Why Can’t We Go Long ALL the Time?    January 7 2013

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“J.T.”

21-15-9 reps of:
Handstand push-ups
Ring dips
Push-ups

Moishe, Stef, and Alison rock the ring rows at Monday’s CrossFit Endurance Pre-Season Training Program.  No one here will be behind in March for that race summer race schedule.

Why Can’t We Go Long ALL the Time?

After the holiday’s 12 Days of CrossFit Roots workout, numerous folks told the coaches at the end of the workout, “that was awesome, we should do workouts like that everyday.”  For this post, we’ll ignore the sick twisted what is wrong with you psychological side of that comment, and address the physical component only.

Why don’t we program long, crazy, workouts such as that one ALL the time?

CrossFit is a General Physical Preparedness program.  That means that the goal of our program is to train athletes so they are able to perform well at any task that life, sport, or crisis throws their way.  One of the methods employed and proven to do this is to train athletes in each of three metabolic pathways – the phosphogen, glycolytic, and the oxidative pathways.

These three pathways span the intensity of breathing capacities humans are capable of.  These capacities, like any athletic component, must be trained in order for us to maintain and develop proficiency.

The phosphogen and glycolytic pathways are anaerobic pathways meaning the energy produced to fuel the activity is derived in the absence of oxygen.  The phosphogen pathway is the primary pathway used in short extremely intense efforts such as a 20 meter sprint, a lineman during one play on a football field, or a tabata sprint.  The glycolytic pathway is the primary pathway in efforts of moderately high intensity lasting somewhere around 2 minutes or less.  Examples include an 800m sprint or a 2:00 minute Fran.

The oxidative pathway is the aerobic pathway – meaning the energy used to fuel activities in this pathway occurs with oxygen in the process.  The oxidative pathway is the predominant pathway in exercises or efforts lasting more than a few minutes - including a mile run, a 2 hour bike ride, or watching TV – and has a lower level of intensity compared to the anaerobic pathway.

There are many benefits to training all three metabolic pathways.  From the perspective of a GPP program – we want to develop athletes who have capacity in all time domains – from :10 seconds to efforts lasting longer than an hour.  In addition, training all three pathways can counterbalance some of the drawbacks of training in one pathway only.

Both aerobic and anaerobic training develops cardiovascular capacity and decreases body fat.  Aerobic training enables us to engage in activities that span a long duration.  Excessive aerobic training; however, decreases power, strength, and speed.  This is where the benefits of training all three pathways yield the best results for a GPP program as anaerobic training develops power, strength, and speed.  In addition, while excessive aerobic training has been shown to decrease anaerobic capacity, anaerobic training has not been shown to blunt aerobic capacity!

A program that is focused on the long time domain only is no longer a GPP program and in doing so opens the door for excessive volume, blunted results, an increase in total reps, and an increase in the potential for injury.

We know that the long crazy workouts are fun – we love them too! – but the coaches also keep an eye out for you.  Everyday, every week, every month we strive to develop programming that delivers a general, physical preparedness while balancing the “fun to do” with the “you should do.”

Your favorite type of workout might not be the long ones, it might be the strength days or the bodyweight days but the same results of the above example apply just on a different end of the spectrum of a GPP program.  You can look at any athlete’s favorite training regimens and in them find the perfect recipe for a program that strays from GPP and opens the door for injury, overuse, and athletic deficiencies.

Love the long ones but understand that the day in day out work in the bank is what enables you to do them, do them well, and live to fight another day.

  • http://twitter.com/kmry Kaitlin Ryan

    Can you clarify the type of exercise that takes place during
    TV watching and equates to running a mile or going on a 2 hour long bike ride?

  • http://twitter.com/lmarie lisa p

    Let me answer that question with another question: if watching tv = 2 hour bike ride, why don’t I look more like Karl?

  • Hank

    The 12-days WOD was quite possibly the hardest WOD I’ve done in my nearly 3 years of crossfitting. It took me over an hour and left me physically and mentally demoralized. Thankfully this isn’t the typical WOD… I would never survive!

  • JakeDurling

    Great post Nicole. Although I’m with Hank that I’d die if all we did was the repeat the 12-Days of Torture, er, Roots Christmas, I’m an unabashed fan of long chippers. However, I appreciate more now why we have to mix it up (though the likelihood of me remembering that it has to do with oxidative, phosphogen, and glycolytic pathways is roughly the same likelihood of me beating Blaine in a clean and jerk contest). Thanks for the info!

  • Emily

    I liked the new 12 Days of Christmas WOD. It’s nice to mix it up. Also, did anyone see all the CrossFit heavy weights on Biggest Loser last night…..Kristin Cleaver, Rich Froning, Matt Chan…..? It was pretty cool.