What About Cardio?

In a previous article, I addressed some peoples desire to add more “cardio” (usually running) to their weekly training because they don’t fully understand training with intensity. This is another instance where our culture of partial information and sound bites has lead us astray. This is most evident looking at any fitness/health magazine at the grocery store.


Cardio is commonly thought of as 30+ minutes spent running, spinning, or using an elliptical machine. While this does elicit a “cardio” respiratory response it is not the only thing that does nor is it the most effective.


Almost every CrossFit workout would be considered cardio but because it doesn’t look like the popular (and limited) understanding of cardio people have asked: “Where’s the cardio?”. Let’s talk a closer look at this by first defining cardio.






  • adjective // relating to the action of both heart and lungs.


Based on this basic definition any action that causes the heart and lungs to work fulfills the definition of “cardio.” So… just being alive requires cardiorespiratory work. But for our discussion, we’ll be talking about improving our cardiorespiratory capacity.


Like everything else in CrossFit, we are concerned with our cardio capacity over all lengths of time. How good is our cardio in short intense workouts, medium length, and long efforts?




One of the hardest workouts I can think of is 21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups. Many of you may know this workout as “Fran.” Looking at this workout on paper you may be tempted to ask, “Where’s the cardio?”.

But if you’ve ever done this workout you know it leaves you laying on the ground gasping for air, your heart is beating so hard you can hear it in your head, and you are wondering what just happened. And the feeling doesn’t subside quickly. Sometimes it takes a full day to recover from a workout that lasts less than 6 minutes. This is a fantastic cardio stimulus that requires your body to adapt resulting in increased capacity.


Perhaps the following day we might do a workout that consists of completing as many rounds as possible in 30 minutes of 800m run, 10 power cleans, and 30 sit-ups. There is no rest here it’s just 30 minutes of hard work. Different kind of stimulus and a longer length of time, but all still working our cardio system among other systems.




Because we get our cardio from everything we do it is kind of a useless term and is why you don’t hear it very often in CrossFit. What most people would call cardio we call mono-structural. This term helps us categorize our movements better. We categorize movements in Weight Lifting, Gymnastics, and Mono-structural (cardio). We mix those movements together in as many ways as we can (infinite) to present the body with varying stimuli to adapt to.


If you are used to segmenting your strength and cardio training try and combine them. See how much the cardio and weight lifting gets harder when they are combined. If you’re unsure about how to best structure your workout we can help you take all the guesswork out of getting results. Come in and check us out.


Now go live better.




Talk with a coach about your goals. Get the plan to achieve them.


Take the first step towards getting the results you want!

By providing your phone number, you agree to receive text messages from One Life Fitness & Nutrition