The Amazing Human Body

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Many people simply do not realize what an amazing machine the human body is or what it is capable of. Guys love lifting weights because the results are so visible but years of cardiovascular training has its own rewards. If you think your powerlifting/crossfit workout qualifies as cardio because it leaves you totally gassed, don’t fool yourself, its just that you are in terrible cardiovascular shape.

I have done centuries and double century rides before (100mi and 200mi) but nothing that compared to yesterdays 10hr 100 mile ride with nearly 7000′ of vertical. The kicker was that I did it with a loaded bike that weighed 130lbs so my rolling weight was 360lbs (163kg). Weight doesn’t matter much on the flats because bikes are so efficient but going uphill is a completely different beast. What I did was the equivalent of walking up 10,428 steps with a 60 lb dumbbell in each hand then biking 100 miles once I got to the top.

Whats the point? These days there is a tendency to coddle, protect, and give everyone a first place ribbon and we lose track of what the human body is actual capable of when properly trained and pushed. Yes, walking is great exercise and its the best way for previously sedentary people to lose weight and get some minimal level of fitness. Yes, lifting weights is important for health, fitness, and keeping fat off long term. Yes, gardening and walking downtown is an awesome way to incorporate movement into your everyday life. BUT none of these things is cardiovascular exercise nor do they tap but a tiny percentage of what the human body is capable of.

I am in reasonable shape for my age but don’t be too impressed by what I did yesterday because compared to serious triathletes, I am probably in the bottom quarter. The point is don’t sell yourself short. Your body is an incredible machine capable of things you never dreamed of given the proper training, nutrition, and sleep. Before starting any serious fitness program its always good to get a full physical. The last thing you want when at mile 99 of a century ride is to worry about how uncle Bill died of a heart attack at age 45. Get that green light from your doctor then go for it!!

Lets get back to the issue of Crossfit/Powerlifting. One of the most common comments I get from people is that their weight workouts are so intense that they should count as cardio. Let me give you an analogy. Design me a race car that will win both the Indy 500 and the National Drag Race Championship. You cant! Why? Because they have different requirements. A drag racer needs to output thousands of horsepower but only for a few seconds and it just goes straight so handling is not important. An Indy 500 car on the other hand has to run reliably for hours on end and it has to handle very well in high G-force turns. If you have a good drag race car, it makes a miserable Indy 500 racer and visa versa. Similarly, you can build your body for strength, you can build your body to maximize muscle mass, or you can build your body to optimize cardiovascular output BUT unless you limit your goal to ONE of these, you are making compromises. Yes, you can make a routine like crossfit that is somewhat cardiovascular and somewhat good at improving strength but its optimal at neither.

The “Crossfit Games” is touted as “The Fittest on Earth” – purely marketing. In 2011 they introduced swimming to the Crossfit Games. Not only did it provide great photo ops to show competitors in swim wear which is great for ratings but it helped bolster their marketing claim “The Fittest on Earth”. What the TV viewers were not allowed to see is that that swim distance was so laughably short that in no way was it cardiovascular exercise and that competitors flailed thru the swim with all the grace of pit bull doing dog paddle. Crossfit competitors might be strong but their cardiovascular systems are not highly trained like a triathletes are. I would be willing to bet that not a single winner of the Crossfit Games could run a half marathon without stopping or swim a mile without drowning. Crossfit athletes capable of winning the strength events fail miserably at the cardiovascular events. You cant be a drag racer and a good Indy 500 car at the same time!

To be completely fair a gold medalist in triathlon would never win the Crossfit games either. I am not immune from this either. As everyone knows, I do a LOT of cardio. I think nothing of making 1000km bike trips with a 350 pound load as I did in Australia but in Ironmans I am at best mediocre and finish in the bottom 25% of my age bracket. I clearly lift also but if I were to enter a powerlifting competition, I would be even worse than mediocre in my age category. I am a “well rounded athlete” which is a euphemism for saying that I am mediocre at everything including sports like volleyball. Were I to focus on one and optimize my training for that, I could make a lot of improvement. Everyone has to decide what their prioritize their goals and optimize their training to achieve those goals – don’t make the mistake of thinking you can have it all because you cant. You have to decide if your weight training is for cardio, strength, or mass because it simply cannot be for all three unless you are willing to accept mediocre results. If you want to be strong, muscular AND have a top notch cardiovascular system you have to separate your cardio and your weight training, its that simple.  And remember.  Even if you are willing to separate your cardio training and weight training as I have, you will not be the best at either.  Form follows function. Just as a drag racer looks different than an Indy 500 racer, a championship powerlifter looks different than the winner of the Boston Marathon. You can’t have it all!

This 100mile day with 7000′ of vertical was part of my one week journey from Melbourne to Sydney