The most Frequently Asked Question(s) about my CrossFit Endurance (CFE) training is “How long are the intervals supposed to be and how many?!”
Let me define this crazy thing called CFE that I am wildly passionate about. Defined simply, CrossFit Endurance is a strength and conditioning program that includes sport specific training (and programming) tailored to endurance athletes. The CFE program places focus on building power and speed which are critical components of greater endurance. Sports included in the programming: swimming, biking, running, rowing, and military athletes (rucking).
The question(s) posed above is/are not simply answered in brief. What the answer boils down to is another question imposed upon the person inquiring: What is your capacity to maintain proper form and function given the specific movement of the sport? (i.e. Do you run like a bow-legged duck? Are you a heel-striking/rolling-thru runner? Do you row with a neutral spine or do you look like a Halloween cat attempting a backflip? When do you swim are you doing the Freddy Kruger water-slap-stab or do you glide effortlessly forever?)
Another question to ask the inquirer: Are you practicing the skill of your sport or are you just putting in the hours or miles? If you don’t practice the technique of your sport’s movement and practice it as a skill rather than something we take for granted and believe we all can do (such as running)—then you’re missing out on untapped potential. Not to mention, a far greater risk of injury.
As a CFE Coach, I would first look at the athlete’s movement, both at speed and in slow motion. I wouldn’t just focus on the movement of their sport, I would also have the athlete move under load. Seeing the athlete in the Frankenstein front squat position (pictured), overhead squatting—just squatting in general can expose a lot of incapacities. Also, picking up something heavy off the floor, carrying a heavy object, or pressing weight overhead can expose an athlete to a CFE Coach’s trained eyes.
After determining the athlete’s capacity for proper movement, it is then time to see how long the athlete can maintain proper form under duress. Only then can you prescribe the proper duration of intervals which becomes very specific to the athlete in question—based upon their movement and how quickly that movement breaks down.
For example, if a middle distance runner can only maintain proper POSE form for the first third of their 5K race before they start heel striking and breaking form; I would only program high intensity intervals no longer than 800m totaling 1.6K (so, 3 x 800m). The rest interval would depend upon their recovery, but 2:00-4:00 is a good general rule without looking at heart rate variability (again, the HR variable is very specific to the athlete). Looking a bit deeper into the programming of intervals for this athlete, I would put more focus on much shorter distances such as 100m and 200m repeats. The number of repeats wouldn’t necessarily hinge on the distance of this athlete’s races, but would be influenced far greater by how solid his running form is as he completes multiple intervals. And obviously his recovery plays a role, as well as the volume of training for the day (and week) in the realms of strength programming and/or a metabolic strength and conditioning workout (WOD). Then as this athlete’s capacity to run longer without breaking his form increases, the number of intervals and the increase in their average distance will also correlate. With CFE, mastering skill and technique comes before intensity and finally volume.
As you can see it’s not a simple equation and the formula from one athlete to the next can and should be completely different—based upon that athlete’s abilities and capacity. What you see when you look at programming on the CFE main website is programming for the general masses—it cannot be made specific to one type of athlete because there are 100,000 individual athletes looking at the website daily and adapting it to their personal abilities and goals (as should you if you’re using it).
If you’re not completely sure how to use the website or you want to start and you’re already a CrossFitter, see if a coach in your CrossFit gym holds a CFE certification. If not, look on the CFE website for a CFE affiliated gym in your area. I would also strongly suggest attending a CFE seminar (specifically the “running based” / standard seminar)—I guarantee it’ll be a game-changer in your understanding of CFE programming and how you train as an endurance athlete. It will also make you a much more efficient runner.
Hopefully this sheds some light on the question(s) posed above. I get these types of questions a lot on Twitter and as you can see the answer needs way more than 140 characters.