9 Powerhouse Benefits of CrossFit Endurance & Mobility

In talking with runners who have followed a CFE program and coaches who work with them, these are benefits that commonly are brought up.

CrossFit Endurance

Improvement in overall health and quality of life. Rather than counting on the endorphin high from a daily run to feel good, the multi-dimensional approach of CFE (in addition to endurance, skill and stamina training: a clean diet, mobility, plenty of sleep, recovery, hydration) produces greater over health, better metabolic and hormonal health, and sustains a higher-quality feeling throughout the day.

Reducing injury risk by supplanting “junk” mileage—aka easy runs or recovery runs—with functional-fitness workouts that train the same energy systems. For those runners who have exceptional mechanics and running skill, this might not be a priority, but for those who are dealing with with faulty mechanics, imbalances and such, at the heart of CFE is the drive to correct these underlying problems, but also by replacing lower-priority runs with functional-strength/stamina workouts, the overall pounding of the pavement is lessened and muscles and connective tissues are treated with greater care with longevity in mind.

Countering linear one-direction duty cycles (running in one direction for huge amounts of time) by incorporating exercise that includes additional planes of movement. In the act of running a mile, the body moves within a contained usage of ranges of motion and within in a single plane. This is where the Be An Athlete First, Runner Second philosophy comes in. By increasing the variation of movement and engaging in a variety of movement patterns, a runner creates a wider foundation of athleticism from which to count on.

Increasing power and speed through strength and explosive power training. As the voluminous research accumulated by Owen Anderson has shown, an investment in strength and power is an investment in improved economy and endurance. As elite triathletes like Mark Allen and Dave Scott originally explored, and now coach, strength training was their secret ingredient in the durability required to run a fast marathon after a 112-mile bike ride.

Countering the damage distance running does to mobility and range of motion. This is related to #3, but worth mentioning again: running alone, particularly without a movement practice like Kelly Starrett’s mobility program, yoga or otherwise, muscles (think lower back, hamstring and hip flexors in particular) shorten. As range of motion gets eaten away, a runner loses the capacity to run correctly. Duck feet, heel-striking, valgus knee patterns and the sort all begin to creep into the stride. It doesn’t matter what shoe you’re running in when this begins to happen. Your soft tissues start grinding way and performance capacity is reduced.

Tapping positive hormone responses, like human growth hormone and testosterone. A particularly valuable effect for older runners. Lifting heavy things taps the body’s systems. Lean muscle mass and preventing the loss of lean muscle mass are key benefits.

Revving the body’s fat-burning metabolism and thus making for positive body composition changes with weight and strength training. High-intensity strength/power training may only take five to 10 minutes of effort, but the effect is long-lasting—the body’s metabolism burns hot throughout the day and night.

Improving the connection between the body’s engines–the hips and the shoulders–and the muscles of the arms and legs through the compound movements used in Crossfit workouts. Even simple combinations of bodyweight exercises like burpees, push-ups and mountain climbers can help achieve this effect through awareness. If running has been your sole method of exercise for a long time, it’s not uncommon that you fail to put to use the largest centers of power in the body, especially the muscles of the trunk. In conjunction with skill training, CFE works to unify the power capacities of the human body.

Faster recovery from races. Talk to an experienced CFE runner and this is a big one—-they run a half marathon or full marathon on Sunday, follow the CFE recovery protocol the night after the race, and you just don’t hear about them limping around the next day (or for the next week) as you might with less dimensional runners.

Faster recovery from races. Talk to an experienced CFE runner and this is a big one—-they run a half marathon or full marathon on Sunday, follow the CFE recovery protocol the night after the race, and you just don’t hear about them limping around the next day (or for the next week) as you might with less dimensional runners.

Unbreakable Runner by Brian MacKenzie and TJ MurphyIn their new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and veteran journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

Barefoot Power & Children’s Shoes: 7 Crucial Guidelines for Parents

T.J. MURPHY

About a year and a half ago I was on assignment for Runner’s World and I spent time working at a running shoe store in Silicon Valley. One of the things that struck me was how often parents brought in their kids, sometimes as young as five years old, and told me, “My son (or daughter) has flat feet. We need a support shoe to fit his orthotic.”

An underlying message that Kelly Starrett and Brian MacKenzie make in their coaching work is this: Your first job as an athlete, or simply as a human being, is to make choices that don’t undermine the physical capacities you were born with and are meant to express. For example, don’t screw up your hip function by sitting a lot. You can mess up a natural gift simply by not using that strength or capacity in your daily life and your training training, or by failing to guard…

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The Long Run

In a recent article posted on Active by my former colleague, star author and longtime friend, Matt Fitzgerald, Matt takes up the issue of injury prevention for runners, using an initial mention of Unbreakable Runner to make his point.

