Confusing What “Can” Work with What Works Best: Revisiting Crossfit Endurance

Last week I posted an article that shows why CrossFit Endurance is not an effective training program for runners.

If you haven’t read it yet then you should before reading this post.CrossFit

I received a lot of criticism and negative comments (which I expected). You can also read this rebuttal article from 2:38 marathoner and author T.J. Murphy.

Today I want to respond to the main arguments from the comments of the first post and from the rebuttal piece by Murphy.

“It worked for me!” and “It worked for ______.”

This argument is completely irrelevant because it confuses “what can work” with “what works best.”

What works best is what elites are doing today and what average runners like you and me should model (scaled back of course). More on this later.

I can take a month off from running and run a 5:00 mile. Does that mean my training program of taking a month off “works?” Of course not.

This entire debate boils down to a physiology lesson. If I want a desired adaptation (say, the ability to run a fast marathon), how do I design training that elicits that adaptation? You train like a runner, not like a CrossFit Endurance athlete.

Consider that the “endurance” that CFE builds is through HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and Tabata Sprints. But unfortunately, these methods only boost VO2 Max, which does not translate to improvements in performance. They are completely different.

I’ll quote directly from Vollaard et al (2009):

Moreover, we demonstrate that VO2max and aerobic performance associate with distinct and separate physiological and biochemical endpoints, suggesting that proposed models for the determinants of endurance performance may need to be revisited (pg. 1483).

“You have no injury rate data” and “CrossFit doesn’t hurt people – people hurt people!”

This is another irrelevant argument. If you look at the structure of CFE workouts, they are inherently dangerous. They are poorly designed and disregard the proper structuring of workouts according to accepted training design principles.

So yes, CrossFit does hurt people. That’s because bad workouts hurt people and CF includes a host of bad workouts.

Power exercises like the clean, snatch, dead lift, or squat (and any other Olympic lift) should never be done in a timed environment. They should never be included in an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) workout because form and technique are paramount to injury prevention.

You’ll never see an Olympic weight lifter performing these lifts for speed because it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous. You’ll see this only in CF workouts (and every strength coach thinks it’s dangerous – see page 5 here).

When I see high reps of a power exercise, I’m not only concerned for other’s safety, but I’m confused. Why use an explosive exercise that focuses on power development in a way that trains endurance? That’s the wrong way to get strong.

There are much safer and effective ways to do this (back to the what works best argument!).

“You don’t understand the CFE program” and “CFE workouts are scalable.”

The program is public on the CFE website and I spent more time than I care to remember looking at the CFE workouts. I was flabbergasted because they clearly violate the basic principles of training design for endurance runners.

They do not include high volume running. Here is the specificity argument again (which curiously was not addressed in the rebuttal piece linked to above – and is the most important criticism).

There is no logical sequence of workouts (general to specific, volume to intensity, and simple to complex). You can see that plainly in this plan. Again, this is training theory 101.

There is no shift in themes that dominate the primary focus of the training. It’s all intensity, all the time.

Don’t forget that the scalability argument is irrelevant. If poor workouts are scalable they’re still poor workouts.

Finally, while pure CrossFit is different than CrossFit Endurance, look at this gem of a quote by Greg Glassman, the founder of CF:

“We’re asked for workouts for baseball, karate, swimming, dance, boxing, but they all get the same thing: CrossFit.”

See the full article. But CFE is different you might say! Of course it is – it’s for runners.

So once you start doing CFE and you have a marathon coming up, you do the WOD (Workout of the Day) on their website. But so does the 5k runner. And the half marathoner.

There’s no customization based on the event. And adding some time to a workout is not scalability for longer events…

“Average runners can’t train like elites.”

This argument makes me laugh because it assumes that Joe or Jane Jogger (like me) has to train exactly like an elite runner. That’s not the case (though most of us can come pretty damn close). T.J. Murphy, says:

The world-class distance runner runs 2-3 times per day, doesn’t have a day job, gets a massage as often as possible, isn’t in it for health and fitness but either for glory and/or for money. Elite mileage levels can get in the range of 140 miles per week. In some cases more. And time in the gym is part of it, too. The ones who can afford it have coaches, chiropractors and massage therapists.

