How to Make Your “Engine” Stronger (ft. Coach Jess)

  August 1, 2016

Of all the muscles in the human body that we attempt to make stronger, the one we use the most as

Crossfit athletes, yet think about the least, is our heart. Your heart is the center of everything you do.

It’s the engine that runs your body. It’s the determining factor in your ability to do work over time. It’s

the power pack that lets your body demonstrate your athletic ability.


Yeah, yeah, you know your heart pumps blood. You know your heart controls how much blood reaches

your muscles. And you know your heart is kind of a big deal to being, like, alive and stuff.

But how should you think about your heart as a Crossfit athlete? Well as I touched on above, your heart

is your engine. We all push our heart to its maximum capacity every day in the gym. We test its ability

to run slower for very long periods of time (think those 5k days that nobody shows up for). We feel it try

to beat out of our chests on short, intense workouts (sled pushes, fran, that evil assault bike at SCCF).


When our heart hits that place we simply cannot go any more, we call that failure.

Assuming our goal is to improve our performance in workouts and our overall athletic capacity, we must

pay attention to our heart rate as it pertains to our metabolic system. Your body’s ability to carry

oxygen to, and eliminate toxins from your muscles is your metabolic limiter. Men that can normally

deadlift 400 lbs with ease are stuck staring at a barbell with 200 pounds on it because they can’t deliver

oxygen to their muscles in a fashion that will let them continue to work. Ladies that can thruster 65

pounds are stuck staring at a 35 lb. barbell for the same reason.


So how do we solve this issue? How do we manage our heart so it can let us do more work efficiently?

Well the answer lies in 2 places.

1. Manage your heart rate at your existing work capacity. Too many of us come out of the gates in

a hurried fashion. We try to burn through reps like we can just casually knock out 40 rounds of

Cindy in 20 minutes. Eventually those rounds slow from 30 seconds to 1 minute, then we are

left sitting on the floor 7 minutes into the workout, sipping water, wondering what the hell just

happened. Take your workout slower from the get go. Manage your heart rate. Manage your

metabolic system at a rate that can be sustained. Work efficiently and with a plan. Get your

heart rate to a place you can keep it at and just work in a measured pace. If there is any energy

left, wait till the last 2 minutes to burn it.


2. Raise your heart’s ability to process blood. Make it strong enough to support the work rate that

you want it to. Primarily the best way to do this is to repeatedly bump up against that point of

metabolic failure I talked about. This is interval work at its finest. Think of doing Tabata

workouts on the assault bike. Do sled pushes. Exercise in a fashion that makes your heart reach

its full capacity to work. Over time, your heart will grow stronger and more able to support

your mental drive to push harder.


Luckily, Crossfit does a pretty good job of helping you train your heart to be stronger and more efficient.

But it cannot do it just by you reading the WOD on the screen and forgetting to come to class because

it’s sprint interval day or it’s sled push day or it’s 5k day. And it can’t do it if you show up without a plan

of attack for the workout. Work smart. Work hard. And think about your heart the whole time. It’s a

muscle and a tool just like your quadriceps and your hamstrings. Push it smartly.


Finally, I’ll leave you with a very good rule of thumb for a lot of us. Your maximum heart rate should be

somewhere around 220 minus your age in years. So if you’re Mike Gentry, your maximum heart rate is

19. Now, mind you, that’s your MAXIMUM heart rate. Your capacity to work over time should be

somewhere around 80% of that number or a bit higher if you train a lot. IF you have a fitbit or some sort

of heart rate monitor, you can get a feel for where your heart should be when you’re working longer

metcons or shorter ones. Find that sweet spot for yourself and stay there. It will be the most efficient

way to become a better athlete and a healthier person!

-Coach Jess

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