Developing an Aerobic Engine - Part 1

I had this observation for a while now but never wrote it down. This observation has really shaped my views on programming for I would say the last three or four years. It must be stated that when I started CrossFit eight years ago things were very different. From the beginning I spent practically all of my free time learning, studying, and expanding my training knowledge. One of the very first programs I was introduced to was Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength Novice program. It was a very simple linear progression program for increasing the main power lifts. I loved it. I continued down this rabbit hole so to speak learning more and more about strength training and how to adapt it to CrossFit programs. I saw a lot of other CrossFit gyms, coaches, and athletes implement these principles into their training to better develop their strength. I remember visiting other gyms and being asked questions about which squat cycle I liked most or which olympic program I followed. 

I wish I could say this was all it took for a light bulb to go off in my head, but it wasn't. Instead it sort of crept up on me slowly through dealing with clients and talking to other CrossFit athletes and coaches and attending various seminars. Whenever we discussed programming, every coach and athlete in the world completely accepted the long standing training protocols developed by other countries, namely the Russians and Bulgarians. The research was there and so were a lot of gold medals. For instance, most coaches use Prilepin's Chart as a model for intensity and volume, whether they realize it or not, and the training manual Managing The Training of Weightlifters is basically the bible for many weightlifting coaches.

So, when I write 5x5 Back Squat at 80%, most athletes cringe but know that "yep, this is going to suck but I need to do it to get stronger." Conversely, when I write 36x 30/30 split intervals at varying intensity on an Assault Bike, people aren't really sure what to think. Ok, getting closer to that light bulb now.

See, I didn't just stop with learning about weightlifting from weightlifters and weightlifting coaches. When I looked at the sport of CrossFit I thought, maybe I should look at how to develop a big ol set of lungs too. If strength training has super old Russian training manuals, surely endurance athletes have similar "bibles."

Turns out they do.

CrossFit isn't just about being strong, it is about being able to do a lot of work. It has always been about this from the very beginning. Athletes realized early on that strength training is easy. Increase your max, and an RX weight moves from being 80% of your max to 70% of your max. Moving said weight just became a hell of a lot easier. This method works for a period of time and with varying success depending on the mix of workouts an athlete faces.

If the title didn't already give it away, an athlete must have a very well developed Aerobic Engine if they want to be successful at CrossFit. 

Endurance athletes, especially cyclists, have been finding ways to improve their aerobic capacity, maximum aerobic power, lactate threshold and clearance for a very long time. Just like weightlifters have their intensities and percentages figured out, so do cyclists. Check this out:

This is a zone breakdown based on Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP). The zones are percentages for intensity. A lot of training programs for cyclists will call for MAP-4 or MAP-6 training intervals. This just means to operate in zone 4 or zone 6 for that training session. What is really cool is that we can apply this to CrossFit training and to developing a better Aerobic Engine.

We also know how much rest is required to recharge and repeat at these zone efforts. Just like we have to do sets and reps to improve our strength, our aerobic engine can be trained in a similar manner. Does that 36x Assault Bike interval workout start to make some more sense now?

Part 2 is going to cover how the oxidative energy system (Aerobic) directly impacts our other energy systems and why Rich Froning is so damn good. Part 3 will delve further into the above chart and how it will relate to our programming.