Tips for Building Endurance

Hey guys!
I’m not sure if I’ve shared this here before but my husband, Aaron, was pretty discouraged when we first started CrossFit because he didn’t feel like his endurance was where it needed to be for the kind of fast (and furious!) workouts we were required to do. He had no problem with body weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups, or even heavy weight for that matter but stringing those things together, adding a fast run and some burpees — for time — often made him feel discouraged because he’d have to stop and rest between sets and just generally felt winded fairly quickly.

I’ve seen my husband slowly build his endurance over the last year and half that we’ve been doing CrossFit and I gotta say: he’s rocking it out now! He can push himself further and longer than ever before! His success with the Spartan Super is a testament to that; while most participants finished in 6 hours, he finished in 4.5. Way to go babe!

Here are some tips we put together for building endurance. These things have helped us and we hope they’ll help you.

Don’t cherry pick your workouts:

Some boxes don’t post their workouts in advance and it’s for this very reason! If you cherry pick your workouts you’re likely not working on the things that need improvement.

Supplement CrossFit with other cardio workouts:

Go running, take a zumba class or take up spinning; all that cardio work will kick in when running or fast burpees is part of the WOD. This is especially important if you’re only attending 2-3 CrossFit workouts a week — supplement so each workout doesn’t feel like you’re starting from scratch.

Find the right pre-workout snack.

Aaron’s tried Cliff bars and pre-workout powders — recently he settled on bananas as the best pre-workout snack for him but it’s been a process of trial and error. Food matters so if you feel weak, tired, or slow during a WOD, it might be because you didn’t eat enough. Experiment with different pre-workout snacks to find the right food for you, and make sure you fuel up before go-time.

Be patient with yourself.

When I told Aaron a friend of mine wanted to build her endurance he said the most important thing to tell her was to be patient. It’s taken him over a year to begin to FINALLY feel comfortable with his endurance, and even still — there are times when he has to just stop and take a break during a WOD. It’s important to realize this is a process and nobody becomes a superstar overnight.

During a WOD, tell yourself to go non-stop.

For big picture – yes, be patient. Day-to-day –push yourself. This was some advice I gave Aaron early on and it’s helped! CrossFit workouts are short for a reason — you’re meant to go non-stop! If it’s an 8 minute or 10 minute or even 20 minute workout it’s not like you’ll be doing that work forever! Keep in mind that it’s short and sweet; fast and dirty! Grunt, sweat, push! Whatever you do: just. keep. going.

Don’t walk away from the bar.

Along those same lines, if you can help it, don’t walk away from the bar. This is easier said than done, but the moment you turn away from the barbell or begin pacing around your space you add a lot of time to your finish because you have to walk BACK to the bar and muster up the mental strength to get BACK on it. Sometimes this is inevitable (hey, I’ve been there!) but if you can, stay on it. If you do have to walk away, countdown from 3 and start back at 1 — 3, 2, 1 – go!

Stay positive! 

If you’re telling yourself you’re slow or weak during a workout your performance is likely going to reflect that. On the contrary, if you tell yourself you’re fast, you’re strong, and you’re going to crush this workout, you’ll go in with a lot better chances of doing just that.

There’s a lot of other things I tell myself, too: “Your heart loves this” — a reminder of how good cardiovascular work is for my heart. And I also tell myself, “You’re OK,” a lot. It’s easy to get worked up thinking, “OMG! I’m so tired. I’m gonna die!” (We’ve all been there right?) Try the opposite — “I’m OK. You’re OK. You got this!”

Finally, and most importantly: Embrace the suck. From Aaron —

You know that feeling of when you simply cannot do one more rep? Or that feeling after you have just dropped the bar and you’re thinking “OK, breathe a little, let’s get the heart rate down a bit, and then pick up the bar.” Or the feeling of being on death’s door and you cannot possibly pull once more on that rower?

That is the suck!

The suck is unique to you; only you know where it is and how it feels. It’s YOURS, EMBRACE IT. And what do we do when we embrace something? We bring it in closer to us, feel it, know it, sense it. You might THINK it’s physical and that your body can’t take anymore but I am here to tell you (and everyone else that has made gains is here to tell you) that your body MUST be pushed beyond what you THINK it can do.

The people you want to be like (on Instagram or at your gym) — those people put in work. They may make it look easy but I bet you that is because they have found their SUCK and now, they hunt for it. They seek it out.

You will not get better until you become a stalker of that SUCK, and when you find it, GIVE ME TWO MORE!! Remember: this is your life, your body, your suck. You will never get these seconds back, make them count!

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This is Aaron embracing his suck — wall balls! We dropped into CrossFit Port Orange on vacation earlier this summer and I thought Aaron was going to walk out when he saw the WOD — Karen: 150 wall balls for time! He stayed, stuck it out and did great!

Just another stepping stone to building his endurance.

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Phew!! OK, well if Aaron’s “embrace the suck” speech doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will!! I know I’ve been there before: face-to-face with my suck! (Remember 14.5, Naomi?) We’ve all been there!

Have you experienced overcoming a breaking point during a workout?

How’d you fight through? 

Do you have any tips for building endurance?


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  1. Shelly wrote:

    Just came across your blog and glad I did! As as a fellow CrossFitter I love reading about the successes and battles that are inevitable in every wod. I recently did Karen and found it super helpful to break it down into fifteen sets of 10. It made the suck suck a little less. 🙂

    Posted 8.27.14 Reply
    • Sara wrote:

      So happy you stopped by and thanks for the comment! I love the name of your blog — Beauty and the box! So clever! I’ll be following!

      I broke Karen into sets of 10, too; breaking it down always seems to help. Some!

      Posted 8.27.14 Reply
  2. Naomi S wrote:

    I so needed these tips. I’m always so winded during WODs these days and I know it’s because I haven’t been doing the needed steps to get my endurance up. Especially the pre-workout fuel. I don’t know why I remember to eat a banana and toast/almond butter before a long run, but I forget to properly fuel before a grueling WOD. awesome post!

    and I will never forget 14.5.

    Posted 8.28.14 Reply
    • Sara wrote:

      I’m guilty of this too — wondering why I’m depleted halfway through a WOD and realizing, I haven’t eaten since lunch and at lunch, I had a salad!

      I went back and read my 14.5 post after writing this — phew, girl!! Unforgettable is right!!

      Posted 8.28.14 Reply