He writes, “In their book, MacKenzie and Murphy take it as a given that runners who run more get injured more. However, recent research suggests the opposite is true.”

The first study Fitzgerald cites was a web survey of 668 marathon finishers. Sixty-eight of the respondents reported an injury that hindered their training for at least two weeks. From the data, researchers concluded that runners should put in no less than 18 miles per week before a marathon “to reduce their risk of running-related injury.”

Fitzgerald also refers to a 2014 study that looked at 517 runners with a 9-month follow-up. Researchers focused on overall mileage, speed and frequency of runs. From the data collected, they predicted that injury risk in regards to training load is affected by body-mass index and previous injuries.

Fitzgerald then effectively dismisses a program like CrossFit Endurance—the subject of Unbreakable Runner—with his own deduction:

“Why do runners who run more get injured less?” Fitzgerald posits. He answers that “running alone develops the specific kind of durability that makes the body resistant to running-related injuries.”

He adds his bottom-line: “All of the strength training and technique drills in the world won’t match the toughening effect of actual running.”

To support this contention, he cites a 2012 study with 432 beginners, split into two groups, and where researchers had them prepare for a “four-mile recreational running event.” Both groups would follow a 9-week training program, but the test group first prepared with a four-week phase of pre-conditioning comprised of walking and hopping exercises. Researchers concluded that the four weeks of hopping and walking didn’t have a valuable effect on shielding newbie runners from injury.  

Fitzgerald compares these results with a study that suggested that high school kids, preparing for the fall cross country season, should put in more consistent weeks of training than less, and that during those weeks they should mix the length of their runs.

“The lesson of these two studies is clear,” writes Fitzgerald. “In order to minimize the risk of running-related injuries, you need to build durability. Only running itself builds the kind of durability that prevents running-related injuries. Drills and strength training just don’t cut it.”

I think this is an important discussion to have and I think Matt brings up some valuable insight, especially for beginning runners. From the data, Matt extrapolates that “drills and strength training” just don’t cut it. I assume he’s talking about the inclusion of running drills, bodyweight gymnastic work, mobility and functional-strength training workouts in MacKenzie’s approach, and not the ‘hopping and walking’ exercises that the pure beginners used before their 9-week running program. At any rate, one thing I wish to clarify is the primary messages we wanted to get across in Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength and Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong.

I want to underscore the “Lifetime” part of the subtitle a little later on, but first, a stress within Unbreakable Runner I wanted to make is not that it’s the best program or the only program worth following—something MacKenzie seems to be routinely accused of saying. There are so many different types of runners with different goals and different issues, I think a variety of options and ideas is a good thing. Lydiard isn’t for everyone and CFE isn’t for everyone as is Galloway isn’t for everyone or Vigil isn’t for everyone (pity the recreational runner who tries to follow Joe Vigil’s 10K program, preferably performed at 8000-feet of altitude).  I remember the moment I was sitting in the back row of a seminar, with Brian trying to make this point that what he was offering was an alternative approach. And that’s a core message in the book: We wanted to communicate an accurate picture of CrossFit Endurance and offer it to those who might be frustrated with injuries from the programs they’ve been following, or for those who might find the variety and all-around athleticism appealing. But we weren’t out to force it down anyone’s throat. Recently, a link to a story on the book was announced with the Twitter text: ‘Why Brian MacKenzie thinks that traditional training programs don’t work.” I’ve been talking and interviewing Brian for years and he’s never even hinted at a sentiment as controversial and easily proved wrong.

Actually, if Brian preaches about anything, it’s about why a runner needs to keep an eye on the long-term effects a training program has on a runner’s health. He doesn’t dispute that high-mileage programs can work—in fact, the foreward is written by the human odometer, Dean Karnazes—what Brian does suggest is that a runner should look for every opportunity to minimize the wear and tear of running and factors, like a poor diet or not getting enough sleep, that lead to chronic inflammation, which science clearly links to premature aging. (All of these things, by the way, key priorities for Dean and, he reports, at the root of his longevity).

As an example, if you ask MacKenzie what the number one benefit of a CrossFit workout is for a runner, he’s going to talk about how functional movements, performed under load and at high-intensity, can do wonders for a coach trying to sort out biomechanical weaknesses, imbalances and other “holes” that ultimately, down the road, will probably be the cause of an injury. The weaknesses are exposed well before they manifest themselves in a tweak.

