Yes, Your Fran Time Dropped. No, Your Conditioning Did Not Improve.

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If you have been doing mixed-modal training for some time now and you haven’t seen your monostructural conditioning tests (run, row, bike, swim, etc) improving steadily along the way, then your conditioning probably isn’t actually improving. Even if you’ve been seeing your times on WODs improve.

If tests like the 1000m, 2000m, and 5000m Rows or 800m, 1 mile, and 5k Run times haven’t improved, then this is a pretty solid indicator that your conditioning is not improving.

I’ve noticed that this is a prevalent situation once one is past the beginner/early intermediate stage of CrossFit training. I’d even say it’s not uncommon to observe these times getting slower after the initial improvements.

I’ve also noticed that many athletes, otherwise highly concerned with all aspects of their progress, just seem to shrug this off as if to say “oh well”. Maybe those athletes brush it off because it is rare to see a single modality test in competition?

Athletes will cite their improvements on mixed-modal tests as proof of a better “engine”. This makes as much sense as arguing that you are way stronger now because your “Grace” time dropped from 5:45′ to 2:45′ over the last year, meanwhile your max Clean & Jerk has remained stuck at 225 lbs.

You may have better skill, pacing, strength endurance, etc – but your max strength clearly has not improved in this case.

If you really are improving your “engine” or ability to produce energy at a higher rate, your monostructual tests will be improving alongside your WOD times. If not, then your gains in mixed-modal tests are really coming from better skill, strength, strength endurance, pacing, familiarity, etc rather than an improved “engine”.

Don’t get me wrong here, better skill, strength, pacing, etc is essential also if you want to be competitive, and improvements in these areas are crucial. It’s just that to reach your highest potential, you also need to build your aerobic abilities to the maximum extent possible.

It seems to me that most athletes plateau here pretty quickly, then do not put much emphasis into progress here once that happens. This is unfortunate, as the aerobic system is one of the most trainable physical qualities, and you can continue to make gains here for a long time.

I’m off this week putting my aerobic abilities to the test on a 8-9hr Mtn bike adventure. I’ll get into some of the reasons for this plateau, and what can be done about it, in an upcoming post once I return.