Recently, I’ve been getting really into Mythbusters again. It was a staple for years when I taught junior high school science.
- Got 20 minutes to kill in a block class? Put on Mythbusters.
- Did the lab end earlier than expected? Put on Mythbusters.
- Your teaching partner is 3 weeks behind schedule? Mythbusters marathon.
Suffice it to say, I’ve seen a lot of it. As a science-minded individual (and someone that likes to constantly be proven right), I get a kick out of watching people re-form their mental representation of life around the new things that they learn.
Probably part of the reason I became a science teacher in the first place…
But I digress.
I kind of always wanted to be a Mythbuster. I liked the idea of blowing shit up — whether physical or just people’s perceptions — but I can’t really weld or build anything, so I figured I’d never get the chance.
When I started dipping my toe into this online fitness thing, I didn’t realize how many myths existed in the mind of the recreational athlete trying to train for improvement in their sport. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. There’s SO MUCH information out there, that it can be a little bit (or a lot) overwhelming.
Thus this video and this post were born.
I finally get to be a Mythbuster. My heart is full.
Cardio as Primary Training
I’ve looked at a lot of athlete training schedules in my day.
I’ve also rearranged a lot of athlete training schedules in my day.
And always, ALWAYS the main sticking point when it comes to implementing my suggestions is this: “There’s not enough cardio.”
The degree to which the athletes I work with cling to cardio boggles my mind. But I get it: cardio is relatively easy to understand and implement. There’s something sexy about high-intensity interval training. Your lungs burning and sweat pouring into your eyes is a badge of honor.
So, for those reasons, a lot of the people I’ve met and trained have multiple 45+ minute cardio sessions blocked into their training each week. However, that’s before I get a hold of them.
If you play a sport wherein you are expected to do your work in short, but intense bursts of effort, then long strings of cardio training during your season are probably a waste of your time.
Sports that come to mind?
- roller derby
- strength sports (like powerlifting and Olympic lifting)
But I can hear you saying:
I work hard in my sport and I don’t want my lungs/heart giving out on me while I’m playing.
I don’t want that either so there IS a need to build a solid foundation of cardiorespiratory fitness. However, once you reach a certain level, spending long swaths of time jogging on a treadmill or cycling like mad become less effective than other forms of training.
Think about your sport. In terms of the hierarchy of athletic abilities, where does cardio endurance REALLY fit in? If you lost *some* of your cardio endurance but gained shit loads of strength or power, would your game play really suffer?
Could you move from 45+ minutes of strict cardio or HIIT training into 45+ minutes of strength training and improve your performance? EVEN IF YOU LOST A LITTLE CARDIO ENDURANCE?
The point is, if cardio endurance is not THE foundational athletic ability of your sport (and, if you’re reading this, I doubt that it is), then it shouldn’t be the foundation of your training plan.If cardio endurance is not THE foundational athletic ability of your sport, then it shouldn't be the foundation of your training plan. Click To Tweet
HIIT: You’re Doing It Wrong
So if I’ve put the kibosh on your longer, slower cardio endurance then it’s time to jump ship to high-intensity interval training, right? Get out your plyometric boxes and stopwatches and go crazy!
I used to train an athlete that had 2-3 sessions of HIIT scheduled for each week. ON TOP OF her practices and any other strength training she could fit in. Her post-exertion recovery time was amazing, but her legs were ready to give out within the first 10 minutes.
She hadn’t understood that high-intensity means just that. You should be able to give it max effort EVERY TIME. There is only so much max effort you can apply to something if your “max effort” has to last over the course of 45 minutes (or an hour).
Pair that with the fact that all of that HIIT training didn’t give her muscles much time to recover and she struggled when it came time to play the game she was training for.You train hard to PLAY YOUR GAME. Don't allow your training (and lack of rest) to make playing your game harder. #trainhard #trainsmart Click To Tweet
High-Intensity Interval Training is a great match for short burst sports. But if you’re doing it more than twice a week and for more than 20 minutes at a time, you’re on the path to jeopardizing your recovery. Which jeopardizes your athletic performance.
And isn’t that why we’re training after all? To perform better?
Using Your Time Wisely
Recently I busted another myth, something I like the call the “More is Better” myth. The idea is that creating a training plan that is a perfect balance of training EVERY athletic ability that you can become better at everything at once.
That’s wrong. And here’s why.
If you want to see athletic performance improvements (or any fitness improvements, really) you need to dial down your focus to one thing. As Ron Swanson famously said:
Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.
But there is one combination of training that is great in tandem — providing you don’t overdo it — and that will ease your frantic little heart about the sudden lack of cardio in your training plan.
STRENGTH + CARDIO
Have you ever gotten winded doing a longer set of front squats? I have. The idea behind this type of training is to harness that feeling to build both strength and short burst stamina (both in your muscles and your lungs) at the same time.
Just like copious amounts of cardio endurance training, this isn’t something to be done ALL THE TIME. Especially if you’re mid-season, but you can plug 1 of these types of days into your training plan for 20-25 minutes at a pop. OR you can end each strength training day with a 10-minute version.
Here’s an example:
This type of training is often referred to as Met Con training, but you can also get a whole slew of workouts like the one above from a program like Lift Weights Faster.
Ultimately, the decision to have excessive amounts of cardio in your training is up to you. But imagine, if you will, a scenario straight out of my nightmares:
You are jamming for your team and you’re stuck behind a wall of fearsome blockers. They look kind of like the Nerdlucks from Space Jam. And you’ve been running your feet behind them the entire jam without much success at getting through. You have FANTASTIC cardio endurance, so you can do this all night. But as soon as you try to push against the wall or quickly change directions, it feels like you have cement blocks attached to your feet.
Cardio endurance is only a small piece of the puzzle here. So, during your season, it needs to have a correspondingly small piece of your training time. Giving up cardio is scary, I get it. I really do.
Give these basic cardio guidelines a shot for a few months and see how it goes:
- Long, steady-state cardio should happen during your off-season. Use that time to build up your cardio endurance foundation without impacting your game play.
- Schedule HIIT for not more than 2 days per week. And no more than 25 minutes at a time. Really, even 25 minutes is pushing it.
- Consider swapping HIIT and other forms of cardio out for Met Con training. Strength and power plus cardio can give you the best of both worlds.
- Still only do Met Con training 2 times a week. Seriously.
- If you just love the shit out of running or spinning or whatever, then do it anyway. But be aware of how much you’re doing so you don’t gas your system before you have to play.
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