The Evolution of Training:

The training of distance runners has evolved based on a trial and error method that is essentially the ultimate scientific process. For the most part, the successful practices stick around and the unsuccessful practices get left behind. However, this isn’t always the case, because as a runner or coach you know it’s impossible to exactly explain what parts of the training you did led to the racing success.

The first thing I did when I wanted to learn about training runners is learn what was done in the past. Even before figuring out the science and all of that jazz, I spent a long time going back as far as I could in reading what successful coaches in the past had done. What I noticed is that the training occurs in a cyclical nature. There has been a constant “war” between intensity and volume throughout the years. While this is a simplistic way of looking at it, you can clearly see that every 10-20 years the emphasis goes from Intervals to steady runs or vice versa. I the early years, it was a complete 180, either almost all steady running or all interval training, but with each turn in the cycle a little bit of the previous cycle’s work got carried over. Thus it’s been a constant process of refinement that got us to our present day mix of pretty high volume with a good amount of interval/intensity work thrown in.

Why the switch every 10-20 years? My guess is that it’s because of a backlash or desire to innovate. Every cycle, a new group of coaches comes along and tries to take a new approach because let’s face it how does one make a name for themselves doing the same thing as everyone else. Every cycle, the coaches think they found that one piece that’s missing and overestimate its importance, causing an entire change in the training. If only they knew the history of training, they would have known, it’s all been done before. Instead of radical changes, it’s about fine tuning and deciding how to manipulate each workout. Which brings me to the point of this article:

Late 1800’s: Low volume training
In the 1800’s not much training was done. The best runners in their time did a lot of long walking with very small amounts of fast running thrown in. For instance, a top runner’s (Captain Barclay) training consisted of long walks with a single ½ mile run at a fast speed thrown in before breakfast and after dinner.

1910-30’s: More running, a little bit more intensity
The early 1900’s continued the walking idea but built upon it including some slow running. Walking was a big deal in the early days, as it was not unusual to spend several hours a day walking as part of the training. The running volume varied widely with each runner, as some such as Clarence DeMar did up to 100mi weeks (Lore of Running). The key was that the interval training was kept to a minimum. If faster running was included it was mainly short single bouts of “fast” running, or time trials. I general, this period of training could be compared to that done by recreational runners now: Lots of very slow running or walking and not much else.

The training really developed with the progression of Paavo Nurmi and the Finn’s. Nurmi and the Finn’s continued with the long walks (up to 4hrs) idea. You may be wondering why they insisted on using walking so much. The reason is simple: it built a base. That should sound like a familiar line of reasoning for most coaches, and is no doubt the forerunner to the more modern concept of a base that Lydiard envisioned. In fact, the Finn’s and Swede’s insisted on long walks during a 6+ week winter period to prepare one for running (source: Lore of Running).
The key development at this time was the mixing of steady running and faster running. Interval training in it’s modern sense was first introduced. However, the total volume of such training and the interval length was kept very low. A typical training session may have consisted of 6-8x100m with some steady running to follow. The interval length seldom went beyond a few hundred meters, with Nurmi eventually maxing out his intervals at 600m. For any effort beyond that length, occasional single bouts of steady/hard running over 1-2km was done.

1940-50’s: The rise of Intervals
The late 1930’s represented the complete shifting to interval training. Famed physiologists Woldemar Gerschler looked at the Finish and Sweden training systems and decided they lacked speed work. So, he came up with a system based on stressing the heart to 180bpm during an interval then letting it recover to 120bpm during the rest. In this way, Gerschler had his athlete’s run extremely high volumes (80x200m for example) of moderate interval work day after day.Emil Zatopek continued this tradition in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s by doing countless 400m repeats as his main way of training. The Hungarian coach, Mihaly Igloi who I’ve written about on this blog took the interval idea to the next level by mixing the intervals to a higher degree then was previously done. He also brought the idea to the United States. One important note is that contrary to the modern version of interval training, the emphasis during this period seemed to be on “aerobic” or submaximal interval training. The runner’s reached volumes of 100mi per week or more in training, so the interval training was not till you puke kind often used today.

