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Listen up all you long distance athletes! (Sorry, Adam.)

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Listen up all you long distance athletes! (Sorry, Adam.)

Middle Aged Men In Lycra (MAMILs)


Front Squat: 5-3-3-3-1

MetCon – For KB Swings:
20 min of 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest –
1 Power Clean (155/105lbs)
1 Hang Clean
5 Hand Release Push-ups
KB Swings for remaining work time (50/35lbs)
Score total KB swings

Here we have an Ancestral Health Symposium video from Jamie Scott.  He tries to give us an ancestral perspective on standard cardio/long distance training from a 30,000ft view.  This is a short 20 minute talk with a couple questions at the end.

I thought Mr. Scott’s presentation was well done.  He makes a convincing argument to do less more frequently.  He posits that improving movement economy (oxygen cost during movement), fuel usage efficiency, and robustness of the body and joints should be the three main goals of long distance athletes.  This is something we have been espousing for years at Ktown, but there are distinct differences.

I cannot say it more simply than this: figure out your goal(s).  Do you want to be an elite marathon runner?  You should probably be using CrossFit very sparingly if at all.  Do you want to be able to run respectable marathon times while also be able to jump on to a 24” object and pick your bodyweight up off the floor?  You should probably be mixing distance running training with CF.  It is how you do this that is important.

The gold standard of distance athletes is VO2 max.  This has long been touted as the one number that dictates podium positions in those races.  VO2 max is the volume of oxygen an athlete’s body can utilize.  It is mostly expressed as a relative value, relative to the athlete’s bodyweight.  Lance Armstrong’s highest reported max was 81.2ml/kg/min.  Cross-country skiers, cyclists, runners, and rowers all report incredibly high VO2 maxes, some just a few points from 100ml/kg/min.  Dogs running the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska, animals averaging 4 min miles all day for nearly 100 miles/day, have VO2 maxes reported in the mid 200s to give you perspective.  Did these athletes become elite because they had higher than average VO2 maxes, or did they have above average VO2 maxes because they were elite athletes?

The answer to that question is elusive, like most questions that require a strong understanding of human physiology and biology.  Some people say that VO2 max is not very trainable, and so you are pigeonholed by your genetics.  Others say VO2 max is just as trainable as muscular strength etc.  Yet another camp believes that VO2 max is very trainable in some athletes while minimally malleable in others.  Right now, I think I somewhat belong to the last camp, which I think really puts me in all camps?

I believe that VO2 max is very trainable to a degree.  It follows a sharp rate of diminishing returns.  What does this mean for the distance athlete?  In my mind then, the bulk of their training should be in these pillars: movement economy, antifragility or robustness, fuel efficiency, and muscular endurance.  VO2 max will increase by focusing on those categories despite little to no VO2-focused training.  Let me further break each of those training pillars down.

The most important piece is learning to use less oxygen per movement cycle, aka movement economy, not necessarily because it will be the difference between a win and a loss, but because by working it the athlete will have to be working all pieces simultaneously.  This is somewhat true for all of the pillars in that you cannot train any one of them individually without somehow improving another or all others.  Movement economy can be trained through drills and long slow distance practice sessions (where the bulk of your training should lie according to Scott), what one would think of as practice.

What is the opposite of fragile?  I like to use Nassim Taleb’s antonym: antifragile.  This is because for something to be fragile means it can be easily broken down, and the further it becomes broken down the more fragile it becomes.  Robust or sturdy is not a good antonym here, then.  They both mean, more or less, that something is strong and resistant to being broken down.  On the other hand, antifragile would mean that as you try to break something down, it is constantly rebuilding and hardening itself to further breakdowns of that order and type.  Real world application: my knees and feet would probably not allow me to run 63 miles tomorrow; however, in 2010 with even just a small amount of run-specific training I was able to complete 63 miles in less than 24 hours while ultimately failing at my goal(self-calling humble-brag).  Antifragility training would be hardening the body, and most specifically the connective tissues and joints, in preparation for whatever it is you are competing in, whether it be long distance cycling, swimming, running, etc.

And now let us discuss improving fuel efficiency.  Most elite marathoners correspond to a similar height and weight or build.  A range of the storage capacity of muscular glycogen can be deduced rather easily from these measurements.  It is no accident that most racers hit the proverbial “wall” around mile 22 in a marathon.  Because of their pace, this is most often the time when muscle and liver glycogen have been depleted.  When this happens, the athlete better be able to efficiently utilize triglycerides (fats) for fuel.  The better equipped an athlete is for fat for fuel usage, the better they will do in long events.  Exposure to a glycogen depleted state during training is one of the best ways to work this pillar.  However, the athlete need not train for such a long period of time to reach the glycogen depleted state.  It is much easier to manipulate glycogen fueling during training to achieve the desired outcomes.

Finally, we will discuss muscular endurance.  It easily posits that if I want to be an exceptional cyclist, I need to train the muscles that then propel me on that bike.  A good bit of fuel efficiency comes in to play here, but also being able to contract specific muscles hundreds of thousands to even millions of times during the course of an event is paramount.  This will help create a muscle tissue more dense with mitochondria and replete with capillaries and glycogen.  Specificity is very important with these athletes – very different from a CrossFit athlete where specializing can undo him or her in a competition.

Now all of that was for the athlete who wants to become elite at their desired distance sport.  What about the athlete content to have better than average times while also being a good weightlifter, thrower, sprinter, and jumper?  Can there be some sort of reciprocity across all domains?  Definitely!  That is the distinct beauty of CrossFit.

CrossFit Ktown’s own version of CF is different than most.  We may favor a bit more weightlifting, but that is only because our contention is that building strength is the most important thing you can do for any athlete.  Strength must come before power, speed, endurance, etc.  It is only after a strength foundation has been created that you can begin to branch out and specialize a bit more.  So if I wanted to attempt the 72 miles of Appalachian Trail through the Smokies again, I know I already have the strength base and, therefore, can begin training with more specificity.  But without that base I am lost.

So in closing this free-ranging piece I would ask you all to consider your goals.  Really sit down and consider them.  Put them on paper.  Tell others what they are.  Once you are satisfied with your goals, come speak with a coach about how best to skin our program to suit those needs.  The answer might surprise you.

Coach G

By | 2017-04-25T14:38:27+00:00 November 27th, 2012|CrossFit Ktown Knoxville, Uncategorized|4 Comments


  1. Braers November 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    As always, excellent post sir.

  2. Ben November 27, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Great post. We will be talking soon.

  3. Dougie Fresh November 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Awesome entry, main man Main Man. I love the VO2 debate. As someone with little to no ambition of specializing my training, I’d like to train to survive the zombie apocalypse. That means being good (but not great) in every facet of athleticism.

  4. forrest November 28, 2012 at 1:20 am when will we be talking about this critique of our sport? it has some good tie ins

Comments are closed.