Is Crossfit For Runners?

The promise of rapid speed and strength gains without the bulk has the running community shivering in anticipation.  Many runners are hovering on the brink of jumping into the Crossfit puddle – they’re just waiting for someone else to do it first, and report back.  And no wonder: runners train long and hard, and the risks associated with a faulty program are higher.

For non-competitive runners, or folks just looking for a higher level of fitness, Crossfit is a no-brainer.  But what about runners who compete, or race?  Will Crossfit help them?

We use Crossfit for runners in pre-measured amounts.  Crossfit does many things that we’ve been doing for years, but adds a fun, intense group element that’s really hard to match.

6a00e554f403b68834010535d7d4cc970b 320wi Some things Crossfit emphasizes that will REALLY benefit runners:
1) hips, not knees.  You run with your hips.  You climb with your hips.  Your hips control your speed.  But runners, in the gym, squat with their quads, and do quad extensions on the machine.  While running, your quads act as shock absorbers; they don’t actively move you.  True, rectus femoris is largely responsible for the swing phase of your stride, but most runners don’t train hip flexors either!  Crossfit trains hip flexors with explosive stretch/contractile velocity – perfect for running.
2) short, intense workouts that emphasize recruiting muscles together.  To get faster, you need to get your hamstrings, gluteus, and gastrocs/soleus operating smoothly together, as an efficient unit.  Isolating them with leg curls, calf raises, and glute machines won’t do that.  Kettlebell swings and deadlifts with the correct form will.
3) trunk stabilization.  Situps aren’t effective ‘core work’ for runners.  Runners need stabilization around the trunk, with some small degree of rotation at the same time.  In fact, in our culture, so rich with ‘seated’ jobs, tight hip flexors is a major problem contributing to low back pain.  Starting a run with tight ‘six-pack’ muscles (rectus abdominis) will lead to a shortened stride, as hip flexors are stretched to make up the difference.  
4) balance.  As a runner, you’re teetering on the verge of overuse injuries all the time.  You’ve got to find balance: pulling as often as you push, sprinting as often as you jog, etc.
5) neuromuscular efficiency.  Frankly, your movements can become smoother and more powerful only by lifting faster or with more force.  Crossfit is great for increasing force.
6) increased anaerobic AND aerobic capacity – research on the Canadian Armed Forces showed a great improvement on military personnel.  These were NOT marathoners, though.

6a00e554f403b68834010535deb2d6970c 320wi Some things which may NOT help you:
1) fatigue.  Killing your legs doing a 300-squat challenge the day before a track workout is not going to help you.  You need efficiency in your stride; having a high presence of lactic acid in the muscle is going to force an inefficient firing pattern, and your stride won’t be optimal.  Practice makes permanent.
2) no long runs.  Crossfit strives to enhance aerobic conditioning, but not to the extreme level required for marathons.  At 5km, though, Crossfit is tough to beat.

So, as a runner, how do you KNOW?  Well, as always, a Catalyst Trainer is your best bet.  We use Crossfit with runners, but the workouts are frequently modified to suit the exact needs of the individual runner.  We may make it easier or tougher, or decrease (sometimes increase) the weights.  We may change the schedule to fit your running schedule.  At any rate, doing Crossfit two-four times per week will generally help those with little resistance exercise experience.  It’s MUCH better for runners than typical bodybuilding splits (Monday: chest and arms, Tuesday: back and shoulders, etc.)  Training yourself as a functional unit instead of splitting up muscle groups has a huge carryover into your running.

Some examples:
Crossfit PEI – won the PEI marathon relay, beating all the teams of experienced marathoners with folks who just did Crossfit, and no other training!  I’ll say that again: running only when the Crossfit WOD prescribed a run (maybe twice per week, and only rarely longer than 800m runs mixed with other stuff,) they were faster than experienced marathon and 5km runners!

6a00e554f403b68834010535d7cd38970b 320wi Mike Watson – just had a huge marathon PR of 3:27 in Detroit.  Picked and chose his Crossfit workouts all summer, competed in the Catalyst Games with a deadlift of 460lbs three weeks before the marathon.  40 minute personal record.

Crossfit Endurance – workouts designed just for endurance athletes.  May be the WOD plus some extra, may be a completely different WOD, but a good example of how to modify Crossfit for runners.

Crossfit Running Certifications – to illustrate the necessity of tailoring Crossfit workouts for athletes who specialize in different sports, Crossfit offers certifications for coaches of those sports. 

Me – a non-runner.  I’m coming from a powerlifting background.  Now I compete in US prisons – but I can also run 5km without praying for death.  I’d do a 5km race now.  In fact, Crossfit brings people into a bunch of different sports, INCLUDING running, for first-timers.

Collectively, I believe that if we all share what we know, it can only help.  Every community, every sport has valid research and lessons learned through a lot of pain, suffering, and time spent.  Crossfit is that melting-pot; Catalyst Trainers are your guides.

To help, Catalyst is currently finishing our book on REAL, EFFECTIVE strength training for runners.  Having a ‘chest and triceps’ day isn’t helping you, unfortunately.  We’ll include the ways in which we apply Crossfit.  We’re also doing free Crossfit boot camps every single Saturday at our new gym in the Industrial Park.  When in doubt, just call us or send an email, and we’re happy to answer questions.  After all, long before Crossfit, we were still training elite runners to go even faster.