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Build An Elite Engine

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If you are going to read this article then I need you to accept some real truths:


  1. You will not find shortcuts to elite fitness in articles that give you quick lists or tricks to get you fitter (e.g. 4 ways to make you as fit as Rich Froning) – THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS
  2. To develop decent aerobic capacity you must go beyond a daily met-con that your average gym prescribes.


With the rise in popularity of High Intensity Interval Training over the past 15 years the thought of doing long slow distance (LSD) training leaves a dirty taste in some people’s mouths. When it is programmed for some of our athletes we have received questionable looks and, at times, some abusive language. Unfortunately for you ADHD exercisers if you want to truly develop your aerobic energy system then you need to earn it. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” as they say. LSD isn’t the only way though – more on that later.


Why should you work on your aerobic capacity? Everybody loves pictures so lets look at our energy systems as a pyramid. The aerobic system forms the base. Without a strong base we cannot support the levels on top. To perform well in CrossFit, field sports, Spartan races and similar we need a solid aerobic system with the ability to cushion anaerobic energy production when workouts or sports require you to push into the anaerobic pathways.






CrossFit has built its fame on workouts based on anaerobic output (higher intensity + shorter time frame). It is rarely the case that an energy system acts independently; rather they intertwine operating at the same time. So even when doing a short “spicy” conditioning piece, it will still be mostly powered by your aerobic system. However doing short met-cons is not the most effective way to develop your aerobic system.


Over the past few years we have seen the rise in elite CrossFitters utilising aerobic training and hiring endurance coaches. Even Rich Froning has credited his success to doing aerobic work with former Ironman Chris Hinshaw (some how still not a well known fact). Developing our aerobic capacity is more complex than just LSD work. Aside from doing LSD, well-coached athletes will also utilise Cardiac Power Intervals, Tempo Method and Threshold workouts. The better coaches will know how to properly design progressive aerobic and anerobic conditioning plus integrate single modality AND mixed modality training.


“But CrossFit, F45, P90X and Internet gurus told me I could be fit by doing random short intervals!”


This is true in a sense. If you were a couch potato and you increased your activity via doing a HIIT program you found on instagram then you would most likely get fitter. Constantly varied, functional exercise performed at VARIED intensity (trust me, you are not doing high intensity work at the 18 minute mark of your heavy barbell 25 minute AMRAP) will most likely get a different type of fitness than you had in the past if you weren’t doing similar training already.


However I want you and all my athletes to optimise their training. If you are training for something specific (event, sport or job) then your coach and you need to know what level of aerobic capacity is required. If you need to go longer, have strength & muscular endurance plus recover quickly then progressive aerobic training needs to a major part of your training. If you are a weekend warrior looking to be fit for life then your CrossFit or general fitness program should, at the very least, be periodised to have focus on building the base of your energy system pyramid followed by periods of bias towards the top end of the pyramid.

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