Can CrossFit Endurance Improve Your Runs?

Build a Really Strong Body

The other half of MacKenzie's program is building strength through CrossFit. Workouts average 10 to 20 minutes, and combine "metabolic conditioning" exercises such as kettlebell swings, handstand push-ups, and pull-ups with classic moves like deadlifts and squats.

All that heavy lifting can translate to distance running. For one, it increases the force of your stride—the more powerful your push-off, the less effort you exert with each stride, the easier fast running feels, says Stephen S. Cheung, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology at Brock University in Ontario. "It also makes you more balanced and likely less prone to injury," he says.

More: A Runner's Guide to Injury Treatment and Prevention

It may also make you faster. In one study, highly trained runners who substituted almost a third of their running workouts with explosive, sport-specific strength training shaved 30 to 40 seconds off their 5-K times after nine weeks compared with those who ran and did minimal strength training.

Put it Together

For runners, a typical CFE workout week might look like this: three double days—a strength-building session followed several hours later (to allow for recovery) by a short, high-intensity run; one or two days of longer endurance workouts like a tempo run or time trial; and one day of rest.

There are no easy days or recovery runs in CFE. You're either on or you're off. "The act of taking real rest might be enough to help many runners improve performance," says Gibala. "You have runners going out for these recovery runs, but they're just making themselves tired. You're better off reducing the total training load, getting rid of the junk, and getting real rest."

Is it for you?

If you're a longtime athlete who's feeling worn down, a program like CFE could be just what you need, says James Herrera, M.S., C.S.C.S., owner of Performance Driven coaching and consulting in Colorado Springs. "Most runners have trained in the classic format for many years and have developed a huge volume base," he says. "If you drastically reduce volume and increase strength and training intensity, such an athlete will improve on many fronts: speed, power, economy of movement, lean body mass, as well as confidence. I've taken 40-to 60-year-old clients who've done endurance training for 20-plus years, cut their volume in half—still more volume than what CFE prescribes—while increasing intensity, and they've all posted PRs, some better than their 25-and 30-year-old times."

What's less clear is how well the program works for less-seasoned runners, particularly those gunning for marathon (and beyond) distances. CFE proclaims that by following the program to the letter, you can compete in—not just complete—ultra and Ironman distances on just six to eight hours of training per week. That includes "long" runs that never exceed 90 minutes. But if you've never done a really long run, race day could prove challenging, says Herrera, an ultrarunner himself.

More: Your Race-Day Running Guide

"[Long runs] prepare you for time on your feet, pacing for the long haul, mental toughness, and, most important, how to hydrate and feed yourself for multiple hours—you don't really need to eat for a 90-minute training session," he says. "I'm a firm believer in HIIT, but I still feel a runner—especially a new runner—has to cover about 75 percent of the distance in training for a marathon to prepare for those elements."

What is certain is that most runners can benefit from some components of CFE—after all, who doesn't want stronger glutes, more stable hips, and faster times? And with the dark days of winter upon us, now is the perfect time to hit the gym and try something fresh. Who knows? You might find a new religion.

If you think you're ready, try these monster CFE moves

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