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 every day!” 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 GPP Program

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 phosphagen, glycolytic, and the oxidative pathways.

The Phosphagen, Glycolytic, and 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 phosphagen and glycolytic pathways are anaerobic pathways meaning the energy produced to fuel the activity is derived in the absence of oxygen. The phosphagen 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 hours. In addition, training all three pathways can counterbalance some of the drawbacks of training in one pathway only.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Training

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 needless volume, blunted results, an increase in total reps for the body, and a decrease in intensity. It also contributes to overuse injuries. 

Balancing “Fun to Do” with “You Should Do”

We know that the long crazy workouts are fun – we love them too! – but the coaches also keep an eye out for you. Every day, 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; however, the same results of the above example apply, just from a different end of the training 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.