Pro runners have resources that you and I don’t like an entire team of coaches, physical trainers, and other medical staff to help them achieve their best.

Even though CFE has you train twice a day, I won’t get into that. This isn’t a time or resources argument.

Again, we come back to science, physiology, and sound training design. Elite runners train a particular way because it’s the most effective at eliciting the specific fitness adaptations they’re looking for: the ability to run fast over 5k – ultramarathon.

And average runners like me and you can absolutely model their training. And we should – because it’s what works. If you have a time goal, then you have to specialize.

Just see the training outlined in the books of great coaches:

I’m no elite runner. But I ran in high school and college and I know how many schools, colleges, and universities train their distance runners. None use CFE.

Murphy is again confusing what “can” work with what works best.

If you have no time to train and want to do CFE then go for it. But just understand it’s not what decades of research into the training of distance runners has said is ideal.

And keep in mind that every daily CFE workout I’ve looked at includes two workouts. You’re doing double sessions every day – so much for time-saving!

Brian Mackenzie, Founder of CFE

Let’s use one fun case study to wrap up. Let’s talk about the man himself: Brian Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is the creator of CrossFit Endurance. And he has quite the history with using CFE in endurance sports:

  • April, 2008: Mackenzie declares that he will attempt to finish in the top 10 at the Badwater Ultramarathon and CF Games that same year.
  • July, 2008: Mackenzie DNF’s (Did Not Finish) the CrossFit Games.
  • April, 2009: The “100 Mile Movie” project, which documents Mackenzie’s attempt to complete 100 mile races using CFE ends in failure. Mackenzie does not complete any 100 mile races.
  • June, 2009: Mackenzie refuses to complete a qualifying race for the Western States 100. He asks permission to skip the qualifier and is denied.
  • November, 2009: Mackenzie DNF’s the Quad Dipsea (a 28.4 mile ultra)
  • July, 2010: Mackenzie fails to complete a 41-mile run through Badwater.
  • June, 2011: Competitor Magazine claims Mackenzie has completed the Badwater Ultra. No record of Mackenzie exist on the Badwater website.
  • July, 2011: Mackenzie writes an article claiming that peaking for an athletic event is a waste of time. This goes contrary to all exercise science.

For more information on this wacky world, see the CrossFit White Pages

The background on Mackenzie further illustrates periodization and how training design works. Before he developed CrossFit Endurance, he was a triathlete. And not just any triathlete: an Ironman triathlete (though to be honest, he wasn’t very fast).

So what happens when an athlete builds a base over years of cycling, swimming, and running and then focuses on the intense work like CFE? They get faster!

He had a good year in 2006, finishing two ultramarathons. Mackenzie uses his finishes at the ’06 Western States and one another ultra (I forget offhand) as proof that CFE works. But then look at his progress after 2006…

This is a long-term example of a taper. But you can’t taper forever. And Mackenzie’s history of DNFing at endurance events is indicative of just how successful CFE can be for runners.

So What Should You Do?

Again, I can’t recommend Steve Magness’ article enough on the fallacy of CFE. As an admitted science geek with a Master’s in Exercise Science, he can geek out on the real science more than I. Most of your objections – if you still have any – will be answered there. I’ve pulled several concepts from him in both of my CFE articles and can’t thank him enough.

The bottom line is that runners need to train like runners because it’s the most effective way to train. This is a science debate and CFE has no studies that indicate it’s superior – or even on par – with current training methods.

If you want to train for a race using CFE  I can’t agree that it’s the best training for you. But if that’s the only way you’ll train, then do it. I’d rather see more people running than not running at all.

Photo Credit

Was this post helpful?

Then you'll love the free email lessons I've never released here on the blog. Enter your email and you'll get:

  • The exact strength exercises that prevent injuries
  • Workouts that boost your speed (even for beginners)
  • Pacing strategies, coaching Q&A, and more

Comments

  1. I was not very familiar with CF until I read your article and the rebuttal. Reading some of the comments, it sounds like CF has moved from being an physical training program to a cult for some. I got back into running last year (after a 20 year layoff) because I screwed up my back lifting weights, and I needed something to keep my diabetes under control. So, there is no way I would consider something like CF. Yes, you can get hurt running. But recovering from a pulled hammy or even IBT Syndrome is better than a ruptured disk.

