A Bar, a Box and a Kettlebell

Friday's WOD: 5 Rounds
5 push presses (85/125)
7 kb swings (50/70)
9 box jumps (20"/24")

One of the key principles of the CrossFit strength and conditioning program is that it in its metabolic workouts it makes no distinction between 'cardio' and strength training. In this workout we did push presses, box jumps and kb swings. Note the elements involved in the workout: push presses (weightlifting) box jumps (gymnastics) and kb swings (weight lifting). The fastest time was under 8 minutes.

How does an 8 minute workout such as the one above compare to something like a 10k run? Conventional wisdom suggests that the 10 km run is a more effective stimulus for the development of elite cardio respiratory capability. The notion that 'cardio' training is limited to activities such as running, biking and rowing is one of those naturalized assumptions that people simply take as truth. The CrossFit community has, through empirical evidence, proven that CrossFit workouts (such as the one we did on Friday) provide the stimulus necessary for athletes to excel at greater distances (such as a marathon). This is also why fluxer Helen, who is training for the 'death race' has chosen to implement CrossFit workouts into her preparation for this grueling 125 km run.

But take a long distance runner or cyclist and expose them to a CrossFit workout (functional strength, constantly varied, performed at a high intensity) and they will be gassed. Why is it that an elite runner crumbles when exposed to the training stimuli of a CrossFit workout, but a CrossFitter, with little exposure to long distance events will perform very well, even excel in such events? The answer is partially related to the distinction between cardio respiratory endurance and stamina. Dr. Jim Cawley defines cardiovascular respiratory capabilities as "the ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen" and stamina as "the ability of body systems to process, deliver, store and utilize energy" (cited in CrossFit Journal, 22: 2004).

Note that both cardio respiratory function and stamina are 2 of the ten criteria that define fitness. And the one element of fitness that is foundational to both cardio respiratory function and stamina? STRENGTH. Long distance runners do not have the strength to handle the load of a typical CrossFit workout and thus are often left gassed. They lack stamina. While CrossFitters, on the other hand, are constantly exposed to training stimuli that develop strength, stamina and cardiovascular respiratory ability. Our cardiovascular respiratory capability does not develop in isolation from strength, so why train as though the two are mutually exclusive?

I hope this is not redundant but I constantly hear people say that they need more cardio, even as they are gasping for breath from a typical CrossFit workout.