In Greg Glassman’s classic essay “What Is Fitness?” he systematically dismantles the argument that six-time Hawaii Ironman champion Mark Allen should be considered the fittest man on earth. It’s ironic, then, that scores of triathletes have since migrated to CrossFit seeking a balm for their weakened muscles, burned-out joints and well-developed sense of competition. Brian MacKenzie, the founder of CrossFit Endurance, was one such athlete. His CrossFit journey has led him to develop a new paradigm of endurance training that focuses more on technique and strength work and less on traditional obsessive long-distance training.
How did CrossFit Endurance come about?
I was a “long, slow distance” guy. Much of my triathlon training in the early part of my endurance career was me just putting in slow mileage. After a while, I wasn’t getting much faster and I was finding it hard to recover. A buddy of mine told me to start adding a set of squats into my program. I did a set of squats with 75 pounds, and at four reps, I had to rack it because I felt like I tore everything in my lower body. I was so demoralized and unhappy. I was like, “How did this happen?” So I started playing around with strength and conditioning.
People seem to think that CrossFit Endurance is just a low-volume endurance-training program. Is that correct?
That is one of the biggest misunderstandings about what we do. People think they can go out and do hard intervals and get great results. We are more about movement standards. Ninety-nine percent of the videos we have created are skill-based. They are not on workouts; they are about better movement. We ask athletes to do 20 to 45 minutes of skill-based and drill-based training before they even start a workout. People need to move better. You can’t go out and run 20 miles because you move like shit when you run that far. You need to run a 5K and run it well and progress from there.
Who is a typical follower of CrossFit Endurance?
Someone from the endurance community. CrossFit Endurance is not for a Games athlete. I’ve been coaching Games athletes since the Games began, but the site is developed for the endurance athlete.
Is there a running deficiency in CrossFit?
Yes, and I think I am entitled to speculate on this matter. Even at the highest level of the CrossFit Games, there is a major hole in peoples’ running games. You have guys and gals who can snatch as much as national-level Olympic weightlifters, yet they do not even come close to age-groupers in running times. Greg Glassman said early on, “What if we had a guy who could deadlift 500 pounds and run a four-minute mile?” But now we have guys who deadlift 600 pounds but can’t run a five-minute mile.
Do you foresee a CFE-style athlete winning an Ironman or elite-level marathon?
Yes, but it will take a while. We have already started seeing it. We have some guys who finish on the podium at triathlons. Will it happen at the Ironman level? It will take some time, but sure. A lot of these athletes are starting to do more strength and conditioning. They see that they don’t break down as much when they’re stronger.