    • Yes, the risks are higher with CFE workouts when you’re doing Olympic lifts to failure. It’s madness.

      I got this comment on SR’s facebook page: “Crossfit itself does not hurt you-poor form and pushing yourself beyond our abilities (which is often promoted) does.” While true, the commenter obviously does not understand that the TYPE of lifting in CF and CFE is inherently dangerous. So yes, CF can indeed hurt you.

  2. Hey Jason, you said “can’t” recommend Magness’ article, when I think you mean “can’t recommend it enough” or something. 🙂

    Thanks for posting this rebuttal. I was following all the back and forth, and I am not a CFE believer and I believe CF is dangerous as well (for their basic structure of randomness, improper use of olympic lifts, etc). ACE agrees with you. I trust ACE as an authority on such things.
    http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/962/crossfit-is-the-gain-worth-the-pain-ace-experts

    I think it’s important to remember that most people can finish a race at any distance with some training. It’s just the “how.” How good do you feel, how do you recover, how prepared were you really?

    I used high intensity circuit training (thoughtfully and properly built-this guy knew his stuff) with a great personal trainer for 2 years. I still couldn’t run a mile-or .2 miles for that matter. My V02 max was great-big improvements, but running is just a different game. (I did use the elliptical for an hour at a time). Thus, the point about specificity really resonates with me since I have seen it in action. I was in great shape. But I was no distance runner.

    Of course we all have anecdotes to support or refute. What’s important is where the evidence lies. And I’m glad crossfitters have found an activity they enjoy, but the evidence and scientific principles just don’t seem to line up.

    • Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out Amanda. Totally agree with you and thanks for the article. I like this quote: “if a coach does not fully understand the principles of solidifying the musculoskeletal foundation (alignment, stability-mobility), then they are simply promoting dysfunction and potential for injury. This becomes exacerbated with high-intensity, complex movements performed ballistically against the clock (achieving maximal repetitions in a specified amount of time).”

  3. I love running and I love lifting weights but I’m elite in neither one. So I’m really intrigued by the Crossfit concept. Where it loses me, after reading the articles you linked out to, is the fact that CF “coaches” have so little training. For $100-200+ month I would think I’m paying for an expert. Yes, I want to be safe, but for that money I want more than just a cool group of people to work out with. Maybe I’m missing the point, but I’m left thinking this is just another business.

    • The CF-affiliated gym is a huge moneymaker for CF HQ. That’s not necessarily bad – capitalism isn’t inherently evil. But when a CF coach can get certified in a weekend with no test it’s incredulous.

      • I can get an ISSA cert on the internet and the test is open book. Not that it justifies that but don’t make broad statements about a program if you have not tried it. Leave it alone concentrate on being the best coach you can, and promote your program instead of bad mouthing another program.

  4. I am a fan of CFE and its training principles. I am also a realist and understand that to become a better runner I need a better aerobic base than what CFE provides. I incorporate both ideas into my training.

    One thing you fail to mention is CFE’s focus on treating running as a skill and its focus on first perfecting your running form in order to run more efficiently. What are your thoughts on it?

    You mention that you consider CFE as a means to only boost your VO2 max but isn’t your lactic threshold increased as well. Coupling that with the improvement in running form and the periodic LSD runs running times will increase.

    For elite level running, you will need more specificity but CFE lays a solid foundation. With a larger focus on strength training and the gaining of more lean body mass, isn’t the athlete more resilient to the poundings it is taking while running longer distances?

    • Treating running as a skill isn’t specific to CFE – all good running coaches do this as well. The other 99% of CFE is what is not ideal for runners.

      I did not say that “I consider CFE as a means to only boost VO2.” I said that Tabata sprints have been shown to boost VO2 Max only in studies. And it is incorrect to assume that higher VO2 max leads to faster performances.

  5. Melissa says:

    I’m with Kris. I don’t ONLY run… I run, cycle, SUP, surf, hike etc. And that’s how i like it. I also really enjoy lifting weights 2-3xweek. I find it helps with injury prevention (0 injuries in 2 years now) anmd simply makes me feel stronger and more solid physically and mentally.
    I incorporate CF-like exercises (kettlebells, squats, pullups, pushups etc) but don’t attend a CF gym. For me, it took years of figuring balance, intensity and lifestyle in terms of my physical activity. This works for me.

