Image courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.
For all parts of this series of posts, click here.
The above graph is a theoretical representation of the three main energy systems at work inside our bodies at the cellular level. The Phosphagen and Glycolytic are anaerobic, while the Oxidative is aerobic. Notice how this graph only captures physical events up to 130 seconds (2 minutes and 10 seconds)......
Back in 2002, one of the first CrossFit Journal articles "What is Fitness?" was published. It really is a must-read. Of all the stuff I post to read, this is THE ONE you absolutely have to follow up on. My gut feeling is that if the author Greg Glassman had written the article 2010, he'd have changed a few things. Regardless, it serves as somewhat of a gospel among functional fitness enthusiasts. I vividly recall a road trip with my teammate Brian M who gave me the article to read. His words were something like, "You've got to read this. It's related to that kettlebell stuff you do." Like many of you reading this now, the What is Fitness essasy gave you a glimpse into a new type of fitness.
After reading the essay, I gave some serious thought to how we as culture put endurance athletes on pedestals for their accomplishments. While these long-distance performers do deserve respect, there are many more athletes that I now see as equally (or in many cases more) deserving of accolades. I began to think of marathoners who couldn't jump up onto a 36" platform, or clean-and-press a barbell with three-quarters of their bodyweight, or sprint 300m in less than 50 seconds. Those three feats (a simple box jump, a C&P of .75bw, or sub-0:50 300m) are somewhat nominal when it comes to general fitness. Yet I speculate there are many endurance athletes incapable of doing such!! So why do we as a culture put Ironmen and marathoners on the covers of general fitness magazines?
Before you jump up and call "foul" on me, do not forget I have run a marathon, more than a handful of half-marathons, and more than my share of 4-hr and 12-hr adventure races. Each of these fit comfortably into the label of "long-distance." And I did each of these at bodyweights of no less than 222# (2002 marathon weight)! I spent considerable time trail running with backpacks, mountain biking for distance, and paddling canoes and kayaks....all in prep for these races. I'm no stranger to endurance events.
Now after reading the What is Fitness article (along with many others) I seek debates with endurance athletes about their fitness level or self-perceived fitness level. There are some who proudly describe their programs in articulate terms and schedules....in specific preparation for a race or event. Or in an attempt to beat an old personal record. I won't pick on them as much. They've studied and researched their methods and have specific goals. However.....there are others who simply use running as a way to "get fit" or as "cardio." Those people I tend to rub the wrong way. On purpose I'd have to admit.
Long and slow distance training has its place. But I argue it is NOT for general fitness or cardio. Sure it might do its part in helping one lose fatty weight or increase one's metabolism. But probably not in a way that is nearly as effective as interval or anaerobic training. So with so much science and research into the effectiveness and efficacy of interval or anaerobic training, why do so many people ignore it? and instead choose long, slow-paced aerobic training?
Because high-intensity interval or anaerobic training sucks. It takes your heart rate to its highest levels. It puts you well outside comfort zones. It causes you to stop and rest.
For general fitness, we'd be a much better off society if marathons weren't touted as a pinnacle. We're doing ourselves a disservice by allowing the "cardio-respiratory endurance" component of fitness to take the front seat. This allowance prevents participants from pushing themselves into other domains, such as stamina, coordination, power, and speed. Here's an example:
I regularly meet with fitness enthusiasts at a local forest preserve. We bring out kettlebells and sandbags. There is a core of participants who "run" these workouts. We design them to address as many components of general and broad fitness as possible. One such format is the 30/30. This is simply 24-30 minutes of alternating 30-second intervals of work and rest. Here is the problem: we see a lot of the newbies as sandbaggers. And I use the term "sandbagger" here not to refer to one who uses SBs in their workout, but rather a derogatory slang that calls them out as slackers who don't give their all during the 30-sec work periods. They instead "pace" themselves for the duration of the workout as if there are no rest periods....like a typical endurance event. The 30/30 format is not endurance or aerobic training. It is designed as an anaerobic conditioning circuit. However, to be effective, the participant must work at a pace and workload that could not possibly be endured for much longer than 30 seconds!!! Much like the Tabata Circuit (20-sec work and 10-sec rest), rest is absolutely critical to maintaining the blistering pace during work intervals.
No amount of long distance training makes you faster in a sprint, or able to jump higher, or able to lift heavier weights. However, there is current research and science that says the exact opposite: training to sprint, or jump, or lift weights CAN (if done properly) make you a better distance athlete.
So what am I trying to say in this post? Endurance athletes are not the end-all-be-all. I give some of them respect as being "fit," but certainly not most. To be considered "fit" by my standards, you must be able to do a whole lot more than endure a slow paced event. And the more excellent you are at that endurance event, the more likely you are even more terribly unbalanced with other components of fitness!! You must be able to perform simple tasks that only take a few seconds or fractions of seconds to be called fit in my book.
Train in time durations that seem petty in comparison to marathons and triathlons. Jump. Throw. Slam. Sprint. Jerk. Snatch. Some of these take fractions of seconds to complete....but the rewards come quickly when you train in anaerobic time durations and workloads.
For those of you in the combat careers, real life tests rarely last longer than 130 seconds. Life and death hinges on extreme abilities and successes in a matter of seconds. Fights for life are won and lost in the blinks of eyes. Be prepared in and practice in the right metabolic pathways!