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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 September 10, 2019

      7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

      7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

      Most of your reality is not a given. It is shaped by your expectations, beliefs and thoughts you have formed about it. A big chunk of these beliefs and expectations are encoded into habits you integrate in your daily life.

      Yes, some of these habits are formed unconsciously and can be counter-productive or limiting but conversely, you can consciously form positive habits that will transform and empower your life significantly.

      This is a powerful point of departure that more and more people are becoming aware of. The most common trait of highly successful people is the recognition of the power they have in co-creating their reality through changing the way they think, believe or expect their reality to be.

      One of the most effective ways of changing our belief patterns is through practising and maintaining daily rituals. Ancient traditions had clearly understood the power of rituals in reinforcing habits and changing the way we see and create our reality a long, long time ago.

      Once again, if you look into the life history of any highly successful individual, you will find some form of ritual in their daily routine. Some of these rituals may seem banal or eccentric but don’t be deceived by appearances. Rituals are one of the most effective self-empowering tools freely available at the practitioner’s disposal – that is, you!

      Below are some the easiest yet life-changing morning rituals you can do every day. Of course, you can have your own afternoon or bed-time rituals but morning rituals are extremely effective in empowering your day since they help you charge yourself before it all starts.

      1. Gratitude

      Feeling gratitude and appreciation for those little signs and moments of joy happening in your life is probably one of the most overlooked or underestimated rituals. It is a perfect morning ritual to start your day on a very positive key.

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      The real power of gratitude is that it makes you pick out and focus on what is working in your life – what is in tune with your being as a whole. It is selectively positive. It reinforces happiness and positivity by shedding light on those awesome things, small or big, that grace your everyday living.

      Quite often, we just pick out the pain points, the problems, the bottle necks, whatever it is that is not working in our life and causing friction, anxiety and unhappiness. This is like constantly rewriting the script of your life with a negative or tragic overtone. Your subconscious mind follows faithfully that script you write whether it is a negative or positive one.

      So feeling gratitude is undoubtedly an immensely empowering ritual. Start your day by being thankful for those positive things that happened the previous day or throughout the week. It could be something really petty and small. It doesn’t matter. You might be grateful for an unexpected visit from an old friend, a beautiful encounter with a kind stranger, a new opportunity or whatever it is that shines your way. Do it every morning and see what happens during the day.

      Gratitude-Quotes

        2. Writing Down Your Most Important Tasks

        This is a very practical ritual. Start your day by identifying and writing down from one to three of the most important tasks you need to complete during that day. These tasks are ones which support important long term goals that are aligned to your purpose, passion or general direction in life.

        For example, if writing a book or building an online community are important long term goals which are aligned to your personal growth, then an important task for the day might be finishing off a particular page or two of the book or coming up with fresh content ideas for the online community.

        What is important with this ritual is that you identify these tasks and complete them as early in the day as possible. Of course, you will have other tasks apart from the ones you will write down but, these are tasks which can be tackled later or batched up and carried out in one go.

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        Writing down your most important tasks in the morning helps you focus your day and life according to what is essential. It helps you prioritize and manage your time better. As a result, you simplify your life by applying your focus and energy on what really counts for your overall life progress.

        3. Affirm Your Goals in Writing or Drawing

        This is similar to the previous idea but different in its application and purpose. Writing down your most important tasks of the day is a way to have a concrete structure of action to follow. Affirming your goals, on the other hand, is a very powerful way of crystallizing your vision and goals in life into your everyday mental space.

        Writing down or doodling your goals on a piece of paper helps you externalize those goals by giving them form. In return, they are reflected back in your subconscious mind and thus, reinforcing them and integrating them more wholly.

        An example of this would be writing down “I am achieving greater success in my career” or “I am becoming healthier and stronger through my exercise.” Notice the present tense being used as a way to tell yourself you are in the process already. Remember the life script we subconsciously follow? You are basically modifying the script to be applied now in the present.

        Drawing or doodling can be equally, or even more, effective  (if you are more of a visual person) as it summarizes a graphical representation of your goals. For example, if your goal is to build a new house or live in another country, you can draw the house or draw things that symbolise the country you want to live in.

        write down goals

          4. Practice Qi Gong Exercises

          According to Chinese philosophy, Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) means the life force or energy inherent in all things;[1] and Qi Gong is the practice to cultivate and circulate that energy in your body. This may sound esoteric or complicated but actually, Qi Gong is really a set of simple exercises aimed at increasing your health and vitality.

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          There are numerous forms and practices available for free through the online media. As a morning ritual, I recommend following these simple exercises by Qi Gong master Lee Holden:

          5. Drink Hot Water with Lemon

          Simply add a slice of lemon in a glass of hot water and drink one every morning. This is a very simple ritual I follow faithfully every morning.

          Apart from being a good source of vitamin C and a great way of flushing out toxins in the morning, it balances and maintains the PH levels in the body, reduces pain and inflammation in joints and knees and helps nourishing brain and nerve cells. Here are some more benefits of drinking hot water with lemon.

          6. Rise Earlier

          The practical advantages of waking up early are obvious.

          For example, you gain more time for doing exercise such as walking, cycling or Qi Gong as suggested above. You gain more time to be with yourself to reflect, meditate or, more importantly, carry out the other morning rituals.

          So rising early can be seen as a foundation for all the other morning rituals. Many, like myself, find that they are more productive in the early hours of the day.

          Also, various studies have shown that there are many other benefits from waking up an hour or two earlier in the morning. Sleeping early and waking up early helps the body attune with the earth’s circadian rhythms thus, promoting more restorative sleep. Other curious results from such studies show, for instance, that early risers tend to be more optimistic and can anticipate and solve problems more efficiently than the norm.[2]

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          7. Listen to Uplifting Music

          Uplifting music can have a direct impact on our mood, especially in the morning. It charges us emotionally and tunes us into a more positive outlook of the day ahead.

          Most people wake up to music or listen to music as they commute to work. Very often, however, they tune in to a radio or randomly pick a playlist from their device. Being more selective and conscious of the music you listen to in the morning can have a great impact on your day and life in general.

          It’s funny how we try to choose music according to our mood. For example if you are feeling down or disappointed by something, you are more prone to listen to music that reflects that mood – for instance blues, sad songs or downtempo music. This has the effect of reinforcing that mood. What you need to do is the exact opposite and retune your mood by listening to music that beats to a different tune than that mood.

          Try to listen to more uplifting music in the morning even if, or especially if, your mood does not dictate so.

          More About Energetic Habits & Rituals

          Featured photo credit: Carli Jeen via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Live Science: What Is Qi Gong
          [2] Harvard Business Review: Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm

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