For a Crossfit athlete, one of the more frightening aspects of committing to strength training is losing that cardio engine (lets be honest, the heart rate doesn't get very high when performing accessory work). I feel for the strength athletes who decide to jump into a Crossfit class, only to get their butt kicked by the seemingly simple 10 minute AMRAP of push-ups and rowing. Make no mistake, it remains an awesome feeling, but the "pain cave" seems a little bit darker when you have been away from daily Crossfit WODs for an extended period of time.
It doesn't necessarily have to be like that though. There are a few principles that you can adhere to while focusing on developing strength that will allow you to maintain the majority of your engine. Before we get into that though, it is important to understand a few very basic concepts of conditioning.
Let's start thinking of conditioning as your ability to produce energy. There are three mediums in which the body can produce energy, and they are called "energy systems." We have aerobic, anaerobic lactic, and anaerobic alactic. To keep it simple, the aerobic energy system requires oxygen; lots of oxygen. The two anaerobic energy systems require no oxygen. If you were to sit on a rower and pull for 30 seconds, odds are that you would be able to hold your breath the entire time. That is because your body resorted to the anaerobic energy systems to produce the energy to accomplish that row.
The most relied upon energy system though is aerobic. When you are 3 minutes into an AMRAP, huffin' and puffin,' your aerobic energy system is hard at work. Breathing becomes heavy to supply your muscles with oxygen, which allows for things that happen at the cellular level, so you can keep producing energy efficiently. So, how can one improve their conditioning while remaining committed to those strength gainz? The answer is; long, slow conditioning workouts that are completely separate from strength training sessions.
First, lets define what that is. Long (for most people) is going to be 20 minutes in duration or longer. Moving at a steady pace for the majority of a 20 minute effort is the goal here. What constitutes slow? This is entirely dependent on your heart rate. The aerobic energy system dominates energy production when the heart rate is below 80 percent of max heart rate. If it jumps above, you are likely going too hard. Max heart rate can be generally determined by subtracting your age from 220. So, a 30-year-old male could estimate his max heart rate to be 190 beats per minute; which means that for a long slow conditioning session, he would ideally keep his heart rate right around 150 beats per minute. BUT I DON'T HAVE A HEART RATE MONITOR!!! That's okay. Simply, count the pulse on your neck for 10 seconds and multiply it by 6.
In order to do these workouts, the Concept 2 Rower and Assault bike will become your new best friends. Now, I'll admit, the structure of these workouts aren't glamorous. In fact, it's downright boring most of the time, but give these a try.
- :30 of rowing or biking followed by :30 of rest.
- :40 of rowing or biking followed by :20 of rest.
- :50 of rowing or biking followed by :10 of rest.
- 2:00 of rowing, 1:00 rest, 2:00 of biking, 1:00 rest, 2:00 of skipping rope (single-unders), 1:00 rest, 2:00 of burpees, 1:00 rest.
- 2:20 of rowing, :40 rest, 2:20 of biking, :40 rest, 2:20 of skipping rope (single-unders), :40 rest, 2:20 of burpees, :40 rest.
- Bike 10 calories, 100' farmers walk
- Row 20 calories, 50' bear craw
- Bike 10 calories, Row 10 calories, 150' sandbag carry.
- Sled drag
The possibilities here are literally endless. The best part about this type of conditioning work is that it is fairly easy, and doesn't make you walk funky the next morning. I am sure you noticed that I didn't include any time domains though. That is because every person is different. Some may benefit from a 15 minute stimulus, some may require a 50 minute stimulus. It all depends on the individual.
If you ever find yourself scratching your head to come up with some aerobic conditioning work, ask for help! I would be more than happy to give you some simple ideas, and/or a template to work off of for a few weeks.