How to Balance CrossFit and Running

This blog post was originally published on March 2015, but it’s topic that readers frequently contact me about. And with marathon and half marathon season upon us, I thought it would be helpful to share it again. Enjoy! 

I get questions all the time from readers about how to best balance CrossFit with running, specifically long distance running, like training for a half or full marathon and, honestly, I never really knew how to reply mostly because I hadn’t figured it out for myself yet. It was a constant struggle for me to find the time (and energy) for both of these fitness loves. Now that I am just a few weeks away from marathon day, I finally feel like I can share my thoughts on the subject. That said, here is my advice for balancing CrossFit and running. Additionally, here are my favorite sneakers for CrossFit and running!

how to balance crossfit and running

Determine which sport is your priority and stick to it

This is my numero uno advice. Think about your ultimate goal right now. Is it running a marathon? Competing in an Olympic lifting meet? Think about your current fitness goals. You don’t need to pick one sport over the other for the rest of your life; just make one of them your priority while you are working toward this goal. I really thought I could devote the same amount of time and energy to both CrossFit and running while training for a half marathon and then more recently for the Boston Marathon, but it wasn’t possible (more on this below).

Cherry-pick your workouts

crossfitandrunning.jpg

Basically, pick workouts that fit in and complement your primary training. For example, once I was in the middle of marathon training, I couldn’t do a heavy leg day at CrossFit and then do my long run the next day. My legs would fall off and there was always risk of injury. So, instead, the day before my long run, I take a rest day or I focus on upper body and core movements and save my heavy leg day for later in the week (usually after a mid-distance run). However, I don’t make myself crazy trying to integrate the two workouts, but I try my best to balance them and typically err on the side of caution when planning my next workout (i.e. if I am super sore or my knee is feeling weird, I’ll take a rest day).

Be aware of overtraining

At one point during my marathon training, I was going to CrossFit three days a week and running three days a week, which was just too much for me. Thankfully, I didn’t get injured, but I constantly felt tired and sore, so it wasn’t enough recovery time for me, especially between the harder workouts (both CrossFit and running). Basically, listen to your body and remember: Rest days are part of training too. And, boy, did I embrace my rest days as the mileage in my marathon training plan increased. I ended up cutting back my CrossFit/KFIT workouts to twice a week and then just once a week to ensure that my body was both happy and healthy.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it all

Both CrossFit and running can be really hard on your body, so don’t feel bad if you can’t do it all. At first, I was a little bummed that I couldn’t keep up with my usual CrossFit workouts, but running a marathon was/is my ultimate goal, so I changed my thinking and focused on my running workouts. When I stopped stressing about trying to fit it all in, I really started to enjoy my training and looked forward to my runs– even the ones on the treadmill!

Change your performance expectations

And because I couldn’t do it all, I needed to change my performance expectations, especially when it came to CrossFit. I was running, running, running and not spending a lot of time at CrossFit, so, of course, my strength and skills were going to suffer. Initially, I was disappointed, but the more I got into marathon training, the more excited I became about achieving my goal of crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles. (I seriously can’t wait for marathon day!) And I know the CrossFit stuff will come back once I devote more time to it.

Questions of the Day

CrossFit/runner friends: Have you ever tried to do both? How’d it go? Any tips/advice for someone who wants to simultaneously balance both? 

P.S. Looking for sneakers commendations for both sports? Check out this post!

55 Comments

  1. Yes! I’ve been struggling with this a lot for the past few months. I ran a half marathon in February and have another (probably my last for a while) in May, and I really wanted to focus on hitting a sub-1:40 time. I crossfit three times a week, run three times a week, and am competing in the Open. My crossfit coach told me that, while focusing on slow-twitch muscle activities, I had to temper my expectations with respect to strength gains. For someone who wants to be master of all, accepting a balance is difficult. But after my next half, I plan on taking some time to focus on getting SO STRONG. I think cycling goals between strength and endurance will keep things interesting for me in the long run and might also be a nice way to be sure I don’t over-train in one area by constantly focusing on the same thing.

