Using rowers, spin bikes, elliptical machines, treadmills, stair mills and other stay in place machines can be effective means for improving overall fitness. They can be programmed to train all but the anaerobic systems and they expose the body to far less trauma than running. They don’t beat swimming, but pools are obviously a bit more difficult to install than bikes and rowers.   The treadmill and stairmill, oddly, are made fun of by CrossFitters… but of the stationary machines they are the two that most closely mimic a functional movement. The rower and spin cycle mimic very sport specific movements, but not functional or natural human movement. My least fav, the Airdyne bike, mimics no natural or functional movement patterns. Airdynes are less functional than double unders, handstand walking, and muscle ups combined. Worse they tend to place the neck in a very compromised position as the user becomes fatigued. Just google “Crossfit airdyne” and click on the images. Check out the posture of the folks using the bikes. It is not just unnatural, but unhealthy. Of course, that tells me the coaches of those in the pics are not doing their job.  The Airdyne was designed for light “cardio”… not for people trying to max their lactate threshold by pedaling, pushing, and pulling themselves to exhaustion.  For this, you just can’t beat the sled.  So while using the stationary apparatus to develop energy systems isn’t a bad thing, you have to realize they can never replace running.  Disagree?  How many CrossFitters do you know that can row 3,000m at a 1:45 or better pace? Plenty.  So how many of those can run 2 miles in less than 14 minutes?  15 minutes?  Either is terribly slow…  almost walking.  It is no different than pulling an elite swimmer from the water and having him / her run. If they are not conditioned runners, they cannot run.

Endurance training does not ruin strength gains.  Running will not make you fat.  These and the other BS myths purveyed by strength and CrossFit coaches about endurance work are almost annoying.  Those of us that take time to do both, tend to enjoy decent levels of both stamina and strength.  I recently did a triathlon, then pulled sets at 455lbs.  And a few days later, after a three miler, I squatted reps over 400lbs.  There are not many folks out there that can run a sub six minute mile and deadlift over 500lbs…  but there could be.  It just takes discipline and training.

It is not endurance training, but bad programming of it (coupled with a poor diet) that leads to overtraining (under-recovery), and injury.  I know some of you enjoy running or other endurance activities  and some of you are training for marathons and other long distance events.  Conventional thought is you cannot train both strength and endurance at the same time.  It is not true.  I want you to do the best you can and not get hurt or overtrained.

We recently had Alex Viada of Complete Human Performance visit CFW and talk about his methods for combined, or hybrid, training.  I have to give him credit.  I have adjusted my program to match a few of his suggestions.  Basically, I moved the interval day so it is completed on the max effort lower day.  Previously,  I would have coupled my tempo run with max effort lower day.  Alex suggests it is best to train the highest intensity pieces on the same day.  Makes sense.

So let’s talk about doing things better…

Our current strength cycle is based on West Side’s conjugate method but designed to develop a solid strength base for CrossFitters.  The first two days of each microcycle (every 7 days) are max effort… lower on Monday, upper on Tuesday.  Wednesdays are dynamic effort lower days, Thursdays are active recovery, Fridays are dynamic upper or heavy metcon, and Saturdays will rotate between GPP/strongman/conditioning.  As the micro progresses, the intensity is lessened and the rest days are set towards the end of the week.

To couple your endurance work with this program, you need to match the same diminishing intensity and train your endurance work on lower days.  Sounds simple?  It is.  If you follow this you will be able to recover and make gains in the gym and increase endurance on the street.

Caveat… if you are swimming, and only swimming, for your endurance piece you will do your wet work on upper days and conditioning days – Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.

For the sake of simplicity I am using running as the exercise.  If you are only training to your overall fitness, I would highly recommend you row, swim or cycle too.  It will reduce the trauma running causes while still developing systemic endurance capacity.


Monday – ME Lower

On ME lower days, your endurance work needs to be interval sprint work. The little bit of complexity comes in here… sprint work is relative to your endurance goals. I.e., if you are only trying to maintain your endurance and get by with very little training, then a session of 50m x 10, 100m x 8, 400m x 3 will be plenty. But if you are training for a marathon that is 1 month out, you may need to be doing 800m x 8 or 1 mile x 4 here because doing your best in the race is your priority.


Tuesday / Upper ME

Unless you are the aforementioned swimmer, Tuesdays/upper ME days are off to endurance work. If you did one of the events I mentioned above, you need to let those feet, knees and hips heal up. Do I even need to address what sprint work does to your CNS?

