Workouts & Exercises

Cardiorespiratory Fitness vs Aerobic/Endurance Fitness (No, they are not the same thing)

March 4, 2021 by fitnessbaddie

I believe many people do not understand these terms or the difference between them. I know I sure didn’t for awhile. It gets all lumped together, because we think of “cardio” as anything that “works the heart and takes long”. Actually, these two training modalities are NOT the same, and understanding why you do/don’t need one or the other for your goals is very important!!! And it also might solve some people’s questions about why they do not need to do what everyone thinks of as “cardio” to have a healthy heart, or great strength and power performance. Definitions first (all quotations from Practical Programing by Mark Rippetoe)

Cardiorespiratory fitness or “REAL cardio”: 

“The capacity to efficiently deliver oxygenated blood to working muscles.”

Aerobic/Endurance fitness:

“The efficiency of the oxidative metabolic pathway (being good at low slow distance stuff fueled by this pathway).”

Do we understand the difference?

True cardio means your heart is efficient at pumping blood to the muscles that need it (which mostly definately has to happen during weight training or short intense exercise) and aerobics or endurance means the ability to perform prolonged, low-intensity exercise which does not contribute to power performance.

“Aerobic training actually interferes with maximal strength and power gains.” This is very important point if you know what your goals are both in regards to performance and what you want to look like. Unless you have endurance goals (I NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED to check marathon off my bucket list even if I end up looking like this),


Unless you are marathoner cause you LOOOOVE it, WTF is the point??????

you do not need to be screwing around contemplating your endurance capacities and and VO2 max  which is = the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual (Wikipedia).

“Even if an increase in VO2 max were desired, long slow distance-type endurance training is not as efficient a way to obtain it as a more intense approach to training.” Remember, we are talking about cardio fitness here, not the ability to run 40 miles nonstop. Two different things. “The popularity of CrossFit and its use of “metabolic conditioning” has demonstrated the value and practicality of developing significantly greater endurance capacity without actually doing traditional forms of endurance exercise.”

This type of “cardio” work is much more compatible with strength and power training since there is a crossover between the metabolic pathways used. “Research regarding the use of endurance training for strength and power athletes rather strongly suggests that endurance work interferes with ALL the parameters such athletes are concerned with developing.” They don’t go hand in hand, somethings got to give. BUT “high intensity glycolytic (short powerful pathway) exercise drives improvement in VO2 max (hey my heart will be healthy)… and this type of training can be used alongside weight training programs without significantly reducing strength gains.”

I emphasize this point to my athletes, who for the majority (cept cross country and some track) do not need to be working on endurance in the way they think to. Running 5 miles a day is not doing much for your strength or power and can actually be detrimental. I need them well conditioned, explosive and strong. On average we do 2-3 high intensity cardio workouts per week (sprints, CrossFit workouts, tabatas) and the results? “The kids who work with you can run circles around the other ones during practices….”

Sounds like the right kind of “endurance” gains to me.

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