There’s also the value of the strength work. As Jay Dicharry, MPT, puts forth in his detailed examination of biomechanics and running, the excellent book, Anatomy for Runners, nothing drives him crazier in his practice then when a veteran runner comes into his office with a chronic injury (or injuries) and Dicharry asks what the runner has been doing as far as routine maintenance over the years, and and the answer is ‘lots of running’ and nothing more. To illustrate his point, Dicharry uses the metaphor of a car mechanic talking to a customer whose car is breaking down at 73,000 miles and reports that he never changed the oil, timing belt fixes, tire rotations etc. “Nope,” the car owner says. “Just parked it in the garage and when it was time to go, expected it to run.”

Dicharry’s model is similar to MacKenzie’s and to Kelly Starrett’s: Correcting your movement errors is something you should do first rather than later. Dicharry also advocates the style of strength training that MacKenzie does:

Weight training (at high intensity) requires the runner to produce forces well above those seen during running. It’s possible to activate a very high percentage of a runner’s muscle mass, with minimal physiologic fatigue…it’s a great training tool to better develop the runner.

The study I would be interested in seeing would be a six week (or more) preparation program that went above and beyond walking and hopping and prepared new runners with movement drills and basic functional strength training moves. Then compare them to a control group and a nine-week training program.

But even then, that’s just going to offer another ray of information for the discussion. The one study that I know of that looked at a pool of very good runners over a long time has been conducted by Jack Daniels, Ph.D., the longtime coach, researcher and author of The Daniels Running Formula. In a phone interview about a year and a half ago, Daniels described to me how he’s kept tabs on the elite runners he first studied circa 1970. During the call, he told me how he had completed a third survey with his cohort, and said there was one conclusion he could draw in regards to those who still were enjoying their running and running well. “They were the ones who, over the decades, have missed the most days of running,” he said. The ones who had run the least were the least broken, in other words.

That’s just another piece of the puzzle, of course, when it comes to the discussion of running mileage. Steve Magness, author of The Science of Running, examines the subject of volume in his book and concludes that we just don’t know enough—it’s his contention that there just aren’t enough studies on the subject that one can use research alone to make a decision on what mileage level is the best mileage level.

One of my favorite people to talk to on the subject is Dr. Brian Hickey, a PhD at Florida A&M. In his 40s, Hickey has been a running and track geek since he was a kid, and he’s applied his vast knowledge of exercise science toward his own athletic career. Even though he’s been competing since high school and ran at Syracuse, he still loves to spend his summers finding duathlons and Masters track meets to frequent. I seem to recall him telling me that he not only likes to enter just myriad race distances, from the 400 to the 5000, but also likes to enter the triple jump. That the guy has been at it for more than two decades and is still racing a lot is one thing; it’s another thing to be able to do a field event that I can barely watch because of the impact stress involved.

Hickey, in fact, was a like a third author on the book, Unbreakable Runner, and I’m looking forward to reporting more about what he has to say. He’s all about minimum effective dose when it comes to running miles, using functional strength movements and heavy weights as part of his long-term durability plan. “Lift something heavy every day,” he told me, saying that even if it’s just a couple minutes of heavy kettle bell swings, you don’t want to miss out on stimulating your natural testosterone and HGH production. “Don’t leave that on the table.”

On the subject of mileage, he helped me frame my answer to 20-something runners intrigued by CrossFit Endurance. If you’re in your 20s, should you seek to run the least number of miles in your training and use CFE-like workouts to supplant the easy maintenance runs? I think the answer is very individual, and may have something to do with the quality of your mechanics and any mobility issues you have. A thought sparked in discussions with Hickey is that the day that you end up in your 40s or 50s and can’t run another step—that the achilles is fried or the back is out or the knee is a shambles—does that day come all at once? Or is it the inevitable result of all those steps you took doing 60, 80 or 100 miles a week while in your 20s and maybe even your 30s?

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It’s different if you’re a professional runner who is out to make a killing and be finished with running by the age of 25. But it’s a different thing for the age-grouper sort who wants to run forever.

I totally agree with Fitzgerald that running produces adaptations that lead to stronger connective tissue, bone density and the like—durability, as he puts it. My question—for those who love running and want to be able to run in their later years—is what else can you do besides just more running? What can you do to insure your bet? That’s what Unbreakable Runner is about.

Unbreakable Runner by Brian MacKenzie and TJ MurphyIn their new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and veteran journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

Why Squats Are Good For Runners

Two examples of how CrossFit Endurance can produce runners who are into high-performance and injury resistance: Valerie Hunt (left) and Jennifer Yeargain Fisher.

