#123: Aerobic Capacity and the Lactic Acid Death Zone – Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw (CrossFit Games 2023)

Saturday October 14, 2023

Are you ready to take it to the limit to win? Do you even truly know where the limit is? Have you been there, tested it,  and fought through the pain, only to make sure you could go there again. Only the next time you’ll have the confidence to go there and even further? Our limit isn’t a sustainable pace, but it is a place we need to be comfortable being in. 

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw joined Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on the back of the US Army Fitness Truck at 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games for a discussion on the lifetime of work it takes to build capacity and create the adaptations in your body needed to perform with the best. Chris is the founder of Aerobic Capacity, a 10x Ironman Competitor, and one of the world’s top endurance coaches having coached 35 CrossFit Games Champions, the US Military, and professional and olympic athletes to the podium. 

Chis and Fran nerd out on pushing the boundaries of your lactic threshold and how getting comfortable in that “death zone” must be embraced if you expect to win against the world’s best. They also discuss mastering the art of establishing a breathing cadence, pacing yourself effectively, and understanding how rest between intervals is just as important as the work put in during the sets. 

Learn more and read the transcript on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

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Aerobic Capacity and the Lactic Acid Death Zone – Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw (CrossFit Games 2023)

Chris, thanks for joining The Jedburgh Podcast.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

I love it. I spotted you guys in Wodapalooza. I’m fired up. Six months later, here I am.

That’s awesome. You saw the interview with Don.

I did. I sat there and watched. I liked the interaction. It wasn’t like he threw a bunch of cream puff questions out there and you are held accountable. When he says, “We’re doing good things,” you’re like, “Specifically what?” I like that.

You’re in the hot seat. He joined us. It was awesome. We got to follow up on that conversation. One of the big things that came from that time with Don was he invited Jessie and me to go and get our Level 1 Trainer Certificate course, which was awesome. That threw us in and advanced our journey in CrossFit this 2023 to give us that foundation to understand the science behind it.

CrossFit is something that I’ve done in and out. Being in the military, it’s a big component of what they did for a long time, but you never got formally trained. Nobody ever sat you down and said, “This is what you have to do.” That really gave us that background. It was life-changing because I honestly believe if I had gone several years ago, I probably would’ve saved a couple of injuries.

Did they present the wellness curve?


Isn’t that genius?


You are someday going to get sick. You will, whether it’s the flu or whatever. It doesn’t matter. It could be COVID or whatever. When you get sick, that degree of wellness that you have is a cushion. It’s a buffer. My childhood friend was diagnosed with adrenal cancer when he was 38 years old. He went through a horrific round of chemo. He was an all-American swimmer and incredibly well.

He survived the first round and went into remission for three years, but because of that chemo, he can never kick it back again. That was eye-opening for me. It is recognizing that you need some cushion, because what if it’s a bad one? That’s what I learned. What CrossFit teaches people is it’s coming. You either want to keep it pegged and completely topped off or it’s your choice. That resonated with me. That’s the main thing that I walked out of there going, “That was big.” It was revolutionary. I loved it.

You’re one of the top endurance coaches in the world focused on developing aerobic capacity. You’ve coached 34 CrossFit games champions, 50 plus podium athletes, and 10 Ironmans yourself. You have been on the podium on a number of those. This is a topic that’s really interesting to me and something that I focus on every day in my training. I default to aerobic training before I default to weights any day of the week.

As a collegiate rower, aerobic capacity strength was important, but aerobic capacity was always where I felt that the guys who performed were the ones who were able to breathe and breathe well for longer at high duration and higher intensity. I’ve always carried that through. We’re doing to do the 5K.

I’m doing it too.

That’s awesome. I told Jessie I get excited when the runs come in the CrossFit workouts because I’m like, “I get a break. I get to run,” because the weights are crushing me. We are so excited to dig into all of those. When you think about aerobic capacity, what’s the definition that you put on that?Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Aerobic capacity, by definition, is your VO2 max. It’s your maximum oxygen uptake. It’s your maximum ability to breathe in oxygen and get that oxygen to the moving muscle groups. There are a lot of factors involved in that. It’s the absorption through the lungs. It’s your heart’s ability through stroke volume to take that oxygen-rich blood and push it to the muscles. The capillaries and enzymes have to take it into the mitochondria. It’s a big complicated process, but in reality, all you’re doing is trying to maximize the absorption and utilization of oxygen.

