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Why CrossFit and Running Are The Perfect Training Partners

Debating whether or not to add CrossFit to your running routine? We'll show you how.

In this post, Amy Knutsen Whitson, M.D. talks through her experiences combining CrossFit and running:

Have you ever wondered how much and what type of strength training you should work into your running life?

I am a lifelong athlete and a working mom training for my first marathon. Like many of you, as the mileage increases, my training runs take longer, and finding the time I need to strength train becomes more challenging. 

My runs are a necessary time and space for renewing my body, mind, and soul, so how does strength training fit in? I find CrossFit training sessions create the balance I need to keep running consistently and successfully while fitting in my strength training sessions. 

Mention CrossFit to a group of runners, and you’ll usually be met with indifference or comments about getting injured – but done correctly, CrossFit can be blended with your run training to make you a much more effective runner.

In this guide, I will discuss how CrossFit can be the ultimate cross-training activity for runners of all backgrounds!

crossfit and running

Can You Combine CrossFit And Running?

Yes, Crossfit can be a great addition to your run training program, as long as it is done correctly and carefully with proper instruction and guideance.

The workouts are modifiable depending on your fitness level and discipline, in our case running, so beginners should have no problem getting started with the workouts.

Just ask the trainer for some help, to modify the workout according to your needs. We want to make it clear our focus is running, and not olympic lifting, power lifting, or an aspiration to het to the CrossFit games!

How Important Is Strength Training For Running?

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “How much strength training should I add to my running routines?”

Well, the answer varies from person to person but is generally “more than you think you should,” and more as you age. 

Consider Karly Wilson, the 32-year-old marathon runner and CrossFit athlete. 

According to a 2017 article1Article – CrossFit: Forging Elite Fitness. (n.d.). Journal.crossfit.com. Retrieved March 13, 2024, from https://journal.crossfit.com/article/muscle-achauer-2 in the CrossFit Journal, Karly runs a marathon a month, and in her late 20s added strength training to decrease her marathon time and increase her endurance.

Her magic combination was a morning CrossFit workout, then an evening lower body workout or run. After incorporating CrossFit, her form and endurance improved, and she qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon under the qualifying time for her age group. 

The amount of strength training you need depends on your age and overall fitness level. I usually don’t have time for two-a-day training sessions, so I currently alternate a run day with a strength day, with one rest day a week, for recovery.

Consider starting your strength routine with 1-2 days a week and increase as you build strength and ability. 

Eamples of some CrossFit exercises that you will see in your WODs are squats, lunges, pull-ups, barbell deadlifts, kettlebell swings, push-ups, box jumps, sit-ups, burpees, just to name a few.

Crossfitters include a mix of reps of bodyweight exercises, strength training exercises with resistance (such as dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.), gymnastics, and cardio in their workouts making them full-body challenges.

crossfit and running

What are the benefits of doing crossfit workouts?

#1: CrossFit and Running Share Similar Athletic Goals

CrossFit performance goals aim to improve the same elements as you would to improve your running performance. These goals include improving your:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Respiratory Endurance
  • Strength
  • Stamina
  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Speed
  • Power
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Accuracy 

All of these elements are important to runners and can help us better achieve our marathon training planFree Marathon Training Plans For All Abilities, half-marathon training plan, or any other fitness goals you have on your bucket list.

crossfit and running

#2: Can Aid In Injury Prevention – The Key to a Runner’s Longevity

As we age and the longer we ask our muscles, bones, and joints to support us and our running, the risk of injury due to wear and tear and overuse increases.

The best way to prevent injury is to maintain a strong core and large muscle groups

Due to hormonal changes, our muscle and bone mass decrease as we age, and this natural tissue loss can lead to injury unless maintained.

Finding the perfect balance and combination of training activities, such as weightlifting and cross-training activities, to support our running workouts, is vital.

My magic combination is CrossFit, yoga, stretching, and meditation, woven into the fabric of my monthly training goals. Each can improve a runner’s workouts in unique and complementary ways.

CrossFit is an excellent whole-body strength training program with specific functional movements that keep our runs stable and strong.

I must admit, I was a little intimidated at first, and warned by several people to avoid CrossFit if I didn’t want to get injured. After consulting with a certified CrossFit coach and learning more about the philosophy, I gave it a try. 