Emil Zatopek continued this tradition in the late 1940’s and into the 1950’s by doing countless 400m repeats as his main way of training. The Hungarian coach, Mihaly Igloi who I’ve written about on this blog took the interval idea to the next level by mixing the intervals to a higher degree then was previously done. He also brought the idea to the United States. One important note is that contrary to the modern version of interval training, the emphasis during this period seemed to be on “aerobic” or submaximal interval training. The runner’s reached volumes of 100mi per week or more in training, so the interval training was not till you puke kind often used today.

An interesting split occurs during this time in the 50’s. You have the groups of athletes who use the high volume interval approach and then you have the athlete’s who take the lower volume interval approach. Coaches such as Franz Stampfl and runner’s such as Roger Bannister used a system based on lower volume higher intensity interval training. What Stampfl brought to the table was his inclusion of longer intervals, and the concept of progression to the intervals. As a demonstration of progression, one of Bannister’s staple workouts was 10x440yards w/ 2min rest. He’d start that session in the off season at 66sec pace and progress downwards until he could average under 60sec.

1960-70’s- The Distance Backlash
With the rise of the New Zealand and Australian runners, a distance backlash developed. It seems like runners got tired of doing endless intervals every day on the track, so long steady running began to become en vogue. Coaches like Percy Cerutty, Arthur Lydiard, and Ernst Van Aaken all contributed to the return to aerobic distance running.Van Aaken and Lydiard can probably be attributed for the shifting of the “Base” concept to include almost nothing but steady running. Both coaches advocated high mileage for most of their runners. Additionally, Lydiard brought the idea of periodization to the forefront. This would be the first true mixing of the endurance+intensity concept. Lydiard’s periodization included a long period of steady running was needed before the athlete slowly transitioned to a period of interval training. In his early works, the interval period looked very similar to the training done by Stampfl, in that it had 4-5 days a week of interval training, but as Lydiard developed the idea, this slowly shifted to a more modern concept of 3 days of interval training interspersed with easy running.

Van Aaken and Lydiard can probably be attributed for the shifting of the “Base” concept to include almost nothing but steady running. Both coaches advocated high mileage for most of their runners. Additionally, Lydiard brought the idea of periodization to the forefront. This would be the first true mixing of the endurance+intensity concept. Lydiard’s periodization included a long period of steady running was needed before the athlete slowly transitioned to a period of interval training. In his early works, the interval period looked very similar to the training done by Stampfl, in that it had 4-5 days a week of interval training, but as Lydiard developed the idea, this slowly shifted to a more modern concept of 3 days of interval training interspersed with easy running.

The popularization of this hard/easy concept is widely attributed to Oregon coach Bill Bowerman. It’s hard to appreciate the idea now as it is practically a law, but if you look at training before the 1950’s and 60’s, it largely consisted of similar training intensities day after day. There were off days here and there, and some days were easier, but for the most part there was no systematic planning of easier days. For the interval trained athlete this meant 4-5 days in a row of similar intensity interval training before a break.
Bowerman and others also improved on the concept of interval training. Stampfl and others such as German coach Bertl Sumner had emphasized the importance of starting intervals slow and progressing them. Bowerman took this idea and popularized the method of date pace and goal pace, or in other words working towards your specific race pace.All of this led to what I’d say was the first “modern” training programs in the 1970’s. You began to see high mileage running with 2-3 days of intense interval training.

All of this led to what I’d say was the first “modern” training programs in the 1970’s. You began to see high mileage running with 2-3 days of intense interval training.