[bctt tweet=”Aerobic capacity is your maximum ability to breathe in oxygen and get that oxygen to the moving muscle groups.” username=”talentwargroup”]

If you have a low aerobic capacity, you may be able to breathe quickly, but your body isn’t able to draw and convert that oxygen into energy to keep up.

That’s correct. Think of it as you have central adaptations, so your heart and your lungs. Your heart and your lungs don’t know what your movement is. You can do anything and help your heart move more oxygen-rich blood. That’s a good thing. High intensity will create that adaptation in everybody. For somebody who is brand new to fitness, any level of intensity is going to create improvement.

That’s why CrossFit universally creates adaptation in everybody, whether you’re a lead or recreational due to the level of intensity. We also have peripheral adaptations, and that is in the muscles. When you talk about, for example, the movement of rowing or we were talking about Ninja Warrior, what you’re doing is you need to create adaptation in the specific muscle groups that are doing the work. It’s under the theory of specificity. That takes years.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

That’s why if you look at elite marathon runners, what’s the average age of the people that are hitting nearly 2 hours? It is 35 or 36 years old. It’s a lifetime of work to optimize those adaptations. What’s beautiful is those adaptations are where your maximum sustainable pace comes from. Your aerobic capacity is not a sustainable pace. It’s your peak. It’s your maximum. You have to slow down some to find your sustainable. What’s nice about that is it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman or old or young. If you practice that intensity, you can improve it for life.

What’s the name of that intensity? Is that critical power?

Lactate threshold.

I’ve got twenty questions.

Here we go.

Talk about the lactate threshold. People ask me all the time, “What do you take from collegiate rowing?” I say, “I would’ve never become a Green Beret. I would’ve never made it. I would’ve never thought about even doing it if I hadn’t rode competitively in college.” No other thing that I’ve ever done in my life, including Ranger School, Special Forces selection, and everything was as painful as a five-and-a-half minute race that takes you from resting heart rate to lactic acid shock like a 2,000-meter rowing race. Why does that happen and how does that happen?

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

First, let’s talk about what you said. You recognize rowing as what made you into a Green Beret. The amount of damage you did to yourself day in and day out, what it does is it changes you. What people need to recognize that are reading is that’s what fitness does. It changes you. What it did for you is you had to take risks, and that takes a lot of courage. Everybody that goes into a gym is taking a risk. That’s courage. When they have that experience like you did, what you walk away with is confidence because what you’re doing constantly is touching your boundaries. What is the unknown? That’s what I do with the leads. I am trying to show them what I see. I have no emotion in the game. You’re the one with the emotion. I know what you can do.

[bctt tweet=”The amount of damage you did to yourself changes you. People need to recognize that’s what fitness does. It changes you.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I often became very emotional.

That means you are on the edge of your experience. That’s true. When you go hard, especially in Green Beret, and deny rest, you end up crying. It’s a natural emotion. You have to recognize that what fitness does is it’s hard for everybody. If you have a good coach and a good gym, what they’re going to do is they’re going to not make you do something. You’re going to voluntarily want to do it.

You’re going to recognize that with that courage and you taking that risk, if you’re in a safe space, you’re going to walk out of the gym and walk out of your rowing workout with more confidence. When you go back tomorrow, you’re not the same person. Where does that resonate? It’s what you said. When you decided to become a Green Beret, everything you learned was who you are. The risk isn’t as great because you know what comes out the other side, and that’s ownership. That’s a key piece that I want to share.

What’s happening in a 2K row is this. It’s a long event. Anything over three minutes, you don’t have the flexibility of going out fast and hanging on. You have to control your intensity because you don’t have unlimited energy. You can’t. What you do is pace it. You pace it to maximize your consumption of energy in order to maximize your performance in that time domain.

