Building the Engine


The culmination of something really awesome and rewarding happened the other day—it became obvious that a solid aerobic engine had been built over the course of many years.  Yes, that’s right—YEARS.  I want to be clear that this adaptation did not take place overnight, it just became evident to me as a coach what it started as and what it is today.

Meet Q: a former collegiate football player.  He’s explosive, powerful, and fast-twitch by nature.  Like a lot of guys who come from this type of athletic background, his expertise was NOT long, grinding aerobic engine work.  This is not me suggesting that an aerobic engine is not necessary for repeating power efforts, for the aerobic engine plays a key role in recovering between anaerobic bouts.  But, more times than not, the aerobic engine leaves a lot to be desired in athletes who come from a power/anaerobic background.  But I digress…

When Q first started at CFD his aerobic engine was pretty poor.  His work capacity in a short time domain was solid but quickly dropped off after a certain point.  Again, this is very typical of athletes who come from a powerful or anaerobic sports background.  To begin the process of adaptation to get an athlete like Q to learn to pace, learn to be in tune with his breathing, learn to make previously anaerobic/CP movements more aerobic in nature so that work can be sustained over longer time domains…this process takes YEARS.

Q’s work ethic in the gym was a perfect example, in my opinion, of honoring the process, which I have written about before.  The progress you make while you grind through different time domains and shuffle through energy systems and follow a long-game approach to balancing your fitness seem infinitesimally small at times.  These fractional improvements that seem microscopic (well, in the grand scheme of things, they are!) cumulate, and over time add up to noticeable differences.

Wednesday we did some longer (well, longer for the sport of CrossFit) time domain MAP work; 10 minute aerobic power intervals.  There was 3 minutes of rest and it needed to be repeated 3 times, with the LOWEST score counting as your score that day.  This encouraged everyone to not only learn to pace so as to hypothetically repeat the same score three times, but to do it with as much work output as you can so as to get the best score.  This is textbook aerobic training; interval work that need to be repeatable.

The realization came to me when Q was halfway through his last round and everything about his movement was sustainable and sub-maximal, and everything about his demeanor was stoic and focused.  His pacing never fell off, he maintained his maximal AEROBIC output that he could sustain and repeat, and his scores were very close for all three rounds.  He didn’t get the best score that day, but he was one of the best, and he did NOT come from an endurance background.

Rewind three or so years ago at the infancy of his CrossFit training, he would have declined rapidly after his first set no matter how much he tried to under-pace it.  He simply didn’t have the engine then to utilize oxygen as fuel like he does now.

It’s really rewarding to look back over YEARS of training and notice significant physiological changes in an athlete.  It doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen without diligence and a solid plan.  It ONLY happens if a solid plan is in place and the athlete executes it, time after time, session after session, and sticks to it.

Is his job done?  Are his goals met?  Is it time to throw in the towel and just be done training?  Of course not….there is fulfillment in training and there are always new goals to strive for and another horizon to progress toward.  I think his fitness journey is certainly underway, but it’s far from over.

Excellent work, Q!  I really look forward to continuing to work with you over the next many years, and thank you for allowing me to blog about this topic.  It was certainly a fulfilling moment for me as a coach to bear witness to it!

RLTW <1>

—Coach Phil