Two examples of how CrossFit Endurance can produce runners who are into high-performance and injury resistance: Valerie Hunt (left) and Jennifer Yeargain Fisher, both from Austin, Texas.

Last year, Runner’s World put forward the following questions to explore:

Is CrossFit a good supplement to running? A replacement for running? A small study conducted in Alabama provides some useful real-world information on what happens physiologically during a CrossFit workout.

In the article, Scott Douglas discusses an ACSM study conducted with nine subjects performing a CrossFit workout known as “Cindy”: It’s a 20-minute AMRAP—As Many Rounds As Possible—of the following circuit: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 bodyweight squats (also called air squats).

It’s a quick read—378 words—and comes to the following conclusions:

This study suggests that this CrossFit workout gives reasonably fit adults who are accustomed to that mode of training a decent 20-minute workout. That’s not the same, however, as saying that it’s equivalent to a steady 20-minute run. If you’re training to run faster, the specificity of your workouts becomes more important than for people aiming for general fitness. If you’re one such runner, consider workouts like the above CrossFit session more a supplement to your running than a replacement.

And this:

You might burn more calories doing 20 minutes of intense CrossFit work than in running easily for 20 minutes, but you can probably burn more total calories from easy running, simply because you can sustain the activity for longer.

What this analysis reveals, first of all, is a common misunderstanding of why a workout like Cindy would appear in a Brian MacKenzie/CrossFit Endurance training program—like the schedules published in Unbreakable Runner.

The first misunderstanding, or assumption, is that MacKenzie’s number one purpose having a runner perform Cindy is to exact a training effect on the energy systems (Douglass hinges his analysis on the VO2max measure of intensity collected by the researchers). Another misunderstanding, or what I believe is a black-and-white mistake, is the assumption that a workout comprised of pull-ups, push-ups and squats is not specific to running.

The reason that a CrossFit workout like Cindy is part of a CFE program is, in fact, directly related to improving running performance.  Here’s a basic review of how:

For one thing, it directly helps improve running mechanics and your ability to use good mechanics for a long stretch of time. To understand how, let’s say you’re performing Cindy at a gym and you’re either being coached by the likes of Brian MacKenzie, whose training programs are described and presented in Unbreakable Runner, or Kelly Starrett, whose mobility standards for runners are presented in the book, Ready to Run. As anyone else who either has been in a seminar or class conducted by either of the these two guys, you vividly know the following: You won’t be allowed to get far into the workout unless you’re performing the pull-ups, push-ups and squats with extremely good form and attention to core-to-extremity flow of power. If you think it’s about going as as hard as possible to crank up your heart rate at the expense of form, you’ll be pulled aside for a discussion. In other words, you will be hounded to start each movement with an engaged, stable posture, with the core muscles fired to support your spine and also enable the best possible flow of power from the large muscles surrounding/supporting the trunk to the limbs, and to keep the movement quality up throughout the workout. 

Hence, a classic calisthenic like a push-up is not just some way to build up your arms and pecs—rather, when performed correctly, each push-up is small step toward improving your capacity to perform work while maintaining an ideal position. If you’re seen doing a pushup with you midline positioning “broken,” as MacKenzie and Starrett would say, you will be stopped and given a stepping-stone target that will get you on the royal road to doing a push-up unbroken. Each repetition of each push-up, pull-up and squat then becomes a form of skill practice—First and foremost, establishing and maintaining a good, braced spine, and second, setting a groove for good patterns of movement. In the squat, for example, in each repetition, you want your feet correctly placed and your knees following ideal paths—not reaching out over the toes or caving inward, and learning how to use your hamstrings and glutes to do the work. This is where things become specific: In this 20 minutes of a workout that includes multiple sets of 15 air squats, sure, there’s a cardiovascular/stamina workout involved, but more valuable is that you will have practiced good mechanics, good, health, powerful patterns of movement, improving the coordination, strength and power that these patterns of movement can bring to your running. Key value? When you run, you will be better able to access the posterior chain into your running, which means more power, more endurance, more aptitude in running with good form, more performance and less strain on the joints.

Starrett considers it so critical for a runner to be able to perform a squat well, and show stamina in performing good squats, that it is one of his 12 prerequisites in being full prepared to run the way your body was designed to run.

Although historically doctors have cautioned athletes against the use of squats in training, suggesting they have adverse effects on the knees, research indicates that if you perform squats well—as MacKenzie and Starrett insist you do—that squats reduce the chances of injury.

