It’s the stuff that isn’t sexy. As much as people complain about Fran, the Open WODs, or sprinting on the Assault Bike they really enjoy it because it’s something that’s easy to brag about. Saying you held the same pace for ten different rowing intervals is hard to be boastful about. After six months of a lifting cycle adding tens of pounds to all your lifts looks huge, but taking the same time to get a few seconds off your 5k row time doesn’t seem like enough incentive. Spending quality time on biking, rowing, or running at efforts that don’t have you rolling on the floor can be greatly beneficial. There’s loads of physiological changes, but also a great amount of useful knowledge can be gained.
This may be surprising, but the idea of running for exercise is a pretty new thing. Obviously the act of running has been around for a while, since humans used it as their main form of hunting, and athletes have been running for centuries since it has been a staple in Olympics. For the general population in the United States, however, casual running wasn’t a thing until the mid 1900’s. Since then it, along with other long form cardio such as biking and rowing, has become the go to for people just trying to get into better shape. Even a staple in all sorts of specific athletic fields from bodybuilders to sprinters.
Despite long aerobic work being such a widely used form of exercise I don’t think people understand what it is actually doing to better your fitness, or how something can benefit both a beginner and an elite athlete. In CrossFit we more or less live in the 8-12 minute range, and push intensity to the upper levels we can handle. Quite the opposite of doing 45 minutes of comfortable running or rowing intervals, so how is that transferable to my Fran time? Without getting to in depth it forces our body to become more efficient in using it’s energy systems. By going on a long run or sitting on a rower for an extended period of time we quickly burn through our first glycogen stores meant for explosive sprints. Then as we keep going we can pass our bodies ability to metabolize fat for the energy we’re looking for, and force it to adapt to better store and utilize the sugars and fats next time.
In a beginner the body is quick to this adjustment because it’s not used to burning through those stores. For more trained individuals this is a tough method for increasing endurance, and instead is likely used for a different purpose; recovery. Long slow cardio isn’t gonna totally refresh the body, but it does allow it keep oxygen uptake to stay high to recover from more strenuous training sessions similar to what we often do in CrossFit.
There’s lots of science and specific tests we can do to measure physiological changes going on due to aerobic training, but, like I said at the beginning, you can do months of rowing just to take seconds off a benchmark. How can I know if putting in the extra time is helping then? Simply by how you feeling. Maybe you go to 5a.m. class and by noon your usually dragging a little, but one day you start to notice not feeling so lethargic at that point. During Karen you used to wait 20 seconds to match your set, but this time your breathing feels fine and you get back to work after just 10 seconds.
The last benefit I can think to add is that you just learn about yourself as an athlete. Workouts have common aerobic movements like rowing and running in them all the time. They could be a buy in or cash out, or several rounds of the same distance, but when doing a workout how do you know how fast to go? Is it just based off guessing by feel, or do you know what effort different paces allow us to do because the latter is a lot smarter. If there’s a 5 round workout with a 500m Row each time then that’s around 10 minutes of a workout that your leaving to chance that will greatly effect your time. Having done repeats of the same distance in the past before will allow us to know a pace that I can use as a guideline from the start based on how fatiguing the other movements will be.
Most people don’t have a good time running in circles around a track or sitting on a rower seat for the same thing over and over, but there’s to many benefits to not occasionally give it a chance. We can look at fancy things like energy system adaptions or VO2 maxes, but it might just be something that makes you feel better throughout the day or after a long week of tough workouts. Knowledge especially has an immeasurable value, and knowing a more specific way to approach a workout could help you get even more out of it.