In sport science words, you are trying to increase your work capacity.
In more sport science words, there are two kinds of work capacity – general and specific. General work capacity is you ability to do physical work. Specific work capacity is your ability to do physical work that is directly related to your sport.
For a runner, running is specific work capacity and weightlifting could be used to improve general work capacity. For a weightlifter, weightlifting is specific and running could be used to increase general work capacity.
If you want to increase your maximum recoverable volume (remember, that’s the total amount of training you can do and still make progress), it’s generally better to begin with increasing your general work capacity first (see what I did there? A sports physiology dad joke.)
If you are in the high-intensity competitive fitness crowd, one of the easiest/most fool proof way to do this is to begin improving your aerobic capacity.
Priority Numero Uno
Along with strength, aerobic capacity is a foundational physical quality of your fitness. It influences how you recover between efforts during a workout as well as how you recover between workouts. Improve this, and you improve the effectiveness of the rest of your training.
How It’s Done
First, two ideas:
1) Keep it easy
2) Keep it long
Aerobic base work needs to be lower intensity than the rest of your training. We want this work to compliment and improve the rest of your training, not interfere with it, and that requires some self-restraint.
If you’re planning on 30 minutes of Zone 2 aerobic work today, you can’t just go twice as fast and for 15 minutes. Nope, don’t do it.
Because it’s lower intensity, in order to get the benefit from this work it need to be 30+ of continuous work. Could you go 25? Sure. 20? Ok. But the goal is 30-90 minutes of continous work for maximum benefit.
The easiest way to begin improving your aerobic capacity is by accumulating Zone 1 hours throughout the week. This zone is 60%-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate. The most ideal modes of this are monostructural movements – rowing, cycling (AirDyne or Assault bike), SkiErg and running. This could also be non-training related sports – basketball, soccer, football, backpacking/hiking, etc.
The easiest implementation of this would be to hop on an AirDyne post workout and go at a Zone 1 pace for 30 minutes. If you don’t have a heart monitor, take your pulse for six seconds and multiply by 10 to get a ballpark.
Rotate through these movements throughout the week to make sure you’re not overusing a movement pattern, which can lead to issues in your training. Sidenote: I’m less in favor of running the heavier an athlete is or if they don’t have a lot of skill/experience in this area.
Your program would look something like this:
Week 1 – Accumulate 1 hour of Zone 1
Week 2 – 1.5 hours
Week 3 – 2 hours
Week 4 – 2.5 hours
Week 5 – 3 hours
Week 6 – 3.5 hours
This might seem like a lot of time, and I suppose it is. But at Week 6 you are at 30 minutes of zone 1 work each day of the week, which is manageable, especially considering you’re not training seven days a week (right? Right???)
You could spread this work evenly through the week, or some other ideas:
60 minutes on rest days + 30 minutes after your most intense workouts of the week
20 minutes before/30 minutes after workouts
60 minutes on rest days + 30 minutes every hard training day
And so on and so on. Remember the ideal is 30+ minutes at time to get the maximum benefit. You can’t do five minutes throughout the day and accomplish the same results.
Past week 6, you would either go into maintenance mode because you’ve maxed out your allowable time during the week for training, or you move on to spending time on other weaknesses. If aerobic capacity is the primary weakness, you could start varying the intensity during the hours between zone 1 and zone 2. No need to get complicated here, just change between the intensities as you see fit (a la fartlek).
Pros: This work is magical for people who have never done it. Seriously, if you don’t adapt recover well, as gassing too fast during workouts, or wheeze like you’re on your deathbed, go through this six week progression and you will feel awesome.
Another pro is that you are adding training without subtracting training. People always want to do more, and this way they can without negatively affecting the rest of the program.
Cons: It can be boring as crap. Especially within the CrossFit culture where WODs change daily and most of everything is short and intense, 30 minutes on the AirDyne can seem like an eternity. (My suggestion is to grab a wingman and have a chat to pass the time, or put on some headphones and decompress post workout).
It’s also easy to go too hard. People want to feel like they’re doing work and working hard, and this zone 1 work is the opposite of that.
I really can’t overstate how important this kind of work is for most people (especially if they don’t come from an endurance background, or if their primary method of training is high-intensity based). I’ve seen it work wonders for myself and for the athletes I train. It does take discipline and commitment, but the plus side is that it’s fool-proof if you keep it easy and keep it long.