    The point shouldn’t really be to defend one way or another, but to introduce a viewpoint. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, a style, a method and their own approach. Will they be “the best”…maybe, maybe not. But trial and error is usually the only way to really figure yourself out…from exercise to diet to career etc. Sometimes it’s better to just put it out there and let people take it or leave it.

    • Melissa says:

      Oh almost forgot…i’ve run several half marathons under traditional Running Room training plans with the same time +/-30sec. I just completed another 2 weeks ago and PBed by 3min!! 1:44:44.
      Is it BECAUSE of the CF-endurance scheduled i followed (albeit slightly modified to suite me better)? Who knows. But i’ll take the win!

    • Squats, pullups, pushups, etc. aren’t CF-like exercises! They’re just normal exercises. And remember: physiology and training theory aren’t opinions.

      • Melissa says:

        Well the list wasn’t full…but I guess my point is that I heard about a lot of these through CF endurance discussion or from you. I didn’t say i did ALL of CF exercises. Again…i take what makes sense for me.

        Anyway, my point was it “works” for me, my goals, which aren’t 100% dominated by running. And yes, absolutely, training theory is out there. But every person’s starting point and goal is different. And i know your website is open to all runners, not only those who are only geared to PB all the time and/or qualify for high caliber elite races.

        I find huge value in your website and it is actually the “strength” component that healed my ITB injury and the additional strength exercises and cross-training I have implemented that I believe has kept me injury-free for 2 years. Most importantly it is what keeps me at “my” peak body performance…which admitedly will never be a sub-3:30 marathon. I’m ok with that, but i still love to run and do well. I know my limitations and my strengths and i work with that.

        I just think this is a broader discussion. There is never a 100% no or yes. For me anyway.

  6. You can check Mackenzie’s results on his ultrasignup page, available with a quick search. The other 100 he finished was Angeles Crest; and as with Western States, his time wasn’t really very impressive. Of course, finishing an ultra is an accomplishment to be proud of, sure. But he bills CFE as a superior – not merely adequate – means to competing in – rather than merely finishing – ultras. It’s that hubris that irks me the most. Well, that, and his targeting of straw men. No semi serious distance runner does nothing but recovery runs, as he basically insists. We do sprints, repeats, and strength work. But we don’t sacrifice our aerobic engine to do it.

    But whatever. I’m happy enough to see people show up at races with their crossfit shirts on, since I know they’ll be shuffling and huffing way behind me.

  7. I love how you back up your claims with actual data, facts and logic. I’ve done several workout programs (P90X, Insanity, P90X2) and they’ve all benefited me, but nothing has made me a good endurance runner like running. I’ve never done CF or CFE and don’t plan on it. They both seem kind of gimmicky.

  8. Nice job with these articles! As you and Steve pointed out/hinted at, CFE adherents (or the people in the studies they cite) are often people who had decent aerobic bases and then started doing intensity work – *of course* they’ll get faster from that. Somehow I doubt CFE would work very well for people who have no aerobic base, though, especially for the long-distance races. Guts alone can get a person through a 5k, but marathons and ultras are just so much more aerobically (and structurally, and nutritionally, and psychologically…) demanding.

  9. Great Part II. Thanks for putting this out there.

    About five years ago I tried plain old CF. It was hard and left me sore after pretty much every workout – too sore (w/ dead heavy legs) in fact to run anything over 3-4 miles at a time. I did this for a summer until it was time to train for a marathon, stopped and went back to running. For me, I’ll stick with what I I love doing – runnin’ (say it like Forest Gump).

    — Shelly

  10. Charles says:

    Anyone who reads strength running knows that the original article was written to reinforce Jason’s training philosophies against a new trend in training. Why wouldn’t someone want to speak out against a movement that goes directly against their core beliefs. The blogosphere really took this one and (pun intended) ran.

    • It was to reinforce that there are right and wrong ways to train runners, period. It’s not really about my “beliefs” – it’s about what works according to the research.

