CrossFit Endurance: The Best Way to Hack Endurance or a Total Sham?

by Jason Fitzgerald

The claims are bold: run less mileage with more intensity (and a lot of lifting) to race faster. But does it work?

CFE

That’s the million dollar question. Is CrossFit Endurance (CFE) an effective training program for runners?

Here’s how CFE describes itself:

CrossFit Endurance is an endurance sports training program dedicated to improving performance, fitness and endurance sports potential. We inspire, coach, and provide our community with the most aggressive and proven fundamentals of sports science, exercise physiology, nutrition, and athletic training protocols.

Power and speed are critical components to success in the endurance world… We focus on eliminating unnecessary volume of training while increasing intensity. Our programming is structured, sport-specific and seamlessly integrated with Olympic lifts, powerlifting, gymnastics movements, explosive activity and mobility-based support…

Our strength and conditioning approach for endurance athletes is unparalleled. We incorporate the CrossFit fundamentals of being constantly varied. Repetition is the enemy and results in a decreased ability to build fitness.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And we’ll get to that soon…

I want to share my thoughts on CrossFit (CF) so you have a framework for evaluating any new training program. It would be easy for me to record a short video listing the reasons why I dislike CF, but I want to do deeper.

It’s become increasingly popular among runners as a way to cross-train and increase strength. Before it’s proven itself as an effective training protocol, flocks of runners have tried to use it to become better runners, prevent injuries, or get stronger.

And that leaves the question: does CrossFit help runners? And is CrossFit Endurance an effective way to train runners?

I say no to both. Here’s why.

Strike 1: Specificity!

The most damning element of CFE is that it violates the rule of specificity, which simply says that to be a good runner you have to practice running. To run well in any event you have to prioritize race-specific fitness. Training, therefore, develops the tools you’ll need on race day.

This is physiology and training theory 101. It doesn’t get more basic than this.

To be a good power lifter, you have to practice power lifting.

To be a good marathoner, you have to practice running long distances.

CrossFit Endurance reminds me of this fun quote:

You can’t plant potatoes and expect to harvest carrots.

Simple, isn’t it? I wrote a training program for a woman who took three months off from running and was surprised that she felt so bad when she started running again because she spent every day on the elliptical.

The elliptical is not interchangeable with running. This runner was planting potatoes and expecting to harvest carrots.

Likewise, throwing long runs and marathon-specific workouts in the trash in favor of nonsensical “endurance workouts” that favor upper body lifting and intervals run until “form deteriorates” is insane.

So much for train, don’t strain.

Strike 2: “Proven” Fundamentals of Sports Science?CrossFit Endurance

CrossFit Endurance is essentially a combination of circuit-based workouts where you lift heavy, often as fast as possible. They’re called “AMRAP” (As Many Reps As Possible) workouts and are based on time.

An example:

3 rounds for time of: 25 kettlebell swings and 25 burpees

These workouts are incredibly intense. They’re then combined with HIIT (high-intensity interval training), also known as Tabata Sprints.

One such workout is 8 reps of 20 second sprints as fast as you can go with a mere 10 second recovery.

Combine high-intensity lifting with high-intensity running and what do you get? Probably an over-trained or injured runner! See my earlier post that discusses over-training and the “chronic cardio” debate.

Ultimately, CFE ignores the history of training. See, we’ve already tried the interval-only approach. It was how Roger Bannister trained when he became the first person in history to run a mile in less than four minutes.

But it’s not optimal for long-term success and there are more effective ways to train (which is why the Mile world record is now a staggering 3:43:13).

There’s a sweet spot of easy running and intensity. Without both, your results will be sub-par.

But CrossFit Endurance relies on Tabata sprints and intense circuit workouts to produce endurance runners. And their reliance on the science behind these workouts is mistaken because they confuse VO2 Max with performance.

That’s because Tabata sprints DO increase VO2 Max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can deliver to working muscles). But to then conclude that an increase in VO2 Max will lead to faster race results is incorrect – they’re two very different things.

I highly recommend Steve Magness’ more thorough discussion of the science behind CFE workouts, aptly titled CrossFit Endurance, Tabata Sprints, and Why People Just Don’t Get It

I trust Steve because he’s a 4:01 miler who coached elites like Galen Rupp and Mo Farah under Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project. He has a master’s in exercise science, coaches a few pro runners, and is now the head cross country coach at the University of Houston.

Strike 3: Who Needs Well-Rounded Athleticism?

There are five fitness traits that define athleticism: Strength, Speed, Endurance, Flexibility, and Coordination according to Tudor Bompa, the “father of periodization theory,” an Olympic rower, coach of multiple Olympic and World Championship medalists, and Professor Emeritus at York University.

