CrossFit is a great form of cross-training for runners when done safely. CrossFit combines strength training, Olympic-style weight lifting, plyometrics, gymnastics, and aerobic endurance. It is important to research the credentials and experience of any coach or personal trainer you work with.
Some runners may be concerned that heavy strength training can produce too much muscle mass and hinder their speed. However, most studies show no adverse effects on aerobic power from heavy resistance exercise; in fact, William J. Kraemer, PhD, and colleagues reported that women who performed both resistance and aerobic endurance training had greater aerobic development than those who performed aerobic endurance training alone.
Overtraining can occur when training is excessive in frequency, volume, or intensity, and can result in extreme fatigue, illness, and injury. There is no “cookie-cutter” training program that works for every runner, but here are a few guidelines for you if you plan to start cross-training:
In general, incorporate some form of strength training one to two days a week. If improving running is your goal, then running should stay your focus. I suggest you find guidance from a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist if you are unsure how to arrange a strength-training program. One or two sessions with a specialist may be enough to teach you an effective routine that you can continue independently.
Use proper body mechanics to avoid injury with any type of strength-training program. If you are unsure how to use a particular weight machine, or how to perform any movement, ask for help. Finally, listen to your body! The body needs adequate rest, recovery, and nutrient intake to execute at optimal performance levels. A careful balance of both strength training and aerobic endurance training will improve your run times.
Jeanna LeClaire Hill, PT, DPT, ATC, 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 CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, co-owner of CrossFit Waterway, and a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Sports Performance Coach.