27/11/14 – Can you increase aerobic capacity and absolute strength at the same time?

Can you increase aerobic capacity and absolute strength at the same time?

The answer, as with most things depends on the individual. Each individual has a certain peak that they will be able to hit in their athletic career before things start to limit their progress and even go backwards. You can’t be the best forever, worst case you will die, and then I’m fairly confident you will have no athletic career. Second to that are all the things that happen with ageing and a drop in performance. Mental drive and generally being ‘tired’ will cause people to digress, injuries are another common career ending problem.

So within your lifetime you will only be able to get so far. Genetics will probably be the biggest asset you have and then it is about getting everything else right to ensure you reach ‘your’ peak and the closer you get to your peak the harder it is to make progress and you have to put more energy in to get the same results out.

Now that we have that clear lets talk about the question at hand. Can you increase aerobic capacity and absolute strength at the same time? For ease of understanding lets say cardio is measured by 5km run time and strength is measured by 1 RM deadlift.

Athlete A: If we look at an untrained person that could run/walk 5km in one hour and could only deadlift 30kg then it is easy to see that if that person had mild training for a few weeks they would have huge increases in their performance in both cardio and strength. BOOM, you CAN increase both at the same time.


Athlete B: Now let’s look at a fully trained runner that can run 5km in 15 minutes but only deadlift 60kg. That athlete is near his peak in cardio (in this case running) but a long way off his peak in strength. Would he be able to increase his peak in both? I’m going to say yes, he would need to focus a lot on his running still and a little on deadlifting, suffice to say the deadlift will get stronger fairly quickly.


So the answer is YES you can increase both aerobic capacity and strength at the same time, and in an experiment the results should show that (CrossFitters do it routinely). So why is there a debate about whether you can increase both? The only time you will really digress is if you are very close to your peak in one area and you start putting lots of effort into another area and neglect the amount of work taken to push your peak. Where it all gets unclear is on which way is best to increase both at the same time.

Now, let’s be honest, most of you reading this are CrossFitters so lets focus on what this means to you (but keep reading even if you are not a CrossFitter).

In CrossFit there is more to it than running 5km and hitting a 1 RM deadlift. If you then start adding other elements of strength and conditioning then you will need to start putting more energy in to keep progressing at the same rate. More energy also means to a big degree more time, and time waits for no one! To get better at everything you must constantly be doing everything, but to constantly do everything you need to recover enough to make positive adaptations and not go backwards.

It emphasises the need for a well mapped out training program.

It all comes back to the athlete’s current training ability and goal but lets assume the goal is to get better at CrossFit, which as everyone knows means having no weaknesses. If the athlete is strong but lacks cardio they should be doing ‘CrossFit’ with a bias towards cardio until they reach a level of balance (no weaknesses). The degree of that bias will depend on the degree of their weakness. For example, if Athlete B, the world class runner started CrossFit his program should have a heavy bias towards strength work (& skill). Giving him running would likely be a waste of time, and as stated, time is the one thing that will not wait!

Here are my points:

– The more modalities you add the more energy you must put in to increase at the same rate.

– The closer you get to your peak the more energy you must put in to increase at the same rate.

– CrossFitters should do CrossFit, but it should be periodised so they reach their peak when it matters AND it should be biased towards working on their weakest areas brining them into balance.

– The key to training more is recovering better.

Train smart team and if you want to read a detailed article on the subject written by the guru Aaron Davis then click HERE.

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