Unfortunately, CrossFit Endurance only prioritizes speed and power (and misunderstands that power is simply the combination of strength and speed).

Every aspect of athleticism – or biomotor abilities – must be present in a good distance runner. This concept of “multi-lateral training” focuses on the development of every component of fitness in planned balance. That’s why Dathan Ritzenhein skips, runs, and does power cleans.

Specialization is ultimately necessary depending on your focus (i.e., specificity!), but long-term progress demands balance.

USA Track & Field says:

“The biomotor abilities are requisite to each other and are interdependent upon each other. While specialization is necessary and appropriate at times, the value of balance among an athlete’s biomotor qualities and balanced development of these abilities in the program should not be underestimated.”

So why ignore endurance if your goal is to specialize in endurance? True, there are other ways to boost endurance, but they’re not as effective (read Steve Magness’ article linked to above).

Ignoring the best way to build endurance in an endurace-focused program is a blunder I can’t understand.

Strike 4: It’s Not Ideal for Building Strength

This is one of my favorites. So the whole goal of CFE is to lift heavy to build strength – to increase the structural integrity of the “chassis” to prevent injuries.

But circuit-workouts for time are not the best way to increase strength!

In Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry, he outlines how you lift for power, strength, and endurance:

Power: 2-5 reps as fast as possible for 3-6 sets.

Strength: 5-8 reps for 2-4  sets. The speed of the movement isn’t as important.

Endurance: 12-28 reps done slowly for 1-3 sets.

So CFE is (kind of) lifting for power – when endurance running is not a power sport! Nor is true power required that much in any endurance event.

Without resting in between sets the strength gains are not maximized and you miss out on the whole reason why you should be lifting in the first place. If you don’t rest, you won’t get as strong.

Plus, there is no progression in the strength workouts in CrossFit Endurance (and we know the power of progression). There’s a random mix of some strength-oriented lifting with a lot of high-intensity AMRAP workouts.

Instead, runners need to lift for strength in the gym – with proper rest. But gym workouts with weights aren’t even necessary. Instead, runner-specific strength work can be done with body-weight exercises like those in the Strength Training for Runners program (highly recommended).

Strike 5: Personalization? Just do what I say!

Every runner is unique and needs a different combination of mileage, recovery, cross-training, injury prevention work, long runs, and workouts.

That’s why stock training plans often lead runners to plateau or get hurt – they’re made for everyone, not you.

With CrossFit Endurance, you have a giant stock training plan even down to the amount of weight you lift. Nothing is tailored.

There are WOD’s (Workout of the Day) that show you what to do, but doesn’t take into account where you are in the training cycle, who you are as a runner, and what your background is with the sport.

With no ability to modify the workouts, runners will get hurt, plateau, or not see as much progress. The results from custom training speak for themselves.

Strike 6: The Proof is in the Pudding

How many elite runners use a CrossFit strength program?

How many elite runners use CrossFit Endurance as their training program?

If CFE is “unparalleled” then how many CFE athletes are winning major road or track races?

The answer, of course, to all three of these questions is zero.

As self-pronounced “leaders in strength and conditioning for endurance athletes,” they should be ahead of the rest of the strength and conditioning world. So that begs the question, “what elite endurance athletes (those that compete at the professional level in any endurance sport) use CrossFit Endurance?

To answer that question, I reached out to Alex Hutchinson, the author of Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? To the best of his knowledge, he knows no professional or elite runners that use CrossFit Endurance.

Elite athletes are using the best training possible provided by the smartest coaches, physical therapists, and sports scientists in the world.

If CFE worked, they’d be first adopters. So much for forging “elite” fitness.

So, How Should Runners Train?

Runners need to go back to basics and focus on the fundamentals of sound training.

Increase your mileage and run a consistent long run to develop endurance.

Do consistent runner-specific core and strength exercises to stay healthy.

Run strides and hill sprints to work on your turnover and stride power.

Integrate race-specific workouts depending on your goals that follow a logical progression.

Periodize your training so you’re focused on different goals at different times: base-building,  race-specific fitness, tapering/sharpening, or recovery.

Any other training program for runners ignores the basic science of adaptation, periodization, and specificity.

Read any good book about running and you won’t see a single mention of CrossFit Endurance – for good reason.

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Deb

I was just discussing CrossFit with my running buddies this morning over coffee and get home to find you posted an article about it the same day! How in the world do you time these articles so perfectly?

Jason Fitzgerald

Didn’t you know that all running bloggers have a crystal ball that predicts what their readers want?

Deb

I believe it!

LJ

When I was training for my first marathon two years ago – I was using CF as a way to cross train. About 3 months before the marathon, I was doing box jumps and almost missed the jump. I stunned my leg for just about 30 seconds, but that was enough to say “this is stupid” and dropped it that day.