The Workout of the Day (affectionately known as the WOD) is a whole-body combination of basic strength and cardiovascular movements modifiable for each individual’s fitness level.

Even people rehabilitating from injury can perform modified movements and work on balance and flexibility to help hasten recovery. 

After overcoming the soreness from working new and different muscle groups, I found that my running performance, form, endurance, effort, and mental focus improved after adding CrossFit to my training routine.

Why CrossFit and Running Are The Perfect Training Partners 1

#3: Builds Strength And Endurance

The basic anatomy and physiology of weight training and endurance training are simple when described in terms of short and fast-twitch muscle fibers. 

  • Red, Type I, or slow-twitch muscle fibers are fatigue-resistant and focused on sustained small movements and posture or proprioception as we move.

    They have a robust blood supply, hence the “red” appearance, and contain more mitochondria, the powerhouse of our cells, and myoglobin, compared to white or fast-twitch fibers.

    Red muscle fibers are our endurance fibers and sustain us as we move for long periods of time. 
  • White muscle fibers, Type II, or fast-twitch muscle fibers, give us bursts of activity and fatigue quickly.

    They have a small blood supply, hence the “white” appearance and early fatigue.  

Athletes engage BOTH types of muscle fibers because both are found in ALL skeletal muscle (the muscles we use voluntarily), but the amounts differ in different parts of the body.

Activities requiring high intensity intervals and short duration, like CrossFit, build up our supply of white muscle fibers, while endurance activities such as distance running increase red muscle fibers. 

Activities such as CrossFit endurance, when sustained, can also allow the fast-twitch fibers to recruit slow-twitch fibers which improve overall aerobic power.

A well-conditioned, lifelong athlete is best served by optimizing both types of fibers, which is another reason CrossFit sessions can be of help to your running conditioning.

crossfit and running

#4: CrossFit is Efficient

Now, not all of us have four hours a day to devote to training.

One of the beautiful aspects of CrossFit is the efficiency of the HIIT workouts. 

A typical CrossFit WOD is a 10-minute warm up, 15-20 minutes of high-intensity cardio and strength work that will definitely get your heart rate up, and a 5-10-minute stretching and cool down.

CrossFit sessions are typically held in spaces called “boxes” (CrossFit gyms), which are small contained spaces with a limited amount of equipment for strength and cardio work. 

I can be in and out of the “box” in 30 minutes and feel as though I’ve just conquered 2 hours of a hard run. 

And each WOD is different, so you are always engaged and learning something new with every session! Another secret to longevity: life-long learning.

With CrossFit you are working harder, and smarter!

crossfit and running

How to Add CrossFit to Your Running Routine

Running is a total body, energizing, lifelong labor of love.

CrossFit requires mental toughness, which is business as usual for runners, and the training is widely available.

Consider these tips when adding CrossFit to your running training plan:

  • Try a CrossFit workout before you run on a low-mileage day.
  • Tell your CrossFit coach you are supplementing your running routine with CrossFit training to make the session more run-specific.
  • Incorporate CrossFit on a Saturday or Sunday, opposite your long-run day.
  • Start with 1-2 classes per week and add as you feel more comfortable and gain strength.
  • Make sure to incorporate stretching after CrossFit training.

So, if you’re wondering about adding or changing up your training routine consider trying a CrossFit session or two and watch your stregth and endurance grow.

Check out this next guide on some of the most popular CrossFit workouts:

References

Photo of author
I am a native Texan, born to run, enjoy and live life outdoors. My medical career has allowed me to live in Philadelphia, Boston, San Antonio, Minneapolis, and now Columbus Ohio. I am trained as a general surgeon, have practiced acute care, trauma, burn, and general surgery. I've traveled and found running groups throughout Europe and Singapore. My favorite sports are whatever my kids are playing. I run to feel great! Favorite running companion is CrossFit, favorite hobbies are cooking and travel! Goal: Can't wait to run my first International Marathon!

2 thoughts on “Why CrossFit and Running Are The Perfect Training Partners”

  1. CrossFit is fun. Staying safe and achieving your fitness goals is important, but you can actually improve both of those elements with a training partner.

    This blog addresses some reasons why Crossfit and running are great training partners, which is likely unknown to many of us. But they should be considered. The information you shared with us seems useful, so thank you for sharing it.

    Reply

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