Training for Strength vs. Low vs. High Intensity Cardiovascular Exercise

Intro

So you made the leap of signing up for a gym membership. You know you want to become more “fit”, but you may not know exactly what your goals are or what classes to take to achieve those goals. I’m here to help. Today, I want to give you a brief education on a few of the various forms of exercise, what kind of adaptations they will stimulate in your body, and how we at CrossFit Outbreak offer these different forms of exercise. Let’s get right into it.

Training for Strength

Strength training is typically characterized by lower rep ranges (1-15) and usually includes some type of resistance against the body (barbell, machines, kettlebells, etc.). The number of reps can be altered to what goal you are trying to accomplish. For example, when training for absolute strength, 1-5 reps generally produce the best results. There are many different aspects of strength, but I won’t get into those details in this article. I want to focus more on the types of changes you should expect to see in your body and what classes to take to achieve that goal.

Let’s get into the adaptations that occur in your body when strength training. Over the course of the first 6-8 months of strength training, your neuromuscular system becomes more in sync. This means that the nerves supplying the electrical signals to your muscles become more excitable and powerful. Not a whole lot is changing in your muscles just yet, those changes begin to happen after the neuromuscular adaptation phase. In layman’s terms, you don’t actually get much bigger until about a year into lifting! Longer term strength training will produce increases in muscular size, strength, coordination, and even flexibility. And don’t worry, you won’t “bulk up” quickly, that takes years.

There is a myriad of benefits to strength training, which include increased bone density, metabolism, hormone production, longevity, quality of life, prevention of many chronic diseases, and the list goes on and on. Why wouldn’t you want any of that?

One of the pinnacles of CrossFit is strength training, so we do plenty of that at CrossFit Outbreak. Our CrossFit class generally has the most strength training out of any other class we offer.

High Intensity Cardiovascular Exercise

High intensity cardio generally encompasses workouts that elevate the heart rate to near-maximal or maximal levels, whether it includes intervals (HIIT) or a one-time effort. These are the workouts that make you feel like your heart is pumping out of your chest and your muscles are on fire. High intensity workouts can include only your bodyweight, or pretty much any implement of your choice. What matters is the format of the workout. Think short time domain intervals or sprint-type workouts.

Wondering what is occurring that makes you more fit when you perform high intensity workouts on a regular basis? Well, there is a myriad of specific adaptations and benefits, most of the science-y ones I won’t bore you with, but I’ll mention two of the most important. First, your heart becomes stronger and more efficient. It will beat harder and pump more blood per beat than before. Read “ventricular hypertrophy”. Next, the muscle becomes more efficient at buffering waste products that build up when exercising. This is the reason you can go faster and longer. And of course, there are the more global affects I mentioned earlier in the strength training section.

One of the reasons that CrossFit works so well is that it also provides us with a heavy dose of high intensity cardio, in fact, that is one of the main details of the program. It delivers a potent dose of fitness in a small period of time, so busy New Yorkers like us have a chance to get on with our days without too much of a time commitment. At CrossFit Outbreak, we certainly provide many opportunities for high intensity cardio. Our one hour CrossFit, Interval, and even Muay Thai classes are your best bet for this type of fitness.

Low Intensity Cardiovascular Exercise

The last type of exercise I want to discuss is low intensity. In sharp contrast to high intensity, where we are trying to go as hard as possible, low intensity exercise is characterized by purposely keeping the heart rate down.

Just as in strength training, there are different adaptations that will occur based on the specifics of the workout. Intensity as we are speaking about it here is referring to the heart rate “zone” that you are operating in. For example, ~60-75% of your max heart rate (220-age is generally pretty accurate) will target recovery and promote endurance of the cardiovascular and muscular systems. This is one benefit of low intensity work. Other benefits include a more robust aerobic system (ability of your muscle to absorb and use oxygen), a more robust respiratory system (the lungs and airway’s ability to bring in oxygen), and an increased ability to tolerate more and more exercise volume, which is very important if you want to increase the amount from what you are currently doing (I could write a whole article on this alone).

So, as you can see, although low intensity exercise isn’t usually “sexy” or even fun, it is essential to include into your regimen. Every few days, a low intensity workout is programmed into the CrossFit class at CFO. It might be disguised as a partner workout, a 30 minute AMRAP, or a “metcon” labeled as “not for time”, so pay attention and don’t skip out on these days! We also run Movement classes that are typically lower intensity than our other classes, so check them out too!

Conclusion

My aim for today’s post was to provide you with a basic understanding of the basic types of exercise and how to choose the right class for you based on your goals. If I didn’t succeed or you have any other questions, please email me at Paul@crossfitoutbreak.com and I’d be happy to chat more with you about it!