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Q&A: Does CrossFit Help or Hurt My Marathon Training?

Would high-intensity circuit workouts (like CrossFit) help or hurt my marathon training?

You have probably heard by now that High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is capable of providing participants with amazing results in losing body fat and improving fitness performance. Popular fitness programs like CrossFit, Boot Camps, Orangetheory, and Hard Exercise Works use high-intensity training as their basis for success. Many endurance athletes may wonder if this type of training will benefit their sport.

Before jumping into a high-intensity training program, it is important to consider your current aerobic fitness level and your ultimate goal. Bottom line, if you want to improve your running, you have to continue running.

In addition, many of the studies supporting HIIT prove faster improvement in fitness and weight loss compared to steady-state aerobic training in overweight and sedentary individuals. If you are a seasoned marathoner, chances are you aren’t as sedentary as those seeing these drastic improvements in aerobic fitness.

Nonetheless, there are many studies that support strength training combined with endurance training. Most studies show no adverse effects on aerobic power from heavy-resistance exercise. William J. Kraemer, PhD, and colleagues report that women who performed both resistance and aerobic endurance training had greater aerobic development than those who performed aerobic endurance training alone. For this reason, I do support incorporating strength training and high-intensity interval training for novice to elite marathoners alike.

However, high-intensity training does not always have to incorporate resistance exercise and heavy weights. If improving your marathon time is your ultimate goal, running should stay your primary source of training. High-intensity training for marathoners can include track interval workouts, tempo runs, fartlek runs, and shorter-distance/higher-speed repeats. High-intensity interval training, with or without weights, taxes the neuromuscular system much more than steady-state aerobic training. For this reason, I suggest strength and high-intensity training one to two days a week.

While HIIT may help some individuals gain aerobic fitness faster, a marathon runner still needs long-endurance, steady-state aerobic training to improve. That is what a marathon is! You must compare apples to apples.


Jeanna LeClaire Hill

Jeanna LeClaire Hill, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS, USAW-L1SP, is a doctor of physical therapy and certified athletic trainer at HSS Spine & Sport in Jupiter, FL. She graduated magna cum laude from Towson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training and earned her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, co-owner of CrossFit Waterway, and a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach.

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