Many athletes make it a point to improve their CrossFit conditioning and endurance. That’s because building a big engine is handy in so many different areas of the sport.
Good cardio helps you thrive in the final rounds of AMRAPs, power through chipper WODs, and keep it together any time the assault bike rears its ugly head in your programming.
But whether your cardio simply needs work or you’re an accomplished endurance athlete craving some extra aerobic training, it’s not always clear how to add extra endurance training to your workouts.
In this article, you’ll learn which types of WODs you should use for CrossFit conditioning, as well as all the resources available online to take your aerobic capacity to the next level.
How To Get Better at Crossfit
CrossFit is a sport about eliminating your weaknesses. Even those competing at the top levels of the sport are constantly trying to get rid of their fitness-related shortcomings.
It’s a simple (but not an easy) task to get better at CrossFit: turn as many weaknesses into strengths as possible.
We each come into CrossFit with a different background, which means our strategies may look different. For example:
- If you were a runner, you might be too weak for some workouts and need extra weightlifting practice.
- If you were a strength athlete or bodybuilder, you might have poor cardio.
- If you were a gymnast, you might need to work on some combination of both!
Even five time CrossFit Champion Mat Fraser said he had to pause Olympic lifting early in his career to build his aerobic capacity. Once he fixed that problem, his performance soared.
His limiting factor was his conditioning. What’s yours?
How To Build Endurance for Crossfit
To build endurance for CrossFit you should incorporate cardio movements (running, rowing, air bike, swimming, bodyweight exercises, double unders, etc.) into your training frequently.
Some CrossFit athletes call this your “engine.” What they’re really talking about is your aerobic capacity, or your body’s ability to consume oxygen and use it to fuel your muscles efficiently during workouts.
Many CrossFitters start fast—but can you get into round four or five (or twenty minutes into an AMRAP) and still move to be powerful? Or is this when you fizzle out?
Fortunately, endurance can be built up quickly in CrossFit, at least when you compare it to building muscle mass and pure strength.
With some dedicated focus in this area or additional training on top of your CrossFit workouts, you can build an engine that’ll serve you when you exercise or compete.
Crossfit Endurance Beginner Program
As a CrossFit beginner, you most likely have many weaknesses to work on, not just endurance.
In fact, what surprises (and ultimately hooks) many new CrossFitters to the sport is just how intense workouts are. They thought they were fit before, but their first AMRAP or “For Time” workout showed them otherwise.
As a beginner, you should probably focus more on just following the program than adopting any specific endurance workouts into your training. Do this for a few months until you feel comfortable with the basic movements and notice progress in all areas.
From there, you might consider adding running in once or twice a week. We review some programs and conditioning workouts below!
Crossfit Endurance Workout
CrossFit endurance workouts use CrossFit modalities and exercises to build up your cardio and muscular endurance.
The “Murph” WOD, performed across the globe every Memorial day, is a great example of a CrossFit endurance WOD.
1 mile run
1 mile run
*If you have a 20lb weighted vest, wear it.
Crossfit Endurance Programs
If you’re trying to boost your CrossFit conditioning and want smart programming from dedicated coaches, there are some options available online.
Here are some CrossFit endurance programs to check out:
- Shift. Formerly known as Power Speed Endurance (and before that, CrossFit Endurance), Shift combines breathwork and cardio workouts to optimize your physiology and performance.
- Invictus Engine Program. CrossFit Invictus offers one of the most likable competitive programming workouts around. Their Engine Program is designed to specifically help you work on your endurance and improve performance on the air bike, rower, ski erg, and other engine-builders like sandbags and kettlebells.
- Aerobic Capacity. The brainchild of Chris Hinshaw, Mat Fraser’s personal running coach, this membership-based training program focuses on running technique as well as performance at the highest levels of the sport.
Most require a monthly membership fee, but if you go digging you can probably find some free templates online as well.
Crossfit Endurance Training
CrossFit endurance training is usually done by those with auxiliary goals—athletes who want to be good at CrossFit and compete in marathons, triathlons, long hikes, or other long-distance that require a large engine.
In this case, your best bet is to supplement your standard CrossFit training with endurance workouts.
Add two or three additional workouts per week (perhaps four if you’re really going for it). Train different energy systems during that time. (See “CrossFit Endurance Running” below for examples.)
Keep in mind, two to four extra workouts per week puts additional stress on the body. So be sure you’re in tune with your training, ramping up slowly, drinking tons of water, doing extra mobility drills for your hips, hamstrings, core, and quads, and consuming enough food to participate in both sports.
Otherwise, you’ll end up overtrained, feeling weak during workouts, or perhaps even injured.