Unfortunately, in rowing, what happens is that you spend a tremendous amount of time at a non-sustainable pace. What I want you to think about it is this. It’s non-sustainable, but people don’t know. They are like, “What do you mean by non-sustainable?” Let’s think about it in terms of Mount Everest. Think of the peak of Mount Everest as your VO2 max. That’s your maximum aerobic capacity. It’s not sustainable.

On Mount Everest, they have a death zone. The peak is 29,000 feet roughly. The death zone is 26,000 feet. Camp 4, the last camp, is below the death zone. The reason why it’s called the death zone is because there’s insufficient oxygen to survive above the line. The brain’s going to die. It’s a race against the clock. You summit and you got to get back down. If you stay above the line, with 100% certainty, you die. Think of the lactate threshold as your death zone. You could go above it, but you can’t stay there. You got to go back down.

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Unfortunately, in a 2K row, you ultimately have no choice. You’re going to have to go above that lactate threshold and stay there until the end. This is what’s called tolerance. What high-intensity training does is I will give you workouts that deny you sufficient rest. You’re going to accumulate more fatigue as you progress. Your job is to not quit because that accumulation of fatigue by being above what we call lactate threshold and density is going to force your muscles to shut down. If you don’t slow down and get down to Camp 4, your body is going to shut you down. By default, you’re going to go back to Camp 4.

What rowers do is they train an incredible ability to tolerate high levels of acidity. They train their muscles to suffer at the most extreme levels and keep those muscles firing. That’s the key to what Michael Phelps was. It was gymnastics. Do you know that in men’s gymnastics, the final two routines in the rotation, they’re above the lactate threshold? The rest isn’t enough time. Imagine going into high bar as a man and you’re doing one minute of high bar and you’re already in a non-sustainable pace. You have to train that. That’s what you did and that’s why you were great. It’s fascinating.

I’ve never had it broken down. It’s something that has defined so much of who I am and what I’ve been able to do. It was something you don’t think about though. Why do you compete in collegiate athletics? It’s because you’re eighteen years old and you don’t know any better. The coach is like, and this is a perfect example, “We’re going to do 5x5s.” It is 5 5-minute pieces. It’s a race. It’s all out and five minutes rest

Out of curiosity, what do you guys do when you rest?

We spend the first minute still moving on the slide because your body is still trying to come down. You’re laid out and trying to walk around. The young guys will end up sitting down. The older guys learn, “Can I move around and move my legs?”

They didn’t teach you?


Isn’t it interesting? They teach you how to do the intensity, but they don’t teach you the recovery. Why? When you look at that qualities in workouts, as coaches, what we do is manipulate various qualities. If I want to get you good at running on the sand, then what am I going to do? I’m going to make you run on the sand. If I want to get you prepared for a half marathon, then what do I do? I add more volume into your training diet and your body adapts to that more volume. We keep doing it until you do a half marathon. It’s that easy.

What’s interesting is that what they are doing is they’re targeting the intensity, the five-minute time domain at maximum effort, but then, you also have in your workout recovery. You have distance, which was based upon time of five minutes. You also had intensity. That’s the second quality. The third quality is you rest. You’re only being defined by your intensity. What about the recovery? That’s what happens out here. Is it your recovery that’s limiting your performance?

Possibly.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Think about your Ninja Warrior. What if your arms or grip didn’t get so fatigued? What if you weren’t so tired? Could you do more?

Of course.

That’s recovery.

That’s your aerobic system.

It’s your ability to clear fatigue. That’s right.

If I am fully pumped after an obstacle and I have 30 seconds to recover, if I have a really strong aerobic system, I may be able to fully recover in the 30 seconds and start fresh again.

You’ll recover faster. That’s correct. If you guys think about a pushup, think about how many pushups you can do unbroken. Let’s say your goal is to do ten more.

It’s a less than I used to.

In Green Beret, you’re tasked with points. Yes. Like so ammo between

Between 70 and 80 is going to get you in that 95 to 100.

Let’s say you test out of 60.

I’m not making it.

That’s a problem. Here’s the problem. When you go, “I want to hit 80. What do I do? I’m at 60. I need to do twenty more,” do they tell you what’s preventing you from making 80 or do they say, “Do more,” meaning more volume? You’re already able to do 60. Why are you doing more pushups? Why aren’t you thinking, “What’s preventing me from doing more? Is it my strength? Should I do one rep bench?” No. You could do 60 of them, so then what is it?

