Understand the Structure: Sport Specific Workouts

I’ve gotten a ton kick back for being a “less mileage” Endurance Coach. It’s a foreign concept to most endurance athletes and it just seems that the majority of the running community hasn’t given it a shot quite yet. Half of the reason is Arthur Lydiard popularized running periodization and running has just become so mainstream that people go with what’s already out there. Somehow it developed into being the sport no one “needs” to learn, just do. Everyone can do it, it just comes down to building the miles week after week right?

The second half of the reason CFE approaches haven’t caught on is I don’t think anyone full understands how to go about their training with the right structure. Athlete’s question, can I really accomplish my goals by doing less? You have to be insane, no more long slow runs? It takes time to process as well as structure. It also takes going all in and testing it without any deviations.

When I first took on a CrossFit Endurance styled training program, I wasn’t sure myself if it was possible, but now testing and constant tweaking, individualizing and learning, it’s the only way I’m destined to train. In my short endurance career, I’ve taken my 5K from 18:05 to 16:40, my 10K from 36:50 to 34:40, half marathon from 1:19 to 1:17 and my marathon from 3:05 to 2:49. Not possible right? A big reason why I’ve founds success is the structure and not doing too much when I feel beat down. There’s never a one-size fits all approach to training, but I do believe that there is an efficient way of going about Endurance training, one key component being proper recovery and listening to your body. Brian Mackenzie has brought key principles to the table that I think every athlete needs to take into consideration.

TJ Murphy, 2:39 marathoner, 5-time Ironman finsisher and author of Outside the Box recently wrote a fabulous article on 8 Reasons Why a Runner May Thrive with CrossFit Endurance (CFE). It lays out a lot of the key points that are similar to how I came from a traditional endurance training to a CFE approach. Only running traditionally for three short years, I was broken down, plagued with various running injury, and not progressing as quickly as I had planned. CFE taught me control, it taught me to read everything that’s out there and to have a purpose for every workout I do as well as test all parameters along the way. Now as an assistant Coach for the CFE seminar staff and coaching athletes this way for over three years now, I sleep and breath this “less is more” approach. I fully understand these concepts more and more each day and have the opportunity to teach as well as test in my own training.

All you need to know about our endurance training prescription is it comes down to the proper recovery, the athlete’s focus on mechanics, and the right mix of strength and intensity. Four to Five workouts a week are strength and conditioning based coupled with two to three sport specific workouts for a single sport athlete. To help alleviate some understanding on the actual setup of our sport specific workouts, I’ll break it down below…

Mobility (10minutes) Aim here is to go after some of the tissue that is going to be in play with the movement enlisted in the sport workout. By implementing mobility we are able to get our athletes into better positions before the workout even starts. Ankles, calves, hamstrings, hips and T-spine, you name it, almost our entire body dictates how we execute proper run mechanics. Kelly Starrett, DPT and Owner of CrossFit San Fransciso has a new book coming out called Ready to Run. If I were you (as someone who cares about their body) I’d pre-order it. I can only imagine that it’s going to discuss the horrible injury rates of runners, how technical the sport running really is and why the “Couch to 5K” program really isn’t the best. Daily care of tissue health is one of the areas we try to solve by creating good habits day in and day out. At CTF, we find it helps to reduce injury among our athletes and it gets them feeling a heck of a lot better. There’s always noticeable differences in my own performance as well.

Warm Up (5-10minutes) Shorter the intervals or run, longer the warm up. Typically in the range of 400 meters to 1200meters is good in a group setting. If you have more time feel free to add on, but you’ll accomplish getting the muscles primed and blood flowing when starting to practice skill. The warm up is key because most of our sessions are at intensities above eight-five percent max capacity. It’s also a check in time with your body to see if you should even workout that day. Maybe you’re too beat up from the last session? Should you really be out there?

Skill/Drills (15-20minutes) The nuts and bolts in the training lies in practicing the skill. This is where most athlete’s put no attention, yet the area where they will thrive if they’re willing to dial things back for a bit to get it right. Yes, the actual workout time is much shorter, but spending more time in this department allows our runners to continue training for a lifetime to come. No more knee tendonitis, plantar fasciitis or lower back pain. Running is a skill just like anything else and needs to be practiced daily. If you want to ward off injury this is where is starts.

Intervals (15-20minutes) I’m reading a book right now called “Beyond Training” by Ben Greenfield (another authority on training less for endurance sports) and he shot out a study touting the benefits of HIIT Training.

In one six week study comparing the increase of oxidative enzymes that resulted from either:
1. Four to six thirty second maximal-effort cycling sprints, each followed by a four and half minutes of recovery, performed three days a week
2. Or forty to sixty minutes of stay cycling at 65 percent VO2 max five days a week

The levels of oxidative enzymes in the mitochondria in subjects who performed the HIIT program were significantly higher even though the volume was less. This study proves that signaling the body at different intensities will improve conditioning by a fraction of the volume. Ben calls the runner who wakes up and runs at the same intensity 45-60minutes a day, 5 days a week, the “black hole” of endurance training. In my mind, I now see it as unnecessary.

We structure our athlete’s intervals to get different responses and then we progressively build up every week first clearing skill and then adding intensity. Volume is then adjusted week to week based of the athlete’s performance, goals and recovery.

Cool Down (5-10minutes) Often neglected, the cool down and post workout mobility is critical to bouncing back faster in training. Right away, we either throw back in some skill work to ingrain patterns when the athlete is fatigued or go to a few body weight movements to get the blood moving. At the end it’s important to hit one or two self-myofascial release techniques more of which should be executed in the evening time.



We may be doing less, but I hope this structure breaks down the more behind our workouts. At CTF, we run group training programs with 15+ athletes towards a number of local races. We work athlete’s privately utilizing this approach and have seen phenomenal success. Remember there are no shortcuts to endurance training. It takes consistency regardless of the method and a tested structure.

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