Should You Go Hard, Easy, or Rest Today?

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This week on Barbell Shrugged, we catch up and talk training with Brian Mackenzie, founder of Crossfit Endurance.

We focus on strength a lot on this show, but that’s for a very good reason. Many competitive fitness athletes lack a solid foundation of strength and muscle. Without taking the time to fix that, they’ll never reach their full potential in the gym.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but your aerobic capacity is not much different. To make the most of future training you have to build up your capacity for work now. The problem is that many new athletes haven’t taken the time to develop a solid aerobic skill base. If you hate cycling, running, whatever, we can assume this is true for you. But, how can you know if this is really holding back your performance in the gym?

Breathing and heart rate are great places to start. When you hit a threshold point in training do you quickly descend into stressed, rapid chest breathing? Many do, and it’s a HUGE problem. One way to get around that problem is with focused drills, like box breathing. You can also wear training masks during the WOD, sure, but a really great use for these things is during recovery.

Simply put, if you can remain calm and breath properly with your face covered and air restricted, you’ll be fine during most workouts.


Breath control is critical, but how do your body mechanics look under fatigue?

Are you upright, aligned and calm, or do you fold over and allow your pelvis to tilt anteriorly? What about your heart rate? Is it relatively smooth and ascending during the work, or are there signs of rapid change and deflection?

It’s obvious when there’s problem – Where your aerobic foundation is thin and weak you will always struggle to sustain and adapt to higher work output. You will dig deeply into the wrong energy system, too early. In short, it will take you much longer to get any WOD done, and you’ll probably look like shit during it. That needs to change.

Sure, you can better by just doing more metcons. You’ll adapt to the suffering eventually. But the much more effective strategy is to just take the time to develop your endurance skills.

With barbells, strength is the consequence of cumulative sub-maximal efforts with great technique. In the very same way, you can boost your aerobic engine just by taking more time for high quality sub-maximal work – In short, more reps! Start slow, especially on longer workouts. Just like with lifting, get comfortable with the movement before you make things hard on yourself. Remain aware of your posture and breathing patterns at all times. Pay attention to and measure your heart rate response. And just like with loading a barbell, ramp up your intensity week to week, month to month, as your skill level improves.

Next, try cranking up the training intensity towards the end of your sessions. See how you respond. Again, measure your reaction. After every hard effort, take the time to recover fully. Get your heart rate back down, then start again. This basic strategy will keep the quality of your movement very high. That will ensure that your adaptations are optimal, but more than that, this approach will give you a much improved understanding of your bodies capabilities and capacity.

By measuring and remeasuring your response to training you will have a much better understanding of what full recovery feels like. But better still, you’ll be the first to know when you’re ready to push your conditioning and make the most of that hard training.


Make sure to check out Brian on Instagram and Twitter. He always got interesting pearls to share. Also, step up your running game with Brian’s new book, Unbreakable Runner. It’s a great resource.

Enjoy the show!

13 Responses to “Should You Go Hard, Easy, or Rest Today?”

  1. Caitlin

    That episode was a surreal experience – going through my normal routine of listening to my favorite podcast :) and find that I’m being referenced! I’m the asthmatic that Brain Mackenzie was talking about!

    And yes, the training mask is amazing. I had thought about getting the Bas Rutten device but I like that I don’t have to hold anything in my mouth – just strap it on and breathe.

    • Caitlin

      Ack! Sorry, Brian, not Brain. Typing while walking in NYC is a skill I’ve yet to master.

  2. Timothy Hale

    Guys, am listening to the podcast and had a post-Randy epiphany…let me explain:
    Tuesday – 10K Run (all sorts of messed up in it…but slogged through)
    Wednesday – 2K Row (again…aerobic engine just falling apart) + Randy…well my time for Randy was just off (+1:30 from my previous attempt)…I started in sets of 5 (1-25)…then in the last two blocks (I was able to nug out sets of 2×10+5)…
    When Brian speaks about the points of deflection…taking a day off. I thought I was taking an off day…doing the 2K Row and Randy following a long run the day before…
    What I’ll often talk to my athletes about is “Recovery Time”…how well can you recover between sets, between work days, what are your thresholds so that when a WoD or other work shows up…you can think about what your engine can handle and approach that work smartly. I didn’t do that the other day. And now I’m kicking myself for not paying attention to my own instruction.
    Great Podcast guys…

  3. Edoardo (Fitrate)

    Great stuff guys! I have a question… I’m focusing on after-WOD Heart Rate Recovery with my app, Fitrate, and I know that there is a link between HRR and health (i.e. the slower the drop, the higher the medium-term heart mortality risk). My question is: is there a correlation also between HRR and endurance?