I’m not bold enough to say that it can’t work as cross training for a novice per se, but I can say that the mentality of crossfit was distracting enough from my goal of being a better runner, and THAT I think is definitely detrimental to runners, especially novices.

Jason Fitzgerald

YES. One of the more overlooked aspects of CF/CFE is that the mentality is all “all pain, all gain” – and the injury rates are high (especially if you’re also running a lot).

Walt Lee

Nope the injury rates aren’t high. But, if it supports your argument, you might as well say whatever you want with no empirical evidence.
http://insidetheboxbook.com/2013/05/14/another-cfe-attack/

Brian

I actually know of one female elite runner who fell into the Crossfit trap, doing that as a supplement to running as she said. I was skeptical. She now has bad hip stress fracture and will lose the whole of this year’s season and is currently on crutches. Hopefully she will recover, but perhaps not, we’ll see.

Shad

I ran an experiment on myself to do Crossfit 2-3 times a week and not change my running. It did not work. I ended up in the hospital. You can read a little about it here: http://www.shadmika.blogspot.com/2013/04/another-failed-month.html

It was just to much to try and recover from on a day to day bases.

RC

I think that CF and CFE have a place in training. But I do agree that specialization is key when you begin talking elite level performance. Brian MacKenzie has stated as such (can’t locate exact quote for reference atm). For non-elite level runners, CFE and CF are good ways to develop your overall fitness level and a solid strength foundation. Its focus on treating running as a skill helps reduce the occurrence of injuries (POSE method). Injuries due to performing lifts improperly or missing box jumps are attributed to poor coaching and lack of awareness by the athlete. I would venture to say that CFE/CF is not nearly as ideal for marathon training than it would be for mid-distance events. However, I’ve read stories of individuals who’ve successfully used CFE to prepare for marathon and ultra-marathon races.

Jason Fitzgerald

Whose training? If fitness is your goal, sure. But not if you’re trying to be the best runner you can be.

I’ve read stories about marathoners who don’t train and successfully finish a marathon – not training must be a good idea!

RC

Touche….General functional fitness should be the goal initially for a beginning runner. From that fitness base, you can begin specialization to become the best runner you can be. Many times a beginning runner cannot handle the mileage required to compete at his or her level. This is where CFE principles help the athlete’s progress.

That is not to say one cannot develop a fitness base without CFE. It is just one pathway on the road to high performance running. To create an us vs. them argument based on generalized statements is not an ideal approach.

Jeff Gaudette

Great article, Jason! Get ready for some great comments and backlash. Here is one of my favorites from my previous post on CrossFit:

This is inaccurate because it makes too many assumptions about what CrossFit is (I can’t speak for the other types of training). I train at a cross fit gym with many runners and run a little myself. In the first four months of training CrossFit four to five times a week my 5k time went down from 29minutes 2 seconds to 23 minutes 22 seconds and I never ran more than 400 metres at a time during that four months. The marathon runners I train with have seen their mile times decrease significantly and quickly. This is mainly due three things in CrossFit: heavy weight lifting for the lower body (particularly deadlifts and squats), high intensity workouts over short (sub 20 min) periods of time and tons of work strengthening the core. All good runners will now that a strong core is a crucial part of keeping good posture and being efficient as a runner. The strength developed in the lower body through heavy weights and plyometrics makes hills far easier and increase the ability to maintain higher speeds for longer. The lack of specificity to running doesn’t make sense.

Pure gold :)

Jason Fitzgerald

I love responses like this that show a complete and utter lack of understanding about distance running training. I’m sure I’ll get a few great ones too…

Shelly Browne

To me, this is the crux of the matter – distance running and the miles needed to train for it. If I’m using CF for 90% of my training and 10% is dedicated to running – that says to me that in 100 days I’ll run 10. I can’t run a marathon or ultra training that way.

I’ve done CF in the past; a couple of years ago I didn’t do long runs for a summer and did CF instead. The reason I didn’t run long was because my legs were tired and dead for longer distances.

—Shelly

Snow

Sorry Shelley, I should have explained the 90%/10% better. I meant that 10% of the time I just go out to run for the fun of it- no structure, no set pace, I usually just find a trail and enjoy myself.

90% of the time I use CFE methods to train. That includes running. The way I’ve structured my training, there are two interval sessions during the week and a time trial on the weekend, so I do run 3 times a week. The TT might be 10 or 21kms so I still run long (I never race more than 21.1kms). I think a lot of people think that training using crossfit endurance means you don’t run. That’s not the case.

Snow

So sorry Shelly, please excuse my mis-spelling of your name!