1980-90’s- Intervals Strike Back
In the 1980’s the British invasion began, no not the Beatles or any rock group, but the Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, and Sebastian Coe’s of the world took over the middle distance running scene. Just like it was a battle on the track between Ovett and Coe, it was a battle in training philosophies too.
Coe, coached by his father Peter, essentially became the poster boy for a lower volume high intensity training approach. Ovett and his coach Harry Wilson on, the other hand, took a more mixed approached that slightly favored aerobic development.

Unlike earlier cycles of training that favored an extreme of interval or endurance work, this cycle showed that we were slowly honing in on the right mix. The battle wasn’t so much if intervals should be done every day or distance running every day, but rather on how much and at what intensity. Coe favored slightly less volume and more intense workouts, while Harry Wilson and others favored slightly more volume and 2-3 intense workouts a week.

Another factor that came into play was the rise of Science. For some reason we thought that science had all the answers. This had profound effects. Instead of basing intensities on date pace, goal pace, or percentages of our best time/effort, intensity became focused on “zones”. VO2max, threshold, etc. all came out of this period. And you know the crazy thing? These zones were basically based on what we could measure at the time. So, we said goodbye to simple progression of our training and instead focused on magical zones. What happened?

Well, once that crop of British runners retired, they sucked. Once Steve Scott who followed a more endurance based (90+mpw, 2-3 intense sessions, long steady runs) method retired, America sucked. The 1990’s with a few exceptions (mainly Bob Kennedy who trained with the Kenyans) was horrible for American pro running and American High School running.

To give you an indication of how bad it was, in the entire 1990’s decade, 17 HS runners went sub 9 for a 2 mile. In the 2000’s there were over 110, with a couple years topping the entire 1990’s total by themselves.

The 2000’s-Endurance is king
The African training and the rise of the internet gave way to a slight shifting towards aerobic or endurance training. While the shift becomes even smaller with each cycle, the difference is still large. For the most part, American coaches dropped the low (40-50mpw) mileage and high intensity programs for one that focused on total development. All of the sudden, you see distance runners including just about every intensity known to man ranging from pure sprinting to slow jogging. Additionally, recently there has been a return to the idea that progression, not magic zones, is key. We recognize that there are a wide range of intensities that benefit a runner, not 3 or 4 special ones. If you read this blog, you know what modern training looks like so no need to go into too much detail.

The key is that this slight shifting towards an emphasis on aerobic development (whether that’s done through lots of mileage or through moderate mileage and lots of moderate running isn’t the point) has brought back American distance running. At the HS level, the performance increases are incredible. As mentioned before, the number of sub 9 2-milers has increased exponentially. And surely enough, the pro level has also seen huge gains with recent American records in the mile, 5k, 10k, and half marathon.

What does this all mean?
Know what has happened before you. It’s obvious that training evolves in a type of cyclical manner, so pay attention.

By knowing what has been done, it puts you in a better spot in evaluating whether a training practice is worthwhile. For example, Scientist would have you believe that only high intensity training such as Tabata sprints are the key to success. Well, if you paid attention during this semi-incoherent post, you’d know that it’s been tried before. Did it work? Well okay, but we’ve evolved and improved upon it since then. So why go back 30+ years?

Lastly, on the volume/intensity debate: It’s obvious that a sweet spot of aerobic+ high intensity training is needed. Use history to guide you where that sweet spot is. We’ve had guys who have done 20mpw and nothing but intervals and crazy endurance junkies who did 200+mpw with little intense training. It’s not surprising that we’ve settled on somewhere in the middle. So don’t fall into the trap of gravitating towards an extreme. Instead, learn from what is currently being done and work to make small tweaks to improve it. Use History as your guide.

My new foe: CrossFit

So after I made some comments on a flotrack video (here) about Crossfit training, I received a bunch of emails from some angry Crossfit (CF) Endurance enthusiasts, a couple told me how distance runners are 20+ years behind CF, and that we need to stop running long slow distance and add in some high intensity work. Well, right then and there I knew that the CF person was clueless as look at any modern runners program and theirs every type of intensity imaginable. No one runs just mileage. But it got me thinking, where was Crossfit Endurance in the training evolution of things?

