What Should I do for Cardio?
This is some great food for thought whether you’ve been doing CrossFit for years or if this is your first month. A few times a month someone will ask me what they should do for cardio, sometimes it’s people here in the gym and sometimes it’s people on the phone asking about CrossFit. There is a lot to unpack here – the reason this is always such a tough conversation is because that question is based off really, really old “data”. It’s a similar fallacy to drinking “diet” soda or eating “low fat” food. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and we have to re-pattern the genesis of the issue in our own brains.
I believe the root of the issue is the perception that running helps people become more fit or lose weight. I was a runner in college and I competed all four years for three seasons every year; I am not biased against running. Running just happens to be the easiest, cheapest, and most available form of exercise to every human on the planet. As a result a lot of people believe that adding running on top of another exercise routine will somehow create a greater level of fitness or contribute to losing weight. That belief doesn’t match reality. If you were/are sedentary then anything you do will make you more fit; in the same way, if you start a new diet and before that you were eating horribly you are going to lose weight no matter what the diet is.
CrossFit: creating the capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.
Think about the workout “Karen” (150 Wallballs 20/14 for time), at the end of Karen it’s really rare for someone not to be drenched in sweat. Why would that person need to do an additional 5K run on top of that? If they are training for a race or they have a marathon coming up* maybe that might make some sense if their training program calls for some kind of cross training day. The trouble is that most people think of cardio as a 30-75 min run and for most people that is a super slow, mechanically poor, plod that really only damages the joints and isn’t metabolically as efficient, effective, or strenuous as a 6:00 Karen effort. It would make much more sense to do 4 x 400m (:75 rest) sprint efforts on one day and two days later do 3 x 1000m (:45 rest) tempo runs. I have never felt worse than the 5 minutes after an all-out 800M sprint, running is an amazing form of exercise and also the hardest form of exercise if done correctly.
Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements—i.e., they are multi-joint.
All of this boils down to the basic tenets of CrossFit: creating the capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly. Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high power. I would argue that you will be much more tired after “Cindy” (20 minutes 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 air squats) than you will be at the end of a 5K run, provided that movements are scaled to where you can match the appropriate intensity of the workout.
If you’ve made it this far here is one strategy to eliminating the need for “CARDIO” – come into CrossFit everyday and scale APPROPRIATELY to achieve the intensity the coach has talked about and then work as hard as you possibly can. Install that strategy into your daily life and you’ll only need to set aside 60 minutes for fitness every day. For those of you that saw the asterisk, I don’t think anyone needs to do a marathon. It’s incredibly damaging to your body and because most people don’t go to running school to learn how to run correctly it’s even more damaging.