Wednesday / Lower DE

For our CrossFitters, Wednesdays are good days for 1, 1.5, or 2 mile efforts. Short sweet, but steady state. A tempo* run is in order for our long distance members.

*I use Jack Daniel Ph.D.’s definition of the tempo run… 20-40 minutes at a pace that is just below the lactate threshold.

Thursday / Active Recovery

Ice Bath for 3-5min, Sauna for 15-20 minutes, Ice Bath for 3-5min. Attend a mobility class and/or get a massage. Eat perfectly!

If you haven’t done any of the above, try it. What do you have to lose? You may find out the resources your membership covers, like the Sauna, ice bath and Mobility classes, do exactly what I say they do.  THEY HELP YOU RECOVER!

Friday / Upper DE or Heavy Metcon

No endurance work.

Saturday / GPP, Strongman, and Conditioning

Today is the long day. But it isn’t a tempo run! A CrossFitter will do 20-45 min at a 70-80% effort. Our long distance friends can stretch things out. Half of your upcoming race distance is as far as I’d go. We want this one to be slow enough to truly train the aerobic system. Stay away from your lactate threshold.

Sunday / Rest Recovery

Rest. Recover. Sleep. Eat. Eat more protein. Read a book about training, but do not train. The dumbest athletes do not take rest days. One the most frustrating things I have ever done is train hard-tards. CrossFit Wilmington enjoys not celebrating hard-tards.

6 thoughts on “Adding Endurance / Aerobic Work

  1. Dawn says:

    So glad we are incorporating this is our training. Most of you know I need help with my endurance and strength comes pretty easy. My goal is to keep up with Melissa and Gene….or at least keep them closer in my sights!!! 🙂

  2. Christina D says:

    My only question is about long runs being half the distance of your race length? Its hard to prepare your body to be under distress for over 3 hours if you dont expose yourself to that prior to race day. Should you incorporate a workout that mimics the time at some point? I would love to avoid doing several runs over 16 miles but don’t know how confident I would be come race day.

  3. t. says:

    Sorry for the delay in posting a reply… I understand the idea that a body needs to feel the stress and be exposed the pounding of the race distance. I always go back to one thing of every person who asks me a question about nutrition or training, no matter how complex of simple… what is your goal?

    If you are only trying to “finish” your first… 5k, Sprint Tri, 10k, Obstacle Course/Mud Run, half distance IronMan, or in your case a marathon, then there is absolutely no reason to expose yourself to the race distance’s trauma. The goal is only to finish and accomplish the task. So your race day goal doesn’t come with a time. So who cares what your time is?
    My opinion: it is a weird goal to me to just do something with no care about how you do it. If I’m going to do something as painful as a marathon or even a half marathon, I’m going to set a goal of a respectable time and train to achieve it. Now, that time may be “respectable” based on many variables. If you are trying to do complete a race with minimal training, like I tend to, the time may be slower. But if you have a history of sub 3.30:00 races and you have spent a year training for it, you may be shooting for a sub 3.15:00 or something.

    In that case, you may want to run further than half the race distance. However, I would argue your previous experience cancel the need for the 18 or 20 mile long run that most do a few weeks before training. I would suggest doing faster than your race pace 13-15 milers. You can actually do these much closer to your race and still recover.

    Ultimately, the only people who need to train at their race distances are the top competitors. The rest of us are only accomplishing personal goals. We really do not need to train like the folks on the cover of the magazines. It would be like me programming CrossFit classes like Froning trains… it would would crush 98% of us. I

    So here is a trick I’d use if I decided to do a marathon… run 6 in the am, 6 early afternoon, and 6 in the evening. You get 18 miles in at much faster pace than if you went out and ran a steady state 18 miles. Don’t get me wrong, the trauma is still going to be there, but your training value per mile is increased. Do this on a day you can eat and nap between the efforts. I would eat, ice bath for 5 minutes, sauna for 15 minutes, and get back in the ice for another 5 minutes. Then I would eat more and take 40-60 grams of BCAAs (I’d consume BCAAs throughout my efforts too… at least 20 grams per hour) and for at least an hour. This trick can be applied to any distance race… 1 mile x 3 for a 5k and so on.

    Ultimately I think the “need” to get more miles in is more a psychological thing than an actual physical advantage.

    • Christina D says:

      Thanks for that information T. I definitely think I can benefit from a different training plan. I am going for a time for Boston, but would love a different approach and look forward to seeing how it works. I have a few half marathon I can train with to test the waters. Thanks for sharing your vast amount of knowledge as usual.

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