To help us out, I’ll post the last couple workouts of CF endurance.

CF endurance sample training for running:
Day 1: Rest
Day 2: 24min of: 4min on, 2 off, 5 on, 2 off, 6 on, 2 off, 5 on, 2 of, 4 on- max intensity trying to cover as much distance as possible
Day 3: 5k-10k Time Trial
Day 4: 9a 1min on, 1 min off

Now that we have a sampling of CF training, where does that fit in our continuum? Well looking back at the training logs, I’d likely put it somewhere as a mix between the 1920’s training and the 1940-50’s interval craze. The back to back to back days of intensity followed by a rest day is reminiscent of both period of training. The combination of the intervals intermixed with fast hard/time trial like efforts reminds me of the training of the Germans during that period of time. In fact if we take one program from coach Bertl Sumter (though his training WAS periodized and progressed so it’s unfair on Mr. Sumter to compare it to the random CF) it’s hardly indistinguishable:

Day 1: Endurance Intervals 30x100m w/ 50sec jog
Day 2: Speed runs 8×200 fast w/ 60sec rest
Day 3: Fartlek w/ 1k-2k segments
Day 4: Endurance Intervals 20x200m aerobic intervals
Day 5: Speed runs 6x400m fast
Day 6: rest

Of course Mr. Sumter actually gave goal paces, progressed them, and included easy running, so the comparison is unfair.

Well, I guess, it is you CF endurance man who is 50+ years behind…not us runners…

The point is, don’t be so arrogant to think you have come up with a new magical great way to train. It’s all been tried. There are no magic workouts or secret training regimes. Right now, we are at the point of tweaking it and coming up with the best way to put all the ingredients together. It seems like CFers are stuck in the past on the Long slow distance versus only high intensity training conundrum. I’m sorry, but us runners moved past that debate in about 1930. We know the best method is a combination of both.

More on CF, the myth of Tabata sprints, and the history of training to come in the future.

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    1. Ken Schafer on June 20, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      Excellent post! However, in my experience most runners who are training on their own, or with friends, do over emphasize volume, and under emphasize intensity.

      While I do agree that there is a bit of arrogance with the CrossFit Endurance people, I disagree with your characterization of them as clueless. They are very well clued in to how most runners and endurance athletes are training, and the kinds of training errors they make.

      For the average runner who does not have access to good coaching (or coaching of any kind), the CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance training methods are a significant improvement over how they are currently training. In my experience, for most runners, these training methods do lead to substantial improvements in running performance.

      Also, the typical runner is not able to handle the same volume and intensity as are elite runners, and CrossFit Endurance gives them a reasonable way to strike that balance.

      Finally, I do not think you have to consider CrossFit Endurance your "foe". I think all you have to do is put what they are doing in its proper context.

    2. stevemagness on June 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm

      Ken-Thanks for the comments.

      My Crossfit mention was probably too harsh, but I just got tired of getting the same emails over and over that criticized runners for doing only "LSD"(Long slow distance), and no intensity. Which simply isn't the case. The point is that if they are going to criticize running training at least criticize something that is actually done by well trained runners.

      Agree that CF or CFE are a step up from what regular people tend to do. In using our little training evolution time line, regular people tend to train like the runners in the 1800's. A small amount of easy running or walking. CF tends to train like American's in the 1920's. High intensity all the time with no volume. Still, that's 90 freaking years of evolution of training that they are behind. It's better than 100+ years, but I think we should be shooting for something better.

    3. stevemagness on June 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      I also wanted to point out for CF endurance, I'm only criticizing because of the claims that it can make you/anyone a better/faster runner, not that it makes you better all around fit or whatever. Right now, I don't care about that claim, just focusing on the runner portion.

