Advertising
Advertising

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.

13472289015_c07dd61f24_z

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

      Advertising

      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.

      Advertising

      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

      More by this author

      Roy Pumphrey

      Fitness Coaching

      8 Amazing Things That Will Happen When You Do Bridges Every Day How Strength Training Can Completely Transform Your Body How To Undo The Damage High Heels Are Causing To Your Body Infographic That Shows How Much Exercise You Need To Burn Off These Food 5 Ways To Increase Happiness (With Scientific Evidence)

      Trending in Fitness

      1 How to Gain Muscle Fast (The Healthy And Natural Way) 2 These 13 Leg Stretches Will Prevent Pain and Injury During Exercise 3 7 Killer Upper Back Stretches to Reduce Pain and Boost Endurance 4 7 Amazing Things That Will Happen When You Do Plank Every Day 5 The Ultimate 5-Day Workout Routine for Women to Get Strong and Toned

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising

      Published on November 14, 2018

      Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

      Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

      With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

      For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

      In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

      Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

      Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

      It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

      For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

      Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

      Symptoms of Fatigue

      Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

      • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
      • mental blocks
      • lack of motivation
      • headache
      • dizziness
      • muscle weakness
      • slowed reflexes and responses
      • impaired decision-making and judgement
      • moodiness, such as irritability
      • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
      • reduced immune system function
      • blurry vision
      • short-term memory problems
      • poor concentration
      • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

      Causes of Fatigue

      The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

      • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
      • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
      • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
      • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

      Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

      Medical Causes of Fatigue

      If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

      Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

      Anemia

      Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

      Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

      There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

      Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

      Advertising

      This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

      Diabetes

      Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

      Sleep Apnea

      Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

      Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

      Thyroid disease

      An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

      Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

      • Lack of sleep
      • Too much sleep 
      • Alcohol and drugs 
      • Sleep disturbances 
      • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
      • Poor diet 

      Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

      • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
      • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
      • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
      • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

      Psychological Causes of Fatigue

      Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

      • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
      • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
      • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

      How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

      Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

      1. Tell The Truth

      Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

      To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

      Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

      The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

      One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

      • How you feel
      • What time of day it is
      • What may have contributed to your fatigue
      • How your mind and body reacts

      This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

      2. Reduce Your Commitments

      When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

      Advertising

      If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

      When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

      Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

      3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

      If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

      Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

      If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

      Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

      Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

      4. Express More Gratitude

      Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

      It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

      Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

      5. Focus On Yourself

      Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

      There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

      But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

      We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

      6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

      Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

      Advertising

      Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

      The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

      Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

      7. Take a Power Nap

      When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

      Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

      This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

      8. Take More Exercise

      The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

      Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

      The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

      You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

      9. Get More Quality Sleep

      To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

      Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

      My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

      10. Improve Your Diet

      Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

      Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

      On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

      Advertising

      To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

      Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

      Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

      11. Manage Your Stress Levels

      Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

      When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

      Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

      My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

      12. Get Hydrated

      Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

      Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

      If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

      The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

      The Bottom Line

      These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

      If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

      Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
      [2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
      [3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
      [4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
      [5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
      [6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

      Read Next