There are mixed views on CrossFit from runners (and endurance athletes as a whole), with some saying it’s the worst thing you could do for you and others swearing its improved their endurance and speed.  And then there are others who just have no idea what it is.  As a CrossFitting runner and triathlete, I’m somewhere in the middle.  I love a good CrossFit workout, but also know it can trash your muscles if you go too hard one day, ruining the chances of a good run.

What is CrossFit?

According to the CrossFit main page:

“CrossFit itself is defined as that which optimizes fitness (constantly varied functional movements performed at a relatively high intensity).  CrossFit is also the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together.  In fact, the communal aspect of CrossFit is a key component of why it’s so effective.”

In a nutshell, CrossFit is a type of workout that incorporates a wide variety of movements – from Olympic Lifting and Powerlifting to Gymnastics, Mobility and Endurance  (including running!) – into a single workout.  The hour-long workouts emphasize different skills, movements and muscle groups depending on the strength component and WoD or “metcon” (Workout of the Day or metabolic conditioning).  Each class is different, and it can be months before you see a WoD/metcon repeated.

So this all sounds good, but won’t it hurt me and leave me injured with all those heavy weights?

While it would be easy to jump after it and say “yes” because Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting can be very dangerous if done incorrectly, and it appears from the surface CrossFit is geared 100% towards heavy, heavy lifting, in my experience, and from what I’ve found from a number of sources, the answer is an overresounding “No.”  CrossFit can actually benefit runners, when implemented correctly.

In a Competitior article that was published earlier last year, they highlighted 6 Ways CrossFit Can Benefit Runners.  The author highlights that CrossFit can teach one to strength train correctly, dial in a nutrition program, experiment on himself (in terms of working on imbalances and weaknesses early to prevent injury down the road), gain power, and improve running technique (by focusing on placement of hips/knees in all movements).  All of which sound very appealing to a runner (and many of which I have experienced myself).

In article by the Catalyst Gym, Is CrossFit for Runners, they look at not only the benefits but also some of the downfalls of CrossFit – which is why I stress the when implemented correctly of CrossFit for Runners.  Specifically the article notes that CrossFit can cause fatigue by “killing your legs doing a 300-squat challenge the day before a track workout” and “no long runs” since CrossFit trains you for aerobic conditioning, but to the level useful for a 5k – not a marathon.

There is also, as always, the risk of injury when improperly doing a lift/exercise, as there is in any type of athletic activity.  While the risk can be greater in CrossFit because there are so many different types of skills required, when the individual CrossFitter takes the time to learn how to do the skill properly and is under the guidance of a well educated and observant trainer, the likelihood of injury is greatly decreased.

So is it worth it?

I believe if you love the idea of a high intensity group exercise that constantly challenges you in different ways, it is totally worth giving CrossFit a try if you haven’t already.  The key, in my opinion, is to communicate with your trainers and let them know you’re an endurance athlete.

I constantly modify workouts with the help of the trainers when I know I’m going to have a hard track workout the next day or have a long run scheduled a day or two out.  I also have extremely light PRs (compared to the rest of the box) for my 1 rep maxes of the Olympic Lifts, but I’m okay with that because I’m not there to become the next CrossFit Games champion, I’m there to challenge myself, to get stronger as a runner/triathlete, and for the community.  Oh, and there’s the fact I keep getting PRs in races…***

So, is CrossFit for runners?  I’ll let you decide.

*** Actual results may vary.

All photos are from www.crossfit.com.