  2. I don’t think I’d be able to handle cross fit! I admire you for being able to balance both (and being a mom) but I’ll stick to running and doing other exercises that aren’t as intense. I love hearing about it from you though and liked this post a lot!

  3. Awesome post, Tina!! I, too, am training for Boston and attempting to CrossFit 3-4x per week. This week it is all catching up with me, and I love your “pick your priority” approach towards training. PR-ing at Boston is my number one goal, so I have to be OK with the fact that my progress and performance at CrossFit might stall or be completely crappy some days. 27 Days!!

    1. @Lindsey B:

      Lindsey,

      I just read your post from one year ago. How did you make out in the marathon?
      I am running my 2nd Boston Marathon this April and currently i do crossfit 3x week plus 3 days of running. Just ran 20 miles yesterday for long run..29 days to go! I was curious to ask you about your opinion on tapering. I am going to decrease my miles in the next week or so, but don’t want to give up crossfit. My coach suggested cut my strength to 50% with weight but still come in 2-3 x each week so that I don’t lose everything I worked up to…
      Thanks for reading this! So awesome to hear that you do crossfit and run! Its helped me a lot in the past year!

      Annette

  4. I’m really excited to experience CrossFit as Bo is starting in 2 weeks with a weekend course. I think I’ll go to a box here and give it a try to see how I like it and consider trying it once my half is over!

  5. Love this post, awesome advice- particularly about choosing which is the current priority.

    I have struggled over the past few years to balance Crossfit and running. When I found out that running the Boston Marathon was actually happening, I ended up putting my crossfit membership on hold. Though I’m sure I could find ways to balance the two in my schedule, I was way too nervous about getting injured and potentially sacrificing one of my biggest life fitness goals. I’m looking forward to introducing it back into my routine after April 20th though!

  6. Great advice. I am obviously a runner but I also lift and like to try out other fun fitnessy things. I think that listening to your body and taking care of it is the answer (well, let’s be honest, it is generally the answer!). And just knowing when to schedule things–like a super heavy leg day is probably not the best right before a long run. Give yourself plenty of time to recover!

  7. I still do both, even as I’m gearing up for a half marathon in May. I think CrossFit helps me in that regard. But the more I start thinking about doing a full marathon, the more I come to the conclusion that I’ll definitely need to back off CrossFit for a while. I think with short races it’s totally doable, but with a marathon, prioritizing running is smart! That’s a long time to keep your feet moving, so you need your body well rested and fueled. So excited for you!

  8. Well, I can’t offer any advice here, because CrossFit is the one workout I’ve never actually tried. But I do know that balance, taking a rest day and working toward a goal, much like you said are the best things to do.

  9. I started attending and then teaching HIIT classes at a local studio here in Chicago so that started as my main workout. Now that it is closer to race season, I need to increase my running more. I currently do 3 days at my studio and 2 days of running. I find that the HIIT aspect has helped me take 0:30 seconds off my mile time, so for right now that ratio works for me.

    I’ve learned to listen to my body and if anything starts telling me that I need to shift my ratio, then I will be sure to do that. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Originally when you were overtraining, on a. salr of one to ten how bad was it, and how long did it take for you to recover, and what did you spend your time doing? Did it drive you nuts to rest so much?

  11. These are great tips! I’ve always had a hard time picking what fitness to make a priority because I love so many of them. You’re right that you really have to pick a goal for right now. You’re not giving up on the other fitness love forever, only a short amount of time.

  12. Great advice! I don’t do crossfit, but I know how important strength training is to be a stronger and faster runner. My goal was to qualify for Bsoton and in order to do that, I had to find a balance between running and strength training. I tried only running and not running enough and having more strength training. I finally found the sweet spot for me, 5 days running, 2 strength workouts and one complete rest day. It’s definitely about balance and finding what works best for your body in order to meet your goals!

  13. While I’m not training for a full marathon, I’m training for (and have for several others) a half and foo Crossfit regularly. I think the key is realizing that to do both, you have to do less of each than you would do if you were only doing one of the two. I think prioritizing is really important too. I didn’t think about it until you mentioned it, but I’ve sort of chosen Crossfit over running during this half training cycle, which is fine because I have no expectations for race day!

