On the gates of Crossfit SE11 in Vauxhall, south London, there’s a sign that proudly reads: ‘The hallmark of elite fitness.’ It’s quite the claim. But with a growing number of athletes swapping high mileage for heavy weights, it’s perhaps not far from the truth.
Take the CrossFit trainers who have run sub-three-hour marathons on less than 20 miles a week. Or Ricky Lightfoot, winner of the prestigious 2014 Trail World Championships and a huge CrossFit fan. I’ve never run a sub-three hour marathon or triumphed at a global running event. But then, I’ve also never tried CrossFit. Coincidence? Probably. But, just in case, I’m here to give it a go.
“The reality is that many runners we see are weak, uncoordinated and inflexible,” says CrossFit trainer Andrew Stemler. “A lack of any core strength means their torso is, in effect, baggage that flops around, rather like poorly tied cargo on a ship in a storm. CrossFit provides a solution to this.”
During my introductory class, we begin by learning the art of the deadlift. Now, the action of hoisting a weighted bar from the floor to your knees might not seem that applicable to running, but it’s great for increasing hamstring strength.
Then it’s on to the sumo deadlift, a variation on the standard deadlift that, thankfully, doesn’t involve lifting a 50-stone sumo wrestler off the floor.
The final exercise of the day is box jumps, great for increasing leg power. Then there’s a high-intensity circuit involving all the above exercises, plus some burpees. By the end, my heart is racing and I begin to see why so many athletes are adding CrossFit to their weekly workout mix.
“I initially got into CrossFit it when I was injured. I was unable to run for longer than seven to eight minutes without getting pain, so I looked for something else to keep me active. CrossFit offered me a really intense full-body workout that was enough to keep me in good shape.
“CrossFit helps to keep my core strong. When running, the majority of your power comes from the core so naturally having a stronger core will help with speed, agility and overall strength.
“I think it’s really important for runners to have a strong upper body, without being too bulky. It can help keep form when fatigue sets in and also help with momentum when running uphill.
“Running 100 miles a week, however, means I limit the CrossFit sessions to two a week. My favourite CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) is the ‘Cindy’ – as many rounds as possible of five pull-ups, 10 press-ups and 15 squats in 20 minutes.”