Lydia

I really appreciate this article. It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype about the latest exciting workout. There are quite a few people in my small community that have jumped on the CF wagon. After 3 months it seems like most of the people doing CF are still very very sore. While I realize that the vast majority of my philosophies come from you and people like Steve Magness, it still goes against the grain of what I’ve learned with self improvement in any aspect of life. Change comes through small steps made consistently over time. CF is so aggressive. It’s hard to keep that kind of intensity week after week. I keep thinking…who can maintain that? I know as a little layman, not elite athlete, I can’t. I’m so glad that I have seen the benefits of the things I’ve learned on strengthrunning.com in my life. Do you think that as far as weight loss goes, people get confused thinking that building muscle quickly through CF will help them lose weight faster than the consistent good aerobic base that running gives?

Jason Fitzgerald

Hey Lydia! I was just ranting to my wife about the same thing – that after MONTHS people are still sore from CF workouts. That’s indicative of poor progression and adaptation. Not good. From a weight loss perspective, CF can work well because its intensity level is really high. But the best route is likely a combination of running and lifting heavy (with adequate rest, which CF does not give).

Ruggero

Hi Jason, it’s Ruggero from RunningShoesGuru.

Great article! It’s unbelievable how people can forget about specificity!

It’s obvious CrossFit, at least in the short time, would help some fitness gains. I guess shaking up your type of training and doing it with others can break some monotony and re-kindle one’s enjoyment of sport.

But if your goal is running faster (or longer), there’s nothing that can beat a running specific program aimed at your specific goal. And this for any sport I can think of, skill or performance, no exception.

Anyway – if you want to share some of your wisdom with our readers over at runningshoesguru.com – I’d love to feature an article of yours.

Erin

Great post, as always, Jason. I am a CrossFit drop-out, so I was especially interested in hearing what you had to say here.

I recalled (from RYBQ), a while back, that you had said that CF wasn’t exactly the best way for serious runners to be spending their time (read: runners who are interested in becoming better, faster, fitter, and the like), and for a while, I thought I could continue to train as I wanted to PLUS get in 1-3 WODs/week at my gym. While I enjoyed the workouts and the intensity (though I ALWAYS had to scale the WODs down), I realized as I was beginning my Eugene ’13 training (on a more intense program and more mileage than ever before [Pfitz, up to 55 mpw]) that I needed to concentrate most of my exercise time on running, not on WODs that had, at best, incredibly ancillary effects on my training…and if I’m being honest here, WODs that often left me sore and sluggish when it came time to do my REAL workout of the day.

Anyway, I dropped my ~$200/month (!) membership in Feb. ’13 and continued to do some home-based strength training with your 10×10 (bodyweight) routine & standard core routines, and would you know… I took 11 minutes off my PR I set in January ’13 (3:30–>3:20). While I think that strength training definitely has a place in a marathon (or any running, really) regiment–like you have said here and on RYBQ over and over and over–there are better (read: more conservative, less injury-inducing) ways to become stronger than doing AMRAPs that leave you toasted for days.

Rant done :) Hope other runners see the truth emanating from your entry here!

Deb

You summed it up well, Erin. I still have some stubborn friends that think throwing money at CrossFit and being proud of their killer workouts that leave them too beat up to run well is the way to go. I am glad to be enlightened as I quietly blaze past them feeling great!

Doug

Thanks for sharing this. It seems like I have more and more friends flocking to CF every week. They talk about how great they feel, while in the same breath tell me how they can barely lift their arms from a workout 5 days ago.

There are so many things that CFE is missing. From plan personalization, like you mentioned, to simply learning what it feels like (physically and mentally) to run for multiple hours! It might get you through an endurance event, but it wont be a very effective way to do it.

I mean, just look at the body of some CF-head and the body of an elite marathoner. If spending all this time to build super strength in certain parts of the body was so important, why does elite runner have a totally different physique?

Bill W

Jason

Your ignorance is comical. CF and CFE are an evolving machine. The workouts are completely scalable, vary greatly from day to day, and every box is vastly different. Most “elite” (meaning professional in your definition) athletes have an “elite” coach. What percent of the population are elite distance runners? Is that the demographic your targeting with your coaching business? I guarantee most of the people that read your blog are somewhere between novice and hobby runners.

You state that CF workouts hurt people. People hurt themselves! If something is to heavy, scale down, if your missing a range of motion, work on mobility from the CF mobility guru Dr. Kelly Starret. Nobody at CF makes or encourages people to do work outside of their ability. My worst injury came from stepping in a pothole while practicing running drills from Kinetic Revolution. I’m certain it’s their fault.

Sending your kid to a tutor twice a week won’t guarantee good grades or elite performance, as is the same with CF. CF is a business, it’s a business that caters to the masses. It’s principals center around perfect form. Most people haven’t the foggiest idea of good running form nor the ego-check to scale down weights beyond their ability.

