I have long been an advocate of strength training alongside running. As I progressed down the rabbit hole of the fitness world, I've found a variety of methods that work for me and, of course, those that do not. However, one thing has remained constant -- strong = fast.
That has brought me around to the world of Crossfit, as I have recently become a Level One Trainer. Ok, ok -- I know. But it's dangerous! People get hurt! HAVE YOU SEEN HOW BIG SOME OF THOSE GIRLS ARE?!! Yes, in fact, I have. But, all of these statements are, at best, subjective. Could you get hurt going out to your mailbox? Could you get hit by a car as you bend down to pick up a penny? What if you sneezed and threw out your back? I mean, the list of "what-if's" are fairly endless.
That, however, doesn't mean that there aren't incredible positives to it as well. First and foremost, Crossfit is the definition of powerful functional movement. First, let's talk about functional movement. Everyone likes to throw that word around because it sounds like it means something. Functional squats! Functional bicep curls! Functional hoola hoop twisting spin into downward dog! Tell me that none of that sounds ridiculous.
Functional movements are, at their core, real-world movements. You go outside and bend over to pick up the paper. That's a deadlift. You lift a box of Christmas ornaments back up on the highest shelf. That's a press. All these are movements that start at the core and force power to the extremities. These are the movements, let's be honest, that keep grandma out of the nursing home. You've fallen and can't get up? Get back up on your feet. With a squat.
These movements are especially important as I shift the discussion over to the engagement of the posterior chain. This is something that really came to me as an "ah-ha!" moment after seasons and seasons of being an injured runner.
What is the one thing that we hear every day, all day? RUNNERS HAVE WEAK GLUTES. Well, of course we do. And, it comes from several sources. Firstly, runners are notoriously inflexible. A lack of mobility and tightness in the anterior muscles (read: hip flexors and quads) causes an anterior tilt of the pelvis. By doing so, your body is essentially creating forward propulsion by skipping over the largest (and most powerful) muscle in the body -- the glutes! Just imagine! You are willingly not using a muscle that is used primarily for forward movement! Not to mention that running gait can be compromised, overall power decreased, and the likelihood of injury increased! Couple this compensation with a society that primarily sits all day -- on our already lazy glutes -- and you have a recipe for a completely quad-dominant runner.
This isn't to say that our quads aren't an important part of our running form. They absolutely are. However, both the anterior and posterior muscles work in unison and need to be treated equally. If they are not, it could potentially lead to lower crossed syndrome (LCS).
Simply put, the hip flexors are overactive and inhibit the glutes. Likewise, inactive glutes are unable to aid in hip extension, causing the much weaker hamstrings (and by association, the lumbar muscles) to be the primary movers. The hamstrings were never meant to be the dominant musculature in this forward movement. This places an undue amount of stress on the lower back, usually causing pain.
Now, consider what would happen if you strengthened that posterior chain! Not only would you become a more efficient runner, you would become a more powerful one as well. Take this as an example: (it's horrible, but bear with me, because you will understand, I promise) Running without the use of your glutes is like trying to run with your arms. You could absolutely use your arms to run, but why would you? They're clearly much less powerful than your legs. Such is running with your hamstrings first, without firing your glutes.
Enter Crossfit. Each movement revolves around hip extension. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Ashley, pop those hips!" I even had one coach go as far as to shout at me "Ashley, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, get raunchy with it and thrust those baby makers!!!" But this is primarily my point! As a runner, I had absolutely no idea how inactive my posterior chain truly was! After spending a weekend focusing solely on technique, I couldn't believe how sore my hips were. Hellooooooo activation.
In the small span of time that I have been doing Crossfit, I have seen a huge improvement in my running form and how my body is handling the miles (full disclosure: I don't run that many miles compared to my peers). I came off my 30k at Colorado Bend feeling stronger in a race than I ever have and almost entirely unscathed by the DOMS monster, which has never happened to me before. As a runner who used to unconsciously stick my butt out while I ran, I can see my pelvis straightening.
Regardless of your thoughts regarding Crossfit, I encourage you to try it. With proper form, and a great instructor, you'll be popping those babymakers and activating your posterior chain in no time. Use your glutes. It's a good thing. I promise.