What's the Point (Conditioning)?

What’s the Point (Conditioning)?

I feel like I’ve written blog posts about this before, but I couldn’t find them, and they aren’t on our current blog, so I think it’s worth it to do it again.  

Every training cycle, every week, every workout, every weight, rest period, every rep scheme and every little part of each class has a reason and an intended outcome (even and especially the 3-5 minute rants that I’m prone to having).

Sometimes it’s very obvious and very clear to even the beginning CrossFitter.  Much of the time it’s subconsciously apparent.  A lot of the time, it’s just what you’re supposed to do, so you do it. 

It’s important to take every part of every day for what it is, and not try and make it something else.  If the workout is supposed to be a sprint, make it a sprint.  If it’s supposed to be heavy, make it heavy, if it’s time for practice, practice.  

With that in mind, I’m going to work on a series of blog posts about the different aspects of programming that you’ll encounter here.  I’ll be focusing on the why’s and the how’s so as to hopefully give you a brief education on how you should approach each segment of your training.

For the first one, I’ll focus on our Conditioning, or the “WOD”, which is so much more than just a random series of exercises thrown together with an arbitrary number of reps for a given amount of time.  So, if not a random output pulled off of a phone app, what is it and whats the intent?  Well, in a general sense, CrossFit’s intended goal is to “Increase work capacity over broad time and modal domains”.  In other words, although some people are good at short events, some are good at long events, and some fall in the middle, it’s beneficial for general fitness and as a human to improve across the whole spectrum, from 10 seconds to hours of sustained effort.

More specifically, this means we are working towards improvement across an energy system continuum, ranging from Anaerobic Alactic Work (without using oxygen or lactate as a fuel source for 0-20 seconds of very, very hard work that you couldn’t repeat without a lot of rest) to Anareobic Lactic Work (without using oxygen, but getting into lactate as a fuel source for 20 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes of unsustainable, very hard work that you couldn’t repeat without a lot of rest) to Aerobic Work (using oxygen as a fuel source from longer than 30 seconds to infinity of sustainable work that you can either maintain or repeat with very little rest).  It’s important to note that this is a bit of an oversimplification, and that you are rarely using just one energy system at at time. 

All of those ideas can be simplified down to running.  If you sprint as hard as you possibly can for 100m (10-20 seconds), you are going to need a lot of rest to repeat that effort.  Same with a 500m row (90 to 150 seconds).  If I asked you to do either of those as hard as you possibly could, then as soon as you were finished, declared that you had to do it 4 more times, and that for every second you were slower in each interval, I’d pull out a fingernail, how long would you want to rest before repeating?  I’d guess it would be more than the same amount of time it took you to do the work.  However, if you rowed a 5k, and I told you the same thing, I’d bet you’d probably be ready to go within 20-30 minutes (or roughly the time it took you to run it). 

So, in training, we want to do multiple efforts of a certain time domain in order to train and improve a specific system.  If you start to fall outside of the intended time domain by slowing down, you’re not doing that anymore.  This is especially true in the case of the Anaerobic work.  If you run 4 400m’s, and you go 1:00, 1:00, 1:25, 1:35, you’re probably not resting enough, and you’re having to start pacing which makes the training more aerobic than anaerobic.  So, the point of the rest is to ensure that you can keep hammering away with the intended intensity in the intended energy system.  

Your takeaway from all of that should be knowing how a workout should “feel” and what to do if you think the rest is too long or the workout is too easy.  If it’s 10-20 seconds of work with 2:00 or more of rest, the :10 seconds of work should be absolutely terrible.  (If you’ve never done :10 of Airdyne with 2:00 rest for 10 rounds, you should try it, it’s lot’s of fun).  If it’s something like yesterday, with roughly 1 minute of work and 3 minutes of rest, it should be pretty darn hard for that 1 minute.  If it’s not, you either need to go faster or increase your weights.  If it’s 1 minute work with 1 minute (or less) of rest, it should be hard, but not impossible to repeat over and over again for many intervals.  If it’s a 20 minute workout, you should probably be moving at a pace that you can maintain for the whole 20 minutes.  Again, think of running.  

Now, within our conditioning work, there is an infinite number of other variables that are combined to make the magic that happens here, so it’s not always as simple as running, or we’d just be running all the time.  We work on a lot in our conditioning.  We use that conditioning for developing things things like (with some examples in parenthesis): energy system training (varying time domains as listed above), muscular endurance (higher rep schemes), coordination (box jumps/double unders), strength under duress (heavy weights paired with heavy breathing), accuracy (wall balls), mental toughness (varies), movement patterns (practice reps under light weights), CrossFit specific skills (toes to bar, wall balls), grip strength (pull-ups paired with other pulling lifts), stability (handstands).  That list could go on forever, but you get the point.  

Hopefully this helps.  Let me know if you have questions or feedback.  Next time will be “Reps and Sets of Strength Work”.