With that in mind, how does Cindy compare to an easy 20-30 minute run? The virtues of Cindy become more apparent when you set it side-b-side to someone executing an easy run with sloppy, knee-dissolving mechanics. Rather than pounding away your connective tissues with another dose of mileage, you are giving yourself a break from that pounding. Also, rather than practicing another 20 minutes of junky running style—further ingraining bad movement habits—you are building a foundation for better running mechanics.

And finally, I’d just like to mention that anyone who has spent some time learning how to do CrossFit-style movements well and then has went on to advancing the amount of intensity they can apply: it’s an extremely valid workout.  Before any writer or editor spurns the idea, I would recommend trying it so that you really know what you’re talking about. The  training impact of a workout like Cindy goes beyond “calories burned.” It can be a bloody long, challenging 20 minutes. The reason CrossFit workouts are short in length and high on intensity is that this mixture enables a high-spectrum metabolic wallop that has favorable adaptations going beyond simply improving the oxidative energy system. Adaptations including increases in natural testosterone and human growth hormone production, increases in bone density and improved fat burning efficiency (and, as it follows, body composition).

This leads me back to a key assertion made by Douglass:

If you’re training to run faster, the specificity of your workouts becomes more important than for people aiming for general fitness.

Here’s where I have a deep disagreement with Douglas. The notion that pursuing optimal health is somehow at odds with pursuing performance. While hard training can and should be exhausting, a smart, disciplined runner does what he or she can to seek and maintain good health—through diet, hydration, sleep, mobility work and improving running skill.

So why should a runner supplant a junk-mileage run with a workout like Cindy? Because rather than pounding out more miles  on the sidewalk and slowly grinding away toward yet another injury, you’re choosing to train effectively, without the excess pounding, and in a way that builds skill and a body that is going to be more resilient for your running workouts.

And the injured runner and oft-injured runner is going nowhere in terms of their training or performance. Overall health is foundational to fast running.

Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong
T.J. Murphy and Brian MacKenzie
Foreword by Dean Karnazes
Paperback with tables and illustrations throughout.
6″ x 9″, 224 pp., $18.95, 9781937715144
CrossFit™ is a trademark of CrossFit, Inc.

Brian MacKenzie is a strength and conditioning coach and the creator of CrossFit Endurance™, which specializes in movement with an emphasis in running, cycling, and swimming mechanics. MacKenzie and his program have been featured in Competitor, Runner’s World, Triathlete, Men’s Journal, ESPN Rise, The Economist, Outside, and Tim Ferriss’s best seller The 4-Hour Body. He has consulted with several athletic teams, including the 2012 Western Athletic Conference Champions San Jose State Women’s Swim Team. Learn more at www.crossfitendurance.com.

T.J. Murphy is a veteran journalist, endurance athlete, and CrossFitter. He is digital editorial director of LAVAMagazine.com and former editorial director of Triathlete, Inside Triathlon, and Competitor magazines. He is author of Inside the Box: How CrossFit® Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body. His writing has also appeared in Outside magazine and Runner’s World. He is a five-time Ironman® finisher and a 2:38 marathoner. Learn more at www.tjmurphy.net.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn their new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

Just Released! Unbreakable Runner Exercise Videos

The new book Unbreakable Runner includes strength and mobility exercises recommended for runners. Now Brian MacKenzie and AthleteCell have released videos that show proper technique and form for the 24 exercises in the book, plus 39 more supplemental exercises.

Unbreakable-Runner-Exercise-videos

You can match up the exercises in the book with the videos using this Unbreakable Runner exercise video list here: https://unbreakablerunner.com/crossfit-endurance-videos/

Or you can watch all 63 videos in 20 minutes by watching the entire Unbreakable Runner exercise video playlist from AthleteCell’s YouTube Channel.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn his new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

 

Now Available! Unbreakable Runner, a CrossFit Endurance Training Program for Running

Unbreakable Runner Offers CrossFit Endurance™ Training Programs for Running 5K to Ultramarathon

Solve Injuries, Invigorate Training, or Break Through a Plateau with Brian MacKenzie’s New Approach

Boulder, CO, USA — October 16, 2014 — In the new book Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running. Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong is now available in bookstores and online. Learn more at www.unbreakablerunner.com.

At least one in three runners will get injured during their training this year, according to the American Medical Athletic Association. “Traditional running training makes too many broken runners,” says MacKenzie. In his book, MacKenzie challenges conventional training tenets such as high mileage and high-carb diets to show how reduced mileage and high-intensity training can make runners stronger, more durable athletes and prepare them for races of any distance.