Why is it that you tap at 60 versus 80? You’re the athlete. You need to tell me because I’m your instructor. “I get tired,” is what you’re about to tell me, so why aren’t you working on your recovery? Why are you always sitting and doing nothing when you’re training your pushups? You do a rep or you do a set and then you rest. What do you do when you rest?


If your stimulus is nothing, then your adaptation is nothing. In your rowing of five minutes, you didn’t have a protocol. The purpose of rest is to put you in a better position for the next interval. You didn’t optimize your recovery. You have to realize. Does that make sense?

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

How can you optimize your recovery?

That’s where you have to look at. CrossFit recognized that intervals allow an individual to maintain high intensity for a longer amount of time, more minutes. What you must teach then is how to optimize recovery. Recovery is three things. What you said was correct in the beginning. The first minute, you’re moving, but you’re gassed, so all you’re trying to do initially is get back in control of your breath. That’s all you’re trying to do. No amount of shaking does anything because your muscles are starved.

I’ve seen guys like this.

What you have to do is get back in control of your breath. That hyperventilation that you have, what it’s telling you is your muscles are getting insufficient oxygen. That’s what hyperventilation is. Your demand for oxygen is exceeding what you can supply. What you have to do is initially get control of your breath. What’s the optimal way for you to get control of your breath? Is it lying down? Is it standing? Is it hinged? Is it hands above the head or hands at the waist? What is it?

This is what you have to practice because you don’t want to constantly vary in your rest. You want the body and the brain to know this is rest. It knows when it goes into a recovery protocol, like MMA. Look at Khabib. His recovery protocol in his one minute is legit. It’s the same every single time. His coaches know what they’re doing.

Not to bash Conor McGregor, but watch him fight and ask me, “Does he know what he’s doing in his one minute or is it random? Is he talking sometimes? Is he walking sometimes? Is he hinged sometimes? Is he yelling sometimes? Is he seated sometimes? Is he drinking and seated sometimes?” If it’s random, how does the body know what you’re doing? The body adapts to the stimulus. After that, what you do is you have to move.

Remember. Your slow twitch fibers are your main source of recovery. Endurance or aerobic fitness is how well can you recover. It’s a major measure of clearance of fatigue. When you’re throttling in your five minutes, what’s happening is your fast twitch fibers are going to get energy anaerobically without oxygen. As a byproduct of that, you’re going to create what we call lactic acid. Lactic acid is two pieces. It’s the lactate and the acidity. When they come into the muscle, they come in together.

We measure lactate, but it’s the acidity that’s damaging. If you don’t get rid of it and it builds, it eventually will interfere with the muscle’s ability to function. That’s what happens in your first five minutes and that’s why you burn so bad. What you have to realize is that acidity is still sitting in your rowing muscles when you finish that five.

The slow twitch fibers, do you know what they do? They are able to oxidize this acidity. How? It is because they take this lactate and see it as a fuel. Your slow twitch fibers love this lactate to help the slow switch fibers move. When you consume that lactate as a fuel, it grabs the acidity and removes it from the body. If you improve your aerobic fitness or endurance, then your ability to clear that lactate is accelerated.

What do you have to do after you get control of your breath? Move slightly. Keep the slow twitch fibers moving. Do you know what I see out here on the floor all the time at how people recover? They’d go into an isometric squat. Could you imagine doing your five minutes of max effort rowing and you’re going to recover in a squat? That would be like you doing your legless rope climb and go, “I’m going to hang here for a while while I recover.” It’s silly. What you want to do is move to keep the muscles moving, right? The last thing that you want to do before you start your next interval is get your head back in the game. There are three pieces, and they don’t teach that. When everybody does a 5×5 back squat, do you know what they do during their 3 minutes of rest?

Standing around.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.


Is there a specific breathing pattern that you recommend?

You’re so good. I was out here with Dave Castro. We were watching the teens and the masters run their 5K. They come through the stadium, and every time they come through, it’s another mile on their 5K. I saw them come through on the first mile and they were fast. Sub eighteen minutes after several events is a legit time. I thought the course was short and they were like, “We wield this thing three times. It’s legit.”