      One last thing, it's not just the intense training, it's the ignoring of periodization, modulation, and rest/recovery. Basically, it ignores Lydiard, Bowerman, Canova, etc. development of the optimal hard work to easy/recovery training ratio. That's why I say it's like the 1920-30-40's training. You just see a whole bunch of back to back hard training. We've come a long way since then.

    4. Ken Schafer on June 20, 2010 at 11:23 pm

      That's funny because when I spoke with Dr. Romanov of Pose Running fame. He said that periodization was abandoned by the Russians back in the 1970's for a system more like CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance. According to him, the training techniques common in America now are 30 or 40 years behind Russian training methods.

      Also, you can't just look at CrossFit Endurance and judge it completely by their running workouts. You can not separate the running workouts from the non-running workouts. It's an integrated approach. CrossFit also does not believe in periodization in traditional sense. In CrossFit you are always working some aspect of fitness very hard and recovering on some other aspect. I'm not saying their approach is best or optimal, but I have seen it get results for many athletes at all levels of ability and fitness.

      One final point, in my experience, what is optimal for very good and elite athletes is rarely optimal for the rest of us with average ability, and when average athletes try to emulate what elite athletes do for training, they usually end up injured.

      • David Gutierrez on July 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm

        dude im level 1 cf and a big fan of that system of trainning, but im a runner too, believe me ,you have no idea about distance running. stop with the nonsens

    5. Amby Burfoot on June 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm

      Steve: Thanks for the great history of the evolution of training. I agree with you on the speed-endurance pendulum effect, and on the emptiness of special, supposedly innovative training systems (like but not limited to CrossFit) that claim they have the answer to improved running performance.

      So here comes the BUT. But I don't agree with your apparent disdain for training zones. They simply have to be used intelligently (of course). And if pressed to explain the improved high school running of the 2000s, I would point without hesitation to the late 1990s publication of Daniels Running Formula. This seems a far more specific turning point than just another pendulum swing.

      I'm also not totally sure that endurance is king again. This gets stated a lot, and quite glibly. It might be true. Or not. I haven't seen any evidence. Have you?

      Slight tangent: When I'm feeling particularly snarky, I sometimes concoct this "proof." During the late 80s and through the 1990s, when American distance fortunes faltered, many pointed their fingers at Runner's World and said we were to blame. Fair enough. Finger pointing is a civil right. During the last decade, RW's circulation has grown steadily. To me, this surely means that RW can take credit for the improvement in American distance running. Right :)?

    6. stevemagness on June 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      Ken-Thanks again for the comments. You bring up some very good and interesting points.

      I've read the russian training theories and ideas on periodization. Really they just moved away from the original concept of periodization as outlined by Matveyev. I use periodization less strictly as the planning of training. In that it is somehow designed and planned to bring about peak fitness at a particular period of time.

      Also, on the Russian front, there's always been this mistique about russian training as if they are somehow ahead of american or some european training methods. The problem is that the performance just doesn't back that idea up. Russian distance running is not good on the men's side. On the women's side there has been success but it has been almost entirely drug driven. So in that case, maybe the russian drug use is years ahead of ours, but just looking at performance as an objective measure, it's obvious that American distance training is superior to Russian.

      Good point on bringing up looking at it as a whole. I assure you I've gone through and looked at how CF and CFE work. I've watched their videos, read their literature. Just my opinion, and your welcome to disagree with it, but the reason for the results is the same issue you brought up earlier; Most people who start it come from a background of doing pretty crappy training. If they are runners all they've been doing is distance runs for example.

      Elite training has to be tailored to the individual. The exact training for a less genetically gifted person is suicide, but there are certain principles that remain. I've trained High School kids with a wide range of abilities, and I can assure you that the general guidelines used by world class runners hold true with anyone. The problem is most people just try and copy exactly what the elite are doing NOW, instead of looking at how they've spent years getting to that point.

