When I started researching this topic, I found some negative articles and some positive articles. I read one of the negative articles and the author was against CrossFit completely for endurance runners. It said that CrossFit is too intense, and it will make you too tired to run the miles you want to run. Then I read some positive articles. These made way more sense to me since the goal of the endurance runner is to be better at their endurance running, not be the best CrossFitter around. The positive articles talked about only doing CrossFit twice to three times a week and backing off your mileage a little. One woman tried CrossFit for 1 month to see if she could improve her 5 Km race time. Guess what? She did by over a minute.
I just got back from taking the USA Track and Field (USATF) Level 2 course in the Endurance discipline. We talked about weight training for endurance runners. I thought the professors would talk only about high rep, low weight workouts for endurance runners. Not so! They even talked about Olympic lifts for endurance runners. Of course, we aren’t going to want to max out every time we lift, but what they were trying to get across to us coaches was there needs to be a variety of different weight training for endurance runners. Does that sound familiar? Kind of like CrossFit!
USATF also recommends endurance runners to train all three energy systems in the body: The Aerobic System, Anaerobic Alactic System, and Anaerobic Glycolytic System. The Aerobic System gets trained very easily for endurance runners by the long miles that they run, and Tempo or Threshold runs (holding a faster pace for a longer time) they do. The Anaerobic Alactic system is trained by short sprints, lifting, plyometrics, and drills that last about 8-9 seconds. The Anaerobic Glycolytic system is trained by circuit training or runs like 200m repeats. These exercises last between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Do any of these things sounds familiar? We do these same types of exercises in CrossFit!
Anaerobic Alactic = EMOM, Dynamic warmups, drills, 50m sprints
Anaerobic Glycolytic = so many exercises that lasts between 30 seconds-2 minutes. We do 100m, 200m, 400m runs in CrossFit all the time.
Aerobic= 800m, 1 mile, workouts that last longer than 2 minutes.
I am also a high school cross country and track coach. In the past, I had my runners doing a lot of body weight training, mainly because we don’t have the opportunity to get into the weight room at school. We have smaller weights that we use and I have taught them different lifts that we do in CrossFit. I have one runner that comes quite often to CrossFit. During the season, he comes to CrossFit 2-3 times a week. When we get closer to our main competitions (Regionals and State), he makes sure he does lighter weight, or he takes that one or two weeks off of CrossFit to let his legs rest to be able to run even faster for our peak competitions. The main thing here is that he doesn’t stop doing the CrossFit workouts during the season because it’s important to have a strong body to run faster. It has worked really well for him.
Endurance runners need to have a strong core and strong hip flexors. We strengthen the core and hip flexors in CrossFit.
Core= sit-ups, v-ups, planks, toes to bar, overhead squats (just to name a few)
Hip Flexors= squats, bridges, lunges, lateral lunges, stretches specifically for hip flexors
Of course, if you are an endurance runner and your main goal is to be better at endurance running and not being the best at CrossFit, you have to train smart just like you would without CrossFit. Use common sense to not over train and listen to your body. Know when you need to rest or back off lifting and running. Also make sure you tell your CrossFit coaches what your goal is, so they can coach you towards better endurance results.
As for you CrossFitters out there who may be interested in becoming an endurance runner, there are lots of great benefits to endurance running. One being the most obvious, building up your endurance (stamina) to do the longer workouts. The other is learning to pace yourself for the longer workouts. That means not going out too fast and burning out, learning to go at a good even pace the whole time. The runner’s high is a real thing. When you get into great endurance shape, you feel great after you run….just like in CrossFit. And don’t’ worry about losing your speed, as long as you continue to train your fast twitch muscles too, you’ll not only still be fast, but you’ll be fast for a longer amount of time!