    • Is CFE really a new trend in training? Or is it just a program that has no scientific basis or support from legitimate running coaches? CFE doesn’t go against “my core beliefs” – it goes against accepted physiology, training theory, and current best practices for distance runners. That’s not an opinion, it’s just the way it is right now.

      If CFE gains support from the sport’s governing body (USATF) or scientific community, I’d be fascinated to learn more. Until then, CFE sits on shaky ground.

  11. I had to stop reading after “You’ll never see an Olympic weight lifter performing these lifts for speed because it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous” because it’s flat out wrong. And I typically pour over every article you write but this time, I stopped cold because of an outright bias and incorrect information. If you ask some Olympic lift coaches — or just look at Youtube — you will find that they do have their lifters (many of whom *are* in the Olympics) do speed drills. Or you’ll see that guys like Louie Simmons, or anyone else who trains at his facility, do a helluva lot of speed work. Or you’ll see power lifters or strongmen doing speed drills. And there’s a reason for it: muscular exhaustion produces results. It’s about developing force and explosive strength. These two things are absolutely necessary for Oly lifting because when you’re throwing 400kgs over your head, you want to do it as fast as possible. You don’t want to simply do it, you want to get it up and back down as fast as you can, period. Are you going to do speed drills with a 400kg snatch? No, you scale back — way back — and probably use bands or blocks to aid in training.

    If a guy like Simmons says you do speed work when lifting, you listen, you don’t ask questions. If an elite level coach like Dan Johns says to do it, you do it. I normally like your articles but this is one where it just doesn’t add up, at all, and is set to reaffirm your own biases but not actually explain things, more of a “he said, she said” argument.

    • I’m pretty sure that by “speed,” Jason was referring to lifters doing as many reps as possible in a given amount of time. Serious lifters certainly do AMRAP sets and speed lifts in various contexts like the ones you mentioned, but what they don’t do is rep after rep after rep with awful form with technical lifts like the snatch.

    • Speed and power drills are one thing, Olympic Lifts for AMRAP is another.

      Mike Boyle has said, “high rep Olympic lifts is dangerous.” Charles Poliquin has said, “If you try to do everything in your workout, you get nothing. CrossFit is different, and maybe even fun for some people, but it’s not very effective. No athlete has ever gotten good training like that.”

      See here: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_investigative/the_truth_about_crossfit

      Unfortunately, your comment disregards the meat of the debate: What is the ideal training for distance runners? Even if I misspoke, and I don’t think I did, it’s almost irrelevant. Even if high-rep, AMRAP Oly lifting is used by some strength athletes, does that justify CFE as an ideal training program for runners? No, because Tabata Sprints don’t build comprehensive endurance and CFE ignores specificity and periodization.

      • Actually my comment didn’t miss the meat of the debate because I focused on one thing you said, which is irrelevant to CFE otherwise. You said an Oly lifter wouldn’t perform oly lifts for speed when in fact they do and do so frequently. I didn’t touch on AMRAP oly lifting because that’s not what you said and wasn’t what I focused on. What you said and what I said was actually about AFAP lifting, not AMRAP.

        The rest? I didn’t say anything about whether CFE or Tabata was good for distance runners. I didn’t say anything about CFE to be exact.

  12. The lack of training of CF instructors should be enough to scare people away. I had teachers with degrees in kineseology and exercise science who were former olympic or pro athletes teach me proper techniques when I was a young man, and I still hurt myself by going beyond my limit. I could not imagine relying on someone with just a few days training to teach me this stuff.

  13. I use to do RX Crossfit years ago. Heavy lifting was my specialty and pretty much a breeze on life days and amrap days with 400lb dead lifts and double unders kipping pull-ups and just pure sweat. Some workouts were 5 minutes some where 60. Always did RX. I remember runners always wanted to do what i could do. And i wanted to do what the runners could. Crossfit originally used to be meant for garages. For you to view the website and get the workout of the day. It has changed oh so much. So commercial(reebok) people only care about the new work out gear they are wearing. You pay the money for the cert then pay some money for the equipment and you have a Crossfit box. No more garage. No more work with what you got. I went to a box and the instructors/owners couldn’t even do the wod. They had people that didn’t know how to use the hook grip. That’s when I decided that this was no longer for me. CF and CFE is the new Global Gym. They are better than you and they know it.

