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A Logical Look at the "Endurance Base"

It is my belief that, when boiled down to their essentials, all sports have the same core principles for training and development. Coach Glassman and a few coaches before him have addressed the physiology side of this with the process called General Physical Preparedness (GPP); noting that there are certain movements and conditioning sequences that, no matter what sport you play, would render itself useful to all athletes. Some (Coach included) even argue that GPP is a more potent training tool that sport-specific strength and conditioning; claiming that most of the sport specificity an athlete needs comes from regular practice in that sport.

That discussion, however, is for another post. But more than the weight room training, I also think this thinking applies for the practice and performance of the sport, itself. I played five sports growing up, three in high school, one in college, and have coached athletes and talked to coaches from those sports and many more during my time as a CrossFit coach. And I have noticed a few underlying principles that seem to be obeyed by coaches of every group. One of these principles relates to building a "base" during the pre-season/beginning of the season. This base usually is comprised of two parts: skill and strength. You need to get used to the specific movements and techniques of that sport (skill), and you need to develop the positions and muscular endurance that will need to last the entire season (strength.)

For example, in the first few weeks of a season, a basketball coach might spend a majority of their time doing reps on the basics of how to defend a pick-and-roll (skill), as opposed to going over 10 different offensive sets that include a pick-and-roll. After that, the team would likely scrimmage with an emphasis on running a pick-and-roll every time down the court so the defense could apply what they have been drilling. Other sports are similar - whether that is football athletes doing routes/footwork during practice and weight room after, or softball players getting used to grounders and fly-balls after an off-season of nothing. Either way, every group seems to follow the same formula of quality technique > volume or strategy. That is, every group save for one:

Track People

Many distance runners and coaches I am familiar with have the exact opposite approach to early-season training. Their belief is that the best preparation for a season of long distance running is... long distance running. A lot of it. An example could be a 1600m runner would spend the first few weeks of practice running 2-5 miles per day to build their "base." For running, I believe the formula should be the following:

CrossFit (strength) + Long duration Pose drills (skill) = Endurance Base.

As I wrote about in the In-Season Training Manifesto, the positional strength and endurance needed for running is best addressed in the weight room, not the track. Runners are going too fast, with too many reps, and through too much range of motion while running to worry about position. Instead, they can do lunges, l-seats, deadlifts, and kipping pull-ups keeping good position at high intensity. But it is also important to remember that no amount of weight room work can actually replicate the skill running. So I'm not suggesting to ditch running at a high volume, but just alter it a little bit. Instead of looking at the mileage, look at the time domain. For example:

Traditional Base Workout

Stretch

5 mile run

New Base Workout

Short-medium CrossFit workout

then

35-40 min. focussed Pose drills worked into short runs

With the New Base formula, the CrossFit workout would serve to prep the body for the specific positions that will come up during the run, get the body temperature up, and fatigue the legs and midline a little bit to replicate a long-duration run. Then instead of setting a mile standard on the run (5 miles), we would look at the time domain. Depending on who you are, a 5-mile run could take around 35-40 minutes. So the New Base Workout would have a runner doing running-specific drills for that entire duration and then let them lead into a run. Whatever mileage is covered is irrelevant at that time. If a coach wants to emphasize the running technique on that day, then they could just do that first and the CrossFit workout after.

The only reason you should be practicing skills of any sport, let alone running, at slower than game-speed is if it is necessary for the technique to be performed correctly. With the traditional Endurance base, not only are you going slower than you would in a race, but you are likely heel-striking and sludging by the middle of the run. If you wanted to build a base for injury and decay, this would be my first recommendation.

A starting pitcher would not build a "base" to his season by throwing two hundred pitches every day in spring training, and a linebacker would not build his pre-season base by going through a full-contact Oklahoma drill for two hours. So, are track and cross country special and exempt from the rules governed by other sports, or is it just governed by track people with nothing better to do?

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Reader Comments (19)

I'm gonna go ahead and say that running is definitely the exception. I also think that you have very little ground to stand on when telling long distance runners how to train. Runners commit everything to running and running only. If there was a better way to train for marathons out there I'm sure that community would have found it by now. Also I think telling a seasoned runner that he/she should do 40 minutes of pose drills instead of running 5 miles at a certain pace they would laugh at you.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Little ground, but not no ground. I am interested to see what Matt has to say about this.

Murley-inspired?

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Hey Jack, that silliness you talk about is the #1 reason for the unprecedented amount of injuries unique to the running community.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLana

Hey Lana, good to see you on here! Cap'n Jack is a Champions Club OG. He's a cool dude and beast longboarder. While I disagree, I understand where he is coming from. He's harmless (unless he's longboarding - where he routinely crashes with reckless abandon.)

Emma, Not Murley-inspired. Mott-track inspired.