What I wanted to do was I wanted to hear the rate of breath because the breath tells you everything. Remember. The breath is your oxygen. That is the source of energy for your slow twitch fibers and some of those fast twitch 2A fibers. The cadence of the breath and then the speed that you are breathing, how many steps are you taking per cycle of breath? You listen and watch. If you’re taking two steps per cycle of breath, that is extreme hyperventilation. You, no joke, are in deep trouble. If you still have two miles to go, you better slow down or you are going to walk. You saw that with Rich Froning in 2014. He didn’t know. He put himself into that position. That acidity was maxing out.

[bctt tweet=”Hear the rate of breath because the breath tells you everything. The breath is your oxygen, and that is the source of energy.” username=”talentwargroup”]

If you don’t voluntarily slow down and get to what we said in Camp 4, the muscles will stop functioning as we said on tolerance because you can’t keep them on forever. If you don’t slow down, the body shuts you down. What you’ve done is you’ve given up your control or your ability to make decisions because you ignored what the body was telling you. That breathing cadence is critical. That’s what I was listening for with Dave. Even Dave was like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “In trouble. Great.” You knew who was not going to be there the next lap, and they weren’t.

Can we go back for a second? You said two steps per breath cycle. Can you explain how you count that?

Yes. First of all, there are two things in breathing that are critical. Your breathing has to be rhythmic. It has to be a reliable and predictable pattern because your brain is responsible for the recruitment of motor units. The brain is evaluating all these variables. One of them is, “When is my energy coming in?” If it’s random, then the brain is going to hold a bigger percentage of muscle fibers in reserve because it doesn’t know you’re going to go into a one-minute breath hold. Swimmers have the best breathing rhythm. They breathe 1, 2, and 3 breath. It’s rhythmic and the brain knows that, so it can maximize recruitment. The first thing you have to do is have rhythm. That’s number one.

Number two is you want to make sure that you’re aware of when you’re in control or not, so a two count. You in the movement of running, it is two steps per cycle of breath. Your exhale always occurs on a foot strike. That is when one foot makes contact with the ground. A two-count is exhale and step. Those are your two steps. That’s two. That, you’re not surviving very long. You’re in deep trouble, so you either finish or slow down. What’s next? A three. A three is as it sounds. It’s three steps in the cycle of breath. It is exhale 1, 2, 3. You could survive for a decent amount of time. Leads can get up there in five minutes with 100% capacity. It depends on your quality of fitness.

In a four or higher, you’re getting enough oxygen in the muscles that are moving. A four is you exhale and you start it. Remember. The exhale is always triggered on a foot strike. It is 1, 2, and 3, and exhale. The X evolution in breathing is, “How many steps exhale do I take and how many steps inhale do I take?” What you have to do is find out what your natural cadence is.

In the main stage for CrossFit HQ, what I did was I had a bunch of non-motorized treadmills out there. The twenty people that signed up and came in jumped on the runners. Your aerobic system gets warm with no warmup in 90 seconds. After 90 seconds of running on the runner, what I did is I listened to their cadence or their breathing and told them, “Here’s your natural rhythmic breathing.” It could be a six count. It could be a ten count. Tia breathes on a six. Katrin Davidsdottir is a six. Mat Fraser is a four. Rich Froning is a four. I had a Marine at 29 Palms. It was an eighteen. It’s a unique signature of yours.

To people reading, if they want to figure out how to do their own, go to the pharmacy and get some foam earplugs. It will block out all the peripheral sound and all you hear is your breath. The key is that you have to learn the progression and rhythm. It is like, “When am I in trouble? When am I not in trouble? How many steps exhale? How many inhale?” Nasal breathing is the last thing you should do.

I’ve never been able to nasal breathe when I run.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

I’ve tried after reading the book, Breath, but it was so counterintuitive.

Did you feel in that book that it explained the intensity that you could nasal breathe and can’t nasal breathe?


Let’s say you’re doing a maximum 400-meter on the track. Should you nasal breathe the whole time?

I don’t think I could.

