Are Marathons and CrossFit Healthy?

More and more this question is being asked, but honestly we should question everything we do in the fitness world. These are just examples of two specific types of training and events that have gained huge popularity in recent years. Specifically, Crossfit’s popularity and growth is so new that there aren’t many studies or stats yet on the short and long-term impacts on the body. It is up to us to be cautious and mindful of the types of exercise we put our bodies through.

We tend to gravitate towards the latest shiny workout trends, but it is important to evaluate the pros and cons, and if it is right for your goals and body. While marathons and CrossFit both have their benefits and draws, one must not blindly follow the faith that you will be truly safe with these training methodologies.

A major issue is that too many long-distance runners, CrossFitters and followers of other extreme fitness training regimens are so hooked into that mode and culture that they don’t balance their training with other forms. When you are seriously training for marathons, ultras and CrossFit games, there is simply no time left to do anything else. As in other types of higher-intensity, higher-volume training there are also higher risks of injury.

By repeating the same movement and stress pattern on the body’s systems and joints, you can create strength and flexibility imbalances. This can lead to more serious injury. Some muscles become too strong while others are ignored, which leads to issues that often require physical therapy and can keep you from  functioning normally. There is nothing more frustrating and even depressing for an active person than being laid up with an injury. Because you are not doing what you love, it ends up bleeding into other parts of your life,  like your  job performance and relationships. I’m sure that when you started training, one of your underlying goals was to not only to be super fit, but to be healthy as well. Preventing yourself from injury, by balancing the extreme exercise that you do with proper mobility work is one of the most important elements to smart training. All of this high intensity and repetitive movement requires a lot of maintenance work on your body.

Maintaining your body means:
  • Cross-training
  • Flexibility work
  • Rest
  • Dealing with inflammation and minor injuries properly

Being a professional athlete is a full time job and therefore they have time for all of the  maintenance work that is required to keep their bodies in tip top shape. For us everyday working people it is hard enough to make the time for the workouts, let alone the work to keep ourselves injury free. Most of us are working warriors, with goals of staying fit, looking good and having energy. Because of this when people sign up for a marathon or CrossFit they cannot really take the time to train fully and recover properly. Higher intensity training is not to be jumped into lightly, having no background or recent bodily training. If used properly long distance running and CrossFit training styles need to have a counter balance and be done in moderation.

At Unite we were able to convince many of our former running athletes to start cross-training with us, because all they were doing everyday was running. Now they love it and can really appreciate the benefits to a well-rounded training program. They still run, but not obsessively and not solely.

One other thing about distance running is that this should not be done as a weight loss method. In fact if you are overweight you are really doing much more wear on your knees and joints. Lose weight through diet first, and then work into running longer distances. If you enjoy running, there are better ways to work on running performance such as getting your times down on by doing shorter races or turning to trail running that will include some hills and different terrain or obstacles.

I genuinely enjoy many different modalities of fitness, including long distance running and CrossFit. I also enjoy indoor cycling, yoga, and bodybuilding type workouts, but not in isolation and not to extremes. I love a strong community and fitness always seems to bring people together.

There was a time where I got a little swept up into extreme fitness culture and competitiveness, going as hard and fast as possible. In that world it is really hard to keep yourself modified, scaled, and within an appropriate intensity. It takes a really disciplined, ego-less person to not get swept up. Ideally you also need wise coaches that have one eye on safety and can tell you when to pull it back a bit. Pressure to do better is good, but directed at the wrong goal it can be the push that takes your body beyond it’s physical capabilities.

Something else to think about is that these training methods create and foster a culture obsessed with meeting very high standard goals. Last time I checked, running 26.2 miles or cleaning 300 pounds is not even remotely involved in living a healthy human life. I recommend people consider their actual goals, why those goals are important to them, and then adjust their personal programs to balance any extreme fitness or super long distance running they are doing. There are plenty of less intense events that are not going to become destructive to your body or engulf your entire life.

  • Why not run a half marathon or 10k faster?
  • Do  a trail runs with hills?
  • Why not lift lower weights for higher reps or advance to more complex, challenging new moves?

These seem like healthier and still motivating goals that we should start to think about.

-Coach Gavin Mckay (Founder & President, Unite Fitness)