Will P90x or CrossFit Make You a Better Runner?
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.
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.