The Number One Reason Runners Should Try CrossFit

Celebs like Jessica Alba and Cameron Diaz love it, and if you're a runner, you may be the next person in line to love CrossFit too. This workout is all about basic exercises involving body resistance, gymnastics, aerobics, weight lifting, and other high-intensity moves. Aside from strong being the new skinny, read on to learn why you might want to skip today's run and head to the nearest CrossFit gym instead.


The Problem With Running

"The challenge is that runners think that their legs are strong, and they are strong at that one movement pattern. But life is more than just that one movement pattern," says Reebok CrossFit ambassador Yumi Lee, who trains Jessica Alba. Since running is a linear, repetitive movement that involves mostly your legs, it can cause an imbalance in the rest of the body, which can lead to injury now or down the road. Solely running also leads to workout plateaus, so when the muscles become used to the demands placed on it, a runner needs to run farther or faster in order to keep up his or her level of fitness.

Why CrossFit Is a Good Complement to Running

"CrossFit exercises involve your whole body rather than isolated muscle groups," which strengthens your overall body and makes you a better runner, explains marathoner and CrossFit instructor Shirley Brown of CrossFit LA. Yumi explains that specifically, CrossFit combines power lifting, strength training, and gymnastic training, all of which benefit your fast twitch muscles used for sprinting and your slow twitch muscles used for long distance. Working your entire body in CrossFit will also help you lose overall body fat, which will increase both endurance and speed and also helps you maintain proper form during your runs, which is one way to avoid a running injury.

Another benefit? CrossFit helps prevent those dreaded workout plateaus, so you'll actually be excited to work out. "CrossFit forces you to do things you would have never done before. It forces you to push yourself in a way that you thought you had pushed yourself. . . . And it makes you better at overall life," Yumi says.

Tips For Getting Started

Shirley and Yumi recommend finding a reputable facility and signing up for the on-ramp (sometimes called foundations or fundamentals) program so you can learn the basic exercises. "It's a comfortable and safe way to learn the movement patterns so you can stay injury-free," Yumi says. You'll also learn beginner versions of certain moves — if you've never done a pull-up, they'll show you how you can do one using a box and a band. Then you can jump right into regular classes, modifying exercises as you need to. Some gyms offer endurance programs or private instruction, so if you have a specific running goal, they can help you achieve it.

Don't just jump into a new CrossFit program, however. Meghan and Tyler Barnes, owners of CrossFit TT, warn that "you'll be super, super sore when you start," so it's probably not a great idea to sign up when you're training for a race. Definitely listen to your body, but stick with it — don't miss a class on account of being too sore. Good programs will go easy on the muscle groups that were worked hard the day before, and getting your heart rate up can ease soreness.

How to Prevent Injury

Pull-ups, handstand push-ups, and pistols (one-legged squats) are pretty intense exercises, so if you want to avoid a CrossFit injury, "you've got to pay attention in your fundamentals class and learn proper form," Yumi advises. Don't do an exercise unless you understand the movements; when you're ready to make an exercise harder, only change one aspect at a time such as speed, weight amount, or number of reps. Some 60-minute classes include warmup and stretching afterward, so if yours doesn't, be sure to take some time before and after to fit them in.

How Often Should Runners Do CrossFit?

All four CrossFit instructors agree that it all depends on your goals. If running is your focus, use CrossFit as a supplement and do it as often as it fits into your workout schedule, about two to three times a week. You can increase sessions on your off-season, say, when you're not training for a marathon. "Don't overdo it. You might think you're capable of running and doing CrossFit every day," but taxing your muscles without rest days is a surefire way to an injury, Meghan says.

Should Runners Eat Strictly Paleo?

To increase performance and build muscle, many CrossFitters follow a Paleo diet, which excludes grains, dairy products, legumes, refined sugars, and any other processed foods. We're talking mostly meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. While eating close to nature and ditching artificial or overly processed foods is healthy, a runner doing long workouts needs carbs for energy. Yumi recommends eating "80 percent Paleo, 100 percent of the time" but to modify based on your workout needs.

Can't make it to a CrossFit gym? Check out these home CrossFit workouts, including a 10-minute CrossFit workout with Yumi Lee and a 10-minute full-body circuit with Shirley Brown.