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June 2003



"mess you up"

CrossFit Journal
Metabolic Conditioning - page 1
Interval Generator - page 5
Pukies Glossary of Metabolic Conditioning - page 6

In the second issue of CrossFit Journal, What is Fitness? we explored the nature of metabolic conditioning, or
cardio, and highlighted some of the qualities of and distinctions between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and
touched on interval training.
In this issue well reexamine metabolic and interval training in a little more detail.

Lets begin with a review of metabolic training. Metabolic training refers to conditioning exercises intended to increase
the storage and delivery of energy for any activity.
There are three distinct biochemical means by which energy is provided for all human action. These metabolic
engines are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway.
The first, the phosphagen pathway, provides the bulk of energy used in highest-powered activities, those that last less
than ten seconds.
The second, the glycolytic pathway, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes.
The third, the oxidative pathway provides energy for low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several

The subject of metabolic pathways and energy

production for human activity is known as
bioenergetics and is loaded with details from
biochemistry and discussions of ATP, ADP, substrates,
reaction mechanisms, Krebs cycle and a lot of other
stuff that you tried, and probably succeeded, to avoid
learning in high school or college biology.


Percent of total energy

You may recall that the first two pathways, the

phosphagen and glycolytic, delivering energy for
high and moderate powered activities, are known
collectively as anaerobic whereas the third
pathway, the oxidative is known as aerobic. The
significance of the term anaerobic lies in the fact
that the phosphagen and glycolytic systems generate
energy without benefit of oxygen where the oxidative
or aerobic pathway requires oxygen for energy




Time (seconds)


June 2003

If you feel the compulsion to learn more on the biochemistry of bioenergetics here are two convenient starting points:
The N.S.C.A.s Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, an authoritative reference, has a chapter on bioenergetics by
Mike Conley with many of the gory details.
And, from the University of Connecticut here is a brief summary of bioenergetics.

Anaerobics and Aerobics Made Simple

Our purpose in this issue of CrossFit Journal is to avoid the complexities and nuances of molecular biochemistry and
render a useable foundation for understanding cardio and specifically the CrossFit approach to conditioning.
To that end we will forgo considerations other that the sustainability of maximum efforts and, so, concern ourselves with
all out efforts of varying durations and ignore issues of power, pathways, and energy production.
We only need to remember that anaerobic exercise is metabolically unsustainable exercise whereas aerobic exercise is
sustainable. Sustainability is the key.
Generally, all out efforts of two minutes or less are anaerobic while efforts lasting more than several minutes are
Reducing the whole of bioenergetics to this level isnt just convenient it allows for examination at a level of granularity
that allows for maximum useful understanding of metabolic conditioning. Biochemists, while able to recite intricacies
of energy substrates and ATP production are all too often blind to the interplay of varying exercise protocols and their
resulting fitness.
A metaphor may aid in understanding our position on the science of bioenergetics. We are striving to give you a racecar
drivers sense of auto racing not a mechanical engineers. Both have their place but only one drives the car on race

Anaerobic efforts are relatively high powered, and aerobic efforts are relatively low powered. This should be self
evident from our understanding that anaerobic work is unsustainable past several minutes. It would be hard to escape
the observation that power, or intensity, and duration of effort are inversely related. One hundred meter dash pace is a
considerably faster pace than a mile pace.

June 2003

Aerobic exercise is nearly universally regarded as being heart protective, but there is compelling evidence that shows
that anaerobic exercise is at least as heart protective as aerobic exercise.
Though aerobic exercise is widely recognized as being the ideal vehicle for fat loss, recent studies have shown that
anaerobic exercise is a vastly superior protocol for fat burning.
Anaerobic exercise builds muscle; aerobic exercise burns muscle - period. On this point there is no intelligent debate.
Compare the look of sprinters to long distance runners here a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
The muscle wasting nature of aerobic exercise is both cause and symptom of the deleterious effect that endurance
work can have on anaerobic performance. Sadly, this lesson has been slow to spread to many anaerobic sports. It is still
common to find boxers and other martial artists who think that long slow endurance work roadwork is essential to
their fight endurance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the other hand anaerobic training is of enormous benefit to endurance athletes. Not only does it support and build
muscle, but it gives the kick needed to win close races. Importantly, not only does anaerobic work benefit aerobic
performance, but anaerobic training can be used to develop high levels of aerobic fitness without the usual muscle
wasting. This is accomplished through interval training and is an integral part of sports training for most sports.

