How to Balance CrossFit and Running: 4 Techniques + Tips

At some point many runners begin to realize that strength training will improve their running. The struggle then becomes when we find we fully enjoy heavy lifting and running, how are the two supposed to work together. Like CrossFit Endurance?

Runners tend to fall squarely in two categories:

  • Cross training makes running more fun, by creating variety and speed.
  • Who wants to do anything but run, that is fun.

In either case, we know the benefits of cross training.

So what happens when you enjoy your cross training every bit as much as your run? This seems to happen most frequently now with CrossFit where people develop amazing friendships and enjoy the way being able to pull themselves up a rope makes them feel powerful.

In fact, it became so popular a specific type of training called CrossFit Endurance was created.

Going through the founders book Unbreakable Runner, the main thing that jumped out at me was his style means you rarely run. It’s an afterthought.

That to me is the plan of someone who doesn’t love the run, but tolerates it.

I puffy pink paint on a cotton white shirt love my run. If you fall in to that category, this post is for you.

It’s how to balance CrossFit and running in a way that satisfies not just your body, but your soul. Knowing that I’m not a CrossFitter, you’ll be reading great things from others that I trust to see how they do it and why.

What is CrossFit?

First things first, what is CrossFit anyway? It’s a fitness regimen that features functional movements that are performed at high intensity.

It’s a methodology that was established in 2000 by former gymnast Greg Glassman.

CrossFit workouts involve strength training, high-intensity intervals, plyometrics, Olympic power-style weightlifting, as well as gymnastics and endurance exercises.

It involves daily workouts that are otherwise known as WODs or ‘workouts of the day’. These CF workouts include a range of different exercises including burpees, push-ups, pull-ups, kettlebell swings, deadlifts, etc.

This type of training has a focus on general total body fitness, which includes building strength, endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, accuracy, and coordination.

Should You Do CrossFit as a Runner?

As a running coach, I admit to cringing a little when folks tell me they do CrossFit and want to run a marathon. Largely because this is recipe for injury, overuse and overtraining.

BUT I am a HUGE fan of runners lifting weights, so my goal is always to see how we can make the two work together.

One technique is doing HIIT Running Workouts, heavy strength days and then lots of easy runs. It truly takes someone who is willing to listen to their body and coach to strike the right balance and benefit from both.

It’s important to remember that there are seasons to training. And trying to gain a lot of strength while putting in high mileage for a marathon PR goal is not an idea.

Why CrossFit Benefits Runners

Jess of Blonde Ponytail first started transitioning from a distance runner to someone more focused on CrossFit in 2012 and shared her thoughts back then:

CrossFit is an outstanding way to enhance your endurance training by building strength, flexibility and speed.

As a former collegiate athleteI appreciate the desire to get better every day, seek new challenges, and be a part of team, something running couldn’t offer me entirely even though I adore it.

So, can you do both?

As a distance runner, I questioned whether I could get an effective workout in just 20 minutes when I would run more than 90 minutes at a time. However, during those 20 minutes, I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I was uncomfortable. Challenged.Benefits of CrossFit for runners

CrossFit compliments my running performance.

Here is why so many runners are saying CrossFit has helped them:

  • learn to run on dead legs, mimicking the end of a race
  • another method of increasing mental toughness
  • improves basic movement patterns
  • creates more well rounded strength for better running posture and form
  • endurance building through high intensity moves
  • workouts are short, so you can fit them in to a busy day

Why It’s Hard to Balance CrossFit and Running

All of that being said, I think running coach SuzLyfe did a great job outlining why it’s so hard to balance:

  • The focus of the workout of the day (WOD) is out of your control, by and large. That means you could be doing major leg movements the day before a track workout.
  • Many power lifts focus on powerful, large muscles. Not necessarily a bad thing, but running requires that you also develop your smaller stabilizing muscles and tendons.
  • Marathon training is exhausting in and of itself; adding CrossFit to the mix (essentially another sport), could lead to overtraining and injury.
  • Marathon training workouts tend to focus on muscular endurance over power, strength, and hypertrophy, which are often focus of CrossFit WODs.crossfit overtraining

4 Ways Others are Balancing CrossFit and Running

Let’s take a look at some examples of how others are doing it, so you can see there is no one fits all approach and find what matches your goals, injury history and mentality.

2 Days a Week

I love this approach from a Foodie Stays Fit because it jives with how I tend to think about my workouts:

I’m doing CrossFit 1-2x a week, and I’m doing it on the same day as my hard running workouts (Tuesdays and Thursdays).

By doing a hard run + CrossFit on the same day, it allows me a day of complete rest or very easy miles the next day. If I do a hard run one day and do Crossfit the next day, my body responds as if it’s under more stress continually.

faster crossfit

Pick a Priority

Tina who also used to be an avid runner and now tends to enjoy more CrossFit has some great tips as well:

  • Decide which is your priority
  • Choose workouts that most benefit your priority goal
  • Watch for signs of over training
  • Don’t try to do it all balance CrossFit and Running

5 Days a Week – Traditional CrossFit Endurance Style

Another example from Larisa, on deciding that CrossFit was her priority, but she wanted to complete a marathon. Instead of following a standard training plan, she did CrossFit 5 days a week and one weekly long run of no more than 9 miles.

She finished her first marathon in 6 hours with no injuries and felt fully recovered to workout by the next week.

Love your run, but want to try CrossFit? Checkout these tips on balancing the two #fitfluential Click To Tweet

Ultrarunner – Craving Long Runs and Structure

I really recommend reading Alexa’s full post on how she went through trying to follow the traditional CrossFit Endurance style and did enjoy the strength, she also found the workouts were often much tougher than a long run.

She had some success, but a number of setbacks and eventually came to a schedule that allowed her to succeed in Ultra’s.

Monday: OFF
Tuesday: shorter run (tempo or interval) + CF
Wednesday: medium long run
Thursday: shorter run + CF (maybe)
Friday: CF (if I didn’t do day before, or if I’m feeling good that week)
Saturday: Long run
Sunday: medium-long run

CrossFit and running endurance

As noted, you need to be ready to experiment and listen to your body. You have to see what volume of running and high intensity workouts you can handle or enjoy. It’s also so important to realize that you have to allow time for recovery and varying the intensity of your sweat sessions.

Have you ever tried CrossFit?

What helps you balance strength and distance?

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