Distance runners who want to invigorate their training, solve injuries, or break through a performance plateau can gain power and resilience from MacKenzie’s effective blend of run training and whole-body strength and conditioning. CrossFitters who want to conquer a marathon, half-marathon, or ultramarathon will find endurance training instruction with 8- to 12-week programs that combine CrossFit™ workouts with run-specific sessions. Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for race distances from 5K to ultramarathon for beginner, intermediate, and advanced runners.

“MacKenzie has opened doors to coaches and runners, offering proven solutions to a myriad of problems that persistently vex runners of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.” – Dean Karnazes, from the Foreword

Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong
T.J. Murphy and Brian MacKenzie
Foreword by Dean Karnazes
Paperback with tables and illustrations throughout.
6″ x 9″, 224 pp., $18.95, 9781937715144
CrossFit™ is a trademark of CrossFit, Inc.

Brian MacKenzie is a strength and conditioning coach and the creator of CrossFit Endurance™, which specializes in movement with an emphasis in running, cycling, and swimming mechanics. MacKenzie and his program have been featured in Competitor, Runner’s World, Triathlete, Men’s Journal, ESPN Rise, The Economist, Outside, and Tim Ferriss’s best seller The 4-Hour Body. He has consulted with several athletic teams, including the 2012 Western Athletic Conference Champions San Jose State Women’s Swim Team. Learn more at www.crossfitendurance.com.

T.J. Murphy is a veteran journalist, endurance athlete, and CrossFitter. He is digital editorial director of LAVAMagazine.com and former editorial director of Triathlete, Inside Triathlon, and Competitor magazines. He is author of Inside the Box: How CrossFit® Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body. His writing has also appeared in Outside magazine and Runner’s World. He is a five-time Ironman® finisher and a 2:38 marathoner. Learn more at www.tjmurphy.net.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn their new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

 

Comparing Ready to Run and Unbreakable Runner

“What’s the difference between Ready to Run and Unbreakable Runner?”

This is a question I’ve been getting recently from friends, in regards to two books coming out in October, Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong and Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally. I’m a co-author of each, but my contribution was to the writing. The two books are different in intent and content, and reflect the complimentary visions of the coaching stars I was lucky to be co-author to.

The heart  of Ready to Run is a set of guideposts for the runner or person who wants to run, whether as a classical distance runner, a jogger, a soccer player, soldier or CrossFitter. Kelly Starrett, DPT and author of the NYT Bestseller Becoming a Supple Leopard, has put forth 12 standards for the reader to strive for so that she or he will have the mobility and tissue health in order to get on the path of running the way our bodies were designed to run.  The standards are a mix of lifestyle standards and mobility standards—ranging from hydration, to habits related to standing and footwear, to achieving adequate levels of hip and ankle function. By striving to meet the standards—adhering to specific lifestyle choices and spending around 10 minutes a day mobilizing joints and tending to the precious tissues that allow you to run— and ideally achieving these standards, Starrett asserts that you will have crossed a bridge. You will then have prepared your body for running for fitness, a sport that involves running, life in the military or a running/racing program. In particular, Ready to Run is in sync with the likes of CrossFit Endurance or Pose running technique—programs where you build running skill and the strength and stamina to support that skill.

The original idea for Ready to Run came with anecdotal reports about the minimalist shoe chasm that so many runners seemed to be falling into after reading certain parts of Born to Run (Ultimately, Born to Run argues that you shouldn’t just hop into a pair of Vibrams and zip out the door. The author himself wanted to when he started training for the ultra-marathon featured in the book, but his coach talked him into using something less aggressive). If you’ve been running with a heel strike for 10 or more years, using different models of stability shoes or motion control shoes, the one thing that’s going to happen to you if make an overnight transition into a minimalist running shoe (or going barefoot altogether) is that you’re probably going to limp home. Why? The likely answer is that your joints and tissues weren’t prepared for such a radical overhaul in how you run. Ready to Run offers a series of yes-or-no tests to give you a picture of where you stand and what you need to do to prepare your body to run the way it was designed to run. The book includes a section on drills to help you progress toward ideal levels of foot, ankle, knee, hip and back mobility, and the concurrent capacity to be able to use good positions.