From reading that book, does it make it clear that you should or you can’t?

It does not.

That’s what I was struggling with. I’m a fan of nasal breathing. There are huge benefits to doing it. The problem is you don’t have enough surface area through the nose. When the intensity gets too high, you can’t get the air. It was the same concept with that training mass that came out years ago. I would see people running on the track and I’m like, “Wow.” You’ve got two McDonald’s straws. You’re on the track breathing through these McDonald’s straws and I’m telling you to do repeats. Imagine your five-minute intervals through a straw.

There’s no way.

You’d go slow, wouldn’t you?


You’d still hurt, but you would train yourself to go slow. That’s what you have to be careful about. You don’t want to suffer and go slow. The purpose of high-intensity intervals is to train the muscles to go fast, challenge your neurological system, and force the brain to sequence muscle fibers in the proper pattern. What we have to realize is nasal breathing has its purpose, but at some point, at some intensity, you can’t get enough air through the nose. Nasal breathing is intended to be easy pace, which is Zone 2.

I want to ask you how that applies. I don’t know where the question is here, but I’m going to throw out the scenario and you can give your thoughts. One of the big components of selection for Special Forces is unknown time and unknown distance.

That’s right.

Do your best. Jessie and I were talking about this. I said, “Every event that I did in selection, I gave everything. I ran as fast as I could.”

It’s because you don’t get a second bite of the apple.

Exactly. Fortunately, I finished at the top of every event.

That’s super impressive.

You had moments where you’re like, “I have to keep going at everything I have.” We talk about elite athletes running on a 5K course known distance. I can throttle myself. I can put it in my head. A 2K race. I know I’m going to go 30 strokes out the gate. I’m going to bring it down. I’m going to do some uptick at certain points if I’m getting pressured. There is still this countdown in my head. How does all this apply in an unknown time and unknown distance, where I may come around the bend and there’s a cone designating the end? That might not happen until the sun comes up.


The sun went down.Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Let me ask you. Is there a minimum time domain? Could that test be 30 seconds?

It could.

Was it ever?

Absolutely not.

It never is.

That, you never know. You never think about that.

At the CrossFit games during COVID, they only allowed 5 men and 5 women to go. There was an event where they had to run. They ran over cross country, uphills and down, and everything. They ran in mixed terrain and all dirt like what you do. No rock though. You’re on another level. What happened was that two leaders who came in were told to go and double back without any notification. When they hit what they thought was the finish line, they said, “You’re only now halfway. You’re going to repeat the whole thing twice.” Everyone was like, “That’s unfair. That’s ridiculous.”

As those people meet up with all the other competitors, they all know that they’re turning around. There’s no sprint to the finish. The damage to the first two people was they had to sprint to win. Meaning, they went above their maximum sustainable pace. It was a K. A 5K is simple. Why? It is because you’re below the lactate threshold the entire time. It’s sustainable. You’re not creating damage. As long as you have the stamina that you spend enough time on your feet, you’re not creating any issues for yourself.

Everybody who received notification because of the two first people passing them again stayed at their maximum sustainable pace. The difference in speed between a 5K and a 10K is insignificant. The difference between you doing 30 minutes or 1 hour and a half is insignificant. That’s what people need to realize. You’re doing what you can do. That’s what’s so beautiful about the test.

I’ll tell you a story. We were in Quantico when I was working with seventeen training commands for the Marine Corps. A commanding general comes up to me and he says, “What are you hearing at the water cooler?” I’m a contractor, but I love the gig and I want to come back. He says, “What are you hearing?” I say, “What I’m hearing is I’m hearing why the Marines do three miles in their PFT. The Navy, Air Force Coast Guard, FBI, and firefighters all do a mile and a half. The Army does two. Why are they going to do a mile and a half when we got three?” He says, “What did you say?” That, I loved, because he wants to be toeing the party line.

I also realized that he’s not quite sure. As a general, he’s being vulnerable in that moment. Those are the best of the best. I won’t coach an athlete that thinks that they have it all figured out. You need to acknowledge you don’t know what you’re doing. We’re on the same page because I already know you don’t know it.