    7. stevemagness on June 20, 2010 at 11:45 pm

      You rightly point out my disdain for zones. It's just a personal pet peeve that comes across too strongly. Of course you are right that if applied intelligently they work. My one problem with the first daniels book, which he has since corrected, is that he stated that there were in-between zones that were essentially useless. I guess my problem is with the idea, rather than the application.

      I'd agree that Daniels helped fuel the resurgence. I think it's a well balanced program that helped enhance the knowledge of training to a wide crowd. What I really think it did was emphasized aerobic development, and scheduled and controlled use of interval training. That was a large departure from what I gather was a wide use of very hard interval training in HS's during the 80's.

      Endurance is kind was probably not the right title, it's more like aerobic development is needed. It's not so much that mileage matters, rather than aerobic development. You can develop aerobically at lower mileage. I'd venture a guess that the total mileage run is not as high as during the 70's in HS or pros, but the amount of what I'll call high end aerobic (tempo/threshold, marathon pace, progression runs, whatever) is much higher than at any time.

      Blaming RW is a cop out. I think he was a training genius, but if you want to blame anyone I'd say it'd be the success of Coe. I think his ideas were ideal for Seb, and people didn't look at Seb's entire development. Also, as much as I like it, I'd blame Science too. Why? Because the research was focused on lactate and VO2max training initially, and they couldn't find a real reason for higher mileage improvements. Of course, you'd have to give science some credit then for its switch to lots of info on so called lactate threshold training. But…if you look now, there's another swing in science towards high intensity interval training being the next magic bullett. We'll see if practical training folllows.

    8. Ken Schafer on June 21, 2010 at 12:15 am

      Hi Steve,

      I think I agree with most of your points, or I at least thing that they have some merit.

      Dr. Romanov did say that, in general, Americans do a much better job of practical implementation, when it came to training, because they applied the principles in much more flexible way, and over a much broader population. As someone who interacts with Russians regularly, I don't think he was far off the mark with that comment.

      Also distance running is not a valued activity in Russia, and very few people there are drawn to it. So it's not surprising to me that they are not producing many great distance runners. Again, according to Dr. Romanov, distance runners were not even seen as real athletes by the track and field community.

    9. Dekel on June 21, 2010 at 6:25 am

      Steve, I think that you are incorrect about the CF endurance training. If you are only running, their training consists of 2-3 runs per week, with rest days between workouts. To quote their website:

      "Single sport athletes should only be following this site 2-3 times a week. Typically, 1 cycle, which is 1 interval, 1 tempo/stamina workout, and 1 more interval workout… This should be spaced accordingly throughout the week."

    10. EZEthan on June 21, 2010 at 10:02 pm

      You should really try to stay away from arguing with the crossfitters… its just not worth it… like hearding cats!

    11. Anders Torger on June 22, 2010 at 10:33 am

      What about adjusting the training to the individual? It seems to me that some individuals get to better results with more interval and less distance, and others the other way around. Shouldn't it be more focus on how to find what type of mix that works best for a specific individual? Or do you think that there is one general mix of quality/quantity that is the best for all individuals?

    12. william on June 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm

      If there was one cookie cutter program that was "the best" wouldn't we all be world class? Wouldn't that also do away with the need for a coach?

      As far as the cross fit argument goes, Cross Fit says that if you squat 900lbs or run a 5 min mile your training shows a lack of balance. No one is ever going to run a 5 min mile and squat 900lbs, so I guess you can be specialist or just a fit guy lost in the middle with cross fit.

    13. Ken Schafer on June 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm


      You should do a little more research on CrossFit. It is far from being a "cookie cutter" program. But you are correct in that CrossFit is more concerned with a balance approach to fitness rather than a specialized appoach. They also contend that over specialization is preventing many specialized athletes from reaching their full potential.

    14. stevemagness on June 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      Anders- Great point. If you look around the site, you know that I think Individualizing is CRUCIAL!

