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How Does CrossFit Endurance Benefit Runners?

Here's a look at the benefits of a CrossFit program specific to endurance athletes.

Adapted from the new book Unbreakable Runner by Brian MacKenzie and T.J. Murphy. Learn more at

Brian MacKenzie is the creator of CrossFit Endurance, a CrossFit-based approach to training and fitness for endurance athletes. As an endurance athlete himself, MacKenzie works hard to overcome assumptions that some people make about CrossFit Endurance—such as that it is a bodybuilding routine, or that it is dangerous. Sometimes they simply aren’t sure what difference exists between CrossFit and CFE.

So for starters, what exactly is CrossFit Endurance?

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program created by Greg Glassman. As defined by Glassman in the CrossFit Journal, CrossFit consists of “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.” Consider the person who goes to a gym three times a week and performs the same 25-minute circuit of machines that isolate specific muscle groups, completing 2 sets of 10 reps for each exercise. Rest breaks occur between each exercise and set, rendering the workout low in terms of intensity. He or she does this every week, year after year, using the same machines, like the quad extension machine and the biceps curl machine, and always in the same order.

CrossFit is the polar opposite. Rather than using machines that isolate a muscle, CrossFit uses compound functional exercises, such as burpees, that recruit a swath of muscle groups. Workouts constantly vary: What you do this Tuesday will be vastly different than what you did the previous Tuesday. Workout lengths range from a couple of minutes to 7-20 minutes; only rarely do they last 20 minutes or longer. There are no rest breaks. If it’s a 10-minute workout consisting of push-ups, running intervals, and power cleans, then you move from set to set as quickly as possible. This mixture of compound movements with little or no rest ratchets up the intensity. Along with an emphasis on healthy eating, that is the basic CrossFit program. The most important thing to know about CrossFit is that it is intended to develop high levels of fitness and health and an all-around athleticism. It’s not sport-specific.

CrossFit Endurance, however, is sport-specific. A CFE running program, as Brian MacKenzie has developed it, prepares a runner for a race by combining specific running workouts, strength workouts, and CrossFit metabolic conditioning workouts. As MacKenzie asserts, the use of CrossFit workouts—with their myriad health and athletic benefits—allows a runner to obtain equal if not greater performance results while simultaneously decreasing the chance of injury.

So what results can CFE runners hope for?

Under the CFE method, they can expect the following:

  • Sustained or improved performance while running fewer miles overall
  • Reduced injury risk as “junk” mileage is replaced with functional fitness workouts that train the same energy systems
  • Increased explosive power and speed
  • Less damage to mobility and range of motion through incorporating workouts that improve range of motion in the joints and muscle tissues
  • Increased production of human growth hormone, which helps counter the natural loss of muscle mass that comes with age
  • Revved-up fat-burning metabolism to burn excess body fat
  • Improved coordination of upper- and lower-body muscle groups through the inclusion of compound movements in training
  • Better race performance through greater strength, improved form, and greater running efficiency.


In their new book Unbreakable Runner, MacKenzie and Murphy reveal the CrossFit Endurance training program for running events from 5K to ultra marathon.

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