I see the point of your article, which is quite slanted. The best way for us non-elite runners (non sub 6:00/mile) to learn, is to start with the basics. CF is a tool to help teach perfect form, mobility, and encourage well-rounded fitness.

Jason Fitzgerald

C’mon Bill, you’re missing the point. Training principles are true no matter your level or speed – it’s just physiology. That’s why elite runners don’t do CFE. Regardless of how scalable the workouts are, they’re not the best workouts for runners. You miss the concepts of specificity, not focusing on endurance, and why any endurance athlete would focus on power.

Matt

Your article is written with the tone of a middle school kid who is mad their not in the cool crowd. Your article could have been more effective if you would have done a little more research. You make a few good points but unfortunately you did not substantiate them with good data. Instead of making personal attacks, you should re-write the article to explain your “opinion.”

DMcC

Hey Billy research the demographic before making assumptions about who reads and is coached by Jason.
Also, Jason uses many case studies showing several “Elite” athletes, who started all this CF and CFE ruckus, that they in fact couldn’t finish their intended races after the capacity to do them wore-off. Meaning, they were runners and triathletes for a very long time prior to developing CF and CFE. When CF was all they were doing the endurance went away, like it will (bodies are funny like that) and DNF was what was left–not surprising!
So, your entire premise for CF is built from something started without being researched and proven, hmm, doesn’t make much sense to me. I like coach my runners using sound, researched, proven and severely tested approaches and not just on “Elites” but runners at all stages of athleticism.
Come on, if CF was truly the cats meow of endurance running to get better, wouldn’t everybody be using it from the top down???
I’m a USATF Sprint, endurance and marathon coach, an Athletic and Personal Trainer. I have degrees in Applied science for Anatomy and Physiology and Biology. I have coached hundreds of people to their goals in fitness and running, and of all ages. Believe me, if CF and CFE was what worked it would’ve been taught to me in my athletics courses as the way to train endurance “running” athletes, it wasn’t, still isn’t and I believe, won’t.

Rock on Jason, forgive billy he knows not what he says

Lisa

Good article! I have friends who do crossfit and have joined them on 2 occasions….walked away completely sore and unable to run for the next few days. I find the intensity too much and that people lose form and more prone to injury the more reps and with the more weights they do. For me, crossfit and endurance training do not go together…

Snow

Nicely worded Bill.

Jason, the way you’ve written this piece highlights the fact that you have never done Crossfit and never bothered to understand its concept. As Bill touched on, any training method can cause injury. Whether training through Crossfit or more traditional methods the activities need to be scaled for the user.

I was originally skeptical of Crossfit but now I use it for 90% of my training. The other 10% comes from when I just want to get out and run for the fun of it. I particularly like the way crossfit focuses on technique and building an understanding of the basics before advancing further. Do you teach your athletes how to run and then give them technique drills before telling them to go out and run for 90 minutes? Aside from in the pool no other coach has ever done that for me before Crossfit.

Lydia

Snow. I curious about what your goals are as a runner? Do you race? Do you try to perfect your run so that you can get a personal record AND feel fantastic? Do you train so that you function best while running? I, in no way mean this as a personal attack. I think it’s great that you’ve found something that you love doing 90% of the time. I’m just curious about where you are coming from? I am a runner. I love everything about it. All my cross training that I do is done to help me be a better runner. The biggest point that sticks out to me here is that CF isn’t the best thing for runners. I don’t know exactly what you are referring to when you say, “Do you teach your athletes how to run and then give them technique drills before telling them to go out and run for 90 minutes? Aside from in the pool no other coach has ever done that for me before Crossfit.” Jason focuses a lot on technique and has specific drills that help people be better runners. Have you read any of his other posts? He spends a lot of time talking about things to do for your body besides running. He is almost fanatical about it because he knows how important it is. This is after all, a running website. :)

Deb

Well stated, Lydia! Being so crazy about running and improving in the sport, I can’t imagine taking much time away from it for CF, though heavily value the core work Jason suggests. There’s nothing wrong with CrossFit for casual runners and all the people out there who balance multiple sports or are into overall fitness and challenging workouts. I think the large majority of CrossFit defenders on this blog are missing the point that it’s not the best thing for PR-focused pure runners who prioritize running heavily over all other sports.

Snow

Hi Lydia. I am predominantly a triathlete but enjoy running the most of the 3 sports. I’m always open to trying new methods and am always trying to get my running times faster. I rarely race in a pure run but often give myself time trials to see where I stand.