  14. I love this! I think it’s hard to balance things when working out because I get SO focused on one thing and can’t find time to fit anything else in. Like yoga… I always want to do it, but I get so side tracked with other workouts that I never do it! balance… need to work on that 🙂

  15. Great post! I’ve been struggling with similar problem. I’m not training for marathon, but I just love running. On the other hand, I want to build some muscle and get stronger. It’s hard to get both. As you said, by running more, strength and technique probably suffer a bit. Balancing is hard!

  16. I love this! I was training for a half ironman last year but gave up because it left zero time for crossfit at a time when I was just starting out with it. This year though, I’ve managed to balance crossfit with half marathon training, and even managed to get within 3 mins of my PR! It can be done, and like you said – finding a balance of the workout split and prioritising goals makes it manageable. I’d recommend yoga for a good stretch out too. Good luck for Boston, it’s one I’ve always wanted to run!

  17. This is really interesting to me. I don’t do crossfit but I climb, run and box too. I’m trying to work out to myself what matters to me- getting good at any one of these or just staying generally fit in my last PhD year? Its all a balancing act!

  18. This has always really interested me as I know friends that swear by crossfit as perfect marathon crosstraining and fitness training- they actually only run 2-3 times a week around crossfit!

  19. I don’t cross fit but I try to incorporate strength training into my schedule. Things such as boot camp and tabata workouts etc… mostly body weight stuff. However, as I train for my 1st marathon, I find I can’t seem to fit the running AND the strength training in. It’s a real shame b/c I know I’m at my best running when I also doing the strength training. I guess it just makes me stronger and the running seems easier. I just can’t seem to make it work though with a part time job, three kids and the marathon training. I figure when my marathon is over, I will make a push to schedule a few days of strength and a few days of running.

  20. My friend who follows your blog shared this post with me yesterday, and I was happy to see it! I’m balancing training for a half marathon with CrossFit, and I’m in week 2 of 3x/week running and 4-5x/week CrossFit following a running plan designed for me by a running coach, with oversight by my CrossFit coach who perhaps knows me and the way my body works better than anyone else besides me (so grateful for that!)

    So far the challenges have been scheduling workouts so the long runs and higher-volume WODs aren’t close to each other (I also work full time and share a car with my husband, who trains 4x/week at another facility no where close to mine, which makes getting to the gym a little tricker); making sure I get enough sleep, and making sure I get enough calories. So far, so good, but I’m realistic in my assumption that every day and every week might not work out perfectly (and that’s fine).

    It was great to hear your reminder to not feel bad if I can’t do it all. CrossFit is definitely my priority with one competition a month for the next three months, and I think it’s helpful to know that going into this dual training experiment. The half marathon is just something I want to see if I can do, and I’m 100% positive I can, but being a competitive-minded person I’d like to do it in under 2 hours like a number of other CrossFitters I train with (who did absolutely no running on the side before their halves). I just like to be prepared, which to me means trying to improve my running – which definitely improves the sprint & endurance WODs – but also being prepared to bail on it if my body says “too much.”

    Best of luck in your training!

  21. It’s tough. I did crossfit 5-6 times a week, plus training for two back to back half marathons 3 times a week. It’s doable, but you said, sometimes it’s hard to give 100% to each workout. I do believe that cross training (crossfit) really keeps from certain injuries and inbalances you get from just running.

  22. Great advice! I have done both, and I think your totally on with your recommendations. When I ran my first marathon (my first when my middle child was 6 months) I had been exclusively doing CrossFit for 3 months. I was nervous because I hadn’t put any time into distance running. Being sure you know what your priority is makes all the difference. I’d say that during such a high volume time, you have to make time for proper nutrition and recovery. Epsom salt baths, mobility, supplementation, and excellent food choices are key! I have to say I think they compliment each other nicely if done right, and you can recover from running much easier with less risk of bad joints in the long term.

