This Study Tried to See If CrossFit Endurance Stacks Up to Traditional Training

A new study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance has pit a form of CrossFit® training against a beloved running protocol to see which is best at improving performance: the old system or the new.

CrossFit may not be as well known for producing runners as it is at producing very strong people who can exercise at very high intensities, but CrossFit Endurance is one of the ways the training system has branched out into the endurance running space. “CFE” uses a  mixture of CrossFit-style training and running, typically at high intensities (ie. interval training), to improve endurance.

CFE was compared with polarized endurance training. As strength sports aficionados, we can’t say we know a whole lot about training protocols used by runners but according to Runner’s World the idea is to undulate intensity. Not by the second, as is the case with the high intensity interval training to which you may be accustomed, but by the day: most workouts are either very hard (a day that may well include some intervals) or pretty easy. More than a few studies have found it to be better than high volume training, lactate threshold training, or HIIT alone.

[Learn more: Could jogging actually get you stronger?]

Onto the study: for twelve weeks, 21 recreational runners trained five days a week. The CFE group spent about half the workouts doing CrossFit and the other half running. The results? The old-fashioned polarized training was significantly better at improving VO2 Max, a way to measure person’s maximum capacity to take in, transport, and use oxygen during exercise.

But. The two groups both had a pretty similar improvement in 5k run time and body composition, so CFE was far from a waste of time — and we’re willing to bet the CFE group got better at lifting and pull-ups than the runners.

In any case there weren’t that many people in this study and there are very few other studies like it, so we shouldn’t take this as gospel. Still, it’s great to see the body of academic studies on CrossFit continue to grow.

Featured image via @elleryphotos on Instagram.

Nick English

Nick English

Nick is a content producer and journalist with over seven years’ experience reporting on four continents. His first articles about health were on a cholera outbreak in rural Kenya while he was reporting for a French humanitarian organization. His next writing job was covering the nightlife scene in Shanghai. He’s written on a lot of things.

After Shanghai, he went on to produce a radio documentary about bodybuilding in Australia before finishing his Master’s degrees in Journalism and International Relations and heading to New York City. Here, he’s been writing on health full time for more than five years for outlets like BarBend, Men's Health, VICE, and Popular Science.

No fan of writing in the third person, Nick’s passion for health stems from an interest in self improvement: How do we reach our potential?

Questions like these took him through a lot of different areas of health and fitness like gymnastics, vegetarianism, kettlebell training, fasting, CrossFit, Paleo, and so on, until he realized (or decided) that strength training fit best with the ideas of continuous, measurable self improvement.

At BarBend his writing focuses a little more on nutrition and long-form content with a heaping dose of strength training. His underlying belief is in the middle path: you don’t have to count every calorie and complete every workout in order to benefit from a healthy lifestyle and a stronger body. Plus, big traps are cool.

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