Unbreakable Runner is specifically for runners wanting to learn about and use Brian MacKenzie’s CrossFit Endurance approach toward distance running and racing.  The heart of Unbreakable Runner is a set of training schedules for race distances ranging from 5k to the ultra-marathon. Unbreakable Runner was written both for traditional runners wanting to adopt the skill/strength/conditioning method and for CrossFitters who want to bias their training toward a running race. In Unbreakable Runner, I spend a considerable amount of time explaining what MacKenzie’s approach is and consists of, what the working science has to say about its underpinnings, and how CFE fits into the history of run training. An appropriate follow-up question might be this: What’s the incentive for a traditional runner (meaning a high-mileage program with minimal skill, strength and conditioning work) migrate into a CFE program? For those who have made this jump, there are some of the more common reasons:

Overwrought with injuries. This is why I made the jump. As discussed in the book, one of the chief problems of being a conventional distance runner is that after so many years of running, racing, marathons and such, the rate of injury begins to rise until it threatens to put your running to an end. The use of strength, conditioning and transitioning to a lower-volume running model is designed to prevent these problems and has also worked wonders for beat up high-mileage runners in need of a full-body overhaul.

High performance off of minimal time investment. Certain variations of CFE allow a runner busy with work and life to cut down on their overall training time and retain or increase their race performance.

Longevity. A traditional running program prioritizes mileage. CFE puts skill first—the point being that whatever sport you do, performing the movements correctly and consistently is your first order of business. Running with correct technique is a major factor in how many miles you’re going to get out of your lifetime. Along with strength, conditioning, diet and skill, MacKenzie puts an emphasis on health as being the foundation of performance rather than aerobic base.

Variety. CFE uses an all-around-athlete foundation of training, with an emphasis on fast run training, to prepare you for racing. If you’re interested in testing the waters of Obstacle Course racing and the like, it’s got your name on it.

I’ve been a runner/triathlete for more than 30 years now—and someone who had pretty much smoked himself through high-mileage running, with little or no skill and little or no mobility to support what I was doing—it’s been the combination of Starrett’s mobility work and MacKenzie’s program that has allowed me to enjoy being a runner again. I’ve grateful to have had a hand in producing both books and hope help others the way they helped me.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn his new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

 

The Case for CrossFit Endurance

By T.J. Murphy

When I started digging around to understand what CrossFit was, and then came across CrossFit Endurance, I had  set of assumptions that, at first anyway, clouded my initial understanding and appraisal of what it was.

I had never heard of CrossFit, so it was like renting a car in some foreign city where you don’t know the language, the traffic rules or street names. I had to let go of my bias so that I could navigate well enough to understand the difference between CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance. CrossFit, for example, is a general conditioning program. CrossFit Endurance is a sport-specific program that alternates between running sessions (with a heavy emphasis on running technique) and customized CrossFit-like workouts.

Brian MacKenzie teaching at a certification.

Brian MacKenzie teaching at a certification.

After I opened my mind enough to at least listen to what MacKenzie was saying, things became more clear, and as I’ve written about many times now, I went in to trying CFE with the attitude that I would do it 100% so that I could test it in a valid way and prove that it was wrong for me. A month later and I was ticked off at myself for not having found it sooner: It was not only helpful in shaking me free of the old patterns that buried me with injury, it was fun. Hard work, for sure, but fun because it revitalized an athleticism that I thought I had lost forever.

Since then, I’ve read a number of criticisms of CFE by coaches and experts that remind me of the early assumptions and bias I had when I first came into contact with it. This past summer, for example, in July I read this quote in an Outside interview from coach/expert Ben Greenfield, after he was asked to describe the difference between his program—Ancestral Fitness—with MacKenzie’s work.

CrossFit Endurance tends to do a lot more weightlifting. It also tends to combine a lot of weights with actual endurance training. This method reinforces improper biomechanics because you are forced to continue while heavily fatigued. It also relies upon building metabolic endurance with weights, whereas I think you should focus on the actual metabolic endurance, or HIIT training, while actually engaged in the activity you want to get better at. Use the weight room to build power, not endurance.

It’s a single quote, and perhaps edited down from a longer response that Greenfield may have given, but I think it would be unfortunate if a runner of triathlete who may actually benefit from CFE or a CFE-like program would read this interview and draw conclusions without a more thorough investigation. Because from this quote, it sounds like Greenfield believes that in CFE all of the running is intertwined within CrossFit met-cons. But as anyone who has followed a CFE program can tell you, that’s not the case. The typical CFE running schedule includes at least three workouts that are pure running workouts. You might warm up with some bodyweight functional fitness stuff, but then you move on to do your running drills and then your running workout—like a running interval workout or a long tempo run or a running time trial. In reading Greenfield’s quote, you might be tempted to think that your 5 x 1000 meter workout at the track would include stopping for sets of kettlebell swings each lap. As I mentioned, that’s not the case with the run-specific workouts. As far as the CrossFit workouts that do include running (like “Helen”: 3 rounds of 400-meter runs, kettlebell swings and pull-ups)—the doctrine of virtuosity in CrossFit requires that good form comes first. And whether it’s a run-specific interval workout on the track or a CrossFit class performing Helen, you typically have coaches howling at you from start to finish about using good form. In my many years of being a traditional runner, I have no memory of a coach every giving me coaching cues in regards to form. Only about pace. In CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance, coaching cues on form are constant and never-ending. Are their poor CrossFit coaches out there? Sure. The antidote is to make it your mission to find the best one around.

