CrossFit | What About Cardio?

What About Cardio?

ByCrossFitJanuary 10, 2019

Conventional wisdom holds that extended bouts of monostructural training (run, bike, swim, row, etc.), commonly referred to as “cardio,” confer distinct and powerful advantage to athletic conditioning. (Here) we explore the proposition that traditional “cardio” may be neither as distinct nor as powerful a contribution to general conditioning as widely believed. In fact, we assert that CrossFit-like programming provides a more effective stimulus for improving cardiorespiratory endurance than running, rowing, cycling or other traditional monostructural protocols.

“What About Cardio?” is an elaboration on the CrossFit approach to developing elite cardiorespiratory endurance.

For too many people, “cardio” is something good that happens to their heart and lungs only while sitting on a bike or running. For these people, we thought that seeing an athlete’s heart rate during CrossFit workouts and during more traditional “cardio” protocols might open the door to the possibility that workouts comprising elements traditionally seen as resistance or strength-training exercises could be used to elicit a potent cardiorespiratory stimulus. So we strapped a downloadable heart-rate monitor (Polar S720i) to several athletes and put them to work.

Comments on What About Cardio?


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Jason Cohen
January 11th, 2019 at 2:45 pm
Commented on: What About Cardio?

I've done CF since 2007 and I can't even count how many endurance athletes I've caught off guard with the likes of Cindy. It's like a whole new world opens for them! I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011 (First and last marathon I'll run lol) and my longest training run was 10 miles. I was following CFE (while it was still a thing) protocol and I felt great and performed really well for a first marathon (3:30ish @6'3" 210).

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Pat Sherwood
January 11th, 2019 at 1:46 pm
Commented on: What About Cardio?

I started doing Crossfit in 2005, which was only a couple years after I got out of the military. Anyone who knows anything about the military knows one run....a lot.

One of my greatest fears was that doing CF did not have enough long runs and therefore I was going to "lose my cardio". Of course nothing could have been farther from the truth.

I ran less and somehow maintained my ability to run. At the time I was confused. I learned along the way exactly what this article says is true. Also, the "cardio" or "lungs" that I developed through CrossFit was far more useful in the real world because it was not modal specific. No heart rate monitor needed.

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Joshua Grenell
January 11th, 2019 at 1:53 pm

You experience is similar to what I have found working with long time Triathlon or Marathon Athletes. I have found it not to be true with new athletes or people who do not have an endurance background. They can do work and the perform well in 20-40 min range. But they don't do well outside that range.

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Joshua Grenell
January 11th, 2019 at 1:33 pm
Commented on: What About Cardio?

We use Myzone at CrossFit Progression. A lot of CrossFit gym owners and coaches are not in favor of it. Say it is a gimmick or not what CF is about. I think what they are missing is the value it provides to the coach in a class. In the graph in the article, it shows the HR during Cindy compared to the HR in a 20min AMRAP row. The issue that happens in the vast majority of CF gyms during Cindy is that this graph is not what you see. The graph represents what you see in a well-trained athlete. There is a significant drop off in most athletes in their ability to perform these 3 movements over time. And the HR drops because of this. Significantly. Without Myzone a coach would not necessarily know what was going on. Now I can simply look at the screen and now if the athlete needs to be scaled or if they are not doing pull-ups because their HR is high. There are multiple times knowing the HR of your athlete is of value. I usually joke with our members when they are talking about the Myzone system, "Oh you think your HR up on the screen is for you? No, it is for your coach!" I know this is just an example of why CF checks the cardio box, and I agree it does. I believe HR Monitors can be a useful tool. Especially in helping the coach of a class to make sure the intents of the work out are being met by the clients.

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Jeffrey Howard
January 11th, 2020 at 9:21 pm

Myzone is a great tool for monitoring this. However, If a person was untrained in rowing, and then rowed for 20-minutes, they too would also have a graph inconsistent with these in the article. Cardio-respiratory endurance is one of the "trainable" 10 general physicals skills. The point is that your aerobic system is not at its potential unless it is trained by constantly varied functional movement and high intensity.

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Tyler Hass
January 11th, 2019 at 6:16 am
Commented on: What About Cardio?

"We never use heart rate monitors in our clinical practice and they offer very little benefit to athletes other than endurance specialists. We measure and train for outputs, the focus is on function not its correlates. Were we racing hearts, we’d all have heart rate monitors."

This is my favorite line from the article. I think it gives a clear window into the thought process that led to CrossFit.

It also reminds me of an Olympic hopeful sprinter who wrote that his training plan was to increase his stride rate by 9% and increase his stride length by 6%. This combination would put him on the Olympic team. Sadly, it didn't.

Or, how about cholesterol lowering drugs that do not extend your lifespan?

Don't chase after correlates. Keep your eye on the output.

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Matthieu Dubreucq
October 22nd, 2019 at 3:42 pm

100% agree. I think the idea of using a heart monitor was more to give some data that appealed to the "classic" cardio belief or doing mono structural. CrossFit's measure of choice (and definition) of intensity remains average Power.

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Lynne Pitts
January 11th, 2019 at 2:37 am
Commented on: What About Cardio?

It's great to see these classic gems penned by Coach being brought back for a new generation of CrossFitters!

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Kathy Glassman
January 11th, 2019 at 4:03 pm


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