For years I was a heel striker and managed to get my 5km down to 17 mins when I younger. I’ve recently been running longer and before doing crossfit my half marathon was around 1:37. After 6 months of crossfit endurance I managed to break 1:30 for a half. I think that’s a pretty big improvement and I believe the two biggest changes were stronger glutes and hamstrings, and better running technique (mid-foot strike/ stronger core/ falling forward, etc). Realistically I could probably have done weights and fixed my technique and made that improvement without crossfit. I would never say that’s the ONLY way to do things, but I felt that the metabolic stress that crossfit creates helped me turn the speed up a little. It also made me look at the smaller things like body position and focusing on using the glute strength rather than leading with my hip flexors. I’d never done that previously.

We need to remember that there is never just one way of doing things- especially something like an athletic pursuit. Jason mentioned that there are no elite runners using crossfit therefore it’s not valid. I think any elite runner whose current methodology is working would be insane to switch to something else that might or might not work for them. Over time I believe more people will use the CFE methodology and perform well using it but I’m also sure periodization and long, slow distance will also be used. I’m not too familiar with their standard of competition but I am aware of Rich Airey (runner) and Guy Petruzelli (tri/ duathlete) are both using CFE and I believe they both race or have raced as pro. Erin Cafaro (dual gold medallist rower) also used CFE so I don’t believe it is wise to dismiss this method completely.

If anyone is interested in gaining the understanding of crossfit endurance that Jason clearly doesn’t have, take a look at Brian Mackenzie’s book “Speed, Power, Endurance. A skill-based approach to endurance training”. The concepts are not wildly different to methods being used currently, it just breaks it down and it made me look at swimming, riding, running and lifting as a technique, rather than a brute force activity.

Good luck with your running Lydia, no matter which method you choose.

Peter

Hi Jason, just discovered your site. Very insightful info. I am just beginning running and am using some of your articles to help me avoid injury. At the same time I am a hefty 6′ 230lbs so I also do upper body strength training well and love doing it. Right now running hasn’t been high priority but I have a great team of athletes I work out with at my work gym and so I’m excited to see where I can go with this. I only starting being serious about fitness 3 months ago so I hope to continue improving to become a true athlete. Just wanted to say thank you. I’ve done the trials of CrossFit and I can definitely say I see what you mean. I think this is enough to stay away from it (well the price tag is enough to stay away!).

Shelly Browne

Thanks for the article Jason. You’ve got a great point though, those elite and not so elite runners aren’t doing those kind of splits by decreasing their running and increasing (or even attempting to do) CF.

—Shelly

Thomas Johnson

@Jason I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this article rebutting your one http://insidetheboxbook.com/2013/05/14/another-cfe-attack

Laura

When I saw this article, I was excited to read it. My gut told me that to become a better distance runner you have to run more distance (and obviously do race-specific workouts). A couple of years ago I joined a gym that isn’t a CrossFit affiliate though we do a lot of the same things. It’s more functional-fitness-oriented with the focus on becoming a stronger, healthier, more fit human being (not necessarily to become a faster runner). Apparently, I am the only person at the gym whose race times did NOT improve — but what did happen is that my endurance improved, my ability to power through tough running workouts improved, and my recovery time improved — all important for someone in their 40s like I am. But I find that to perform better at any race distance, you have to focus on training for that distance. I ran a half marathon without normal half-marathon training (i.e., low mileage, low speedwork, etc.), and while my finish time was OK (6 minutes slower than my PR) it felt like a DEATH MARCH. Focusing on half marathon training for 2 months provided a much faster and enjoyable experience. So while CrossFit type workouts are fun, to become a faster marathoner, you have to train like a marathoner.

Premshree Pillai

I’m (obviously) no CFE guy, but the one thing that makes me wonder if it may just work is this: CFE is new, and there just aren’t enough (any?) elite-level runners who have tried it as their program. In other words, we don’t have a good enough sample set to know whether it works or not. Don’t you think?

Richard F

CFE isn’t all that new, it’s just not that popular with runners because it takes away from running. In fact here’s a post from early last year that seems to have been Jason’s roadmap to writing his own article: http://danglethecarrot.blogspot.com/2012/01/calling-bullshit-on-crossfit-endurance.html . But overall, you’re right, we don’t have a large enough sample set of “elite” runners to know whether it’s effective or not. The problem is, there will more than likely never been a sample large enough because the elites have elite coaches that are going to have them do basically two things: run a whole helluva lot and sort of lift weights.

The problem is Jason’s view is very biased, for good reason. It’s not that he’s wrong (entirely) or right, he’s got his product and reputation to sell so he’s got to make sure that what he talks about is inline with that. There are plenty of people who do CF/CFE-style workouts and do not run outside of that and post perfectly good race times. They’re not speed demons nor elites but they’re also not training to run, they’re working on fitness — so really, Jason’s looking at this from the wrong angle. Hell, I know that I improved my own 5k time last year by not running an ounce and spent 6 months deadlifting. I PR’d by a few minutes and it was my first run in months. The difference is I knew I was training to be stronger, not faster, but the latter came as a result of the former, which is CFE’s outlook on things.

