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How To Combine CrossFit With Endurance or Triathlon Training and Not Mess Up Your Body.

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In this post, you’ll learn how to do Crossfit and still train for endurance sports and triathlon. And yes, that’s Ben’s tattoo.

Crossfit.

What is Crossfit?

Well, according to their website definition:

“CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.

Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”

Be

fore anybody gets judgemental or questions whether I know what I’m talking about, I’ve done Crossfit. Lots. I’ve done the “WOD’s”, or Workouts of the Day. I’ve done Fran, and Lynn and Nutts and all the other affectionate names given to the not-so-cutesy Crossfit workout routines.

I have worked out in a Crossfit gym, underneath their mascot “Pukie the Clown” (pictured right), and I have puked. Been there, done that.

And here’s the problem with Crossfit.

If the highly anaerobic and power/strength demanding Crossfit workouts are performed in a typical carbohydrate depleted state by a triathlete or endurance athlete who is engaging in heavy bouts of aerobic training simultaneous to Crossfit involvement, the result is poor form and increased risk of injury during the actual Crossfit routine combined with sacrificed biomechanics and hormonal imblances from Crossfit-induced soreness/fatigue during any subsequent aerobic swim, bike or run sessions.

In other words, aerobic athletes and triathletes cannot have their Crossfit cake and eat it too.

If you’re a Crossfit enthusiast and Crossfit gym attendee, or use the Crossfit websites to get your WOD’s, and you’re blindly adhering to the program while also doing 2-3 swim, bikes and/or runs during the week, then you’re either A) not performing to your capacity in the Crossfit workouts, and thus getting mere fractions of the “intense” Crossfit benefits or B) performing to your capacity in the Crossfit workouts, but then performing ugly and half-assed aerobic training sessions because of soreness and fatigue.

In either case, A or B, I guarantee that if you’re doing a “proper” Crossfit program and combining it with a “proper” triathlon or endurance training program, there is absolutely no chance that you are giving your testosterone:cortisol ratios or inflammatory response to exercise an adequate time to recover, which results in increased immune system lowering risks, increased risk of soft tissue injury, and increased risk of overtraining syndrome.

So what’s the solution?

The solution is simple. You just need to modify both Crossfit and your triathlon or endurance training routine. Here is how to do it:

Step 1: If you decide to do Crossfit, immediately make a mental and physical commitment to adjusting your run frequency to no more 3x/week. You will receive any run-specific anaerobic and strength training necessary from the type of sprinting and running you will encounter while engaged in working out at your Crossfit gym or doing the WOD’s on the Crossfit website. Your other remaining runs for the week should be: 1) a single long endurance run, preferably spaced at least 48 hours after the toughest Crossfit workout of the week; 2) two easy recovery runs that focus primarily on cadence, footwork, and running form.

Step 2: If a Crossfit workout is “pull-intensive”, that is, if the workout includes lat and bicep soreness-inducing amounts of deadlifts, pull-ups and rowing machine, modify your swim workouts for the next 48 hours to be either A) switching to easy recovery bike rides or B) purely aerobic swims with an emphasis on drills and skills.

Step 3: Track your recovery status like crazy. Using a tool such as Restwise, or something as simple as your morning resting heart rate, track any alterations in your recovery status that suggest you could be moving towards the brink of overtraining. When this occurs, skip the next two Crossfit workouts, and switch any swim, bike, or run workouts to be aerobic only – nothing above anaerobic or lactate threshold. For the Crossfit workouts that you skipped, it’s OK to do a simple core routine, but no “just go easy” modifications of Crossfit workouts.

Step 4: If you decide to do Crossfit year round, then do zero, zada, zilch Crossfit during any race weeks, and only do a maximum of two Crossfit routines for the week before race week.

