Coach Jeff

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Will P90x or CrossFit Make You a Better Runner?

Will P90x or CrossFit Make You a Better Runner?Rarely does a day go by where we are not blasted with images of chiseled, perfect bodies claiming that we can look just like them if we just………

The introduction of crossfit and P90x into this world brought an explosion of this, and it leaves many of us wondering if that is the secret to looking like those people in the magazines? But we love running, so is it going to help us, or hinder our training?

The short answer to whether fitness programs like P90x, Insanity or CrossFit will make you a better runner? NO, it will not.

However, as many experienced athletes know, training theory isn’t black and white and there is never a simple or short answer that applies universally.

To that effect, it is possible that fitness regimens outside of running specific workouts could help you improve, in certain cases.

In this article, we’ll explore both sides of the argument and show you why these types of fitness programs won’t specifically help you improve your running, but could be a good supplement if you’re a beginner runner or an injury-prone athlete.

Why fitness routines won’t make you a better runner

Lack of specificity

The primary reason fitness routines such as P90x, CrossFit, TRX, Insanity, and of the other innumerable programs on the market won’t help you run faster comes down to the principle of specificity.

I covered the principle of specificity in-depth in this previous article, but to sum up the theory: due to the principle of specific adaption, the closer you can perform exercise that mimics the exact demands you’re training for, the better you’ll become at that specific exercise.

In looking at the benefits of these types of fitness routines for a runner, we can easily see that very few of the exercises target the specific running muscles and physiological demands required to run well at long distance events like the 5k or the marathon.  Therefore, they are not specifically helping you become a better runner.

Yes, these routines will improve your general level of fitness (which I will get to later), but they will not increase aerobic capacity, develop mitochondria, improve your lactate threshold, or teach your body to burn fat as a fuel source – all critical components to running well at distances from 5k to the marathon.

To illustrate, research has consistently shown that for events longer than 3,000 meters, 85 percent of the energy contribution comes from the aerobic system.

Substituting for times you could be running or performing running-specific strength work

Unless you’re a beginner or an injury-prone runner, the time you spend on these routines would be better served adding more mileage, taking care of potential injuries (by massage, stretching, icing, or heating), or at the very least performing preventative or running-specific strength work.

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Again, this comes down to the fact that most of the exercises in these routines won’t specifically help you become a better runner. Bicep curls may make you look better at the beach, but they’re not important to running fast.

Therefore, your time is better served performing activities that will make you a better runner – injury prevention, adapting to higher mileage or running-specific strength work.

Making you tired for workouts

Along those lines, most of these routines are intense and difficult (I am not arguing they won’t get you in shape). As such, they can be a real distraction to the important work you’re doing as a runner – running.

While runners often think only in terms of mileage, the body does have a finite capacity for total work. Total work includes all the running, strength training, daily chores, and stress you put on the body.

If you’re running a lot already, adding in other intense workouts is going to add to that total volume of work you can handle. Consequently, you may find yourself having a difficult time recovering during your easy days or notice that you’re not quite as amped or fresh for your important running workouts.

When fitness routines might be a good fit for you as a runner

Don’t misinterpret this article and think I am one of those runners or coaches who think any exercise outside of running is a sham. I believe runners can learn a lot from other sports and by examining fitness trends.

I have no doubts that fitness routines such as P90x, CrossFit, TRX, Kettleballs, Insanity, etc. will get you fit, provided you work hard.

Here are a couple of ways in which these routines might benefit you as a runner:

Some training is better than no training

For beginner runners or injury-prone athletes who can’t run more miles yet, including another type of physical stimulus will make you more fit overall. By proxy, an increased level of general fitness, which may include weight loss, fat loss, and general health, will lead to becoming a better runner.

Likewise, for those runners who struggle to increase mileage, including strength-oriented fitness routines might help their muscular system adapt to physical demands of running more.

As Mike Smith, the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach, Assistant Track and Field Coach at Kansas State University suggests, sometimes our metabolic fitness precedes our structural readiness: “Initial improvements in aerobic conditioning are often biochemical in nature and thus can happen somewhat rapidly whereas changes to the physical structure of muscle, ligaments, tendons and bones is a far more time consuming process.”

If adding intense, strength-oriented routines motivates you to get off the couch that one extra day per week as a beginner, or serves as the foundation to a stronger body that can tolerate more running, it will lead to you being a better runner in the long-term.

Being a better athlete may help you run faster

Along those same lines, becoming a better athlete may help you become a better runner. Most runners who start in high school do so because they weren’t athletic or explosive enough to be good at other sports.

