #3 from this study Parolin,1999

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      Basically, the graph demonstrates that by the third sprint the majority of the energy was provided early in the sprint by the Pcr (PC-ATP) system (the white area), then later by the aerobic system (oxidative phosphorylation). The Lactic Anerobic (glycolytic) system was overwhelmed early on because of the accumulation of by-products of its own making, thus forcing it to limit it’s ATP production and contribution by sprint #3. Once the subject got to sprint 3 it was up to the aerobic system to, not only, resythesize PC for the CP-ATP system to start activity, but also provide almost all of the energy after 6 seconds, when the CP-ATP system had run dry.

      The contribution of the Lactic Anaerobic system was almost nonexistent.

      What about Tabata?

      The holy grail of justification for MetCon or High Intensity Interval Training is usually the Tababta study.

      However, this study has been misrepresented. The part everyone forgets is that the Tabata study was carried out on very highly conditioned, national level, speed skaters. They had already built a HUGE aerobic base. Basically, the Tabata study shows what they could accomplish, achieving a VO2 Max of 170% across all 8 intervals.

      Most people don’t have the ability to come close to that, not even once.

      The study didn’t tell you what they did beforehand to be able to accomplish that. Those test subjects (as we saw in the graph above) must have a giant “engine” (or aerobic system) to begin with or they would not be able to recover from such high intensities in so little time. Without a strong aerobic system, there is no way they would have been able to maintain that level of power output for 8 intervals. They simply wouldn’t have regenerated the creatine phospate and ATP needed as they fatigued. Their power output would also fall well below 170% of vo2max.

      This is Why You’re “Gassing Out” During Fran

      Besides the fact that it’s really hard, you’ve only been training your lactic anaerobic system.

      For the first few efforts, before your heart rate elevates and exceeds your lactate threshold, you’re able to produce power. But once you pass your lactate threshold and accumulate fatigue, your aerobic system isn’t kicking in enough to help you recover and maintain your power output. You are literally sprint #3 from the graph. Before you get into anaerobic training (LA) your ceiling is very low. You’re entering into anaerobic metabolism early and never getting out of it.

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      The consequence is that you MUST slow down, lengthen rest periods, lower power output, or even stop all together.

      You’ve “gassed out”.

      What to Do:

      This doesn’t mean you need to start running 5 miles a day. You could, but nothing would turn me off of a training program faster.

      My personal favorite form of aerobic training is cardiac output training. This will help build both a larger left ventricle cavity in the heart, as well as mitochondria to produce ATP.

      I usually walk uphill on a treadmill with a weight vest. Some people use short sprint intervals where they stop at a heart rate of 140/ 150 and sprint again when it recovers to 120. Others use weight training circuits or kettlebell swings. The heart is a dumb muscle and only responds to the needs of the body. The type of exercise doesn’t matter. As long as it lasts for at least 30 minutes and the heart rate stays between 120-150bpm, you’re good to go.

      This heart rate covers most people, although it may be too high for some. The take-home is: staying below the lactate threshold keeps the heart rate low enough that you don’t enter into anaerobic metabolism. The left ventricle of the heart will fill with blood and stretch for a bigger ejection more so than speed up.

      The only rules you need to follow are:

      1. Heart rate of 120-150 beats per minute. (This is too high for some but covers the vast majority of people.)
      2. 30-90 continuous minutes..

      Is Metabolic Conditioning or High Intensity Interval training Just a Waste of Time?

      Not at all. It’s actually a great tool for fat loss. Those who are really strapped for time or who just love to really work hard, sweat, and be exhausted will love MetCons. It can also burn serious calories in a short period of time. These workouts DO improve the aerobic fitness of those who have an average or below average fitness level. So if you’ve been training for a while, that’s not you.

      If you’re already pretty fit but gas out early, then you need a bigger engine. This will only come through taking the time to build a more robust aerobic system.

      Featured photo credit: Runar Eilertsen via flickr.com

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      Last Updated on March 25, 2020

      How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

      How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

      When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

      So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

      1. Exercise

      It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

      2. Drink in Moderation

      I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

      3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

      Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

      4. Watch Less Television

      A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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      Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

      5. Eat Less Red Meat

      Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

      If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

      6. Don’t Smoke

      This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

      7. Socialize

      Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

      8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

      Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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      9. Be Optimistic

      Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

      10. Own a Pet

      Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

      11. Drink Coffee

      Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

      12. Eat Less

      Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

      13. Meditate

      Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

      Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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      How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

      14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

      Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

      15. Laugh Often

      Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

      16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

      Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

      17. Cook Your Own Food

      When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

      Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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      18. Eat Mushrooms

      Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

      19. Floss

      Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

      20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

      Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

      Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

      21. Have Sex

      Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

      More Health Tips

      Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

      Reference

      [1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
      [2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
      [3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
      [4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
      [5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
      [6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
      [7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
      [8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
      [9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
      [10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
      [11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
      [12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
      [13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
      [14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
      [15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
      [16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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