"Do I need more cardio?"
One of the things I hear most often after workouts or in goal review sessions. Do you really? As is the answer to most of these questions, it depends!
If you are training for a marathon or a long distance swim, the answer is probably yes. If you are trying to maximize your time spent training to be generally healthy and look better naked, you don't.
Before diving into what exactly YOU need, it's important to understand what's going on inside your body when we're talking about "Aerobic" and "Anaerobic" fitness. These are both terms that represent different energy systems within that body that are working together almost all the time, just in different proportions to one another.
Warning: Jargon ahead. Read at your own risk.
Aerobic refers to processes that occur with the presence of oxygen, and for the most part occurs in relatively low intensity, long duration exercise. Think of a candle with a long slow burn wick; it burns fat and can stay lit for a long time.
Anaerobic is the antithesis to that - it occurs without oxygen, usually because it has to happen quicker than you can breath in the oxygen itself. There are two different anaerobic pathways, the Glycolytic and the Phosphagen pathways. Glycolytic uses glycogen stored in muscle tissue and results in lactic acid, which builds up within the muscles and makes it harder for them to contract. This produces more power but is much faster burning, think more like starting a fire with tinder: it will burn hotter and brighter, but will run out at some point and produces smoke along the way. The Phosphagen pathway uses creatine phosphate within the muscle cells, and is essentially like pouring gas on a fire - you use this during a dead sprint or during heavy lifts.
When do they work?
We are using these three systems in tandem ALL THE TIME. The thing that changes is how much of each is being used. Sitting at your desk you are nearly entirely aerobic - you don't require any power beyond just your baseline cellular function. A brisk jog or decent CrossFit workout will get you firmly into the Glycolytic system, and your one rep max deadlift is entirely Phosphagen. Now the thing is, even while doing that brisk jog or 1rm deadlift, your aerobic system is still working. There have been thousands of studies on the interactions between these 3 systems and how they affect one another. Some interesting findings:
- Aerobic training, what most people think of when they say “cardio”, only develops low-level power output, sacrificing strength, power, and speed
- Aerobic training promotes smaller, more efficient muscles. Anaerobic induces larger more powerful muscle tissue.
- Anaerobic training produces high power output to improve speed, power and strength
- Anaerobic exercise can cause an afterburn effect (known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC), where your body continues to burn calories for hours after your workout.
- Anaerobic training builds AEROBIC capacity
I really want to drive home that last point. Anaerobic training improves your aerobic capacity. This can be seen almost daily in your workouts at GLFC, as each workout has a goal. What is kept in hiding is that within each round of a workout, there is a set time range that people should be able to maintain, an ‘interval’ if you will. The work part is where you develop your anaerobic, or power, capacity. When you are resting, like during a 1:1 interval workout, the aerobic system takes over to help you recover and provide you energy to keep going. This is why it’s so vitally important to scale a workout correctly…the quick, highly intense workouts like Fran are designed to max you out on the anaerobic side. The longer 8-12 minute WODs develop the whole spectrum.
It’s also worth mentioning that moving through a WOD smoothly and at a consistent pace will yield a much greater benefit than going too hard and hitting a wall three minutes into it. If you go into that wall, you have to take an excessive amount of rest to recover, and when you go to restart you run back through the other pathways again. It’s better to leave a little in the tank for the final round than to burn it up as soon as you hear GO!
So... do I need more cardio?
In summary, there are a really two scenarios in which you should do more cardio:
- You are training for a specific race/distance/goal and want to perform better at them
- You enjoy it!
For 90% of the population you'll be better off doing a higher intensity workout like we do at GLFC than going for a 30 minute run. You just need to show up , scale accordingly, manage your rest, and go during each session. Quite possibly the most important one from that list is consistency. The more you show up, the more aware you’ll become of just how hard you can push yourself before hitting that wall.
Now, there are cases in which you are checking your high intensity and strength boxes that it is beneficial to do more cardio. That can be beneficial, and will be touched on in the next blog!
If you have any questions about training and would like to talk to a coach about your goals, book your No Sweat Intro here! Would love to help you achieve your goals.
Until next time,