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The Benefits of Cross-Training for Runners

Squatting-In-Leggings

Around ten years ago a new fitness brand launched around the world called CrossFit and now it is everywhere but can it help with running? If you’ve not heard of it, don’t worry, you’re in for a treat.

This high-intensity, varied workout is like the jack of all trades for fitness. One day you might be flipping tyres, the next you’re doing weighted pull-ups. The idea is to challenge your body in new and varied ways, promoting full-body fitness and, most importantly, keeping things fun and exciting.

CrossFit is the perfect exercise running buddy

CrossFit is a health enthusiast’s dream come true, ticking almost every fitness box imaginable. Flexibility? Check. Strength? Check. Stamina? You bet. It’s the fitness equivalent of a hearty Sunday roast – it’s got everything you need in one tasty package. By incorporating elements from high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, and strongman exercises, CrossFit has an impressive repertoire that promotes overall health and wellbeing.

But the benefits of CrossFit extend beyond the gym. Regular CrossFitters often report improved sleep, better mental health, and a sense of community thanks to the supportive nature of CrossFit gyms, known as ‘boxes’. It’s not just about getting a six-pack (although that’s a possible side effect); it’s about holistic health, wellbeing, and feeling good inside and out.

As you dive deeper into the CrossFit rabbit hole, you’ll also discover that its holistic approach to fitness has a positive ripple effect on everyday activities. Whether it’s playing with your children, carrying groceries, or breaking your personal best in a marathon, CrossFit’s functional fitness focus can make everyday life a bit easier, and a lot more enjoyable.

Can CrossFit help with Running?

CrossFit can particularly revolutionise your running game. Ever hit that dreaded wall during a run? Those moments when your legs turn to lead and your stamina dips? CrossFit could be your ticket to longer, more enjoyable runs. The varied workouts build overall endurance, which is transferable to running. Plus, many CrossFit exercises target fast-twitch muscle fibres, the ones responsible for explosive power. More power means more speed, making CrossFit a potentially valuable asset in a runner’s training arsenal.

Even better, CrossFit’s explosive training movements can make you a faster runner. How? The answer lies in the type of muscle work during a CrossFit session. Exercises often engage multiple muscle groups, replicating the whole-body effort required for running. The greater power and coordination resulting from these exercises can translate into a more efficient stride, better posture, and ultimately a quicker pace.

The top five CrossFit exercises for runners

Box Jumps:

Box jumps are a favourite in the CrossFit community for their simplicity and effectiveness. All you need is a sturdy box (or a similar elevated platform) and some energy to burn. The idea is to jump onto the box from a standing position, landing softly with knees slightly bent, and then jump or step back down. This act of jumping and landing works the muscles in your lower body, specifically the quads, glutes, and calves, enhancing their explosive power.

Additionally, the requirement to maintain balance and stability during landing engages your core, fostering better body control and stability which is invaluable when running on uneven terrains.Beyond the immediate muscle engagement, box jumps also provide a fantastic cardiovascular workout.

The explosive nature of the jumps gets your heart rate soaring, helping to build stamina and cardiovascular health. Over time, this increased cardiovascular fitness can translate into longer, more comfortable runs, as your body becomes more efficient at pumping oxygen-rich blood to your muscles.

Explosive leg power using box jumps
Box jump.

Kettlebell Swings:

Kettlebell swings are a dynamic exercise that targets several major muscle groups simultaneously. In performing the swinging motion, you engage your posterior chain – the muscles that run up the back of your body. These include your hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles, all of which are critical for powerful and efficient running.

Kettlebell swings also engage your core, fostering a stronger, more stable midsection that can support a better running posture and form.The swinging motion of this exercise is particularly beneficial for runners as it mimics the hip hinge action necessary for efficient running.

This hinge action allows you to tap into the potential energy stored in your hamstrings and glutes, powering your forward motion. In addition to strength, kettlebell swings also contribute to cardiovascular endurance. The continual, high-intensity swinging gets your heart rate up, promoting cardiovascular health and endurance.

Burpees:

Ah, burpees, the exercise everyone loves to hate. Burpees are a true full-body workout. Beginning in a standing position, you drop into a squat, kick your feet out behind you, perform a push-up, return to the squat position, and finish with a jump.

This explosive sequence engages almost every muscle in your body. Your chest, arms, and front deltoids work during the push-up phase, while your thighs, hamstrings, and abs engage to perform the squat and jump.As exhausting as they may be, burpees are fantastic for building strength and endurance. The comprehensive muscle engagement makes this a highly efficient exercise.

The more you work your muscles, the stronger they get. The stronger your muscles, the more force they can produce to propel you forward while running. Additionally, the high-intensity nature of burpees makes them a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness, fostering endurance that can help you go the distance in your runs.

Deadlifts:

Deadlifts are a classic strength-training exercise that can seriously power up your running performance. Lifting a heavy barbell or dumbbells from the ground to hip level engages your posterior chain – your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

These muscles are essential for running efficiency and power. A strong back and core can support better running posture, while powerful glutes and hamstrings can contribute to a more forceful push-off and stride.Additionally, deadlifts require a good deal of stability and control, especially in your core and back.

This control can translate into better balance and stability while running, particularly on uneven surfaces. And while they may not seem like a cardio exercise, deadlifts done at higher repetitions can give you a cardiovascular boost, improving your body’s ability to use oxygen and contributing to overall running endurance.

Double-unders:

Double-unders are a jump-rope exercise where the rope passes under your feet twice in one jump. This exercise can seem tricky to master at first, but the benefits it offers to runners make it worth the effort. The repetitive hopping involved in double-unders strengthens your calves and other leg muscles, enhancing their explosive power.

This explosiveness can improve your speed and power while running.Beyond power, double-unders can also improve your balance, agility, and coordination – all of which are key for efficient running. The act of synchronising your jumps with the rhythm of the rope helps fine-tune your motor skills, fostering better footwork and coordination.

Plus, as with most CrossFit exercises, double-unders also provide a great cardiovascular workout. This increased cardiovascular fitness can help improve your body’s oxygen use, allowing you to run faster and longer.

Each of these exercises might not involve actual running, but they can improve your form, stamina, and power, making you a better runner overall.

pull up from crossfit

What the experts say about CrossFit helping to improve your running ability

Don’t just take our word for it, listen to experienced CrossFit personal trainer, Michelle Johnson.

“I’ve seen time and again how CrossFit can transform a runner’s performance,” she shares. “The varied, high-intensity workouts build overall body strength and stamina, which can really give runners an edge.”

Michelle Johnson, CrossFit Personal Trainer

Johnson continues, “I’ve had clients who’ve seen significant improvements in their running times after incorporating CrossFit into their routine. CrossFit challenges the body in unique ways, and this adaptability can translate into enhanced endurance and speed for runners. Plus, the community aspect and the varied workouts make it a fun and engaging alternative to traditional gym workouts. In my experience, once runners give CrossFit a go, they rarely look back.”

So, if you’re a runner seeking to enhance your performance, or if you’re looking for a fun and varied approach to fitness, CrossFit might just be your golden ticket. Remember, as with any new workout routine, it’s essential to start slow, listen to your body, and perhaps find a reputable CrossFit ‘box’ to ensure you’re performing exercises safely and effectively. Happy training!

Andy Barr
the authorAndy Barr
Editorial Lead
Andy was late arriving into the world of fitness, running and training. He did not really take up regular gym going until he was in his late 30's. He lost over 7 stone in weight since starting and completed an olympic length triathlon in June 2018. He enjoys playing football, boxing and outdoor running.

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