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

What I told him was, “The thing is that mile-and-a-half is a known test. It’s the Cooper test. It’s been around since 1968. It’s a known protocol to test your VO2 match, your maximum aerobic capacity. You do the mile and a half, you get to your finishing time, you look at the charts, and you can see where you sit. That’s why firefighting is a mile-and-a-half test.” I said, “The thing is that’s your peak. It’s not a sustainable pace. Your sustainable pace is some percentage below that. Do you want to know about your three-mile tests? It’s the only useful test that there is. How much can you do now?”

That’s what the Marine Corps does. That’s why it’s the best test in the military. That’s the truth, but people don’t know. They’re not sure how to define those things. That’s where you get back to it all. Coaches need to continuously learn. I love that about CrossFit. Their core business is education for the affiliates because their other core business is the affiliates. They realize that if we’re going to advance the sport, our coaches need to be smart. They need to be able to answer questions. To have an organization where one of their key pillars is education and knowledge, where does that exist? That’s what we’re driving at. I admire what they’re doing in that space.

Can we go back to that race you were talking about where they didn’t know how far they were going until the two leaders had to turn around?


Can we talk scientifically about why that sprint to the false finish line screwed them over? If you’re going to run your 5K or 10K, that maximum pace that you can maintain, what percentage of your full sprint speed is that typically?

Pacing workouts are dictated based upon the time that you have to work for. You don’t pace everything. If you did a ten-second sprint, you wouldn’t pace it.

As hard as I can.

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

At some point, you pace, so it’s based upon time. When you look at a workout, you have to look at, “How long will that take me?” That’s going to define your overall strategy. In my opinion, based on your metabolic pathways or your energy, about three minutes. You don’t have unlimited energy to go fast and hang on. You’re never going to do well. You’ll underperform. You have to control it.

In a 5K, you must pace. In a pacing workout, you have three speeds. You have the start, the middle, and the end. The start is where people make the biggest mistake because they’re fresh. They’re excited. It takes 60 to 90 seconds for your aerobic system to firmly kick in, so be patient. Your purpose at the start is to establish a smooth and rhythmic cadence in terms of your running and breathing.

What you do is you sit. You sit at that intensity unless you have to go up a hill below your maximum sustainable pace. There are hills and obstacles you’re going to go above, but you’re doing it by choice, and then you settle back down again. You stay there until when? It is until you get close enough to the finish line that you want to take a risk. Can I do a little something with you? I’m curious.

Let’s do it.

This is what I want you to think about. I want you to run a lap around the track as fast as you possibly can for 400 meters. At what point when you’re running around that track do you feel anxiety, distress, or that uh-oh moment? It’s that moment where the brain comes in and says, “If you don’t slow down, we’re never going to finish.” Doubt creeps in. It’s the uncertainty where you’re challenged. Do you have the specific meters?

One hundred fifty.

One hundred fifty is where you would feel that uh-oh moment? Do you have a point? You don’t even have to answer it. If you make it past that point, all of a sudden, you’re getting closer to the finish line and that sensation goes away. You become more confident as you get closer to the finish line. You could tolerate that unsettling anxiety. Do you ever feel that where you feel the uh-oh moment or you have doubt of like, “I’m going too fast.”

Maybe 100.

Let’s do a mile for time. There are four laps. What lap is where you want to quit or you want to slow down where you feel like, “I’m in trouble?” Is it lap 1, lap 2, lap 3, or lap 4, or do you never feel bad in a mile?

Two hundred meters.

Are you a sprinter?

I’m a pole vaulter. I run 100 feet. I measure my running in feet.

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

In that second half of the second lap is where it’s like, “All right.” I used to train on the track almost every day for a very long time. When I got done rowing, I had no fast twitch muscles. I got done rowing and had a devastating elbow injury in the spring season of my senior year that required two surgeries. I had zero physical capabilities. I graduated and had 0 upper body strength because I had come out of a cast for 8 weeks and then I hadn’t run in 4 years. I was going to the Army in October, so I had four months to get something done where I was going to be competitive to be in the Army.

Who trained you during that or did you figure it out?