  23. I did crossfit 4x a week and trained for half marathon with running 3x a week. There were some two a days with running mid day and crossfit in the evening. Like you I quickly learned to front load my heavy leg workouts in crossfit early in the week giving me two full days to recover for my long run on the weekend.
    BUT a half marathon training is very different than full marathon. In my mind, it’s not comparable! Kudos to you for doing both!

    While all that was manageable back in the day – fast forward to life with 4 month old baby. I am still finding that balance between my love for crossfit and running as I get limited time to workout and can’t do both as much as what I want to. And I don’t want to sacrifice the limited amount of time I have with my little one (8-5 working mom). You seem to find a great balance! Any advice? Maybe once weather turns nice we can do some stroller runs.

  24. I have always wondered this myself. I’m also training for Boston and just decided to focus more on my running, though, I have an injured hamstring. I fell in LOVE with crossfit (as much as running) but I can’t do any workout without giving it 100%. I know if I did crossfit classes, I would go all out and that could potentially make things worse for my injury/running (or it could make my running better, but, since I can’t predict the future, I am playing it safe). Crossfit is also expensive so, that helped in my decision to take a short break. I still do strength training, focusing on those exercises beneficial for runners. When I’m not marathon training, I like to run 4 days/week (would love to increase that to 5) and do 2 cf WODS a week. If I run on a cf day, it would be < 5 miles. My run only days would be some combo of a mid-distance and a long run with maybe a tempo run or some hills thrown in there.

    I still struggle mentally on "just" doing a crossfit WOD, especially if I finish in 10 minutes or less. It may be the most intense 10 minutes of my life, but, I have always been accustomed to doing at least 60 minutes of cardio/strength a day (1 rest day a week) and feel like I need that much to burn the calories this older body needs to burn. Have about 10-15 pounds to lose and I'm 46 with 4 sons.

    How's that for a response? Ha! 🙂

  25. The hardest thing for me is not letting one go too far down the drain while I’m training for the other. I keep trying to do crossfit while training for a half, but the only two halfs I’ve done I ended up completely dropping off crossfit at the end because I was too afraid of being sore. Then when I started back up I was a sore mess. Same thing with running, while I was doing crossfit 5 days a week I ended up not doing any long runs because I was so sore and struggled to go over a 5k when I picked back up. I know my base in both is hopefully increasing, but it’s lots of frustration in between. I’d like to try crossfit endurance but we don’t have it where I live.

  26. I was glad to find this article. I’m struggling with the same. I do Crossfit and run. I’m trying to get my mileage/times back up to pre-Crossfit. I do 3x week CF and run haphazardly. I guess CF is my priority. I am 61 F and on top of it I teach 9 exercise classes a week. I am constantly exhausted and sore. I can’t lose weight! I guess I have to prioritize.

  27. Thank you for re-posting! I’m in the middle of training for an October half and balancing Crossfit as we speak.. So we will see how September and October go. In the past I have struggled with overtraining.. I just have so much fun at Crossfit that I have a hard time “ratcheting back”. What I’m trying this time around is one long run and one medium run a week and making sure I have a good couple of sprint/cardio HIIT workouts at Crossfit in the mix. We often do runs in at least one wod a week so I count that as interval training. We shall see!!

  28. I remembered this post from last year and referenced it when I was in the final couple of months of my own marathon training this past summer. While I don’t do cross-fit, I frequently use heavy free weights as part of my overall fitness and exercise routines. As my weekly mileage increased, I made a concerted effort to back off of the strength/weight training and focus on keeping my legs, glutes, hips and core healthy so I could make it to the starting line. Now that my marathon is over (it was the SF Marathon on July 31), I decided to take a month off of running and re-focus my efforts on building my strength back up in the gym. I’m running the Big Sur/Monterey Bay half in mid-November and will do something similar as that date gets closer but maybe not to the extent I did with the full marathon. Great post-thank you!

  29. Love these tips!! Especially the first one- choose your priority. I have been realizing that more lately … you can’t work on getting stronger AND faster all at the same time!

