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Can CrossFit Make You A Better Runner?

  • By Jeff Gaudette
  • Published Jul. 3, 2012
Intense workouts like CrossFit might make you stronger and improve your general level of fitness, but will it improve your running? Photo: Scott Draper/Competitor

The Principle Of Specificity

Lack Of Specificity

The primary reason why CrossFit and many of the other wildly popular programs popping up all over the place these days won’t help you run faster comes down to the principle of specificity.

I took an in-depth look at specificity in a previous article, but to sum it up in a sentence: Due to the principle of specific adaption, the closer you can perform exercise that mimics the exact demands you’re training the body for, the better you’ll become at that specific exercise.

In looking at the benefits of these alternative fitness routines for a runner, we can see pretty clearly that very few of the exercises target the specific running muscles and physiological demands required to run well at long distance events from the 5K to the marathon. Therefore, in a fitness sense, they are not specifically helping you become a better runner.

Yes, these routines will improve your general level of fitness (more on this later), but they will not increase aerobic capacity, develop mitochondria, improve your lactate threshold, or teach your body to burn fat as a fuel source – all critical components to running well at distances from 5K to the marathon. To illustrate, research has consistently shown that for events longer than 3,000 meters, 85 percent of the energy contribution comes from the aerobic system.

If you can, spend more time running.

Unless you’re a new or injury-prone runner, the time you spend doing CrossFit or another similar workout routine would be better served by adding more weekly mileage, taking care of potential injuries by massage, stretching, icing, or heating, or at the very least performing preventative or running-specific strength work.

Again, this comes down to the fact that most of the exercises in the routines listed above won’t specifically help you become a better runner. Clean and jerks and climbing up a rope may help you look better at the beach, but they’re not important to running fast. Your time will better spent performing activities that will make you a better runner – injury prevention exercises, adapting to higher mileage or including running-specific strength work in your weekly routine.

Respect Your Capacity For Total Work

Along those lines, most fitness routines like CrossFit–intense and difficult in nature–will get you in great general shape. As such, they can be a real hindrance to the important work you should be doing as a runner – running.

While runners often think only in terms of mileage, the body does have a finite capacity for total work. Total work includes all the running, strength training, daily chores, and stress you put on the body. If you’re running a lot already, adding in other intense workouts is going to add to that total volume of work you can handle. Consequently, you may find yourself having a difficult time recovering on your easy days or notice that you’re not quite as amped or fresh for your important running workouts.

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FILED UNDER: Training

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff Gaudette

Jeff has been running for 13 years, at all levels of the sport. He was a two time Division-I All-American in Cross Country while at Brown University and competed professionally for 4 years after college for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. Jeff's writing has been featured in Running Times magazine, Endurance Magazine, as well as numerous local magazine fitness columns.

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