Interval Training
Interval training alternates bouts of high intensity work with rest in repeated timed intervals. The general idea is to
perform a high volume of high intensity work in a limited time. Ultimately, it is nothing more than anaerobic training
with controlled rest periods.
The benefits of interval training are to both anaerobic and aerobic systems. The obvious question is how much benefit
and to which system?
We can orchestrate intervals so that they predominantly stress either aerobic or anaerobic systems. The table below
gives interval strategies to target desired metabolic systems.


June 2003

But, even more interesting is the prospect of a

hybrid interval that would greatly stress and thereby
substantially condition both anaerobic and aerobic
systems simultaneously. Finding such an interval and
demonstrating its dual potency would be a great find.

Exerpt from NSCAs Essentials of

Strength Training and Conditioning
Thomas R. Baechle - Editor
Chapter 5 Bioenergetics - pages 78, 79

It may have been done.

Tabata Interval

Some authors have suggested that aerobic training

should be added to the training of anaerobic athletes
(a process that can be termed combination training)
to enhance recovery (101) because recovery primarily
relies on aerobic mechanisms. However, aerobic training may reduce anaerobic performance capabilities,
particularly high-strength, high-power performance
(52). Aerobic training has been shown to reduce anaerobic energy production capabilities in rats (128).
Additionally, combined anaerobic and aerobic training
can reduce the gain in muscle girth (24), maximum
strength (24, 46, 52), and especially speed-and powerrelated performance (28), although the exact mechanism is not known (114). It does not appear that the
opposite holds true; some studies and reviews suggest
that anaerobic training (strength training) can improve
low intensity exercise endurance (53, 54, 114). Although oxidative metabolism is important in recovery
from heavy anaerobic exercise (e.g., weight training,
sprint training) (12, 109) care must be used in prescribing aerobic training for anaerobic sports. In this context it should be noted that specific anaerobic training
can stimulate increases in aerobic power and enhance
markers of recovery (114, 116, 129). Thus, extensive
aerobic training to enhance recovery from anaerobic
events is not necessary and may be counterproductive
in most strength and power sports.

Dr. Izumi Tabata experimented with intervals and

published in the journal Medicine in Sports and Exercise
the results of an experiment in which he produced
excellent improvements in anaerobic and aerobic
conditioning in a group of accomplished athletes with
a four minute (3:50) protocol of 20 seconds of all out
work followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated 8 times.
Significantly, Dr. Tabatas 4 minute high intensity
group got better V02 max improvement than the control
group, which followed a 60 minute moderate intensity
Clarence Bass , and Peak Performance both give great
accounts of Dr. Tabatas research and understand the
important implications.

Tabata Applications
Dr. Tabatas research subjects exercised on stationery
bikes; we decided to test other applications.
Our favorite and most effective application has been
the Tabata squat a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off
repeated 8 times squatting effort scored by the lowest
number of reps performed in any of the eight intervals.
This single drill tests for and develops elite athletic
capacities. Rankings for this drill accurately predict
ranking performance on a wide variety of fundamental
athletic skills and performance.


Another of our crews favored applications is to use the

Tabata interval in a workout where an athlete moves
from the Concept II Rower to squats then pull-ups, situps, and push-ups. Each exercise is performed like the
Tabata squat 20 on/10 off X 8. Adding the weakest
link from each exercise tabulates a final score. The
Rowing is scored in calories and the other events by
reps. We allow a minutes break between exercises.
Both of these simple workouts are very demanding and
surprisingly potent. Trying either will convince you of
their potency. Our experience is that improvements in

June 2003

scores for both Tabata workouts suggest strongly that

an athlete is likely to show substantial improvements
wherever we test them.

