Morning Chalk Up Community

Addressing Respiratory Limitations in the CrossFit Athlete (Podcast)

May 16, 2023 by

About the Athlete

• 24 y/o, Male
• Training Age: 11
• Track & Field; High School (200m, 400m, Triple Jump)
• Baseball; High School & College (Center Field)
• 2 Years of Blog Style CrossFit (post-college)
• Struggles with longer, aerobic events (15+ min)
• Strength & Power on par for Semifinals level athletes

We found he was unable to sustain a high ventilation rate (speed of breathing) without dropping tidal volume (depth of breaths). 

The Outline

(1) Start By Adding Volume
(2) Build Work Rate
(3) Add Dynamic Contractions
(4) Work Your Way Back to the Sport

Related: Building Respiratory Endurance in the CrossFit Athlete

Breath rate needs to MATCH work rate.

Breathing faster than work rate.

Supraventilation (e.g. Wim Hof)

This isn’t most effectively training respiratory muscle endurance because there are bouts where breathing slows (or stops) and the “pressure” is taken off that system.

Work Rate faster than breathing.

Could be due to performing unsustainable work or short breath holds in workouts

Considerations when building respiratory endruance…

• Respiratory Tissue & Lungs
• Movement
• Muscular Tension
• The Heart

(1) Start By Adding Volume

The only way to effectively build aerobic prowess is by doing sustainable work.

The only way to learn how to sustain work at a repeatable pace is to do a lot of contractions.

The only way to do a lot of contractions is by adding volume.

The only way to do more volume without severely overreaching is by reducing work rate.

If an athlete is “scared” by the volume in a workout, they won’t be able to race through it.

Confidence & experience go hand-in-hand

Why is Power Dipping?

1) they’re running up against a physiological ceiling 

2) don’t have the confidence in their system to keep pushing

Cardiac output is best developed through total time under stress. 

Avoid Writing Only Slow Conditioning Work for a Power Athlete

In CrossFit, you must be able to perform well across a spectrum of time domains, an array of contraction types, and a variety of patterns.

An athlete who is biased towards strength and power events will rarely get excellent adaptations from endurance work alone: you’re slow to get better at the things you’re bad at.

For a power athlete, combine longer, slower aerobic accumulation work with circuits of sport work in tiny chunks.


Monday PM
[60:00 External Clock]
Row @ Zone 2 Avg. HR
*E5M (-0:00): 2 Rounds
-6 No-Jump Burpee
-8 Ring Row
-10 Air Squat

Wednesday AM
15 Rounds @ 70-80% Effort
-4 Box Jump Over, Step Down 24”
-4 American KB Swings 53lb
-4 Shuttle Run (25ft =1)
-4 Hang Power Snatch 95lb 
-4 Toes-to-Bar
-Rest 30s-

(2) Build Work Rate

Aerobic base-building is essential supportive work for high-effort metabolic events, but it’s also not enough on it’s own.

Slowly prune back the volume & replace machine-based cyclical with movement and time domains that begin to mirror the sport more closely

This means that effort & power output will continue to climb together BUT the key aspect of aerobic training will remain: repeatability.

Do more work at “threshold” …bouts of work that are only sustainable and repeatable because the piece has been injected with the right amount of rest.

As the athlete spends more time at threshold, they will also spend more time at respiration rates that mirror the sustained, fast ventilation of CrossFit workouts.

This is building confidence through challenge.


E10M x 5 Sets:
AMRAP 5:00 @ 85% Effort
-15 Calorie Row
-12 Wall Ball 20lb, 10ft
-9 Burpee Over Rower Rail
(between sets, ride the AirBike @ recovery pace*)
*return to nasal breathing ASAP on the Bike

(3) Add Dynamic Contractions

Mastering Breathing in CrossFit can’t be done with cyclical movements, as the majority of the tests in the sport have an acyclical component.  

Make sure to adequately balance & blend one cycle to the next.

Adding back in high-power, high-eccentric contractions too quickly will…
(a) leave the athlete unable to express & recover from the volume.
(b) fail to drive aerobic adaptations from easier cyclical work into the new context.


Week 1
E4M x 7-9 Sets: 
-Bar-Facing Burpee

-Max AirBike Cals, Until 2:00 Mark
*the goal is to match or improve your score each round

Week 4
E5M x 5-6 Sets:
-Ring Muscle-Up
-Burpee Box Jump Over 30”

-Wall Ball 20lb – 10ft, Until 2:00 Mark
*the goal is to match or improve your score each round

(4) Work Your Way Back to the Sport

The job as a coach is to prepare an athlete to compete.

And an athlete will never be prepared to compete at their best if they haven’t mirrored what they will be asked to do on game day…

sustained ventilation through acyclical, novel tasks to support high-metabolic work

You need to understand the difference between training & competing 

The goal of training to stack small wins by accumulating quality work.  

Mechanical & metabolic work should stress an athlete enough to stimulate a good adaptation without detracting from future opportunities for practice (aka. their next session).

Competing is about maximizing your placement in a sport.

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