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Is CrossFit bad for you? Pros and cons of CrossFit for runners


CrossFit has become increasingly popular over the last few decades.

Many runners experiment with cross training activities like CrossFit alongside their running, which begs the question: “Is CrossFit bad for you?”

CrossFit involves high intensity interval training, alongside other forms of fitness like endurance activities, strength training and plyometrics. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), high intensity interval training has become one of the top three worldwide fitness trends since 2013. 

So what exactly are the benefits of CrossFit and is it recommended for runners?

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What is CrossFit?
  • What are the benefits of CrossFit?
  • Is CrossFit bad for you?
  • Is CrossFit good for runners?
  • How many days a week should I do CrossFit?
  • Who shouldn’t do CrossFit?
  • Tips for performing CrossFit
  • The best CrossFit workouts for runners


Let’s get started!

is crossfit bad for you

What is CrossFit?

According to the CrossFit official website, CrossFit can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to better performance.

Founded in 2001, CrossFit has revolutionised the fitness world and many people credit CrossFit for changing their lives for the better.

It is described as a strength and conditioning program that combines:

  • High intensity interval training 
  • Strength training (e.g. weighted squats and weighted lunges)
  • Plyometrics (e.g. box jumps and jump squats)
  • Weightlifting (e.g. barbell squats and presses)
  • Gymnastics (e.g. handstand and ring exercises)
  • Endurance exercise (e.g. running and rowing)

The following fitness domains (called ‘Foundations’) are optimised:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  2. Stamina
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Power
  6. Speed
  7. Coordination
  8. Agility
  9. Balance
  10. Accuracy

CrossFit training is usually performed with high intensity, functional movements called ‘workout of the day’ (WOD).

In these training sessions, high intensity exercises like squats and push-ups are performed quickly with little or no recovery time in between sets. 

Related: The ultimate 30 day strength training plan for runners

What are the benefits of CrossFit?

There are many benefits of CrossFit for runners – from improving strength and endurance to improving running form and efficiency.

CrossFit can help runners to:

  • Improve speed and power
  • Improve endurance and aerobic fitness
  • Improve balance and coordination
  • Increase agility and flexibility
  • Lose weight and burn calories
  • Increase muscular strength
  • Improve running form and efficiency
  • Build a sense of community

Improve speed and power

Since many workouts involve explosive movements, speed and power are at the forefront in CrossFit.

Speed and power is also important when it comes to running, especially over shorter distances and in speed training like interval training and sprinting.

The key takeaway? High intensity exercise like CrossFit will help you to improve speed and power on and off the running track.

Improve endurance and aerobic fitness

The high intensity of CrossFit means you will see a lot of benefits for your endurance, aerobic fitness and VO2 Max.

You can think of a 15-minute CrossFit workout as a short and snappy sprint session.

Working out for a shorter amount of time but with more intensity will benefit your cardiovascular endurance and aerobic fitness in the long term.

The bottom line? CrossFit may improve your ability to run over longer distances.

Improve balance and coordination

As a runner you rely a lot on your core to keep you strong, balanced and stable during a run.

CrossFit exercises that target your core strength will help to improve your balance and coordination.

Learning complex CrossFit movements will also help to improve coordination.

Increase agility and flexibility

Running long distances alone will only go so far when it comes to becoming more agile.

CrossFit includes plyometric exercises like jump squats, box jumps and broad jumps which help to increase your agility and flexibility. 

Stretches performed as part of a cool down following a CrossFit workout – such as yoga poses – can also improve flexibility. 

Lose weight and burn calories

Arguably, weight loss is not the primary goal of CrossFit.

However, when you combine high intensity exercise like CrossFit with a healthy, balanced diet, it is inevitable that you will lose weight.

Various studies have shown the benefits of high intensity exercise for burning calories.

Not only will you torch the calories during the workout itself, but you will continue to burn calories once the workout has ended.

