Running gets such bad rap in Crossfit. Some people hate it and hate all workouts involving running because they find it hard (mostly because they don’t run enough to make it easier for themselves). Some people don’t even try and skip Crossfit on running days because they don’t do “cardio” – they like to lift heavy sh*t and not worry about cardio that’s for fluffy gym bunnies who just want to lose weight.
The everyday Crossfitter who hates running forgets that running, and in fact cardio in general, is actually a big part of Crossfit. Cardio doesn’t mean “to lose weight”, it means working on and improving your cardiovascular system i.e. your endurance. Endurance is the stuff that makes sure that you don’t crash when you do a workout that’s longer than 4 minutes.
A big part of endurance has to do with your lungs and being able to breathe in a way that gets oxygen into your system.
Running is a great way to improve your endurance because it’s a great way to learn to breathe. Unlike complex Olympic lifting movements, running is a fairly simple repetitive movement that requires little thought to how you move (unless you have a form issue you’re working on as well, maybe increasing your cadence or keeping your elbows tucked in, but that’s a topic for another post). Because it’s repetitive, it’s perfect for concentrating on your breathing.
Your aim should be to keep it slower than inhaling/exhaling every second. Your aim should be to keep a consistent pattern to your breathing, even if the pattern speeds up as your pace and heartrate increases. One of the biggest mistakes beginner runners make is they run too fast – they start panting, they lose control of their breathing and as a result they don’t enjoy the run and their progress will be slower.
I heard something on an episode of Mind Muscle Project podcast the other day that really spoke to me:
If you can’t breathe in a movement, you haven’t learned the movement.
They were talking about weightlifting but this goes for running just as well – it means that mostly during your medium or long runs (and usually not during interval training as you’re then concentrating on speed), you run only as fast as is possible for you to be in total control of your breathing. That doesn’t mean not challenging yourself, it means being in control even though your breathing is faster and deeper than when you’re not exercising.
I usually inhale for 4 or 5 steps and exhale for 3 or 4 steps (if you’re interested in alternate breathing you can read my post on it here). When I’m racing or doing intervals, I don’t count my breaths for the last 20-25% of the distance as then I’m just gunning it for the finish line and/or am at the max of my cardiovascular capacity, but I have found that if I am aware of my breathing during majority of my training runs and races, my body learns the rhythm and when I no longer concentrate on breathing, the rhythm continues automatically. Even when I breathe fast and extra deep at the end of a fast 5k race, I still don’t gasp for air, I still feel that I’m in control of my breathing.
When I’m racing and somebody who is breathing very fast from the get-go is on my heels for the first few kms trying to keep up with me, I KNOW they’re going to crash. I have raced a lot, I have come across this a lot – if your breathing is not under control, you will not go fast for long. It would be much better for people like that to start slowly and increase their pace as their lungs and legs warm up, but people tend to be very impatient.
So if you’re into Crossfit and not so much into “cardio”, just go for an easy run once or twice a week and don’t worry about your time, just think about your breathing. Increase your speed if your breathing lets you, slow down if it doesn’t. You will learn a lot about yourself through this weekly practice.
And then one day you do thrusters and pull ups and double unders for 20+minutes and find that your lungs find a rhythm and even though it’s not easy, you’re able to keep moving and don’t have to stop to gasp for breath.
For me running and Crossfit is a match made in heaven. Crossfit makes me stronger so I can run faster and injury-free. Running improves my cardiovascular endurance so I can crush all the timed workouts – short or long.