Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CrossFit

It seems like at this time every year, with the racing season pretty much over (or maybe not?), I get in this super reflective mode and start challenging every assumption I've ever had. One assumption I've been questioning is this one:

To be a better runner, you need to run more.

With a pretty huge base of mileage accumulated over a ten-year period, I’m rethinking how I train and how I often chase after numbers, and challenging the wisdom of a program that involves very little outside of running. In 100-milers, invariably there comes a point when I experience muscle failures in places other than my legs—namely my back and core. In fact, sometimes my back goes tired on me before my legs. Because 100-milers tap almost every muscle, I’ve been thinking about the usefulness of better total body strength as a complement to putting in the miles to get ready for a big race. On Saturday, I got started with an excellent CrossFit instructor here in Parker and I plan to stick with him through the winter, doing 2-3 sessions a week. If Saturday is any indication of what’s to come, I think it’s fair to assume I’ll be making some good strength gains over the next few months--strength gains that I believe will make me a better ultrarunner and more well-rounded athlete.

With CrossFit likely to be a part of my winter program, I plan to hold my running mileage to about 50-55/week for the next few months, with lots of short-distance, aerobic speedwork thrown in there to build top end speed. For me, such mileage is super manageable and pretty low-impact and will allow me to realize gains from my CrossFit workouts.

I think many of us runners fall into the trap of just running, which ultimately can cause us to be rather one-dimensional athletes. It’s a trap I’ve allowed myself to fall in for years as I've chased after numbers--and this is mostly because I just love to run. Over time, our bodies become very efficient at running and this can mean other muscles and areas simply get neglected...to our own detriment (for example, many of us runners simply don’t engage our hips the way we should). Then we find ourselves in long ultramarathons dealing with potentially preventable muscle breakdown and imbalances in areas of the body other than just the legs. I can say this from personal experience: powerfully climbing Hope Pass in both directions requires a hell of a lot more than what running and altitude training will give you. What it requires (sheer strength from head to toe) is something I haven't yet fully developed. And so here I am experimenting with CrossFit. I have come to believe strength training, as a complement to running, can help us develop better total body conditioning that may just get us over mountains and to the finish line in better shape--and maintain better overall health. Or so my theory goes.

All that aside, when guys hit age 40, it’s a scientific fact that we start to lose muscle mass. Running may help slow that process, but it will do only so much. Resistance training has its place in helping guys preserve and develop their muscles—critical for us ultrarunners if we want to avoid injury. I did some limited weight training this past winter and I think it benefited me in huge ways this spring and summer--I've been injury-free in 2013! Think about it this way: If you’re losing muscle because of age, isn’t it fair to assume your bones and connective tissue will take a bigger beating? Resistance training can help protect us from such injuries. Or so my theory goes.

I used to think CrossFit was kind of dumb. But no longer do I hold that viewpoint. On Saturday, as I was squatting with just a bar (working on technique) and rowing 300 meters at a time and doing all of that with no rest in between four intensive rounds, it really hit me that this program can benefit ultrarunners if used properly. I view CrossFit as a way to be a better ultrarunner--to prepare me for the big miles that will come in 2014 as I prepare for my races (Western States? Leadville?). I have no plans to become a competitive CrossFit athlete; I'm a runner. CrossFit is there to help me build better strength and speed and protect myself from injury.

So over the next few months I’ll be sharing with you my experience with CrossFit. Many of us talk about trying new things but oftentimes we stick with the same old routine because change is scary. CrossFit is a new thing for me--an experiment over the winter--and I’m excited about where it may take me as a runner and--dare I say--athlete. And I’m equally excited to share my experiences with all of you.

For me, there is no greater desire than to continually improve and be the best I can be. Probably like you, I enjoy trying new approaches, new methods and new techniques. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't.

In my next post, I'll share some thoughts I'm having about chasing numbers in training and the oftentimes contentious relationship between quality versus quantity.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting to see how it goes.
    Just a quick one: in the last few posts, you're referring to short, sprint distances as "aerobic," but I don't think that's correct. Generally, those shorter distances (up to and possibly including 400m) use either predominantly anaerobic energy systems, or at least such a large component of it is anaerobic so as to consider the metabolic training benefit to be anaerobic...in contrast to distance running, which is very much (95-99%+) aerobic.
    Also great workouts for improving form and running economy, of course.
    Run on!

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    1. Hi Mike, the sprints I'm talking about are short enough to be aerobic.

      Wyatt

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  2. I started CrossFit after my trainer mentioned it several times over a few months last year. He had already helped prepare me for my first half-marathon and my next goal was a 2013 Tough Mudder. CrossFit got me in the best shape of my life, and I recommend it to anyone. I finished that June 1 Tough Mudder without injury, and with an incredible
    strength I never thought possible. Who knew I'd be able to deadlift 215 within months?! Unfortunately, it's an expensive discipline, so I'm not at my box anymore. But you will love every torturous minute of it, even the hero WODs and Filthy 50, should you come across it. Good luck!

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    1. Hi Maggie: CrossFit is a lot of fun and hard and I see how it'll get one in great shape. It'll be interesting to see where I am in a month or two. I'm only doing it about 2-3 times a week. Running is still #1 for me.

      Wyatt

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  3. Where is the HR post? Come on!

    ;)

    What do you get out of CF that you could not get in just going to a gym on your own? (other than the structure)

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  4. George: I'm thinking about it. I think I may have already spoken my peace.

    Wyatt

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  5. GZ -
    CrossFit provides challenging exercises that make people more well rounded as total athletes. Doing Olympic movements is far superior to isolation exercises in terms of being a functional athlete. It is also a designed to be a complete fitness system by integrating enough cardio to be something of an aerobic (or even anaerobic) workout. That said, I am NOT a fan of CrossFit becuase it cultivates competition into exercises that barely 1% of the population can do properly. Combining those two things is a recipe for injury. I am also not a CrossFit fan for runners because the combination of all that anaerobic work plus running (50+ miles in Wyatt's case) is a recipe for burnout and overtraining. There is no rest.

    Wyatt - I would do those exercises without the intensity or competition. Do them slowly and for strength because I believe that being a better athlete makes you a better runner. But you don't need the fitness side of that whole deal. Nor do you need another sport overstressing your muscles, tendons, and joints.

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    1. Good points, AJ. My thinking has been similar regarding controlling the intensity.

      GZ, there you have it! I think CF is a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it immensely. I think it's good and healthy to step away from things every so often and try new things.

      Wyatt

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  6. I agree with AJ 100%. Cross Training and the core of CrossFit (IMHO) are awesome and critical to someone's health and fitness.

    However, and this is where I believe CrossFit gets so much flak, I believe much of CrossFit's culture has eroded into a competition to see who can do the most moves in the smallest amount of time possible. Doing that, with heavy weights, regardless of form, is a recipe for disaster.

    If you can avoid those temptations, I would suspect you will really love it.

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  7. Wyatt,
    Short, fast sprints are very much anaerobic.
    Here's but one summary.
    The crossover between anaerobic to aerobic energy system dominance is generally considered somewhere between 200m and 400m.

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  8. Hi,

    Dr Mafetone states that any exercise over your MAF heart rate, including weight training, will create stress hormones like cortisol, and this will ultimately impair development of the aerobic system. Crossfit is from the opposite school of thought.


    Aaron
    ps. Love the blog

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