How fit do you think you are? How are you measuring? Muscle? How far you can run? Body composition?
All of these measures can be indicators of fitness. But there’s a more reliable measure: your heart. When we talk about cardiovascular fitness what it really means is heart fitness. How efficient is your heart muscle in supporting the energy needs of your body?
As discussed in our last post, cardiovascular fitness is important in softball (contrary to popular belief). Having a solid cardiovascular foundation accelerates our training efforts, supports performance during hot days and long tournaments, prevents injury, and is a pillar of our long-term health.
So if cardiovascular fitness is important for softball, what’s the best way to improve it? That’s what we’re diving into in today’s post.
Many of you may have a smartwatch or wrist-worn fitness tracker. These devices can help us figure out how fit our heart is. If you don't have a fancy watch, don't worry; I'll explain how you can still get an idea of your cardiovascular fitness.
The primary measure of heart fitness is called VO2 max.
VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is a way to find out how good your heart and lungs are at keeping up with your body during intense exercise. Let's break down what VO2 max means:
So, in simple terms, VO2 max tells you the most oxygen your body can use when you're working really hard. It's measured in milliliters of oxygen used per minute for every kilogram of your body weight (ml/kg/min).
The higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen you can use, and the better your heart and lungs are at keeping up with your exercise. To get the most accurate measurement of your VO2 max, you might need to walk or run with your watch several times.
But what if you don't have a watch or a heart rate tracker? No problem! You can also use your mile running time as a measure of your cardiovascular fitness. The faster you can run a mile, the better your fitness. And as your fitness improves, your mile time should get better too. To calculate your VO2 max from your mile time, use a calculator like this one.
Now, why does VO2 max matter? It's not just about being good at sports. It's about getting the most out of your workouts. When your cardio fitness is better, your body can get stronger faster. It's not about working out longer; it's about working out smarter. When your VO2 max is higher, it means you can recover faster. Two base-level rate limiting factors in our training are:
If you want a super accurate measurement, you can find places in your city where they put a mask on you and measure the oxygen you use during exercise. But most of us can get a pretty good idea from our watches or mile times.
So, how can you improve your VO2 max? A combination of Zone 2 and Zone 5 training. Zone 2 is the primary zone we want our athletes to operate in while doing our Baseline MX Softball Training. Intervals in Zone 2 allow us to maximize our gym time, getting the most results for our time and effort. We can further optimize our softball-specific training by combining strength training and a mix of sport-specific cardio drills to mimic game situations. You can build a program like this for yourself, or join our program to take out all the guesswork.
Once you're comfortable with Zone 2 training, challenge yourself with Zone 5 training. This zone is the max effort you can sustain for a given amount of time. We like to use a 4x4 scheme, where we challenge athletes to sustain an effort intense enough that they can only do it for four minutes.
Zone 5 4x4 looks something like this:
- Intense 4 minute effort (your gas tank should be totally empty at 4 minutes)
- 4 minutes of recovery
- repeat 4 times
For zone 5 training, start with just one session a week. Plan these workouts when you're at your best, like when you've had a good night's sleep and eaten well. Remember, all of our progress depends on recovery. If you overwork yourself, it can actually slow down your progress.
At Baseline MX, we're all about helping softball athletes work smarter to maximize our athleticism and see results on the field. If you follow our content, you know we're big on optimizing movement in order to access our full athletic ability. But with movement as the foundation, cardiovascular fitness is the second layer that we build our softball powerhouse on. If you can move, and train (and recover) efficiently, you've set yourself up to see continual improvement in your athletic training efforts.
Is there a wrong way to do cardio? Yes. Many people fall into patterns of overtraining, failing to recover, and other things outside the scope of this post. Next week, we will go into more detail on things we want to avoid in our cardio training.
Until next time, get a little better every day