  14. Thank you for expressing what I’ve been thinking about crossfit. It does seem potentially dangerous, especially if lead by people who focus more on pushing further than safety. Don’t get me wrong – strength training is important, and can cause injury if proper form isn’t followed no matter what type of workout. However the huge popularity of CF and its focus on faster! stronger! makes me nervous for people.

    The fact that its not a magic pill for endurance runners just seems logical… I can’t imagine any sport where you could improve significantly without doing sport-specific training.

  15. I think you are missing something very important about crossfit, whatever the variation. It’s not individual sport/even specific focused training. It’s full body, dynamic, and conditioning training. I know plenty of people who do crossfit religiously, and do marathons, triathlons, baseball, wrestling, etc. Crossfit isn’t their only workout. Having been in the crossfti world, I know all of the jargon, mindless cult sound bytes, etc. But I see the same thing with distance runners. Yes, crossfit uses olympic style lifts, and yes, they do them in a way that no olympic lifter ever would. But have you bothered to find out why? Here is an example. The deadlift. That’s the safest and most efficient way to pick something up off of the floor. There you go! It doesn’t matter what you’re picking up. A barbell, a sack of flour, a box of books… it’s the best way to do it. The same goes for all of the others. The olympic lifts are what they are, because they’re the most difficult, and most practical. Why would you compete, doing something that doesn’t even remotely resemble anything you would ever do in the real world? The whole thing with crossfit is making you strong and fast. Not strong for a weight lifter, and not fast for a marathon runner. But I believe that doing crossfit training is one of the best things you can do, because you will work muscles, do movements, and build endurance and stamina that you never had before. I reference your own article about adding in a good and focused strength training routine, and how much better that made you feel. Same thing. As for the “Random” workouts, that’s intentional, and not as random as you think. Every day, you do a little bit of everything. Each day has it’s focus. On the arms day, there are dozens of different exercises you can do to work your arms. Why would you stick to one exercise, that you do 3 times a week, for months at a time? Talk about boring, and not to mention the potential for overuse and injury because you’re only working on that one muscles, and not the ones around it. Just like with working your abs. You can make them rock hard and chiseled, but if you neglect your lower back, you’re going to hurt yourself. It’s all about full body fitness.

    I read your articles on this, the same way I see some of the people I work with. (I’m military). Yes, they smoke me every time in the runs over 2 miles. Good for them. But when it comes to actual work. Carrying, lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. they are near on useless. I’m not a body builder, but I am strong. I’m working on getting faster, but I’ll never get to their level. But they aren’t working on getting stronger. They are perfectly happy to live in their little delusional world, where long distances reign supreme, are are the ultimate test of fitness. If it doesn’t help me run a marathon faster, than it’s no good to anyone! You all are just as much of a mindless cult as the crossfit guys are. I’m neither. I’m an objective third party who is standing back laughing at everyone for the ridiculous things they swear by. I swear by what works. And you know what… what works for you might not work for me. And what works for me might not work for you. Out bodies are different, out demands are different, our diets, tendencies, aches and pains, etc. They’re all different. So who are you to say that crossfit or crossfit endurance isn’t what works best? Your training methods CAN work too, but are you willing to put your name on it, saying that it’s the ONLY thing that people should do because it’s the best? Would you have said that 10 years ago? Would you say it now? How about 10 years from now? We change as grow as the years go by (I hope you do at least!) How about this… How about you take 3-6 months, and do the crossfit workouts. Actually do the thing you so readily criticize (based on your reading about it). And then check the results. Did it make you faster? Is it easier? Do you feel better? Or did it make things worse, or do nothing at all? If you actually try it for yourself, and say it’s no good, then yeah, your argument will hold a little more weight. But it’s like saying you know all about cars because you looked at some pictures.

    Just admit it. You really don’t know anything about it. You’re really just prejudice against anything that’s not exactly or at least very similar to what YOU like to do or have done. And yes, I’ve been put on running programs like yours several times. All it did for me was make me slower and hurt more. You know what made me faster and hurt less/not at all? Crossfit. After 2 years of crossfit, I took ZERO days off because of pain or injuries. Running 20-30 miles (worked up to it over many months from 5-10) per week? At least 5-6 days per month in addition to rest days I had no take off because the pain was too great. So, based on my actual, real world experience of both sides… crossfit still gets my vote, and you get a scathing criticism for making uninformed statements.