Danielle

I agree with many of your points. I do have to say though, CF style workouts were my tipping point when it came to running. I built up endurance fast and surprised myself when I went from 3 miles to 6…. to 14. I know I am not a skilled distance runner, but I now realize that at least I am a runner… and if I wanted to train to become a better runner I COULD. I got my confidence to run from many many push-ups, pull-ups, and air squats… nothing wrong with that.

Antoine

Hello everyone,

I’m one of those people who loves running and crossfit, and i don’t necessarly understand why so many people want to oppose the two, especially since there’s already a lot of running included in Crossfit.
I used to be solely a runner, and Crossfit has definitely helped improve my running results, and vice-versa running has helped my endurance in Crossfit, so I do personnally think that each helps the other if you’re a beginner or have an intermediate level.
Crossfit has never been a sport of specialization, everyone knows that and crossfit coaches regularly say this, so if you want to specialize in a sport (at elite level), you better do exercices that are specific to that sport.
I have read a lot about CFE and, according to my experience, I do agree with the author: you cannot become good at half-marathons and marathons if you don’t do long runs. I’ve seen so many times people being fast in intervals and failing time and again at marathons because they missed the long runs!
Then again, I can only say that this is my experience, because I haven’t tried CFE, and I haven’t read Brian Mackenzie’s book. Alas, I believe M. Fitzegerald hasn’t either! The author so many times in the article limits Crossfit or CFE to “lifting heavy” which shows that the author has never tried Crossfit for a certain period of time. If he had done so he would have learned how Crossfit is versatile, and it’s good for Cardio, Flexibility, Power, etc.

What Crossfit gives to endurance runners is a stronger core and stronger legs (especially the Glutes). Yes, you can develop those muscles on your own at home, but how many average runners do you see regularly doing that? None of my running buddies do.

Rainy

It’s J Fitzgerald. J is definitely cooler than M. Other than that, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments on the matter :).

Ken

Antoine, I’m one of those people that enjoy both also. Love the discussion. Reminds me of cyclists and runners…..

Rainy

I would like to say it’s important here not to confuse Crossfit with Crossfit Endurance. They are related, of course, but different in an important way in this context. CFE recommends reducing mileage drastically and even removing long-runs altogether, while at the same time promising pie-in-the-sky improvements in your long distance endurance event (very suspect, I agree, based on the “specificity” complaint). Crossfit is a sport, not a marathon or iron-man training replacement, and it never has made that claim. The claims they do make – that CF can help make you stronger, more flexible, more powerful, increase endurance – well, they deliver on those.

So I use it as a strength training program – responsibly, carefully. I don’t go crazy and try to out-Crossfit the folks whose goal is to be great Crossfiters. That’s not my goal, I’m trying to build up my structural strength so I can keep running longer without injury. I’m not the only successful runner doing this. At CF I do a ton of squats, weighted and not, a zillion lunges, planks, jumps, push-ups, burpees, all manner of hip strengthening, flexibility and balance work… And I’d point out that many of these body-weight exercises are in your own (very well thought out) strength routines, like the standard, the cannonball, the standard core.

Also, there are some comments in the article that make me think a small confusion exists. A proper crossfit routine has 2 parts: the strength piece and what they call a MetCon. The strength piece is where you do these heavy weight lifts, like cleans, jerks and snatches (some which your Olympian buddy recommends here, in your own article! http://strengthrunning.com/2012/03/interview-dathan-ritzenhein-training-structural-fitness-power-cleans/). These you’re supposed to do slowly, with perfect form and lots of rest between reps. This is a good thing! Think strong hips, hamstrings, quads, glutes! The second piece (MetCon) is low or no weight (body weight), and that’s where they do the AMRAPS you mention, or also timed reps. So, that’s just not correct that you are asked to do heavy reps as fast as possible. I agree that would be stupid.

I apologize if I go on and on… it’s just that I respect the crap out of you, and at the same time I feel like I’ve found something that’s working, so I was confused and distressed for a sec. I am not as experienced in running OR crossfit as some of your other readers, I’m sure, and perhaps this CF for strength + Jason’s 1/2 marathon running program (Thanks, it’s awesome!) will not always work. Maybe it’s good for my level, for now. It feels like a manageable and sustainable way for me to incorporate all/most of the great advice I’ve found on StrengthRunning, and I’ve been so happy to have found a formula that’s working!

Thanks for leaving these open for us to comment.