  30. I used to struggle with balancing Crossfit / Running and decided to take a step back and make a schedule. I’d aim for 4 Crossfit classes and 2-3 runs/week. I soon realized that my love for Crossfit outweighed my love for running so I amped up my Crossfit, decreased running to 1-2 runs/week and myself and the boys would do a couple of miles running before/after each class. It worked out well 🙂 🙂

  31. Love this post. I struggle to find balance between running and attending Body Pump classes. Both leave me sore and I have a hard time decreasing either of them. I really try to find balance, but it is hard when you devote more time to one, then the other one suffers. I am just glad I am able to do both!

  32. Thanks for sharing this again! It’s something I struggle with – wanting to go to group personal training 3-4 times per week (strength and conditioning) and running 4 times per week while marathon training. I’ve learned to readjust my expectations for strength workouts and skip a group class if I’m feeling worn down but it’s certainly a work in progress, I want to do it all!

  33. Thanks for the post. I workout at Orange Theory 5 days a week and just started training for a half. Im already finding it hard to log miles more than a couple days a week because my OTF workouts are pretty tiring. I hate having to pick just one because I love the results of OTF, but I really want to increase my running speed and distance over the next couple months so I feel like I gave the half a fair shot, as opposed to “just finishing it.” Appreciate your perspective!

  34. I loved this! Way to have a real perspective from real experience! I have been struggling with the same thing this year, between running and doing a bodybuilding competition. I have a significant amount of muscle to gain, so running has had to take a back seat but it’s been hard for me to accept that. I still want to do it all! My husband even said I wasn’t a runner anymore (boy did I flip!) but he meant right now. You do let one slip a little naturally in order to keep up with the other. But you just have to go back and forth. I’m in the process of shifting my training schedule right now to include bodybuilding, rock climbing and running. Yikes! But I think this will give me some ideas for that.
    And I too am a fan of the rest days these days!!!!!

  35. I 100% have struggled with this too and completely agree with all of the above! I tend to get so frustrated being “average” at both instead of being really good at one or the other. But then I remind myself that having both running and Crossfit in my routine make me an overall stronger, healthier person and at this point in my life, that’s more important to me than setting PRs! 🙂 (But man, I do miss setting PRs!)

  36. I thought that maybe I was alone in my desires to be good at both CrossFit and distance running! I started as a distance runner and have experienced some of my best and fastest times in the years before I started CrossFit. I’ve also gone from barely being able to use an empty barbell to lifting over 100 pounds overhead and dead-lifting close to 300 pounds. I’ve seen myself lighter and faster and it’s hard compromise. It’s hard to accept that you might not be as fast as you once were and still maintain the strength you’ve gained thus far. This is such a mental game and I work hard everyday to try and be positive about my progress. I admit that I’m my own worst critic, though. As a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, its sometimes easier to advise others, but not myself. This blog really inspires me to focus on playing it smart and not letting my desire to be good at it all cause me to get hurt. After all, that’s why we do all of this, right? To live longer, healthier, and happier lives!

  37. Thanks for sharing, I really need this information, because I am a regular runner since last few months, but now I started my weight lifting exercise, so I was quite confused for how to balance the both, but now this article helps me lot.

  38. Hi Tina,

    Vera from Oy Boy speaking. Just wanted to thank you for the advice. It did help me a lot when I was switching from pure TRX to a crossfit/running scheme early this year. Now I’m proud to say I am running up to 20 km weekly now, next to 3-4 crossfit workouts, and feeling great. I may say I prioritized the balance 🙂

    I just included your link to my post – hope you don’t mind! It’s about the workout scheme I figured out with your help: http://oyboystuff.blogspot.com/2017/08/how-to-keep-up-your-workouts-and-use.html

    Thanks again from all us the balance lovers!

  39. I feel like you’ve written this to me! I’ve been doing cross fit 6 days a week…. Sometimes more than one a day. And then running on top of that. Today was my long run day and I just couldn’t…. Then I started to worry that I wouldn’t have what it takes come race day. But I have not been honoring the rest day! I’m going to taper over the next 2 weeks before race day and I’m sure that fresh legs will feel amazing!!! (I’m also trying to lose weight, just to throw something else in the mix. I’m so confused, do I love carbs or hate carbs? I need to simplify!!!)

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