Friday, July 19, 2013

On Combining CrossFit with Triathlon

I haven't been able to straighten my arms for the last 3 days. I'm blaming CrossFit.

I'm only going to CF 2x/week but somehow I have a knack for picking the days when the WOD calls for a billion push ups or pull ups. I've actually gotten to the point where I can knock out a bunch of push ups and it doesn't debilitate me for days anymore... but Tuesday the game involved pull-ups. I can do some unassisted pull-ups, but this WOD called for a total of 60 (as sets of 24, 18, 12, 6) so I used a band that helped me out. You'd think those bands would make it easier but in the end I think it's worse/harder because while there's no way I could bang out 60 pull-ups in less than 12' without a band, with a band I could... but then I haven't been able to straighten out my arms since. So maybe would be better to just do as many as I can unassisted then call it good enough when I fail? Haven't got that one figured out yet.

Anyway, it is with ams bent that I type this blog post. Just so you have the background. :)

I've been meaning to type up my thoughts on this subject for a while but just hadn't had time to get around to it. But here's where my head is at with this CrossFit/Triathlon combo... Some random thoughts in no particular order...

~It's tough to add CrossFit to the mix when your triathlon training is big and/or specific for an upcoming event. Sometimes you can get away with a less than ridiculously hard WOD and then you'll still be able to swim/bike/run later but you never really know how it's going to go when you go to the box. That might be the biggest challenge for triathletes is not knowing what the WOD is until you get there. We are planners! Pluses and minuses to that of course... because if we knew ahead of time we'd just go on days when the WOD suited our strengths, which is not what CF seems to be about. The sessions are different each day, sometimes harder than others but of course 'harder' is relative and depends upon one's individual strengths and weaknesses. Anyway, my point there is that sometimes a WOD will level you and if you're going to do CF you just have to accept that fact and understand that your SBR is going to suffer some, at least in the short term. I think I've mentioned this before, but for me, it kills my swim most obviously. (Turns out, if you want to swim well it helps to be able to straighten your arms.)

~I know I just sort of bitched about not knowing the WOD ahead of time, so this may come across as an odd follow-up, but the fact that you never really know what you're going to get is part of the charm of CrossFit. It forces you to face your fears, address your weaknesses, and be open to challenging yourself in a new way. There is no "Comfort Zone" in CrossFit. It is always challenging in some new way and you pretty much always feel like an accomplished bad ass when you walk out of the box, drenched in sweat. This is a nice change up from triathlon where after 18 years or so you can get pretty complacent and ho hum about repeating the same type of aerobic or tempo sessions week after week.

~Since the WOD sessions do seem to be so random, I wouldn't say that they directly benefit swim/bike/run. If your goal is a strength program that compliments SBR, then CrossFit probably isn't it. Which isn't to say there's no benefit to triathletes doing CrossFit- I think there is-  but it's just not set up to address that specific need. It's set up to make you a better all-around athlete, and it definitely makes you a stronger person, which I think in the game of life is a good thing. But it's not triathlon specific at all. For this reason, I can see that joining a CF Box might be best done during off-season when you're not trying to nail key S/B/R sessions. What I have noticed for sure is that while I have more aerobic capacity and endurance than most of the other people who go to my CF gym, I am almost universally the weakest one in any session I attend. I suck at squatting heavy and most everyone can deadlift more than me... but give us a set of burpees and wall balls mid WOD and I'm crushing all those powerhouse athletes in banging out reps without slowing down or resting.

~So on that topic, I think I now understand why Triathletes and CrossFitters seem to have such heated debates about fitness (Which group is fitter??). It stems from some statements made about how even if all you do is CF that you can still run a good 10K (or even marathon as some claim). Triathletes get rather pissy about that kind of statement (of course) because we tend to believe that an aerobic base is the key (I still believe this) and CFers think that being strong is the be-all-end-all and that anaerobic fitness is all you need (I can see where they're coming from). I'm not a fan of these debates though because I think high and large the people who are having them have only experienced EITHER Triathlon OR CrossFit... I do wonder how many people who wrote their arguments in heated debate type internet forums have actually gone and trained in both arenas? I think that would be critical before forming such a strong opinion for one side or the other. So here's my opinion now, having done both- Sorry Crossfitters, but if you want to be good at swim/bike/run, you have to swim/bike/run. A lot. While only doing CrossFit might allow you to complete a triathlon, it will not get you to the pointy end of the field in any race. On the other hand, sorry Triathletes- while you might look like a chiseled piece of athlete from all that S/B/R, you're probably actually (relatively) very weak. So in the end, neither side wins this debate in my mind because the argument is apples and oranges.

Given that I just admitted that I don't think CF directly benefits Triathletes, why do I keep going back to Crossfit? Because I like it. I like the new challenge. I like that I'm completely out of my comfort zone every time I'm in that gym. I like addressing my weaknesses. And maybe not coincidentally, since I've started Crossfit, I have been able to swim/bike/run my brains out and I have not been injured. I think gaining general all-around strength has made me more durable in a way that reduces the overuse injury issues that I've dealt with in the past, so in that indirect way it has actually benefitted my triathlon.

On that note, time to go ride my bike again. :)


Kaari said...

Love this post! I'm not a triathlete, I'm a speedskater--but since there aren't a lot of speedskater blogs I read other athletes', including yours. In fact, your recent posts about crossfit have inspired me to try it (and as I type, I, too, can barely move my arms--thanks, 55 presses the first day I ever did them!). Like you, I don't think CF necessarily directly benefits my sport, but I really want to balance my body and strengthen weak areas (nothing like skating counterclockwise for 10 years to unbalance a person!) and I think CF will be great for that. Also like you (although I've only done 5 CF workouts so far) I'm trying to figure out how to scale workouts that hit areas I haven't used in years--and I'm almost 50, so I really want to avoid injuring myself by pushing to complete a WOD that's over my head. I'm glad to hear that you feel that CF has made you more durable; I love it, but I don't want it to end up hurting rather than helping me.

Anyway, thanks for inspiring a middle-aged lady to leave her athletic comfort zone and try something new! I'll be interested to see how your CF journey continues! (and if you want to see what skaters do, I do have a blog at

cherelli said...

Great post; CF still isn't big here but I am hoping it gets bigger soon, I love the concept for people pushed for time who can't get in the big aerobic workouts during some phases of life - "and it definitely makes you a stronger person, which I think in the game of life is a good thing". Love this line, especially as we get older...and who knows our sports interests may's nice to pick up new sports knowing you will at least be strong...CF would be perfect (it seems) for off-season in probably all sports as well...

Anonymous said...

I think the whole debate thing is funny, because 1. who really is having this debate? people who already have an opinion, so yeah and 2. of course you have to swim to be good at swimming and you have to lift to be good at lifting; the notion that I could just Crossfit and be faster at a marathon is silly.

But, I like it as part of building base or getting back into things or having fun, as a way to do some different (sometimes, though sometimes it's just annoying/stupid) strength type work. It's such a mixed bag, though, and half the time I end up being annoyed with everyone for being dumb.