CrossFit offers a unique way to build cardio fitness that's slightly out of your normal do-cardio-until-you-drop strategy. CrossFit is high-intensity and blends functional fitness, such as Olympic lifts, kettlebells and calisthenics, with competition.
You'll certainly get fit by joining a CrossFit gym, also known as a "box," and participating in the daily WOD (workout of the day.) Your strength, stamina and power will increase as a result.
Whether your cardio capacity markedly improves depends on your starting point: Are you a couch potato or already rather fit? Your cardio's improvement also depends on what you mean by "improve:" Do you want to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded, or do you want to run a marathon? The answers to these questions defines how you use CrossFit.
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From Sedentary to Solid
Simply getting off the couch and into a CrossFit box for regular workouts will increase your cardio, and rather quickly. A small 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that after just 10 weeks of training, participants experienced significant improvements in VO2Max, which is the capacity at which you can use oxygen during exercise and a marker of good cardiovascular fitness. The participants' training included exercises such as the squat, deadlift, overhead press, clean and snatch performed as quickly as possible.
What you can take away from the study is that a general CrossFit power program that involves intense moves, even for short workouts, does a lot for your cardiovascular system.
Ten weeks really is quick when it comes to seeing improvements in your cardio. Your body has to make notable cellular adaptations, such as improved fuel metabolism, oxygen usage and waste removal by increasing the number and function of your mitochondria — little powerhouses existing in each cell — to improve cardiovascular ability.
Going From Fit to Fitter
If you already exercise, but want to have more stamina and be faster on the track, trail or slopes, CrossFit may help, too. CrossFit improves your strength and power, which means you can go longer without your muscles fatiguing. However, if you're a competitive athlete — or if endurance sports are your first love — use CrossFit strategically to enhance your cardio.
Don't just settle for the WOD; it might not be appropriate for your personal needs. Instead, replace your "junk" miles — time spent working at a moderate pace — with targeted CrossFit workouts.
What exact exercises are best for you really depends on your cardio goals and sport, but some suggestions include:
- CrossFit core staples such as hollow rock, V-ups and toes-to-bar
- Plyometric moves including burpees, jump rope double unders and single-leg hops
- Body-weight exercises like dips, pull-ups, push-ups and step-ups
- Functional resistance, such as kettlebell swings, back squats and push presses
An endurance athlete would do a CrossFit-style workout using a handful of these moves for 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times per week. This is in addition to other cardio training, specific to the sport of interest (cycling, running, triathlon, swimming or skiing, for example) four to six times per week. That cardio should be a combination of high-intensity interval training and low-intensity, endurance work.
Proponents of this style of training claim your form, speed and stamina will increase monumentally from such dedication. But, it's certainly not an easy track to take to better cardio fitness.
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