      My point in this post was to give a general overview to see if we could learn anything from the general pattern of development.

      Of course, some runners are going to need more or less volume/intensity. It's my contention that a great coach can coach from either the high or low side of the volume/intensity spectrum based on what the athlete needs.

      Ken- No disrespect but anytime a program's main choice of providing workouts is to list a "Workout of the Day", it shows a lack of individualization.

    15. Ken Schafer on June 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm


      I reiterate, look more deeply into the program. The WOD is only supposed to be a starting point. The actual workouts are adjusted to meet individual needs, and that point is consistently emphasized on their web sites, and in their literature. Not to mention, there are hundreds of CrossFit facilities, and very few of them are doing the same workouts or even the same programs.

      It seems that everyone is looking for a reason to dismiss CrossFit. However, no matter how you cut it they are several steps up from what most programs offer, and they have the results to prove it. CrossFit is far from perfect, but most people do a lot worse on their own.

      So to sum it up, I do disagree with your opinion on this matter, because I believe that am more familiar with the how CrossFit training methods are applied in practice.

    16. william on June 22, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      Steve, please forgive me if I am taking up space on your blog. I appreciate your commitment to research and passion for human performance.

      Ken, I didn't call CrossFit "cookie cutter", if you look at my previous post again, you will see that my first two statements were in response to the general theme of Steve's research. I was making the point that a coach's role is to understand that each athlete is unique and that training methods are cyclical as a result of experience and results of previous coaches and athletes. Take what you will from others like it or not and learn from it. The second paragraph was addressing that CrossFit is not the end all of training methodology, I think you can be fit and in many cases a badass by doing CrossFit. That being said you are not going to be the fastest runner you can be by following that program. Find the good, learn from it and continue to develop into the fastest runner you can be. Im not sure you can be over specialized if it is your goal to be a specialist, but I will research that.

    17. Ken Schafer on June 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm


      I reread your post. I did misinterpret your message. Sorry!

      As far as CrossFit's training philosophy about not over-specializing, it's probably only theoretical at this point, but it is not unique to CrossFit. In running there certainly seems to be elements of strength, power, and flexibility (among other things) that are not adequately addressed by running alone. I didn't think this was a controversial point.

    18. stevemagness on June 23, 2010 at 12:20 am

      William- I enjoy the comments and debate. You definately bring some good points and fresh take to the site, so feel free to comment as much as you want.

      As far as CF goes, my problem with it is, yes it may be better than what average people do, but my goal with this site is not in being a bit better than horrible (which is the average persons exercise habits) but to look at the best practices to maximize performance. In my opinion, CF doesn't fit into this picture.

      They are what I call an extreme view, and if history tells us anything extreme views (i.e. long aerobic training is the devil) are almost never right.

      CF takes non specilization to the extreme. My problem's with CF are as follows:

      1. They claim superiority of their methods at succeeding in specialized events. It's just arrogant to me when you have NO results to claim Ryan Hall should be training your way.

      2. It's not based on good science or practical theory.

      3. It's random, unplanned. There's no long term periodization/progression in the program like you see in good running programs.

      4. They take extreme views against aerobic training.

      5. They create a straw man arguing against long slow distance, which first off has no backing, and second off, no one who is training for anything just goes and logs slow mileage, yet CF has you believe that all runners do is jog around.

      I'm sure there are more, but safe to say I'm not a fan.

    19. Anonymous on July 13, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      hi steve.
      i am going to go slightly off topic here and ask you about when milage should be at its peak for junior (17-20 yrs olds) cross country runners who i coach in the UK.
      last year they peaked their milage for the cross country season in november for them to peak for main events xc in march. I noticed that their performances were great from december, jan and feb hopever dropped out during march. there peak milage in novemeber was around 50 miles and i dropped it down to 30 miles in march. what are your feeling on peak milage in the season and how to schedule the last few workouts before a big event.

      this is being debated on eightlane now-


      p.s thanks for this great blog- i only came across this today and i spend the last 2hrs glued to my pc.

