What is an aerobic base? An aerobic base is an underlying level of fitness/capacity an athlete can develop to help them with training/competition. This level of “fitness” or capacity allows the athlete to train harder in “specific” sessions, promotes recovery (not only between sessions BUT also between sets within a session), and can be used to bring up weaker areas within the aerobic system itself. I believe aerobic base training for CrossFit athletes and sports specific athletes is very under-utilised.
It may be hard for some CrossFit athletes to understand, and therefore implement base type training, because the nature of our sport is to go all out, all the time. This is where it is important to understand the difference between training and competiton. More on that another time… In fact this can be true for ANY competitive sport- why would you train slower to go faster?
At a basic level, with training you have two energy systems: the anaerobic and the aerobic. The idea of base training is to try and train the aerobic system. Training this system improves the metabolic pathways that allow more oxygen to be transported to the muscles, reduce the amount of lactate formation, and improves the rate of lactate removal. This also increases our stroke volume (amount of blood the heart can pump in one beat), capillary and mitochondrial density.
CrossFit athletes or ANY athlete in fact will improve by adding some aerobic base training into their program. Many will be hesitant that it will decrease their strength gains (it won’t- unless you do excessive amounts) it will actually HELP your strength gains by allowing you to recover more efficiently.
The idea of base training IS NOT HIGH INTENSITY. Base training needs to be somewhat specific to the athlete and is goal dependent. Nobody likes to go out and run 5-7km straight. Well some people do BUT if you do that every week for long enough you will get bored BUT how about if you ran 5 rounds of 700m at your 1mile or 1.6km race pace walked slowly for 300m? This totals 5km of volume, you would have run 3.5km at a very decent intensity, and walked 1500m of active recovery. You would not be trashed, you would not have exceeded your aerobic threshold and you’ve built up some aerobic volume. You can make this type of training as specific as you want and it doesn’t have to be just running.
How about 4 rounds of 250m at your 2k row time trial pace? 250m at your 2km row time trail pace + 5seconds, 250m row FASTER than your 2km time trial pace, 250m barely pulling the handle. Again 4km of volume, 1km at time trial pace, 1km FASTER than time trial pace with 2 levels of active recovery.
Lastly to be a bit more specific to the CrossFit athlete. You could use the session below to add volume to your training, breathe heavy (but not too much), practice the SKILL of breathing and pacing and not be ruined for either a PM session or you could use it as active recovery.
6min at 70% intensity (ie breathing BUT not busting)
30 double unders
10 no push up burpees jumping to a target above reach
*Set rope and target up 5m away from each other walk to station briskly
9min @ 70%
10 wall ball
10 cal AD
*goal is to get into a breathing pattern that allows you to do the motions effortlessly
12min @ 70%
5 power cleans @ 55% 1rm
7 GHD sit ups
9 box jump (step down)
11 cal row
Here you have 27mins of work. Never red lining, always pacing, you are working on your movements, being efficient and not trashing yourself.
I think aerobic base training is a very underestimated and under-utilised tool even though it is simple and has so many benefits: You can often do it with little warm up, it doesn’t have to take forever, and you can do it will little to no equipment. In aerobic base training for CrossFit athletes you will see improvements in performance very quickly. For the rest of us you will feel a whole lot better starting the day with some heavy breathing!