    Logic would tell me that the faster your HRR, the more endurance you can take on, but I possibly would love to hear it from you guys! 😉



  4. Ian

    I’m a pretty fit guy I think. But, one problem I have is a lot of sinus issues. I have a deviated septum and whenever I start a workout my nose just clogs straight up and I become a heavy mouth breathier. Yeah I am able to slow down my heart rate by the mouth but as Divine and now Brian here has said that deep breathing through the nose is a big game changer.

    I haven’t really done any research as I have been able to get buy playing college soccer and now being pretty decent at crossfit. But, in order to take my fitness to the next level I feel like I might need a fix for this.

    Any suggestions anyone?

  5. Duran

    Scott Jurek (7 time winner of the Western State Endurance Run) has a similar philosophy on heart rate training. He’s not bound by the numbers, but he uses it every so often as “validation” of what he’s feeling. I’ve followed the same approach where every few months, I’ll throw on the monitor to see where certain perceived efforts land.

    Deep breathing is just great. The long exhale, I believe, has a lot to do with the parasympathetic nervous system: the same system and stimuli that cause that exhale also slow down the heart rate. I forget exactly, but there’s some term for the variability in the heart rate just between inspiration and expiration; vagus tone I think?

    I know the genetics is still pretty new and not well understood, but is there anything to suggest that “aerobic” genes and “power/strength” genes are mutually exclusive, or that it’s a spectrum with the possibility of both?

  6. Dean

    Mind…blown…..again!! BLAM!,
    Resting heart rate….DNA testing….aerobic threshold….lactate threshold… mask….all gold nuggets, all day! I just don’t have enough hours in the day, that’s it…I am quitting my day job!

  7. Shaun DeCroo

    Good day all, two questions
    When you are feeling overloaded/burnt out. I tend to take a week off completely maybe do a cardio workout once that week and that’s it. Is that ok or should I dial down (deload) and just cruise instead?
    If you want to keep getting stronger yet also get into better cardio shape would a program like 1 strength week then 1 cardio week be good or a 2 to 1 work? I want to keep my strength but want to feel better at my weight.
    Thanks much,

    • Chris

      Work hard for 3 weeks, then on week 4 drop your volume across the board. You can still do some intense (80% or so) WODs and strength work. BUT!!! …Drop your volume very low. Practice quality movement. Produce force. But don’t allow yourself to get fatigued. You’ll resume next 4 weeks refreshed and ready.

      • Shaun DeCroo

        Awesome thanks, should I continue to do my small circuits after my strength work? Usually lot of core focus during these. So deload the weights and do more CF work during that 4th week? Appreciate the advice Chris, you guys rock.

  8. Ryan Crabtree

    Ok, “Ego is what holds you back”, “The belief of the expectations of others”. Sigh.

    That is not ego. That is pseudo ego, false ego, false self.

    Fundamentals gentlemen, ‘ego’ means self. So when you say “Check your self” you are saying “check your ego”, that is ego. That is true ego. Self awareness, awareness of facts and reality, not on things that are un-essential and ultimately don’t matter, like “the expectations of others”.

    Without getting into the history of ideas, these ideas, i.e. Altruism, mysticism and collectivism are what are destroying the world.

    Fundamentals: “Ego” means self. Focus on your self honestly.

    People have misconceptualized. They think that the man who destroys himself in a WOD because his beliefs on what other people think, or focusing only on the “mirror muscles” is being ‘full of ego’. That is exactly wrong, he is focusing on others not on himself, not on being the best that he can be but on what other people think, or what he believes they think.

    Virtue of Selfishness. Read it.


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