Step 5: Primarily if you are a marathoner, Half-Ironman, or Ironman triathlete, completely and totally skip your Crossfit workout for 48 hours after any breakthrough endurance training sessions, including workouts like 5 hour bricks, 3-4x 5K’s, 18 mile runs, tempo century bike rides, or any other workout that *may* be mostly aerobic, but is still highly carbohydrate depleting or affects hormonal status significantly.

Finally, as an endnote, understand that the anaerobic, glycolytic nature of Crossfit requires carbohydrates. So do not attempt starved or minimally fueled Crossfit training routines. What does this mean? While a good day of nutrition and a solid dinner the night before can easily fuel a fasted morning Crossfit routine, a long day of work with a negative caloric balance combined with an overnight fast and no breakfast before Crossfit is asking for trouble.

So finally, here’s a glance at what a typical schedule might look like for someone who is combining Crossfit with triathlon or combining Crossfit with aerobic, endurance training.

Day 1:

-Crossfit
-easy recovery Run with drills/cadence counts

Day 2:

-Crossfit
-Swim or Bike intervals

Day 3:

-Crossfit

Day 4:

-No Crossfit
-Swim or Bike Intervals

Day 5:

-Cross fit
-easy recovery Run with drills/cadence counts

OR OFF DAY IF DOING SUNDAY BIKE

Day 6:

-no Crossfit

-long, aerobic run

-swim drill workout

Day 7:

-rest day OR

-long bike with mix of intervals

I do expect questions and comments, so if you have them, just leave them under this post. Also, if you my version of Crossfit as a nice little book that you can tuck under your arm and take to the gym with you, just go here to grab Shape21: The Lean Body Manual.

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27 Responses to “How To Combine CrossFit With Endurance or Triathlon Training and Not Mess Up Your Body.”

  1. Toni

    I'm pretty new to Triathlons 2 years completing a Half, 5 Olympics and 3 sprints. I followed the Tridominator for my Half last year and completed it under my goal time, but still felt like something was missing. I have been crossfitting for 3 months now and have increased my overall strength times two. I am starting the Crossfit Endurance program instead of LSD training this year to see how my times differ from last year. crossfitendurance.com

    Reply
  2. Blaine

    Ben, CrossFit looks like a good workout but my workouts for triathlon are already intense without using it. Like you say here and on your podcast it probably wouldn't be the best idea to try and do both at full capacity at the same time. I'd be interested in trying CrossFit in the off season next year. Do you have any experience with athletes using CrossFit in the offseason of triathlon to stay and shape? If so what were the results?

    Reply
    • ben_greenfield

      I've done it and had several clients do it. A full, proper Crossfit routine works fine, but ONLY if swim, bike and run are significantly decreased….

      Reply
  3. TinaMarie

    Ben, I was glad to see this post. I started CrossFit this fall as an off season / strength building program and have been worried about how I will combine it with my endurance training. Your info makes total sense, thanks.

    Reply
  4. Neil

    Ben: You may already be aware, but just in case: CF has an arm that specializes in endurance events: Crossfit Endurance. They've worked all this stuff out and have developed and tested programming to get folks ready for IMs and ultra races using CF. Check out: crossfitendurance.com and gotrimax.com

    Reply
    • ben_greenfield

      Yes, Neil, and thanks for bringing that up. You'd be surprised at the number of people who just blindly attend their Crossfit Gym or grab the WOD each day from crossfit.com

      Reply
  5. Leo

    I agree with MOST of what you have to say here. I am not sure that you having done "Fran" makes you a subject matter expert on crossfit or how to effectively program it.

    "Step 4: If you decide to do Crossfit year round, then do zero, zada, zilch Crossfit during any race weeks."

    Proper timing of crossfit training sessions is CRUCIAL to the success of endurance athletes. Following the above statement places athletes at a disadvantage come race day.

    But hey, it's your website, you can say whatever you want….

    Reply
    • Chris Hughes

      I would think that rule applies to any type of intense training session 48 hours before a race. What good would a WOD do when your body wouldn't have time to recover?