April 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

What type of injuries? I can definitely get behind strengthening certain areas to prevent injury however I would argue that it doesn't always translate into better running but I may be wrong in the case of running. For me preventative exercises would include rotator cuff and shoulder strengthening. I have horrendous shoulder mobility and have semi frequently popped my shoulders out of socket. The form required when taking a toeside turn often puts my shoulder at risk. Strengthening the muscles around the joint will definitely lower my chance of injury but I don't think it would necessarily make me a better skater. However, I will admit my anecdote may not apply to injury in running.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I'm with Jack on this one Chris....the running community has this covered,. Your post kinda seems like a not-so-veiled attempt to criticize track people again.
And Lana, I don't know you and you may be a runner for all I know, but the first thing that popped into my head when I read your comment was....that sounds a lot like all the comments that non-crossfitters are always making about crossfit injuries.
My bottom line is this............running sucks

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterWendy (bmw)

Jack, I doubt a lot could prevent any of your injuries from happening other than better longboarding technique. Those things happen. If a runner twists his ankle on a pothole, or gets hit by a car, or slips on the ice (Matt!) - those are all unavoidable. The overuse/overtension injuries (torn meniscus/shin/achilles/hip/etc.) are the ones Lana was probably referring to. Those are really inexcusable.

Wendy, I love finding any opportunity to make fun of track people; this is about 10% that and 90% sharing what I think would be a better way.

But to both of you, or anyone else, just simply answer why track and cross country/marathon running is that different from other sports?

April 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

Ahhh didn't know Mott's track team went that way. Should've though with the way Sap was training.

I think those sports are different because people who aren't exceptionally skilled can still make it to a high level just because they have a really good lungs or have more fast or slow twitch fibers in their calf. That's not gonna happen in football or basketball.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

"But to both of you, or anyone else, just simply answer why track and cross country/marathon running is that different from other sports?"

It's because it's what humans were built to do. All it takes for a human to get better at running is to do more of it because the body is already perfectly designed for it. Any other sport requires some type of training that will manipulate and specialize the body for a new task.

April 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterCap'n Jack

Okay, here's my piece:
cross country and track (long distance anyway) are different from other sports because they more heavily rely on aerobic capacity and general fitness than skill. Although skill is really important, it is not AS important as, say, football, basketball, or soccer. In soccer if you can run for days but can't dribble or pass you're useless, but not at all the case in running. What makes a "good" distance runner is their ability to mentally and physically keep operating at full capacity for the longest period of time.
Long distance runners can also easily avoid developing skill simply by buying stupid cushioned shoes and blaming their injuries on "old age" or something like that. As if humans evolved to live to be 100 but their knees are only supposed to last until they're 40? Or in my case 15?? Not likely.
Now, I'm not a "good" distance runner by any real standard, but I think there should be a balance between the two approaches. The traditional way of training has stuck around for so long because, although it's definitely flawed, people have seen some positive results from it, mainly an increase in aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. I think CrossFit helps a lot in developing some of the same modalities, but I know from experience that if you don't train in the time domain you're racing in your muscles probably won't stand up (I ran a half-marathon without training for longer than 30-40 minutes at a time and my legs were out of commission for two whole days). You also need to evaluate whether your skill will hold in the second half of your race, and I don't think doing CrossFit gives you the same type of muscular and mental fatigue you experience during just a run.
The one thing I am absolutely still confused about is why I have to run 10 miles at the end of every training week to "recover." How does that even work??? Plus, why do I ever need to run 10 miles if my race is only 3 miles long??

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMurley Burly

On a personal note, I had no damn business running 400m at a state level and the only reason I did was because of technique. I was not a natural runner and the most I ever ran in practice was 1200m, but you bet your butt that I was doing Pose drills at least 30 minutes a day.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

I love CrossFit but the longer I do it the more I am starting to appreciate the so-called "endurance base". It's not to say that technique is unimportant. But I think - in the short run - endurance trumps technique. In the same way that, up to a certain point, strength is more important than technique in things such as the only lifts.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMel

Running is gay.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjacob

Mel, from my experience coaching athlete like Emma, Bromm, Murley, Bubs, and Jason in track, they had a huge advantage going into the Summer of CrossFit because we had been doing CrossFit Endurance for the past three months. I agree one hundred percent.

Jacob for the win.

Murley, that was actually a really good comment. That makes complete sense. And I agree, 10 miles cannot be a cool-down run. Absurd.

April 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

Who ever said humans evolved to live to 100? Anything past reproduction age is just bonus time.
Running isn't gay. It sucks sometimes but it makes your a better more well rounded athlete. More gpp if you will. Also after a few miles you get an awesome runners high, 420blazeityoloswag.

April 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

All runners should lift and do something other than raining, and I base that solely on my visual evidence of looking at those creatures in Los Angeles and Matt looking like the only one with muslces

April 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro

Runners do have disgusting bodies...

April 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I'd rather do G4P than GPP.

April 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

BY the way Em, to clarify I like the Mott coaches. I am pretty down with what they are doing. Just being around track again made me think of this, not the coaches in specific.

April 22, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

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