Interval Generator

Try the Tabata workouts, experiment with varying

interval design, and repeat noticeably difficult protocols
from time to time. Trust that particularly challenging
efforts speak directly to your opportunities for physical
gains, and that improved performance in those efforts
is the best measure of those gains. Chase the toughest

There are no bad intervals, only weak efforts. Variety and

intensity will ultimately determine preparedness. Here is a
scheme to give variance to your anaerobic work.
Intervals generated by this experiment will certainly be
anaerobic yet are certain to pack a substantial aerobic

The most important point to remember is that high

intensity efforts can produce dramatic aerobic benefit
without the muscle wasting seen with endurance

Play with these intervals before or after your regular

workouts or on rest days.

Dr. Stephen Seiler on Intervals and

Endurace Work
Dr. Seiler is a renowned exercise physiologist and
rowing coach. In a piece entitled Understanding
Intervals Dr. Seiler explains that there are winning
rowing programs that train all intervals as well as
those that do some, and programs that do none. Each
approach has been shown to produce winners.
Dr. Seiler has concerns about the wisdom of programs
that do too much interval work only because intervals
may produce what he calls first and second wave
adaptation to endurance training but not third wave
adaptations. Third wave adaptations are largely
specific to the training modality, and have nothing to do
with aerobic conditioning but endurance performance.
The difference is critical. But do we want third wave

Roll single die (or three dice) and for first roll multiply
number by 10 for work interval.
Then roll second die and multiply by 5 for the rest
Roll again and multiply by 2 total for number of

Third wave gains in endurance performance are

entirely specific to that sport and have training effects
disadvantageous to much of other sport performance.

Dr. Seilers admission that elite aerobic performance

can be trained by high intensity intervals and his
concerns that intervals dont produce third wave
adaptations form a terrific rationale for avoiding steady
state aerobic work.

The idea that later adaptations to endurance work are

highly specific to the training modality and portend
little impetus to further cardiovascular development
hints at the possibilities for generating additional
cardiovascular benefit by means of shifting training

June 2003

modalities sufficiently to avoid third wave adaptations

and focus instead on 1st and 2nd wave adaptations
from a multitude of protocols and modalities. Our hope
and suspicion is that this broadens the cardiovascular

Pukies Glossary of Metabolic Conditioning:

CrossFit Position
As ridiculous as the idea that extended endurance efforts
optimally confer cardiovascular and fitness benefits is
the notion that a stressor like a bike is good cardio
whereas a Kettlebell, obstacle course, or CrossFit-like
workout performed at similar exertion levels carries a
lesser cardiovascular benefit!

I want to help with some of the basic terminology of

metabolic conditioning, so heres Pukies guide to easy
bioenergetics complete with commentary
- Pukie

Ultimately the CrossFit position on metabolic

conditioning, or cardio, is summed in two points:

V02 max:
Maximum amount of oxygen that can be used continuously
divided by body mass. Long the gold standard of aerobic
fitness, the slight advantage that endurance athletes have
over anaerobic athletes in V02 max can be attributable to
the low body mass of endurance athletes. I can use a similar
definition of strength by dividing lifts by weight - to show that
little guys are stronger than big guys.

Anaerobic training can match endurance training

for aerobic benefit.
Metabolic training with varying and mixed
exercise modalities avoids specificity of
adaptation allowing for additional first wave
cardiovascular/respiratory adaptations, and
increased functional strength.

Low powered, low intensity, long duration more than several
minutes. This is the easy stuff. Introduced to real efforts these
guys crumble!

The clincher is that CrossFit athletes have demonstrated

improved endurance performance without endurance
training, and even more amazingly, in clinical trials
CrossFits high intensity regimen has produced
improvements in endurance measures that rivaled
those achieved through programs comprised largely of
endurance efforts.

Higher-powered, higher intensity, shorter duration efforts
those less than several minutes. Anaerobic is Greek for worth
while. Pukie wants to know why there are 1 million recreational
traiathletes but only 7 recreational 800 meter athletes.

Police training programs in Florida have found that

CrossFit produced better distance run times than prior
programs comprised largely of distance runs.

