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Crossfit Endurance: To Hell And Back, Just Faster

  • By T.J. Murphy
  • Published Sep 5, 2012
  • Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 3:17 PM UTC
Photo: Tony Di Zinno


Blazing the Trail

The Crossfit Endurance program is primarily comprised of two different categories of WODs: Strength and conditioning WODs and sport-specific WODs. The Crossfit Endurance website, Crossfitendurance.com, posts the workouts each day. Traditional recovery sessions, such as an easy bike spin or jog, are slashed from the calendar. The always-varying strength WODs are typically short, high-intensity bouts of 20 minutes or less. The sport-specific work is usually something like a time trial or interval session. The sessions are brief and taxing. As Southern California Crossfit trainer Nuno Costa tells me, “Always be wary when a Crossfit trainer tells you, ‘It’s only 12 minutes,’” meaning that 12 minutes at maximum effort can seem like a long, long time.

Will MacKenzie’s prediction prevail: That an approach to triathlon that traditional high mileage training plans will be replaced by some combination of speed endurance and high-intensity functional movements? Classic endurance training remains rooted in the philosophy of the late running coach Arthur Lydiard, in which you build a base using months of aerobic training, then move into a strength phase and then, nearing a championship, use speed training and racing to hit a peak. Crossfit Endurance is radically different. MacKenzie says there is no base phase, that the best way to train for an endurance event is to constantly be training all energy systems with variety, power, speed and skill.

Conventional wisdom says no way, but in recent years the endurance world has been moving in this direction. Jay Johnson, a University of Colorado running coach who produces strength-training videos for RunningDVDs.com, says that endurance athletes need the strength work.

“Endurance activities are basically catabolic—they break you down—and general strength is anabolic—it builds you up. Endurance athletes need some anabolic activities in their training week to offset all the catabolic time spent running, biking and swimming.”

“I’ve been watching the forum boards shift into being more open-minded about Crossfit,” MacKenzie says. “At first I was the antichrist. But now it’s becoming more acceptable.”

Triathlon was a sport blazed by pioneers. If Crossfit Endurance becomes popular it will be because the likes of Petruzelli and Rutter found success in blazing the trail.

Getting Started: Tips for Smooth Entry into the World of CrossFit Endurance

1. Don’t be intimidated. “Everyone there is there to support everyone else,” Guy Petruzelli says. “It’s a very positive atmosphere.” Brittany Rutter agrees saying, “The truth is that Crossfit has a culture like triathlon. Reach out for help. The community is incredibly open and supportive.”

2. Visit the Crossfit Endurance website. Founder Brian MacKenzie says those interested should visit Crossfitendurance.com and e-mail for advice about where to start. “Crossfit is growing at a fast pace, and there are going to be a few gyms out there that are out there to destroy. Go to our site and contact us. We’ll send you in the right direction. You need to go to a gym where they’re smart and safe above all.” Adds Petruzelli, “The guys who run these gyms are keen on injury prevention. No one wants you to get hurt.”

3. Be patient and take responsibility for making a safe transition. MacKenzie advises triathletes to ease in. “Yes, this stuff is really intense and if done incorrectly can land you in the hospital,” he says. “So can doing an Ironman; we’ve all seen it. But they’re two different beasts. So scale the weight, reps or time down to fit your ability level. You are the best judge of this.”

3. Take a Crossfit fundamentals course. A fundamentals course is typically the prerequisite for taking Crossfit classes. You’ll be taught proper technique for the exercises and power lifts, get exposure to how the WODs are performed and get into the rhythm of how the gym operates. Nutrition is also discussed.

4. Go in with an open mind. Petruzelli says that to get the most out of the program you have to let go of what might have worked for you in the past so you don’t spend all your energy fighting it. And be prepared for a rude awakening: Don’t think for a second that traditional triathlon fitness is going to slide you into a Crossfit gym as some sort of star. “I thought I was going to own the place,” Petruzelli recalls. “I was so humbled. There were women in there knocking out pull-ups and I could barely do any.” Remarks MacKenzie, “The ego has to be put aside.”

5. Focus on achieving proper technique. “You’ve got to have the technique to do the strength training,” Rutter says. “You really have to commit yourself to getting the skills down.”

Brittany Rutter’s Training Log Pre-Crossfit Endurance

Monday: 1-hour run with 3 x 1 mile repeats using 4-minute recoveries

Tuesday: 1-hour swim (Main set: 2 x 600 meters)

Wednesday: 1-hour bike (include 18 x 30 seconds hard effort, 30 seconds easy effort); hold remainder at 80 percent max effort with 30-minute run off the bike

Thursday: 2.5-hour run

Friday: 1-hour swim including 2 x 800 meters; 45-minute run

Saturday: 4.5-hour bike ride with intervals

Sunday: 3 hours on the bike with 2:20 at 80-85 percent intensity followed immediately by 30-minute run

Log of Brittany Rutter’s Crossfit Endurance training

Her boot camp classes used pull-up bars, dumbbells, kettle bells, jump ropes and boxes for jumping using very traditional movements.

Monday: 5 x 1-mile runs, each rep all-out, with 8 minutes recovery; 3 hours later a strength and conditioning WOD (taught boot camp*)

Tuesday: Bike 32 repetitions with 20 seconds hard and 10 seconds easy, recording total of accumulated distance; Crossfit WOD of 5 x 3 max deadlifts

Wednesday: 400-meter swim time trial

Thursday: Bike intervals; taught boot camp workout for Crossfit WOD

Friday: Swim main set: 8 x 100 meters freestyle hard, 3-minute recoveries; Crossfit WOD 7×1 max weight deadlifts

Saturday: 13.1-mile time trial run; Crossfit Strength WOD that included box jumps, kettle bell swings and pull-ups, all for time, three circuits total and time noted.

Sunday: 20-mile time trial bike

(This week was executed in May, eight weeks out from Ironman Lake Placid, coached by Max Wunderlie.)

T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor for Triathlete Magazine and author of the book, “Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt My Broken Down Body.”

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