To that end, Greenfield’s quote suggests that MacKenzie’s program lacks an emphasis on good mechanics. Go to a CFE cert or work with a CFE coach, or talk to MacKenzie, and prepare to be hammered over the head with attention to good mechanics. Jumping on a plyometrics box is, within the CFE world, is first-and-foremost an opportunity to build good mechanics. Power? Sure. But mechanics come first. Mechanics are the number one priority in the CFE program. A primary reason that CrossFit-style workouts are part of the overall CFE schedule is so that you can sustain good mechanics into the deepest stretches of a race, where many runners and triathletes—even the best ones—tend to fall apart. The goal is to build good mechanics and then support the good mechanics with stamina.

I believe this assumption-problem is at the root of most of the negative media coverage on CrossFit. I think it’s fair to criticize CrossFit if you like. But what’s annoying is when you read a report or op-ed and it becomes vividly clear that the journalist or the ‘expert’ being interviewed has never spent five minutes in a CrossFit box. The comments and opinions offered apparently based on what they’ve heard or read on in other stories. There’s this weird echo chamber involved, and the truth about what CrossFit is or isn’t, and what CrossFit Endurance is or isn’t, gets obscured by a din of ranting that isn’t based on any quality reporting. My advice to journalists who have been assigned to write about how dangerous CrossFit is, or what CrossFit Endurance is or isn’t, is to spend time at least watching athletes do the workouts, or better yet try it out for a month. This is much more valuable and valid then calling up an exercise scientist to ask for an opinion—unless the expert has actually tested the program.

In the mainstream you don’t seem to ever read about the 85-year-old woman at CrossFit Santa Cruz Central who goes to her workout and then afterwards departs to go to her dance lesson. I’ve met her—she’s a walking, dancing billboard that says, “NO EXCUSES.” Or the story about a woman who is 400-pounds and can barely walk around the block who joins a CrossFit gym in San Diego and a year and a half later has lost more than 150 pounds and competes in every functional fitness competition she can get to. And you rarely (if ever) read about the fact that most people at neighborhood CrossFit gyms are really friendly, down to earth people.

CFE founder, Brian MacKenzie.

CFE founder, Brian MacKenzie.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been motivated to write about what I’ve seen and experienced in CrossFit boxes to at least offer a counter-narrative to the mainstream reports I’ve been seeing.

And this is the same impulse that led to my wanting to work with Brian MacKenzie on a book that accurately describes what CrossFit Endurance is and how it compares to traditional training programs. The goal was to give the program a historical, philosophical and scientific context so those interested can get a good look and a detailed plan to give it a try.

It’s written to offer guidance into a training plan both for traditional runners who have never been near a CrossFit gym and for CrossFitters who are interested in running in a distance race and need some sport-specific work to get there.

The CFE training plans are included are designed for distances ranging from the 5K to the ultra-marathon.

So that’s it. As the title suggests, a chief purpose of the book is to offer an alternate route into distance racing for traditional runners (like myself) who have become exhausted battling injuries. But it also a path for the busy professional who wants to squeeze as much performance out of the limited amount of time he or she has to train.

And finally the book is meant to help clarify just what CFE is.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn his new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore

Unbreakable Runner pdf Preview by Brian MacKenzie and T.J. Murphy

Unbreakable Runner: Unleash the Power of Strength & Conditioning for a Lifetime of Running Strong will begin shipping late this week to those who preordered online!

In case you have not yet ordered your copy, we’d like to offer this Unbreakable Runner pdf preview from the book.

Unbreakable Runner: CrossFit for RunnersIn his new book, Unbreakable Runner, CrossFit Endurance™ founder Brian MacKenzie and journalist T.J. Murphy examine long-held beliefs about how to train, tearing down those traditions to reveal new principles for a lifetime of healthy, powerful running.

Unbreakable Runner includes CrossFit-based training programs for the most popular running race distances from 5K to ultramarathon.

Now available! Autographed copies of Unbreakable Runner from Brian MacKenzie!

Find Unbreakable Runner in your local bookstore, CrossFit gym, or from these online retailers: VeloPress, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, your local bookstore