  16. I’m a long-time runner. I have similar dimensions to Jason…5’7″, 130lbs…as well as very similar PR’s in running. The big difference is that I’m a lot older (57) now and I’ve done a good amount of Crossfit. I’ve participated in the Crossfit Open the last two years…even though I’m very novice with the Olympic lifts…and I’ve worked really hard to understand Crossfit, improve at it and do all this without negatively affecting my running and staying healthy. I’ve actually gotten pretty strong for a little guy.

    There is much I love about Crossfit. But from what I can tell…everything Jason says about Crossfit…or should I say Crossfit Endurance…is absolutely true.

    The first problem that seems to be happening is that Jason is simply saying that CFE is not a good way of training for running…but many people are hearing Crossfit is not a worthwhile activity or that Crossfitters are somehow less than. These are two different things. Crossfitters are taking it all too personally…just as runners might do in another situation…just as people tend to do when they identify themselves with something.

    Regardless…the biggest problem with CFE…without any question…is their marketing. It’s the claims they make. It’s nothing short of embarassing. It’s just flat out BS. Instead of promoting it as it is…a way to develop all-round fitness and maintain a bit of running performance…they have arrogantly try to sell it as superior to a more traditional running program…for everybody including elite runners. This is nonsense. Crossfit markets itself like a spoiled little child who doesn’t know any better.

    If they didn’t make these claims, I’m not sure this article would have even been written. There would be no complaints. There’s a difference between saying something is no good…worthless…vs saying it’s not at all what is claims to be.

    At the gym where I work out…there have been quite a few runners who have taken up Crossfit. Without exception…we’ve all gotten slower. At best, we’ve found ways to limit the damage.

    You may criticize me for not having gone through a formal CFE program…and for having tried the running/crossfit combo on my own…but so far, my experience is that full-on Crossfit and high performance running don’t really mix…as much as I wanted them to.

    Nevertheless, I can envision situations where people could get reasonable results with CFE. Sometimes Crossfit really helps people lose weight. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. This alone will improve running performance…sometimes a lot. Other times…someone might be so broken down that the all-around training of Crossfit helps them get their organism back to where they can do stuff. They get some overall strength, a bit of mobility, some conditioning and, as a result, they are able to become active. They find a nice little balance and they have results they find satisfactory.

    I’ve been hurt a lot doing Crossfit…loads of little and not so little ailments. I can’t blaim anyone or anything…including myself. It’s simply because there are so many movements. You can do nearly everything right…but all it takes is one mistake on one movement. Maybe it’s a movement you just don’t do that often. No matter how good the instructor, he can’t keep track of everyone doing everything.

    The format Crossfit uses…as fun as it is…lends itself to overdoing. The metcons put a clock on the workout. They post the results. People cheer each other on. It’s a blast…but it begs for trouble…especially over the long-term. When they first introduced Crossfit at our gym, everyone was hurt. These were not little injuries. There were 3 shoulder operations alone. It wasn’t until a very intelligent and kind Crossfit coach toned it all down…in a sense creating his own version of CF…that the injuries stopped.

    People who do Crossfit are actually figuring a lot of stuff out. Much of it goes against what the CF company (HQ) preaches. The top guys…Rich Froning being one of the best examples…are doing loads of sub-maximal work. They are doing lots of running, rowing, biking at easier efforts. Coaching programs like OPT are doing a good job of taking it to a more sophisticated level…integrating a much better understanding of how to build endurance. However, they certainly aren’t claiming this is the ideal program for distance runners.

    To be honest…I am fascinated by Crossfit. It’s opened up a whole new world of fitness for me. It’s prodded me to learn things I never would have had the occasion to learn.

    But when it comes to running…if you want to do Crossfit…I’d suggest doing it in low doses with a laid back attitude…and mostly run.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Confusing What Can “Work” with What Works Best: Revisiting CrossFit Endurance via Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running. I really liked this post and the one before it. It […]

  2. […] is, however, important to distinguish between what “can work” and what “works best”.  Yes, you can improve your race results with a low quantity / high quality approach, particularly […]