I have not had Stew Smith, the Navy SEAL, on the show. I have exchanged texts with him numerous times and told him this story. He has agreed to come on. We haven’t set a date. Despite I am in front of the Army truck and served in the Army for 13 years, I bought 12 weeks to BUD/S. I religiously did the workouts. I added to the runs and I trained on the track. I lived in Boston, so I trained on the Charles with the known distance between the bridges. I knew fundamentally all my times from 10 meters to 20 to 400.

All your paces. Did you learn that from your rowing paces?

Yes. I knew also from rowing when are these moments where you are going to have to settle and then where that settle is going to become unsustainable, and where you’re going to have to start to push through in that unsustainable moment. For us on the Charles, it was always the Anderson Bridge as the halfway.

That was where it was go time.

I worked with the BU rowing team. I always tell them, “You’re going to have to go way earlier than you ever think you’re going to have to because everybody else is going.”

That’s risk and courage.

That second half of the second lap is where you’re like, “I’m settled, but I’ve got to push,” especially since we’re keeping the split here for the time. I know I’m coming up on a half, but it’s in your head, “I’ve got to do again what I did.”

That’s the question. The rower, when they get to that, you said, “Go time is going to be sooner than you think.” It means that they have that same sensation that you both have. That sensation where the brain says, “If you don’t slow down, we’re not going to finish,” is universal with every single athlete. If something is universal, then it means something. What does it mean? It’s obvious. Remember. The brain is responsible for the recruitment of your motor units. It’s evaluating how you feel and measuring your remaining distance. It knows and it makes all these calculations.

The brain, what it is doing is saying, “If you don’t slow down,” meaning to get back underneath your sustainable and into that sustainable, “I can’t force,” type of intensity, “In this intensity, because you’re in an unsustainable pace, you are dying.” That is telling you you’ve moved above the lactate threshold. It’s universal. When you feel it, you know what it means.

Unfortunately, what they’re doing is they’re not aware of what the body is telling them. That is something that’s very important. What you want to do is you want to feel that sensation for those rowers right at that point that you mentioned. Why is that important? It is because the brain’s expecting it to occur. If the brain is surprised, you underperform. Remember. Your brain is evaluating your game plan.

You are, as a coach, going to say, “You’re going to feel that uh-oh moment where the brain’s going to kick in and say, ‘You need to slow down,’ but that is part of the plan.” Your perceived amount of pain matches the actual. If you underestimate and say, “A 2K row is a joke. It’s easy. I can do it all day long,” and then you get to that point, do you know that mismatch? 100% of the time, you underperform. That’s why athletes have to take some ownership so they’re not surprised. When you’re doing Ninja Warrior, you are like, “Where is it going to get tough for me?” It is so when you get there, you’re not surprised by how difficult it is.

I try to always overestimate how difficult it’s going to be because if I’m surprised, it’s pleasantly surprised. I’m like, “I’m doing okay. I have a better chance.”

That’s so smart. I love it. I tell people all the time, “You’ve got a coach. Why make mistakes?” I know for sure I did ten Ironmans. Most of my muscle fibers are low twitch. I never want to sprint if it came down to me or somebody else. I never went into the gym and lifted heavy. I have about 15% of my muscle fibers that are fast twitch.

Endurance Coach Chris Hinshaw on The Jedburgh Podcast with Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff from CrossFit Games 2023.

Imagine. I spent 6 to 8 hours of training every day for 7 years and I never went into the gym. Did I have 15% of my available capacity to pass it because I didn’t train it? That was a mistake. Why? Would you ever allow yourself on any level to make mistakes like that? Seek out an expert. We’re all accessible. Ask a simple question. That way, you cut right to the front. Mistakes should never be made.

We can talk to you all day.

I appreciate you.

What you don’t know is you got a group behind you of people in Aerobic Capacity T-shirts whom I figure are going to pull you into something else. The team’s event is about to finish up here, too. Thanks so much.

I appreciate it.

Twenty years later after my rowing career is over, I’ve learned a lot of what I wish I knew back then, but I’m going to put it to you.

I appreciate that.

This was a really insightful and very detailed technical conversation. We haven’t gotten into a lot of those, so I appreciate it.

I appreciate that. Thank you both. We’ll do it again sometime.


I appreciate it.


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