Increase muscular strength

CrossFit involves high intensity, multi-joint movements which may help to build muscle strength and stamina.

Multi-joint movements involve all the major muscle groups, which is important for building all-body strength.

In addition, exercises like squats and snatches will help to build muscle mass and improve muscle definition. 

Improve running form and efficiency

Power, strength, endurance, speed, balance and coordination are all essential qualities for proper running form and good running performance.

CrossFit allows you to improve these foundational areas of fitness, leading to better running form and efficiency in the long term.

Build a sense of community

One of the biggest benefits of CrossFit is that it helps to build a sense of community.

Many CrossFitters view it as a culture and even philosophy.

A group of like-minded people meet regularly with a similar set of goals to improve their lives through health and fitness.

Not only does CrossFit inspire friendly competition, it stirs up mutual support and positive encouragement. 

One 2018 study concluded that CrossFit is associated with higher levels of sense of community, satisfaction and motivation. 

Related: 7 of the best running workouts to build endurance, strength and speed 

is crossfit bad for you

Is CrossFit bad for you?

Despite its many purported benefits, CrossFit does have its risks. 

CrossFit is a form of high intensity exercise, so the risk of injury is real. 

Recent research has concluded that high intensity exercise like CrossFit increases your risk of injury. 

One study analysed the musculoskeletal injury risk of CrossFit and determined that 74% of CrossFit participants suffered at least one injury.

Concluding that the most common injury sites were:

  • Shoulder
  • Lower back
  • Arm/elbow

Another study looked at the injury rate in CrossFit according to CrossFit experience.

It found that those who practised CrossFit for more than 6 months showed significantly higher injury rates than those who practised for less than 6 months. 

So what does this tell us?

You need to take the necessary precautions and interventions to ensure you perform it in the safest way possible in order to reduce the risk of injury.

Granted, the risk of injury is never completely eradicated.

At the end of this guide we’ll share some tips for performing CrossFit.

By taking the right steps you can take to ensure the likelihood of an injury occurring is decreased.

Related: Strength training exercises for runners: The complete guide + 30 sample exercises

Is CrossFit good for runners?

Yes! CrossFit is recommended for runners as a form of challenging cross training.

CrossFit can help you to become stronger and less injury prone, and as we explained earlier, has a whole host of benefits for your aerobic fitness, speed, strength and running form and efficiency.

However, CrossFit shouldn’t replace your running routine all together.

As with strength training and speed training, you need to balance it alongside running.

In the next section we’ll tell you how many CrossFit sessions you should be doing each week alongside running.

Related: Weightlifting for runners: 5 reasons to take up weightlifting as a runner

is crossfit bad for you

How many days a week should I do CrossFit?

The amount of CrossFit workouts you do per week will depend on your running experience and fitness levels. 

If you’re new to running and CrossFit, then one workout session per week should be enough.

If you’re a more experienced runner and have dabbled in high intensity interval training already, then it is recommended to do between 2 to 3 CrossFit workouts per week.

You can think of a CrossFit workout as a speed training session or HIIT session, so perform a CrossFit workout as a standalone session or after an easy run.

Related: The best HIIT running workouts to do today to lose weight

Who shouldn’t do CrossFit?

As with any exercise, CrossFit is not recommended nor safe for everyone.

CrossFit isn’t safe if:

  • You’re pregnant
  • You’re injured
  • You have a serious health condition 
  • You’re over 65 years of age

In all of these areas, check with your doctor or a physical therapist (if you’re injured) before starting CrossFit to check that it is safe for you to do so.

Related: The ultimate 14 day strength training plan for runners

is crossfit bad for you

Tips for performing CrossFit

CrossFit is physically demanding so here are some tips for performing it safely.

#1 Focus on good form

CrossFit involves a lot of movements like squats and deadlifts.

If these movements are performed incorrectly, there is a real risk of injury. 

As with running, it’s important you learn proper form and technique.

