Who is the fittest person you know? Probably the guy from your office that ran a sub-3hr marathon, Right?
If I asked you what you’d do to get fit you’d say “Run”. Mo Farrah, Olympic gold medalist – 5000m & 10,000m, is considered one of the fittest men on earth after all.
With the growing popularity of CrossFit, and the undeniable results that come with it, people are starting to change their perception not only of how to get fit but what it truly means to be “fit”. CrossFit athletes need to be able to run, perform gymnastics, weightlifting and powerlifting movements, and any other test of athletic ability – summarised by the phrase “General Physical Preparedness”.
But any decent runner could run a mile faster than the top athletes at the CrossFit Games, the best of the best (which is debatable nowadays). Even so, if you are preparing for 10k or marathon CrossFit is a great way to compliment the 1000s of hours you will spend pounding the pavement.
Here’s 3 Reasons Runners Need to do Crossfit:
1. Stronger Legs and Core
Lower body exercises such as squats, deadlifts and lunges can improve strength in the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes. Stronger legs translate to improved running economy and greater resistance to fatigue. In addition, many other CrossFit movements such as hollow rocks, toes to bar, handstand holds, and of course GHD Sit-ups work the core better than old fashioned crunches.
But weights will make me bulky and slow?
No, and here’s why – training at the right rep ranges will minimise muscle hypertrophy (“bulking”), use low reps and compound movements like the squat to improve muscle activation without getting bigger.
2. Increased Lactate Threshold
The gold standard of fitness testing was always VO2max, the maximal volume of oxygen your body could utilise. While this is still valid your running speed will always suffer if you can’t operate at a high percentage (%) of your VO2max. This is where lactate threshold comes in – the intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid begins to exponentially increase. And as you all know, lactic acid contributes to the ‘burn’ or jelly legs you feel when you go too hard.
In a CrossFit ‘metcon’ the aim is to increase work capacity which requires you to operate at your maximal intensity possible for any given workout. By doing this you ending up dancing around the lactate threshold or ‘redline’, sometimes you get it just right and other times this means blowing out and you ending up hurting. Bad. But as you expose yourself to lactate through training your body becomes better at buffering against it and metabolising lactate before you reach the threshold point.
Still not convinced? Consider current female record holder in the marathon – Paula Radcliffe. In 1992 she was cross-country world champion and in 2002 ran a world record marathon time of 2:15:25. Over this time her VO2max did not increase significantly (70ml/kg/min) but she improved two things – running economy and lactate threshold. She was able to run at a faster pace not because of improved ability to utilise oxygen but a better resistance to lactic acid build up.
3. Mental Toughness
There is no doubt that running a marathon or even half that distance is a mental battle. Being able to push past ‘the wall’ instead of hitting it head on is something many runners are all to aware of. But there’s something about being able to run a mile do 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, and 300 body weight squats, then run another mile that just makes you laugh at 42km of running… “You mean to say all I have to do is run?”
Sometimes the shortest CrossFit workouts will take you to the deepest darkest places in the pain cave and you have no choice but to fight your way out. CrossFit prepares us for ‘The Unknown and Unknowable’, so workouts can be unpredictably challenging and it’s not always the volume; some workouts just have the nastiest combination of exercises paired with running (whoever thought running and wall balls could hurt so bad).
When you do this a few times a week and get those mental wins from completing the workout or smashing your old personal best you build the mental toughness it takes to push through the last 7km of a marathon or blow past a few people in the final 400m of a 5k race.
I have several members the regularly compete in half-marathons and marathons on little or no running ‘miles’. The majority of their training is comprised of coming in a doing 4-5 WODs per week and running in the weekend. Yes, more CrossFit than running. We had a member recently run his first marathon in 3hr 20min at 96kg bodyweight, and he can still Clean & Jerk 110kg!
If you don’t believe it I challenge you find a CrossFit gym and try it. 3 months out from your next race add in 2-3 WODs to your normal training program and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.