We are in the midst of what many call the second running boom. I prefer to call it the running fitness boom. These days people are a bit hesitant to tell you that they are “runners.” Some purists of the sport of distance running may argue that there isn’t a great show of strength and promise for the continued growth of the sport, but I argue that it is the evolution of our sport into an even smarter, healthier and stronger future.
As much as I am known in my community as a runner, I try not to categorize myself as “only” a runner, not that there is anything wrong with having running as your only source of exercise. It is extremely sensible for many to stick with only running, in part because of the great return for the time and effort the runner puts forth. The reason I stray from being designated as “just” a runner is that there are a number of cross-training activities, in the right doses, that most certainly benefit my overall running performance. I do my best to vary my fitness routine by participating in various sports and activities such as mountain biking, a traditional gym workout, swimming, paddle boarding and even skateboarding.
This brings us to the topic of whether or not CrossFit makes sense for a runner and how you can fit it in if a CrossFit-crazed friend is driving you nuts to join. Let me give you 3 reasons why CrossFit and running may be the perfect combination if you are looking to improve your running performance:
CROSSFIT IS THE CROSS-TRAINING OF TODAY
The movements and variety of a CrossFit class can be compared to the suggestions found in popular running magazine articles from about 15 to 20 years ago that encouraged runners to spice things up a bit by swimming, biking or doing the elliptical. This helped to avoid injury and break up the monotony that was often related to running. Let’s take this point a bit further and say that it is an even more focused way of honing the details that make us fit overall. While doing CrossFit our Muscles, tendons and ligaments are trained and stimulated in a totally different manner than running. CrossFit workouts make you more flexible, more stable and overall a strong well-rounded runner. Because of the constant commitment of most CrossFit boxes to innovate and vary their workouts, your body will continue to change through time and avoid less plateauing as an athlete.
Now, because of the high-intensity philosophy often implemented by CrossFit Coaches, you need to be careful not to do too much too soon, which is also the rule for running. One suggestion is to alternate your interval training for running (track workouts, hill repeats, etc.) with that of your CrossFit days. Again doing your best to avoid doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Another suggestion is to do 2-3 months of CrossFit during your non-competitive running season, thus not straying too far from the principle of running. Most CrossFit workouts, because of their duration and intensity, shouldn’t completely replace your VO2Max running workout for your weekly training schedule. The CrossFit training can complement running if inserted at the right times during your running training program schedule.
NEW ERA OF RACES
Running races still exist in their purest form and, fortunately, there are no signs of these traditional accurate distance road races going anywhere; however, there are new races infusing a whole new group of people to the sport—concept races (e.g., mud runs, obstacle runs, adventure races, etc.). CrossFit training can help you train for these kinds of off-the-beaten-path races where the straight line of a typical race isn’t the norm. These new races still require the stamina and endurance you get from your running training but the functional strength movements, obstacle challenges and quick changes in direction will require that you train some of your upper body and core muscles, which are the areas of focus of CrossFit training.
One major aspect of fitness training that runners naturally neglect but that CrossFit provides is that of strength coordination. Many movements of CrossFit classes involve working on the coordination of both the upper and lower body. Runners have a tendency to just let their arms swing and their legs be carried by gravity or momentum. Runners can benefit greatly from training to a point where they are coordinated and strong enough to pull their trail leg through on each stride after the push-off phase during their gait. They can also develop their ability to pump and drive their arms to help them maintain their cadence and efficiency.
The environment of the CrossFit community is not much different than that of running, in that communities are built around a shared passion for fitness, health and competition. Running has lost some of its edge for competition, as median times have slowed a bit. I favor any activity that runners can associate with to re-infuse running with competition. CrossFit boxes often display the WOD (Workout of the Day) times where athletes compare their times with those of others in the class, providing motivation to work even harder. Sure running is about completion but simply completing your run won’t yield the gains and changes that a runner may be looking for to improve his performance.
There is a time and place for competition and competing every day with your running partners may lose affect over time. But if we can bring over some of the competitive energy from CrossFit from time to time, we may all become better runners in the long run…and the short run!
By Frankie Ruiz