If you’re new to CrossFit, it’s recommended you join a CrossFit club and work with a dedicated coach so you can learn all the basic movements correctly.

A CrossFit coach will help you to perfect your form and technique and move well during movements.

They will also help to stay focused on your form when performing demanding workouts, which can easily be forgotten about when you’re in the moment.

#2 Listen to your body

During any CrossFit workout you’ll be pushing your body to the limits, so it’s important you listen to your body.

If you feel a pull or niggle or any sort of pain, don’t be tempted to push through this initial discomfort as it could turn into something more serious.

If in doubt, take each workout in your stride and work within your limits.

As you become more familiar with CrossFit after each workout, you should hopefully become better at knowing how hard you can push yourself and when to ease off.

#3 Create a support network

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, CrossFit is great for building a community.

And with a community, you get all the support that comes with that from more experienced CrossFit members.

Listen to what they have to say when it comes to doing CrossFit workouts. 

They’ll probably have a whole host of tips and advice that they can share with you to make the CrossFit learning curve that much easier. 

#4 Warm up before each workout

As you would do before a demanding run, warm up before launching straight into the workout.

A warm up will go a long way to mobilise your muscles and joints.

Factor in at least five minutes of warm-up time before each CrossFit workout session to help minimise the risk of injury.

#5 Prioritise recovery

Recovery time in between each workout is incredibly important.

A good recovery strategy incorporates everything from a cool down and stretching to a proper diet and a healthy sleep routine.

Incorporating things like heat, foam rolling and massage into your recovery routine will also help to treat any sore muscles after a workout.

#6 Follow a healthy, balanced diet

Good nutrition and recovery are central to the CrossFit philosophy. 

After all, exercise is nothing without a good diet and recovery in the form of sleep. 

Make sure you follow a healthy, balanced diet when performing CrossFit and ensure you get enough of the essential macronutrients.

Interestingly, CrossFit endorses the Zone Diet – which recommends you consume 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fats.

While carbohydrates are important for fuelling your workout, you’ll want to make sure you consume enough protein after a workout to aid recovery and muscle repair.

Related: Cross training for runners: Benefits + 9 reasons to do it

is crossfit bad for you

The best CrossFit workouts for runners

Now you know the answer to: “Is CrossFit bad for you?” – here are some of the best CrossFit workouts for runners.

Many of these workouts involve compound movements which are great for runners.

Depending on your running experience and fitness levels, you can alter the intensity of these workouts (e.g. reduce the number of repetitions or reduce the length of the run in the workout). 

#1 Bodyweight CrossFit workout

  • Warm up
  • 15 x air squats
  • 15 x push ups
  • 15 x sit ups
  • 15 x forward lunges
  • 15 x jumping jacks
  • Repeat for a total of five sets, with 1 minute rest in between each set
  • Cool down

#2 AMRAP CrossFit workout

  • Warm up
  • 5 x push ups
  • 10 x forward lunges
  • 15 x air squats
  • Repeat as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) within 20 minutes
  • Cool down

#3 Core strength CrossFit workout

  • Warm up
  • 1 minute run at a challenging pace
  • 20 x crunches
  • 20 x Russian twists
  • 20 x windscreen wipers
  • 30 second plank
  • Repeat for a total of three sets, with 1 minute rest in between each set

#4 One mile CrossFit workout

  • Warm up
  • Run for 400m
  • 20 x air squats
  • Run for 400m 
  • 20 x air squats
  • Run for 400m
  • 20 x air squats
  • Run for 400m
  • Cool down

#5 CrossFit leg workout

  • Warm up
  • 20 x air squats
  • 20 x touch down squats
  • 20 x forward lunges
  • 20 x squat jumps
  • 20 x reverse lunges
  • Repeat for a total of five sets, with 1 minute rest in between each set

Related: 6 simple strength exercises for runners

Caroline Geoghegan