On Keeping the Goal the Goal – Cardio edition


I’m delighted that people are finally getting the message that cardio is not only not bad for them but it is actually essential.

For long time the fitness industry rebelled against the cardio craze of the 70’s and 80’s, taking a massive knee jerk over reaction and doing it’s best to tell everyone that cardio was bad, bad for you and all you ever need to do is lift heavy weights and sprint or do high intensity interval training.

Thankfully, and I’ll give a nod to the works of Joel Jamieson (8 Weeks out & BioForce) and James Fitzgerald of Opex. These two lads have done great work getting the word out that of the three energy systems, the aerobic system is the foundation that underpins the others.

Stolen from semanticscholar.org


Combat athletes have known this anecdotally and instinctively since day dot. Kettlebell Sports athletes know this implicitly.

However, when I talk to my athletes and clients about cardio, the conversation often takes a predictable path, which is why I think we need to lay out a few points on how to think about the whole topic.

And we star with a quote from the Grand Visier of strength and conditioning, Dan John.

Dan has a (one of his many) quote which goes:

“Keep the goal the goal”

So, you decide that you need better cardio because you gassed out in BJJ last night. That’s fair.

So you go running. Also fair.

After a few runs, you start using Strava or similar and you’re now comparing this run against the last run and looking to make progress. Which is fair, but this is where we need to start checking ourselves.

Is the goal to be a better runner?

Probably not eh.

You’re running to achieve better cardio-vascular fitness. You’re running for the aerobic benefits.

And by aerobic benefits we mean the ability of the heart to push large volumes of blood around and the ability of the lungs to efficiently exchange gasses (Oxygen ad CO2) There are other considerations, but we’ll not confuse ourselves with them just yet.

In order to best train the aerobic system Phil Mafetone, an absolute authority on the subject, suggests we work at a heart rate of 180 – your age. Now this is a guideline, there is play in this.

But go too much higher and you will be working above the aerobic threshold, which isn’t your goal.

Roadwork has been a staple of boxing training since day dot, and for good reason.


Now relate this to your Strava times. So you ran 10k, great. Do you NEED to run it faster? If you run it faster are you still benefiting from what Mafetone calls “Maximal Aerobic Fitness) or MAF.

(I’m always jealous of these people that can make cool acronyms from their names!)

Am I suggesting that you put away your Strava? Not necessarily, what I’m suggesting is you only use it after your run to get a breakdown of the session. A Heart Rate monitor would be more useful (many HR apps will sync to Strava….) as you can see how hard you’re working.

But I still don’t like this as it can be a distraction while running.

You can use the talk test. Essentially, if you can hold a conversation then you are in the aerobic zone. If you can only snatch at short sentences, you’re working too hard.