Whether you are a powerlifter, strongman/woman, weightlifter, functional fitness athlete, or everyday warrior, you have certain phases of your training where there is an increased emphasis on aerobic capacity and high intensity training.
The ability to train at higher intensities without having drastic shifts in metabolic activity (stay longer in the aerobic zone) will allow for increased work capacity, less fatigue at moderate intensities (generally under 75-80% of heart rate max), and prolonged abilities to sustain training volumes (one of the greatest factors driving muscular hypertrophy).
For many strength, power, and fitness athletes high intensity training can be challenging and arduous process, and can come in various rep schemes, equipment pairings, and loading. For powerlifters, this may be weighted sled drags. Strongmen/women may find themselves in a circuit involving circus presses, tire flips, and farmer carries. Whatever the modality may be, all athletes can agree that heart rate, breathing, and the ability to determine the correct intensity out of the gates is vital to the overall success of that conditioning segment.
In this article, I will share with you four simple and highly effective ways to train harder and often longer, during higher intensity aerobic (and sometimes quickly shifting to anaerobic) conditioning pieces.
1. Remember Your “Why”
You body is capable of things the mind cannot see. Many great feats of strength, power, endurance, and triumph have come when the body surpassed what even the athlete thought possible. During training, competition, and in life, we must always remember what drives us day in and day out.
In a recent interview with Alex Anderson (Reebok CrossFit Games athlete who finished 11th and 13th in the world in 2016 and 2015, respectively), he told us that one of the most impactful thoughts we can have during the hardest training sessions is to remember your “why”. Without having a clear vision of why you are doing something, you will have no purpose. Simply put, “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” (Thomas Carlyle).
2. Focus on Breathing
Too often the heart rate and ventilation (breathing) spike too much at the onset of an intense workout (also see tip #3), creating metabolic havoc as carbon dioxide accumulates, further amplifying heart rate and breathing outputs. Increased and erratic breathing during high intensity workouts decreases the efficiency of oxygen delivery, exchange, and clearance from the active muscle fibers and circulating (metabolites within the blood), quickly shifting the body into an anaerobic state. Once an athlete crosses that threshold (often around 75-80% of heart rate max), the athlete will start to accumulate fatigue (both muscular and systemic) at increasing rates.
The ability to remain under that breakpoint (called the ventilatory threshold) during training is a trainable skill, often done with the usage of breathing techniques, heart rate monitoring, and practice. At the onset of an intense WOD, remember to sync your breathing with your level of intensity, always trying to stay calm and have fluid diaphragmatic cycles (do not breathe from the chest). As intensity increases, breathing rates will rise, which can be beneficial when done correctly (increased heart rates, increased blood flow to active tissues, release of epinephrine and adrenaline, increase cardiac output, greater clearance of carbon dioxide from blood and active muscle, etc).
The key to staying in control throughout most of the intense workout (as some of these workouts may have you needing to go all out towards the end) is to practice breathing and staying mentally in control throughout 75% of the workout. Many top athletes have trained so much and are so in tune with themselves that they are often able to determine the maximal level of intensity that they can go at without ever dropping speed/pace.
3. Practice Pacing
Understanding your fitness levels and at what point an intensity becomes too intense is critical for performance during high intensity and longer duration workouts. Often at the onset of hard workouts, athletes are fresh and motivated and come out of the gates at a very fast pace. Within minutes their heart rate soars, breathing becomes erratic, and they start to lose control.
To become better at pacing yourself, you need to train more often at submaximal intensities, learning how to manipulate your tempo to fine tune your intensity gauge. Monitoring and recording your exertion levels, breathing rates, and heart rates during various workouts can very helpful as you learn more specifics about your individual fitness levels. The greater you are at staying below that ventilatory threshold (75-80% heart rate max, for most fitness athletes with some cardiovascular fitness) the better you will be at finding that most optimal cruising speed.
4. Warm-Up Longer
When preparing for short, high intensity workouts, warm-ups are critical. The purpose of a warm-up is to:
- Increase body temperature
- Increase active range of motion (tissues, joints, and muscles)
- Increase neurological activity
- Increase motor recruitment and activation specific to movements/skills needed
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood flood and oxygen delivery
As you can see, many processes that occur within the warm-up also are happening throughout the entirety of the workout. Generally speaking, the more intense (shorter, high intensity sessions) a workout is, the longer your warm-up should be so that you heart rate, blood flow, body temperature, and neurological systems can best match the necessary intensities needed at the onset of the workout. Being able to seamlessly transition from a warm-up state into the workout without drastically driving heart rate and breathing so high that you lose control of the situation will enable you to manipulate pace, breathing rates, and have a level of consciousness to attack and focus on the workout.
Take a look at some of my top articles on how to mentally and physically prepare and program aerobic (and anaerobic) training for nearly every athlete!
- CrossFit Games Athlete Alex Anderson on How to Crush the 2017 Open
- Cardio for Weightlifters? When Conditioning Is Important for Strength Athletes
Featured Image: @martsromero and @atrain4240 on Instagram