Lactate Threshold:
The point as work intensity increases where lactic acid levels
in the blood rise faster than can be controlled. Lactic acid is a
waste product of anaerobic work. Also known as anaerobic
threshold, the lactate threshold marks the point in intensity
where work has become largely anaerobic. This is also the
pussy rest-stop.

CrossFit athletes live in a steady state of physical

preparedness that leaves them primed for specialized
training and unknown physical challenges regardless of
whether the demands are aerobic, anaerobic, or both.

Interval training:
Exercise protocol of set periods of high intensity rest and
work. This is how anaerobic athletes develop tremendous
levels of aerobic fitness through intervals. I want to meet
the scientist who invented this. How else could you do high
intensity work?

There are cars that get 100 miles to the gallon. They are
low powered, slow, and fuel-efficient. Others cars are
high powered and fast while being less fuel-efficient.
CrossFit is building powerful fast athletes not slow, low
powered, fuel-efficient athletes.

Heart rate monitor:

Its all about the performance. Forget heart rate. The heart
rate monitor is a fun toy, though. Mix dehydration, beer, steep
hill, bicycle, hot humid day and see who can get the highest
number. Ive seen seven people over 200 at once on the same
hill. What can you and your friends do?

Athletes that train predominantly anaerobic pathways in

a wide range of intervals and modalities have at least the
cardiovascular or aerobic fitness of endurance athletes.

June 2003

References - NSCAs Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

12. Brooks, G.A., and T.D. Fahey, Exercise Physiology; Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications. New York: Wiley. 1984.
24. Craig, B.W., J. Lucas, R. Pohlman, and H. Stelling. The effects of running, weightlifting and a combination of both on growth hormone release.
J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 5(4):198-203. 1991.
28. Dudley, G.A., and R. Djamil. Incompatability of endurance- and strength-training modes of exercise. J.Appl. Physiol. 59(5):1446-1451. 1985.
46. Hadmann, R. The available glycogen in man and the connection between rate of oxygen intake and carbohydrate usage. Acta Physiol. Scand.
40:305-330. 1957.
52. Hickson, R.C. Interference of strength development by simultaneously training for strength and endurance. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 215:255-263.
53. Hickson, R.C., B.A. Dvorak, E.M. Gorostiaga, T.T. Kurowski, and C. Foster. Potential for strength and endurance training to amplify
performance. J. Appl. Physiol. 65(5):2285-2290. 1988.
54. Hickson, R.C., M.A. Rosenkoetter, and M.M. Brown. Strength training effects on aerobic power and short-term endurance. Med. Sci. Sports
Exerc. 12:336-339. 1980.
101. Plisk, S.S. Anaerobic metabolic conditioning: A brief review of theory, strategy and practical application. J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 5(1):22-34
109. Scala, D., J. McMillan, D. Blessing, R. Rozenek, and M.H. Stone. Metabolic cost of a preparatory phase of training in weightlifting: A
preactical observation. J. Appl. Sport Sci. Res. 1(3):48-52.1987.
114. Stone, M.H., S.J. Fleck, W.J. Kraemer, and N.T. Triplet. Health and performance related adaptations to resistive training. Sports Med.
11(4):210-231. 1991.
116. Stone, M.H., K. Peirce, R. Godsen, D. Wilson, D.Blessing, R. Rozenek, and J. Chromiak. Heart rate and lactate levels during weight training
in trained and untrained men. Phys. Sportsmed. 15(5):97-105. 1987.
128. Vihko, V., A. Salmons, and J. Rontumaki. Oxidative and lysomal capacity in skeletal muscle. Acta Physiol. Scand. 104:74-81. 1978.
129. Warren, B.J., M.H. Stone, J.T. Kearney, S.J. Fleck, G.D. Wilson, and W.J. Kraemer. The effects of short-term overwork on performance
measures and blood metabolites in elite junior weightlifters. Int,J.SportsMed. 13(5):372-376. 1992.

Greg Glassman

Editorial Director
Lauren Glassman

Art Director Lauren Glassman

Chief Photographer Greg Glassman
Picture Editor Lauren Glassman

Technical Advisors
Derek Wray
Danny John

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