Likewise, most adults start running because they desire to get fit after years of gaining weight or being generally non-athletic.

If you fall into one of these two categories, or even if you used to be a good athlete, but haven’t done any exercise but run the last few years, becoming stronger, more balanced, and more coordinated may help prevent injuries and improve your running economy. These types of fitness routines can definitely help you become a more well-rounded athlete.

Determining if a fitness routine will work for you

So, while the answer to the question of whether supplementary fitness routines might help you as a runner isn’t a definitive yes or no, you can use information about yourself and your specific weaknesses to asses whether they might benefit you.

If you’re a beginner or an injury-prone runner who wants to do more exercise but your legs can’t handle more mileage yet, these types of fitness routines will help you get more fit.

Just don’t think of them as directly improving your running. Likewise, make sure you don’t include them at the expense of preventative exercises or recovery modalities.

If you’re a more experienced runner, or you’re already in a time crunch, your limited training time is better spent adding more miles (assuming your body can handle the volume), performing running-specific strength exercises, or adding preventative routines and recovery modalities.

Adding running-specific routines to your schedule will give you much better return on your investment compared to other, non-running programs.

Free Strength Training Course

The Right Way to Add Strength Training To Your Running to Avoid Injury and Improve Performance

Here’s what we’ve got for you

How the “core” actually contributes to your running and which muscle groups are most important for staying injury-free

Which type of strength training exercises are most likely to directly improve your running performance (based on scientific research)

The 5 most common mistakes runners make with strength training (and how you can fix them)

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6 Responses on “Will P90x or CrossFit Make You a Better Runner?

  1. I’ve experienced both sides of this, with trying to do bodyweight exercises from You Are Your Own Gym. On the one hand, it was helpful to increase core strength, which helped me maintain form better when tired too. But on the other hand, even the extra 30 minutes 4-5 times a week was too much time for me to fit in reliably, and I was scared by the leg workouts because every time I’d do them, my legs would hurt too much the next day to run a real workout – I kept feeling like I was pulling something. Even the upper body and core workouts were problematic for interfering with my running a day or two later.

    What I’m trying to figure out now is how to work strength and flexibility training into my running workouts with the minimal amount of extra fuss. I’ve been doing Jay Johnson’s Myrtl exercises every day after running, and those have helped with piriformis pain in particular. But I’d like to find just a few more – I was trying his lunge matrix, but I think I need to work up to it slowly, since lunging seems to stress my leg muscles a lot, in a bad way.

    • We’re actually working on your exact question now by creating some running-specific strength routines that are fairly quick, but pack a lot of bang for the time you spend. We’ll also include a “prescription” of sorts to help you decide when and what to include based on your goals.

      Be on the lookout for an email sometime the second week of August when we launch it.

  2. The answer depends on what your goals are. If you goal is to become a great runner or BQ then you are better off spending time on adding more mileage than strength training.I love running,cycling and swimming. I am a great fan of P90x and P90x3 and I can tell you these programs helped me immensely in becoming a better athlete, runner and a triathlete.I had PR’s in 5k,1/2 and full marathon last yr after reducing my running mileage and by adding P90x workouts to my daily schedule.Helped me in getting into great shape and I have also become a good swimmer/cyclist/runner.I am a living testimony that these programs really work as they say.

    • Exactly Vinay, could not agree more. It is great you recognize that if you have a serious goal in mind, then it will likely take too much out of your body, so it cannot handle as much in your running, but if you are after general, it is great! Thanks for sharing your feedback, keep up the good work!

  3. Also crossfit isn’t black and white — some gyms and coaches are well versed in how to make your workout run/endurance specific. Granted, it does change the whole idea of crossfit when you start to change a workout from constantly varied to specific to running, but the ideals are there. I incorporate an endurance crossfit class coached by a crossfit coach who has also competed in many triathlons, ironmans, etc. and we incorporate drills specific to running form as well as Olympic weightlifting for that explosiveness. But then again… Taking away the constantly varied component takes away what crossfit ideally is so other than this being in a crossfit setting at a crossfit gym by a crossfit coach… Is it really crossfit?

    • Hi Brittany, thanks for your input, and that is great to hear your local cross fit has an instructor who understands running. That is great! Interesting to think about what you said…..times may be changing as we learn more about how all these varying activities can help runners, we just tried to focus on the research we found for those who are focused on a major running goal. Most cross fit locations will not have an instructor like yours who does race also, for that reason, keep up the good work!

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