CrossFit and Running

For those of you that like to cherry-pick WODs (by skipping those where running is programmed); think again. Yes, we’ve all heard the moans and groans about running WODs, but if the CrossFit Games Trail Run is anything to go by (oh, and little ol’ Murph), we should be training our running as often as we swing on the bar or lift some heavy sh*t.

For those of you who truly believe you shouldn’t run unless you’re being chased/there’s bacon at the finish line… here’s some inspiration.

We held a Q&A with CrossFit360 Vida’s local “running-guru”, Clinton “Clintosaurus” Austin, and this is what he had to say.

1. Is running beneficial to CrossFit athletes?
Training regimens that increase stamina and endurance are clearly beneficial to CrossFit athletes. Running has always been an important part of CrossFit and this was clearly highlighted in the recent CrossFit Games. Obviously, there are different kinds of running, varying from endurance training to high intensity sprint work, and each will have particular benefits; but the idea is to build a bigger “engine” for CrossFit.

2. Why should CrossFitters run?
Besides being one of the best ways to decrease body fat and improve cardiovascular fitness, the most significant benefit to CrossFit athletes is that of increased work capacity. Chris Hinshaw, a top endurance coach for the CrossFit community (http://aerobiccapacity.com), designs his programming around the following elements of endurance (https://www.boxrox.com/chris-hinshaw-build-bigger-engine):

a) Aerobic threshold
b) Lactate threshold
c) VO2 max
d) Speed endurance
e) Strength endurance

Using varying distances, speed, intensity and recovery periods, these vital elements are developed – increased endurance means you can work harder, for longer!

3. You enjoy trail running - what are the benefits of trail running in particular?
Personally speaking, although I do not mind running on the road, I love the outdoors. I find that getting out of the city, away from traffic and noise, and being surrounded by nature is hugely beneficial to me; both physically and mentally.

Trail running provides unending variability in terrain, scenery, exertion and sensory feedback. It is very difficult to “zone out” during a trail run, there is simply too much to see and take in, and one has to concentrate every step of the way, planning your lines and approaches a good ten steps ahead of you all the time. The uneven nature of the footing and terrain means that the exertional effort required changes constantly, along with your breathing, heart rate and subsequent recovery.

Another aspect which has been very beneficial to me is the improvement in proprioception, the awareness of where the various bits of your body are in space and the response to the sensory feedback generated, particularly in my feet and legs. As opposed to road running where you only have to lift your feet high enough to move them forward, trail running requires one to really lift your feet and be hyper-aware of where and how you are placing them down again. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this could benefit a CrossFit athlete.

4. Are there any pitfalls to running?
I think every exercise modality has its injury risks as a result of the particular demands placed on your body. For running, this is also largely dependent on what kind of running we are talking about; the high intensity sprint work brings with it the risk of muscle injuries, while many distance runners complain of various knee issues. The right equipment (shoes), training and advice can go a long way in mitigating these risks.

5. What are the pitfalls of trail running in particular (as opposed to road running/treadmill)?
One could argue that the risk of injury is increased, due to the nature of the terrain and the potential for missteps or falls. My personal experience, however, is that the trails are much kinder to my joints and limbs, probably due to the much slower pace and having to run more carefully.

6. Will too much running compromise your strength? If yes, why/if no, why not?
Your body is an amazing machine, it is constantly adapting to the stresses and strains placed upon it. If you spend a large amount of time lifting weight, your body will respond by increasing muscle mass and bone density. Similarly, if you spend proportionally more time doing distance running, your body will respond accordingly by reducing the number of fast twitch fibres in your muscles and increasing the number of slow twitch or white muscle fibres accordingly.

As CrossFit athletes, we strive to find that balance between strength and endurance. Chris Hinshaw posted a tweet that read: “Most weightlifters recognize that in between reps, a well-developed aerobic system will help them in their recovery.” Can extended endurance work impact power output and strength? Not according to Chris: “From my experience, especially with Games Athletes, this does not have a negative impact, and in many cases the reverse is true; as long as the endurance work is done in moderation.”

7. Is there an ideal “amount” of running training that a CrossFit athlete should do?
This will vary between athletes but I strongly feel that CrossFit athletes should be fit and versatile enough to belt out a 5km fairly quickly or an 8km somewhat more comfortably, whilst still being quick across the ground over the shorter sprint distances. This may sound like a tall order, but it is easily achievable with the right amount of proportional focus. For the more natural runners, this will be easy to achieve and maintain, whilst others may struggle; however, the benefits of having this ability soon become abundantly clear.

The beauty of running is that you do not require any specialised equipment, just a good set of shoes. My running shoes (and skipping rope) are the first things I pack on my travels – what better way to see and experience new places than by pulling on your shoes and heading out for a trot, phone in hand if you are so inclined, to take pictures and capture those ever important fitness and travel selfies!


Q&A with 360Vida Intern Coach, and the Head of Clinical Development & Regulatory Affairs; Animal Health Southern Africa at Bayer, Clinton Austin.