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CrossFit Qualms in the Running World | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: Program Design, Running, strength training

CrossFit Qualms in the Running World

by on Jun 8th, 2010

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A friend recently sent me this video that was posted on one of the biggest track and field websites, and asked my thoughts. I figured that it would be worthwhile to share them in a blog and I’d be very interested to hear yours.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

While I agree with his general principle that distance athletes should engage in strength and conditioning, I believe that he may be overreacting to the value of his specialty.

In watching that interview, I’ve been led to a number of questions I have regarding his approach.
The first questions I would ask relate to how he is designing programs. How do we decide that an athlete needs 400s with KB swings and pull ups? I also wonder why are we so focused on constant variation?

I would argue quite strongly that constant variation “to the point where you don’t see the same workout twice” is disrespectful of human physiology and the basic tenants of fitness acquisition in what we know works from looking at the literature. I think this is an overreaction to a misinterpretation of what the research has shown us with respect to periodization. Variation, good; constant variation, not so much.

The reason why workouts are maintained at similar levels or stress levels/types for a certain period of time is to allow first fast adaptation to the new stimuli and then to allow stabilization of the new gains before they are finally actualized in racing. By not allowing a more consistent exposure to said stimuli, we’re short changing the body in both short and long term adaptations.

In my past experiences with CrossFit practitioners (and there are some who apply the principles well so do not take this as a huge bashing of CrossFit), there is typically a “random” program design and there is no respect given to individual variance in movement skill or limitation. Without addressing these limitations, we are going to put our athletes at a higher risk for injury. Couple this with performing “big” exercises in high states of fatigue we begin to run into a point that Dr. Matveyev would call unsustainable.

He mentions as well a drop in running volume, and many runners will take offense to the statement, however, he may be on point to an extent. There are bodies of research showing positive outcomes in middle range of skill endurance athletes by replacing 33% of volume, there are others in better athletes that demonstrate benefits. That said, limiting running work too much as he suggests may not be the best idea given that endurance may be VELOCITY and PATTERN SPECIFIC. If we are not frequently touching on race paces, we will fail to adequately develop them no matter how much non-specific metabolic work we are doing.

Finally, I have serious qualms with using high schoolers as case examples given their low training age and how they do benefit best from a multi-lateral approach to training. Biology shows us that this is not true through the lifespan, however. Additionally, I really question his concept of the athlete of the future is 185. No disrespect, but I have a very difficult time making sense of this theory. Even if we were to enhance power output significantly to compensate for the large gains in body mass, we’d require additional vascular adaptations to deliver fuel to working tissues, and we shouldn’t forget the constant force of gravity and the idea of what physical work is in reality (W=m x d).

The goal should not be to have a heavier athlete because they can produce greater absolute force, it should be to put a better engine (vascular, PHA, relative strength/power/reactivity) in the same size chassis. We want Festivas with Corvette engines, not Ford F250s in our endurance athletes.

Just some thoughts.

Carson Boddicker

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  • Allan Phillips June 8, 2010

    I’m glad there’s a place to discuss this topic without all the “noise” from flotrack or letsrun…

    In some ways, it’s unfortunate that Crossfit is the one carrying the banner of this discussion. I have nothing against Crossfit as a concept and there are some excellent trainers and coaches within the Crossfit community. However, in practice the Crossfit image has been bastardized by too many idiots to the point that many “old school” runners automatically tune out before the discussion even begins. Vomit before velocity is the lasting image that Crossfit often exudes. Nonetheless, the dogmatism of the pure run-only “old school” approach is also lacking, particularly when we see all these hard-core 1970’s guys walking around like cripples these days.

    I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on the randomness of the constant variation. With runners, my preference is to err on the side of stabilization with workouts. That doesn’t mean we run 5 x mile on Tuesday and 12 x 400 on Thursday for six straight weeks, but instead we keep the extrinsic load and the basic framework constant, even if the RPE decreases from week to week. In fact, I’ll take a reduced RPE at a constant pace from week one through week six as a good sign. If you are really in touch with the athlete’s capabilities, you can anticipate the optimal time to introduce some variation before an observable performance stabilization, but as a practical matter, a better practice is to err on the side of too much stabilization, especially in a team setting or in a long-distance coaching relationship.

    One of the best ways to introduce variation within a stabilzation context is through a year-round, multi-paced approach. That is, instead of omitting complete classes of workouts during certain training phases, we incorporate all paces from 400m pace through “shakeout” pace at all times of the year. The primary variation from cycle to cycle is the amount of relative empahsis given to each pace. I think this is one way to effectively vary the training emphasis without swinging the pendulum too far in the direction of variation for the sake of variation.

    Regarding the weight issue, the success of a big guy like Solinsky is largely a testament to what is possible when you get a runner who moves well who can absorb the load of high mileage. As a former high level wrestler, his fundamental athletic ability is likely in another dimension as compared to most runners. Heck, the fact that he is one of the few Foot Locker champions who amounted to anything post-collegiately is good, though not definitive, evidence that some form of a multi-lateral approach to training is appropriate at the scholastic level. I always have a problem with year round strict running regimens for high school and even college kids, Scholastic runners still need to put in the mileage, even at a young age (frosh-soph in HS), but doing so to the exclusion of other forms of movement skills can cause problems later. I just don’t think Crossfit has the answers, though.

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