As we finish our month’s focus on all things ‘Running’, we dovetail into our next with the hot topic of ‘CrossFit’ (Open Season…oh yeah!)
But before we get stuck into the real CrossFit stuff, we want to explore the commonly asked question about whether CrossFit and training for an endurance running event (like a half or a full marathon) can live together…
Our general observation gave us this conclusion: We either see Runners signing up for CrossFit as a way to get strength into their program (because we know all know from James’ blog that strength training reduces the risk of injury!) OR CrossFitters signing up for running events as a way to test out their new-found fitness!
Living in Melbourne, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to fun runs and local CrossFit comps….and right now, I know of many Running CrossFitters/CrossFitting Runners participating in the CrossFit Open AS WELL AS training for one of the more popular events in the Running Calendar such as Run Melbourne or the Great Ocean Road Marathon...so this blog post is FOR YOU!
Enter Running Coach Extraordinaire Nathan Fenton. I recently met this awesome human-being during a CrossFit Endurance cycle that I helped to coach at CrossFit U in Yarraville. The focus of the twice a week, 6 week cycle was to improve running technique and efficiency using drills, exercises and CF style WODs. The cycle was to also dispel the myth that in order to run an endurance event, you have to clock up hundreds of kilometres of pavement pounding, injury causing, time consuming steps….
We geeked out a bit during our catch-ups over the 6 weeks and here are some of his pearls of wisdom…
Firstly, I know what you’re all thinking, ”What is this ‘CrossFit Endurance cycle’ you speak of? “
Nathan explains it beautifully:
“ I believe the CrossFit Endurance philosophy is very similar to the CrossFit philosophy: Move well first, then add Load and Intensity, and finally add Volume as, and when, you can handle it. In the CFE world that means you need to learn the skill that is running (or cycling/ swimming/ rowing, etc). Then run short, fast intervals and gradually run longer distances provided you can still hold good technique.
Crossfit Endurance utilises the strength and conditioning protocols of standard Crossfit, but also adds in running skill work and high intensity running intervals”
We often don’t think of running as a skill we have to learn, we have two legs, some shoes and off we go- we run.
But just like we need to learn technique in Oly Lifting before we add load and volume, the same can be said about running. Good technique improves efficiency and reduces the risk of injury.
So where does Strength come into this and which is more of a priority- Strength or Technique?
“That’s a tough one... I prioritise technique but they do go hand in hand. Along the lines of the CFE philosophy, one needs to move well first. In terms of performance we need both. Strength without technique, however, has a high probability of ending with injury so for that reason I would prioritise technique, but they are both essential”
Ok…nail the technique, add strength and we get PERFORMANCE!
Relating it back to Oly lifting again, I can totally vouch for this approach… I spent the last three months front squatting and working on Clean technique drills, with little time actually Cleaning… but when it came to performing on the day during the Open Wod 16.2, I Cleaned my previous 1RM 9 times!!
What we’re saying is, you don’t necessarily have to spend time doing the actual activity to get better at it if you are investing time in nailing technique and putting the time in to the muscles that you would need to use for said activity.
How does this translates to Running? High intensity intervals!
Here is an example of what Coach Nathan might prescribe for someone who is wanting to CrossFit and train for a half marathon:
“4 – 6 CrossFit sessions per week
1 short interval run (ie 10 x 200m sprints, resting 40 seconds between each)
1 long interval run (ie 4 x 1500m at 80% intensity, resting 5 minutes between each)
1 time trial run (ie 5km ‘race’)”
Nathan then gets a bit controversial (we love it when the norm is challenged!!)
“Depending on your race goals, you could get away without running at all in the lead up to a half or full marathon. If you have the skills to run, then you only need to work on strength and conditioning, both of which can be done without running. Having said that; a few runs per week would be ideal, but it should be about the quality of the run rather than the quantity”
What? No running? Does this mean our joints and bones don’t get strong for endurance events because we’re not allowing it to adapt to the load it is required to endure?
Yes, the traditional and widely held belief is that you need to get the k’s under your belt to prevent injuries such as stress fractures and reactive tendinopathies….but we believe that if you are strength training using the CrossFit approach, you are in fact stimulating adaptation through the loading you get from weight bearing functional activities (squats,lunges, deadlifts) as well as things like box jumps and skipping.
To caveat this however, it would be adviseable to include running in your program if you are a novice and/or first time half marathoner to ensure you are addressing other aspects of your training such as mental confidence, understanding your body’s hydration/nutrition needs for race day etc etc…
CrossFit is “Constantly Varied” … Is a Specific strength and Conditioning Program going to work better?
“Crossfit is wonderful for the general public and recreational athletes. It is a General Physical Preparedness program for overall health and fitness that will have you ready for anything year round. Strength and Conditioning, however, is extremely specific. My athletic endeavours over the past year or two have been less about swimming and upper body strength and more about running, riding and board sports so S&C has allowed me to focus on lower body and rotational work.
Determining which protocol to use will depend on your goals. If you have one big, specific goal, then S&C may be better for you because you can target the areas that need improvement. If you have many varied goals throughout the year or season that require work on different areas then a GPP protocol like Crossfit may be better as this will set you up with overall strength and fitness.
Proof is in the pudding right? My next question to Nathan was:
“What is the longest distance you have covered in an event using the CrossFit Endurance Philosophy?”
“I have finished a few ironman races on ‘short’ intervals. It may seem strange to train for an Ironman (3.8km swim/ 180km ride/ 42.2km run) with sprint intervals but let’s think about swimming. It’s common practice for swimming training to involve skill work and then short intervals. I structure my ride and run training in the same way. Before Ironman Melbourne a few years ago I was running short intervals, long intervals and time trials each week but never ran more than 25kms in one go and that was rare. While most running sessions were only between 6 and 12kms, they were very high intensity. My longest interval set was 3 x 5km reps with 3 mins rest. That hurts. But it can be done in under an hour and builds all three energy pathways. “
Nathan’s take home message:
“You don’t need to run long in training to run long in a race! Focus on quality training over junk miles.
Oh, and go out and play more!”
Yes, CrossFit and training for a Running Event can live happily together…you just have to decide what your personal goal is and to tackle it with an individualised approach!
Engaging in good coaching, be it Running, CrossFit or Strength and Conditioning as well as consulting Health Professionals like your friendly peeps at Evolutio will not only make you feel like a professional athlete but it will most guarantee you injury free results!
“I’ve been doing triathlons since I was 12 and have always been fascinated with the ‘small’ things; race strategy, fast transitions, running mechanics off the bike, and recovery during training. In 2010 when I read an article about Brian Mackenzie and CrossFit Endurance it was a perfect fit. Since then I’ve decreased my LSD (long slow distance) training and increased my high intensity, and further improved my running technique.
When I realised the benefits of good running technique and started to see how many people were getting injured or leaving easy performance gains on the table I decided to share what I knew. So in 2014 I left my job in finance and started Enfer Running.”
Seriously, this guy knows his stuff! He works one on one with runners of all abilities, athletes from different codes and even group classes at CrossFit Boxes… Highly recommended if you’re thinking of taking running to the next level!
Jac is one of the best known Physio's out in the Melbourne Sports and CrossFit market. She comes from an experienced background in Sports Physiotherapy through many years working in London and Melbourne.
She has a wicked eye for Analyzing Movement and Biomechanics. Jac is also a coach at CrossFit U in West Melbourne and works out of our South Yarra clinic at GW Performance on Mondays and Thursdays, Kew on Tuesdays.