CrossFit Conditioning: Why You Need It and How To Get It

We’ve all been there— gasping for air, muscles aching, heart pumping and desperately wishing for a cozy bed.

Especially in high-intensity CrossFit workouts, hitting your maximum heart rate and maximum work capacity seems to happen quicker.

Many Crossfitters focus on developing lean and strong muscles but forget to add in a consistent mix of conditioning work.

If you want to push harder and go longer, you need a strong aerobic and anaerobic base that comes from proper conditioning work.

Related: What is a Metcon Workouts & 5 Conditioning Workouts for Beginners

What is CrossFit Conditioning?

Conditioning is essential for any sport and generally refers to exercises that are meant to increase the storage and release of energy during a workout or activity.

Anaerobic conditioning (CrossFit metabolic conditioning) helps with short, high-intensity exercises that last a few seconds to about two minutes.

This includes sprinting.

Aerobic conditioning is training the cardiovascular system (heart, blood vessels and lungs) to increase the amount of oxygen available to muscles.

This is exercise, that is longer, such as biking, swimming, or running.

In CrossFit, you’ll need both to conquer your goals. This is why it is important to have a well structured CrossFit conditioning program.

For anaerobic conditioning, you’ll need to boost the system with training in the 1 to 2-minute range, at a high level of intensity.

For aerobic conditioning, you’ll need to incorporate longer sessions of lower intensity work.

Conditioning these systems will also increase your VO2 max, which is the maximum volume of oxygen the muscles can use per minute.

The higher your VO2 max, the faster you become.

Likewise, proper conditioning will also affect your lactate threshold, which is the maximum consistent effort you can sustain without your lactate increasing.

When your body produces more lactate than it can absorb, you start to feel tired. You might know this feeling as when your legs feel like lead.

Thus, a higher lactate threshold means going longer at a faster pace.

While CrossFit is typically seen as a strength-training program, many WODs and competitions require an endurance that is built with conditioning workouts.

Benefits of Having Good Conditioning

What athletes will see with better conditioning is simple: Longer, stronger and faster efforts.

Conditioning is an important part of training and will take you from a good athlete to a powerful CrossFitter.

Because you’re training your cardiovascular system to pump blood more efficiently and deliver more oxygen to your organs and muscles, you’ll find you will not redline so quickly in your WODs.

Boosted endurance levels from those long, steady training sessions will keep you going longer than those around you.

You don’t have to become a marathoner to see the benefits of conditioning. More sustained exercises, such as jogging or cycling, will train your body to go the distance.

By pushing yourself in training, you’ll challenge your body and in turn, build up strength. High-intensity exercises, including loaded work, will help build your speed and muscle so you can power through workouts faster.

Conditioning work will also prime your body against injury.

According to a study from the Clinics in Sports Medicine Journal, there is a clear connection between preseason training techniques to prevent injuries.

A strong conditioning base affects flexibility, the range of motion and form, leaving you less likely to have an injury setback that sidelines you for weeks or months.

Best of all, proper conditioning will boost not only your endurance but also your confidence.

Knowing that you can go longer, feel stronger, and faster will give you the confidence you need to continue to push yourself to be a better athlete.

How to Implement Conditioning Training

If you’re just getting started in working in conditioning work into your routine, you’ll need to build a strong aerobic base first.

This conditioning will probably feel very slow and sometimes very boring, but these sessions will build that solid foundation.

Whether you choose to run, cycle or swim, aim for just 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

These workouts should allow you to exercise for 60 to 90 minutes without leaving you winded.

Some studies have also shown that high-intensity workouts can be just as effective as the long, slow distance workouts.

While the debate rages on, you can effectively cover both types of workouts in your week.

After you’ve built a strong base, you can incorporate those high-intensity workouts into your week.

Here’s where you can add in those explosive, quick exercises, such as Farmer’s Walks, box jumps, and wall balls.

These will build your strength endurance and help you train your fast twitch muscles.

A program that combines both LSD workouts and high-intensity exercises trains you for both endurance and strength— qualities you’ll need to reach your best.

Finally, conditioning, as its name implies, has to be maintained. Even after you feel you’ve built a solid base, you’ll need to keep up the conditioning work to maintain your fitness level.

Sample CrossFit Conditioning Workouts

Run or row

  • Depending on where your baseline fitness is already, aim for a 45-minute to 90-minute row or running session.
  • Keep this workout to 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Rounds for time rowing

  • Complete a 300 to 500-meter row with 1-minute rest.
  • Complete eight reps with rest between each set.

The 20-minute AMRAP

  • Spend 20 minutes cycling through as many rounds as possible of:
  • 20 medicine ball throws
  • 10 burpees
  • 250-meter row


30 on/30 off

  • Alternate between sprint efforts and rest efforts.
  • Run at your max effort for 30 seconds.
  • Rest for 30 seconds.
  • Complete three reps.
  • Rest for two minutes. Repeat.

Run on

  • Incorporate 10 minutes of easy running before and after your regular WOD.
  • Keep these cardio sessions at a comfortable pace.
  • Plan one day of the week as a “long run” day with 30 to 45 minutes of easy, comfortable running.

Last thoughts

If you’re looking to maximize your potential at the box or in competition, spend some time incorporating CrossFit conditioning into your workout routine.

It will prime your body to push harder and go longer and leave you poised to achieve your goals.