Crossfit Aerobic Workouts
Aerobic workouts aim to increase your capacity to do work. They are the “engine builders”—the type of workouts you hate to do but love to get results from. Here are 3 examples for you to get started.
1. 40 Min AMRAP
14 Box Jumps (24/20 inch)
21 Calorie Row
42 Double Unders
2. The Collin WOD
Six rounds for time of:
Carry 50 pound sandbag 400 meters
115 pound Push press, 12 reps
12 Box jumps, 24 inch box
95 pound Sumo deadlift high-pull, 12 reps
3. The Bull WOD
Play for the second round on this one. Don’t burn yourself out during the first mile!
Two rounds for time of:
135 pound Overhead squat, 50 reps
Run 1 mile
Crossfit Cardio Workouts
CrossFit cardio workouts, rather broadly defined, elevate your heart rate using CrossFit techniques and methodologies. They’re sometimes called “burners” in the CrossFit community.
Both these WODs below definitely qualify. Do a light warmup and get after it!
1. CrossFit EMOM Cardio Workout
Every minute on the minute for 15 minutes:
Min 1: 10 ground to overhead, 50lb dumbbells
Min 2: 15 chest to bar pull-ups
Min 3: Max double unders in 40 seconds
2. Ascending Ladder Cardio WOD
Toes to bar
Kettlebell swings, 53/35lbs
Crossfit Conditioning Workouts
CrossFit conditioning workouts give you more flexibility in terms of movements. You’re not just drilling the row, run, or bike here. You’re doing a little of everything—lifting moderately heavy weights, jumping on boxes, pushing sleds, and more.
Conditioning could mean high-intensity sprints as well.
Studies show even short high-intensity bouts of exercise can boost your metabolism for up to 14 hours after exercise. It’s not just about going the distance to burn calories!
1. Prowler Couplet Conditioning WOD
15 deadlifts, 225lbs
50m prowler push, 90lbs
Rest 90 seconds between efforts.
2. Bodyweight Conditioning WOD
35 Air Squats
50m Sprint, down and back (100m total)
3. Twin Conditioning WODS
Rest 2 minutes
100 Wall Ball shots, 20/14lbs
Complete both workouts. Your score is the total time plus the rest period in between.
Crossfit Assault Bike Workouts
There’s a reason many CrossFit athletes have a love-hate relationship with the assault bike. It’s a challenging piece of equipment even if you’re strong and fit. Even Games athletes will tell you the bike never truly gets easier.
However, there are some key principles you must understand to accelerate your performance on the bike and improve your CrossFit conditioning.
Here they are:
- The assault bike rewards power
- The faster you’re off the bike, the better
- You don’t want to get stuck in no man’s land—where your legs are pushing the petals at a moderate-to-high intensity but you’re gassed and not racking up calories.
Basically, get good at getting on the bike, going all out, taking a short recovery, then doing it again. It’ll totally change the game for you if you’ve only done steady-state biking to this point.
Try implementing the principles with either of these assault bike workouts:
1. 50 cals for time
50 calories is just enough to make things suck. Practice “gripping and ripping” at full capacity for 15 to 25 calories, then easing off and letting additional calories accumulate. Use your arms and legs and give it all you got. Catch your breath then go again.
Get off the bike and walk around in between sets.
3 rounds for time:
Air bike 50 calories
Rest 3 minutes in between rounds
2. 60 on 60 off
This is another good supplemental workout to practice the assault bike. Go hard at the top of each minute. Your pace will slow exponentially in the later sets. That’s okay.
Still aim to be powerful and churn out as many calories as you can at the beginning of each round with that initial burst.
1 minute on, 1 minute off until you reach 250 calories
Crossfit Endurance Running
Many CrossFitters are former runners who tried a class or worked out in their friend’s garage gym and decided to make the conversion. But many wish to continue with their original sport. Some others develop well-rounded fitness through CrossFit and decide to cross running a marathon off their bucket list.
Here are some CrossFit endurance style running workouts you can add to your training:
1. Metabolic Pathway: Short
Immediately into 100m sprint, all out effort
90 second rest in between sets.
2. Metabolic Pathway: Mid-Distance
*If the 200m run takes you 30 seconds to complete, rest 30 seconds before starting your 400m run.
Score = your longest time for each distance. Add this workout once a week and try to beat it in subsequent weeks.
3. Metabolic pathway: Long
The 5K is a great way to test your overall CrossFit conditioning and endurance. Unless you’re seriously fit, it’ll take you 20 minutes or more. But it’s a short enough distance to still have some power in your legs at the end.
Test and retest this one every few months!