      Reply
  6. Chris Hughes

    Ben –

    I do a crossfit-esq type class 3 days a week. I use a 4-5 mile run (stay in zone 2) as a pre-breakfast light cardio workout 2x a week (with a long run on the weekends). Based on the info above, should I skip the pre breakfast runs?

    Reply
  7. Kate Saunders

    Chris,
    I do a pre-breakfast 4ish mile run several days a week, as well. There are days when it feels like my "sanity" time. I wouldn't trade it for anything. =)

    Reply
  8. YoungScientist

    A little bit off-topic, but another option is to combine triathlon training with P90X. P90X is not the same as crossfit – it's a system designed to be a balanced exercise schedule with cardio, strengh training, yoga, and abs. The strength workouts are mostly dumbell exercises. When you combine it with triathlon training you substitute your triathlon training for their cardio sessions. They just list these as "coached workouts" in the schedule, giving you flexibility to do whatever triathlon workouts you like. You can find a schedule by just googling "P90X triathlon." I do this and am happy with the results. The only further modifications I make are to replace some of their ab workouts with pilates, and to replace their yoga with a yoga class at my local gym. (I find theirs to be very boring and repetitive. My local yoga class is more interesting because they do a wider variety of poses.)

    The only drawback is that P90X is not free. (In my case, I got it free from someone who didn't want it anymore so it made sense.) You could, however, follow their free schedule and just do your own dumbell/gym workout routines in place of theirs. All you'd need to know to do that is that Core Synergistics = exercises that use the upper and lower body simultaneously to engage the core. (Walking lunges with biceps curls, for example.) You could probably find enough similar exercises to create your own workout of this type; I haven't tried.

    Reply
  9. How To Lose Muscle For Triathlon | Ben Greenfield Fitness

    [...] Originally in my experiments with different styles of weight training for triathlon, I began by trying Crossfit style training, in which I would use a combination of Crossfit’s website and triathlon style training (this was before Crossfit Endurance – which was designed by Brian Mckenzie, who I am interviewing for a podcast in a couple weeks). Here is the type of stuff I was doing, and here’s a link to a more recent post I did on how to combine Crossfit and triathlon training wi… [...]

    Reply
  10. fred

    I mix Crossfit endurance with running. I run three days per week-long, short intervals and threshold pace. Crossfit endurance WOD three days and one day rest. One MUST constantly monitor for overtraining and I adjust the crossfit to what i'm capable of doing. I'm 52 years old and find that strength obtained is such a grand benefit for this type of program. As we get older–we need speed and strength. 5k 19:50min.

    Reply
  11. Kathy

    Is there a CF IM training schedule that can be purchased that gives mileage details for ramping and tapering?

    Reply
  12. Steve

    What if I still what to do my Krav Maga or BJJ classes a couple of times per week?

    Reply
  13. Marcus Smith

    Do you still stand by this article 100% given the time for further research since you wrote it? Are there more points of caution or factors to be aware of that have surfaced since writing it in Dec 2010?

    Reply
  14. Sarah

    I would like to use CrossFit as my strength training about 2x per week and triathlon training the rest of the week. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
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    Wow, that’s what I was looking for, what a information! existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this web site.

    Reply
  16. The Best Ways To Build Endurance

    [...] ultimately (and I write about this more extensively in this article on How To Combine Crossfit With Endurance Training), here’s the problem with [...]

    Reply
  17. Mark Wilson

    Guys and girls, you're missing the point. Stick with endless lsd or CFE, not both. Trying to hybrid the programme won't work, be brave and commit to Crossfit Endurance

    Reply
  18. Austin_Evans94

    So lets say i want to do P90x and CrossFit? i like the lifts in p90x and want to also build muscle while getting toned from crossfit. on my days i don't lift (besides yoga) should i do crossfit?

    Reply
    • Ben Greenfield

      Maybe… but I would keep a close on eye recovery markers (like HRV). You could dig yourself into a hole doing that too often for too long.

      Reply

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