So You’re a Runner Who Wants to Start CrossFit

Joggers and cardio junkies who want to try CrossFit, here's how to get ready.

As an endurance athlete, the high-intensity, heavy weight attitude of CrossFit® workouts might have you quaking in your running shoes. Or, on the flip, you might feel like CrossFit was made for you: you’re used to pushing yourself beyond the limit without intentional rest breaks, powering through on the strength of your mental endurance just as much as your physical endurance.

CrossFit is well established as a dynamite way to improve functional fitness and some research has suggested that there are a few key components that can predict who will better manage an average Workout of the Day. If you’re already great at endurance workouts, train these areas of your fitness and you’ll be better prepared to start those WODs.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions and opinions have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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What Are the Best Skills in CrossFit?

Whatever your feelings about CrossFit, if you want to get into it, you’ll be glad to know that a new study published by the Swiss academic journal Sports says that your aerobic power can help give you an edge in CrossFit. The long and short of the study is that the most important components to being proficient at the sport are:

  • Lower body strength
  • Anaerobic peak capacity
  • Aerobic capacity

So it’s smart to be proficient in these three areas of your fitness if you want a head start when you begin your CrossFit training.

[Want more CrossFit research? See how CrossFit Endurance compared with traditional endurance training.]

Endurance athletes, you can use what you already have and what you already enjoy to boost your CrossFit training advantage. Your aerobic power is going to guide you here, all the way through the building your lower body strength. And, when you’re done, you’ll not only be ready to dive into CrossFit confidently and powerfully: you’ll also increase your stamina in ways that’ll definitely improve your capacity to last for miles and miles.

Remember CrossFit is more complicated than just “strong legs, good cardio” — the best athletes master Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics rings movements, kettlebell exercises, and more.

But I’m contending that while the exercises below won’t result in a Games-winning athlete right off the bat, they can help you to bridge the gap between endurance athlete and CrossFit® athlete.

This article can help you prepare for your WODs and give you a serious edge over other first timers.

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Aerobic Power

You may have spectacular aerobic capacity as an endurance athlete, but do you have solid aerobic power? The difference may seem subtle, but you’ll feel it when you crank up the intensity: start by working at your regular pace (comfortable aerobic capacity) and systematically decreasing your rest periods (slowly introducing aerobic power).

When your body gets comfortable with smaller rest periods, it’s time to crank up your intensity: aim to build up to running 12 to 15 minutes around your VO2max. Pushing that threshold will push your body from having solid aerobic capacity to having solid aerobic power as well: instead of being able to run with high intensity for a minute or two at a time, you’ll grow able to maintain that power for the length of a solid CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day).

Anaerobic Power

Once you’re more powerful aerobically, it will be much easier to develop anaerobic power: shorter, even more intense sprints should do it.

At the beginning of your endurance workouts, start programming in quick sprints: no longer than 10-15 seconds, at an intensity you find pushes uncomfortable without spilling over into collapsing territory.

Start with one sprint if you’re not used to it; as you get more comfortable, add more bouts — with at least a minute-long walking rest in between — until you can comfortably do five full-out sprints at near-maximal capacity. If you keep your workouts honest (don’t skimp on the near-maximal part), your anaerobic power will skyrocket.

Beginner Core Exercises
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Lower Body Strength

Once you’re accustomed to sprinting more consistently (always rest at least a day between sprint sessions), you might notice your legs getting stronger. Again, there’s that direct relationship between lower body strength and anaerobic power. But if you really want to give yourself an edge for functional fitness, you might want to train your lower body strength more directly. Start (if you haven’t already) integrating more explicit weight training into your routine.

Since you’re an endurance athlete, you can prioritize that: do your endurance training as described above, but hold a little bit back two days a week (to start). On those days — and program these days so they’re not immediately before an especially intense endurance day — program at least these three lifts into your weekly routine for an eight week block.

Barbell Back Squat: 4 sets of 8 reps, twice a week for four weeks. Transition to heavier weight at 4×6 during weeks 5-8.

Barbell Front Squat: 4 sets of 10 reps, twice a week for four weeks. Transition to heavier weight at 4×6 during weeks 5-8.

Barbell Hip Thrust: 4 sets of 8 reps, twice a week for four weeks. Transition to heavier weight at 4×6 during weeks 5-8.

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Wrapping Up

After integrating this work into your training, you’ll be vastly better prepared to get started with CrossFit than your jogging buddies who minimize time in the weight room.

And the good news is, this sort of training will improve your endurance work anyway. Even if you decide against becoming a functional fitness athlete, better anaerobic peak power and lower body strength will definitely going to help you pack on the miles. Whichever way your training takes you, now you’re better prepared.

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns or before beginning any new workout regimen.

Featured image via 4 PM production/Shutterstock

Jay Polish

Jay Polish

Dr. Jay Polish is an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer, and holds an additional certification in Kettlebell Athletics. A competitive powerlifter, their personal training practice focuses on empowering both new and experienced lifters with body positive training methods of strength and circuit training.

They teach Theater and English in the CUNY system, where they received their PhD in English. They live in California with their wife and their fantasies of having multiple puppies. Their website is here. You can train with them through Trainerize.

When they're not in the gym, they moonlight as the author of two young adult books, LUNAV and LOST BOY, FOUND BOY (March 2018, NineStar Press).

Their debut novel, LUNAV, a lesbian enemies-to-lovers faerie tale, features dragons that grow on trees and friendship amongst rebellion. Their debut novella, LOST BOY, FOUND BOY, is a scifi re-telling of Peter Pan in which Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a bisexual cyborg, and Tink is an asexual lesbian computer interface.

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