CrossFit or Cross-train?


What is your favorite form of cross-training?  I recently had a chat with a fellow-runner who loves to perform CrossFit workouts on his non-running days.  Who hasn’t heard of CrossFit here?  No one?  We all have by now.  Taken straight from the CrossFit website: “CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.  All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more”.  This all sounds reasonably good right?  I’m here to tell you why CrossFit is NOT your best bet if running performance is your top goal.

Confession – I have never worked out at a CrossFit gym, nor have I completed a CrossFit workout on my own.  I do, however, have a good understanding of different forms of training (aerobic, lactic and alactic) and its effects on our bodies.  CrossFit, while great for developing general adaptations to a wide variety of exercise, it is just that…general.  The problem with CrossFit being used to improve your running is its lack of specificity.  The best form of training for your given event is one that is as specific as possible.  If you want to run fast, at some point you need to run fast.  If you want to run long, you have to run long.  If you want to lift a ton of weight, you better be lifting really heavy things.  What I am talking about is known as the SAID Principle.  I learned this principle in my first year of undergrad and it continues to be the most important aspect of competitive training today.

The SAID Principle is an acronym for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.  When the body is placed under a stress, it adapts (under normal circumstances) so that it is better able to tolerate this stress in the future.  This is why you get stronger when you consistently lift weights – A stress is introduced to your body (lifting the weight) that is challenging.  You then take a step back and let your body recover and adapt to that stress.  Assuming not too much or too little time has passed, when you reintroduce that same stress, it becomes easier due to the specific adaptations that have taken place.  The “stress” becomes less stressful.

“So if you want to get better at dealing with some form of stress such as hitting a tennis ball or running 26 miles, start exposing yourself to the stress in question and then hope that the body makes some favorable adaptations. There are two major limitations to keep in mind. First is that the training stress must be the right amount and second, the stress must be sufficiently specific to ensure “transfer” or “carryover” to your sport or activity.  Let’s look at these issues in turn.”  -Todd Hargrove

When we are looking for a specific effect from our training (being a better and/or faster runner), we must have a specific training method i.e. running and other activities that mimic the demands of running.

What about CrossFit Endurance (CFE)?  Surely that takes care of the above issue.  It’s still CrossFit, but it’s also specific to running…right?  This is actually something I was very interested in for a while, I even bought and read Brian MacKenzie’s book, Unbreakable Runner.  CFE is basically high-intensity runs and high-intensity workouts with an occasional long run mixed in.  They flipped the 80/20 rule (80% low intensity and 20% high intensity) on its head and turned it into more of a 20/80.  This might actually be a great short-term strategy for competitive runners – something that can be sprinkled in or periodized – though I don’t believe it to be a great long-term solution or addition to a running career.  While there is plenty of evidence that resistance training can improve your running performance, I’d argue that it shouldn’t be performed at a high intensity interval style to see those performance gains.

I believe the reason that CrossFit Endurance “works” is because runners get used to “The Suck”.  “The Suck” is that point during a race or a workout where you want to give up.  Metabolic waste builds to the burning point, your legs want to stop moving and you get this insatiable desire to stretch despite that fact that you feel no better when you do.  They don’t get better at the specific skill of running, they get better at enduring.  Another reason it may “work” is if you were lucky enough to have the genetics to handle such high stress consistently.  Occasionally there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to athletes and their training.  Some can handle a lot of high intensity training and not burn out.  Remember, these are the outliers, not the norm.

Bottom line, what helps?  How you do stay healthy and become a better runner?  Lift heavy weights, slowly increase you running volume and practice shorter runs at your goal running pace.  It really can be that simple.  Prepare well, train smart, work hard, and bask in your success!

My program, PR CROSSTRAIN picks up the slack that CrossFit, CrossFit Endurance and other “cross-training” programs leave behind.  It is specific to the endurance athlete.  With PR CROSSTRAIN you will build strength, muscle endurance and injury resilience, all while working on your aerobic engine.  Call 360.491.1815 to sign up today for my 6 or 10 week program!


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