Rainy

One more thing (will she never shut up??). The photos you picked for this article make CF look completely, utterly insane. Good choice, to make your point! But most workouts simply do not look like that :)

Ken Schafer

I also have many of the same criticisms of CE as you do. I do not think it the ideal training for those who want to specialize competitive running only. However, you are not presenting an accurate picture of CE training. Once I saw that you recommended reading the post by Steve Magness, I just cringed, because he has consistently misrepresented anything that he doesn’t like, especially anything to do with CrossFit and CE. In fact I no longer consider him as a credible source about anything he is critical of.

I take your points. Most of them are valid, but I wish you had been more accurate in your discussion of how CE people train. It would have made your points more credible.

Julie

Interesting commentary. I agree with the sentiment you are trying to convey, Jason. As a former power sport athlete (Div. I volleyball) and now Boston marathon finisher, I think many people are missing sight of several things. My training to be the best volleyball player I could be looks MUCH DIFFERENTLY than my training to qualify for Boston and for very good reason. What is your “A” goal? If it’s to be a better marathon runner, power lifting is not going to allow you to become the BEST you can be. If it’s primarily all around fitness, and CF/CFE motivates you then go for it! Any time you improve an element of fitness, be it strength, speed, flexibility etc. there will be a caryover effect so that the other activities you are doing will see some form of improvement. Yes, doing CF/CFE will improve your fitness, which can translate into better run performances, espcially if your training was very haphazzard to begin with, but it won’t get a peak marathon performance out of you. What is your baseline? If you are trying to break 30 minutes in a 5k, just about any type of finess activity will help to some extent! If you are trying to BQ, then spending a lot of time an energy on powerlifting is time and energy misdirected.

Rainy

Hey Julie. Thanks for your comment. That makes a lot of sense. And makes me think I’m sticking with my current plan for now.

Julie

To me, the most important thing is that people connect to an activity that motivates them and keeps them healthy and injury free. That activity could be vastly different from individual to individual. If you enjoy doing CF, and are having success at CF, and are staying injury free, then keep it up! You could insert belly dancing in there and I would say the same thing….. Feel free to check out my blog: httpy://runtopia.blogspot.com/

Dorothy

Jason,
Thanks for the great article and thanks to your readers for sharing their experiences and beliefs. I am in “violent agreement” with Julie’s comments. As a former elite team athlete winning at the national championship level and with an advanced degree in exercise physiology, I am comfortable to say that specificity *is* critical.

I have to admit, I have not followed a true CF/ CFE training regimen. Nor am I a believer in “us” vs. “them.” I believe it’s a matter of “when” and “for what.” In college, from the off-season through to early pre-season, strength training was a core element of an *overall* conditioning program. In the last 2-3 months prior to “season,” specificity kicked in – in high gear. The benefit that I could see from CF/ CFE is during an “off” season – for strengthening especially core and “stability” muscles.

I am now years past my collegiate days (thankfully :) – and I do still incorporate strength training – but not as a CF/ CFE-type program. I do core training, focus on injury prevention/ recovery, and maintain balance in major muscle groups.

I might re-phrase your statements… if you fancy yourself as a “runner” (the best runner that you can be), what you need to practice the most is running.

Brad

This is a guys “thought”. Why aren’t runners at all skeptical about running? Just because people say it’s “good” for you, does that mean it really is? Let’s be a little more open minded when writing articles like this.

Paul

Very insightful reading. I’ve also learned a lot about exercising, diets, training plans and motivation on militarygradenutritionals.com/blog. Great resource with plenty of useful advices for those who love fitness.

Wendy S

I started serious CFE about 1 1/2 years ago, shortly after a serious knee/hamstring from too much running and not enough recovery. Up to the point of injury I ran nine 13.1 races and about 3 10Ks in a period of 3 years. When the injury struck, I could barely walk without excrutiating pain much less run. Nine months after the injury, I could finally walk normal again but I had lost my running stride completely. I took up CFE from maxworkouts.com and it really helped strengthen all of the my major muscle groups and I burned off an enormous amount of fat ( trimmed down ! ) and converted all the fat to muscle in all parts of my body. About 5 to 6 months into my CFE training, I tried running and although it took a year to build up to 5 – 6 miles , I finally ran 2 10Ks in mid 2013 and I am running my 10th 13.1 Oct 20th, 2013. I am running 40 + miles per week, sometimes over 45 miles a week and although I am sore, I have not injured myself. I feel stronger than ever! I am thinking of joining a running club to train for a marathon in ealr 2015 and the director advise me to cut back on my CFE ( which I do 5 to 6 days a week ) because they could be dangerous to running. I was taken a back and a little down because I enjoy the overal body fitness and didn’t understand how that could interfere with running. After reading this article, I guess I understand better that I cannot do two intense training programs( CFE and marathon )at the same time, especially since I did have an injury already! Just bummed that I can’t do both but I can always kick up the CFE a notch after the marathon.

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