CrossFit and Long Distance Running: Can I Train for Both?

Jeff Baldelli
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CrossFit vs. Marathon Running

I am 21, I’m training for a marathon, and I’m also interested in CrossFit. Is this a sustainable long term plan?

It’s not always best to jump into your first marathon. The best way to train for a marathon is to put in some base work first. For some people, CrossFit could work to build a base. I would, however, be suspicious of adding marathon training to your CrossFit routine.

The pros to adding CrossFit to your training schedule are that you will become proficient in overall fitness, build strength, and get a work out that burns a lot of calories.

The con to adding CrossFit is that you will be exposing yourself to new muscle strains that you never knew you had before. To build a base and be ready for a marathon, you need to reduce strain, which gives your muscles time to recover and grow stronger. Training for a marathon involves short, fast workouts that build explosiveness. CrossFit involves a lot of low-rep, high strain weight lifting.

Do not underestimate the importance of smart training. You have to be careful to not exhaust yourself so that you have the energy to complete the next part of your marathon training. So I would advise against adding CrossFit training to your marathon training schedule. Instead, you can use some form of low impact exercise, such as supplementary walking or swimming.

Tale of Two Long Distance Running Training Methods

Long distance runners, as well as many other athletes and fitness enthusiasts, have found CrossFit to be a much more effective approach to training than simply running by itself … so much so that it calls for the question: can you combine CrossFit and your running training?

It all boils down to more variety and more intensity. Both of these principles are driven into you in a CrossFit training program, and the other athletes that you train with are often in the same boat of wanting to improve themselves and push their bodies to the next level.

To answer our question, it can be done, but it will play a little by ear. With one method or the other, too much of everything is never a good thing. For example, if you commit to running twice a day, you’re not giving your body the ability to recover between the two sessions. If you dramatically increase your caloric intake, you’re eating too much.

No matter what types of activities you want to train in, the key is moderation. Make sure that your body can handle the load and isn’t over- or underworked. You need to also find a way to fit all of this into your day. That’s where establishing good habits is going to help you out.

Training Method One: The more traditional High Mileage Training Method.

Instead of going to the gym to depend on machines and weights, get yourself a pair of sturdy running shoes and head out the door.

The most common way people go about this is to run two days a week for a total of 40 to 90 minutes at a time. Start off with smaller distances at first, like 3-5 miles or so.

With this method, you can utilize the benefits of cardio training by getting yourself heart rates up to 80-90 or even higher. This form of training is good for overall fitness because it builds endurance in the body. It also is a great way to gain cardiovascular fitness, or the ability to circulate oxygen to the muscles.

Along with giving you cardiovascular benefits, high mileage running trains your muscles to handle heavier workloads. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that high volume training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) were almost equal when it comes to increasing strength.

One of the most important principles of training is to push yourself hard, but only sporadically.

That’s why we recommend that you don’t do high mileage running every day or even multiple times a week. Instead, do two, low-key days of exercise with one day a week in between for recovery.

Training Method Two: CrossFit Endurance – Pose Method + CrossFit.

The Pose Method/CrossFit Endurance method focuses on developing an aerobic base. In this method, you take a rest day every second day. This has a number of benefits. First, it provides enough recovery time from the workouts the day before.

Second, it allows you to efficiently target specific weaknesses in your aerobic capacity. Any aerobic system is limited by your slow twitch muscle fibers; however, we all have a different level of specialization between our slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers, which determine your aerobic capacity.

For example, one runner may have been born with a larger number of slow twitch fibers than average. This athlete would have a higher aerobic capacity than the average runner, but would also be faster. A runner born with a higher number of fast twitch fibers, on the other hand, probably has the opposite problem. This type of runner may have a lower aerobic capacity than average, but may also be highly efficient anaerobically. This type of athlete likely has a higher top speed than the aerobic runner, but would also surpass his aerobic capabilities if he continued to run hard due to his fast twitch specialization.

This is where the Pose Method comes in. It allows you to target your slow twitch muscle fibers during your aerobic training. Essentially, you take a rest day each week. But instead of throwing together a random workout, you go for a 5 to 10K run at your easy pace.

Running Shoes vs. CrossFit Shoes

Many of you are probably familiar with the controversy over whether or not running is bad for your knees and joints.

Too many runners develop injuries because they train incorrectly and put a lot of wear on their knees and muscles.

Starting out in the sport of running, you may want to begin with running shoes, but your body will quickly adapt to the rigors of running.

One thing to note, however, is that running shoes are not necessarily the same as cross fit shoes. If you run, you’re likely to also do Cross Fit, then leave your running shoes at home … or at least in the closet.

Running shoes are designed to provide additional support and shock absorption to help you avoid injury. Running shoes will not cut it at your Cross Fit gym, however.

The reason is that running shoes use thick foam and rubber to protect your joints and feet from shocks and forces. These materials also make the shoes heavy and somewhat clunky. These are very unhelpful in Cross Fit training, where you’re constantly carrying weights, jogging around the equipment, and jumping on boxes and benches.

Cross Fit shoes are built from thin rubber against your feet and hard plastic around the edges where they hit the floor. This provides solid footing with minimal shock transfer.