    20. stevemagness on July 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think you answered your own question pretty well. Without seeing all the training it's hard to make conclusions. But I've noticed similar things before. When you have too substantial of a drop too far out from the peak race, performance sometimes drops.

      For this reason, I tend to keep mileage relatively high throughout most of the season OR make sure to include a good deal of aerobic refresh work (tempos/thresholds, long stuff) to compensate for the mileage drop.

      I'm not a fan of big tapers for the most part.

      As an example, for a kid maxing out at 60mpw during the base, I'd drop it slightly once we started more intense workouts to in the 50's but then he'd stay around there for the most part throughout the season. We'd drop it down to the 40's during the week of important races then back up to around 50 during non important weeks. At the end of the season during peaking time, for most runners I'd keep it around 45-50 until the last week before peak, then drop it slightly to 35-40mi with most of that drop occuring later in the week.

    21. compression socks running on February 3, 2011 at 10:34 am

      I have wanted to post something like this on my site and this has given me an idea.

    22. MFT on February 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm


      I'm real late to this party but there is a post on my site addressing some of the issues brought up in the CF and CFE discussion, a subject with which I have considerable experience.

      I'm not trying to pimp or bash anything. I only wish to offer readers further insight into the whole "intensity is more effective than volume" notion the pendulum has arced toward during the last 6-7 years.

      At our place we train all sorts, from NFL players to ultra-endurance types. While some movements and loads may be shared, our experience shows again and again that individualized, planned and progressive training produces the best results once an athlete has developed beyond a basic level of fitness and experience – no matter the sport. The value of random, do-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-you-go-hard training is at the very base of the developmental pyramid and useful to build the tolerance needed to progress to harder, more frequent and/or specific training. The CF fallacy is in having convinced folks that this random work can produce predictable, repeatable results, and do so outside the general area of so-called "fitness."

      There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch


      p.s. Thank you for maintaining the site, which I stumbled across via a mention at letsrun-com

    23. Anonymous on March 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      So what r your thoughts on F.i.r.s.t. training and Marshall Burt’s Velocity Focused Training programs!! What r the cons and pros of both of these?

    24. Anonymous on June 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      Ok excellent time periods, but wouldn't Cam Levins be classified as a new group of training models since he has found so much success? For example 2010's Insane Mega Mileage group

    25. Boris Hornbei on June 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Not sure it's a "backlash," so much as a reaction. The Interval Guys say, "Oh look, we can get rapid improvement in just six weeks." And when that doesn't work out, and times don't improve long-term, the Endurance Guys come along and say, "Aerobic metabolism can be improved for many years." The lure of quick results is what brings back the heavy emphasis on intervals.

      Arthur Lydiard will endure, because he put endurance and intervals in their proper place and showed how they work together. The results speak for themselves even today – cf. Cam Levins, Desi Davila, the Africans… (When Lydiard went to Africa to see if he could help the runners there, he decided he wasn't needed because they were already doing it right.)

    26. MarkyV on January 7, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      Hmmm, cross fit, plyos with a marketing twist tossed in.

    27. […] vous voulez un résumé rapide : la plupart des types d’entraînement ont été essayés et tout fonctionne relativement bien. Effectivement, si on considère que les humains s’entraînent depuis plus d’un siècle […]

    28. Aart Hoogendoorn on December 3, 2017 at 6:31 am

      Everybody, thanks for the good read and comments. As i live in the Netherlands, i’ m always interested in the debates at the other side of the big sea.
      Most are arguing about general principles, but i was delighted that some also mentioned individual approach on training. When trying to accomplish top results one has to specialize, but that doesn’t exclude variety in trainingtypes. Every athlete has strong points, by example endurance, or technical performance, or mental power. The coach has to assist them in learning how to improve, by organizing situations which are motivating and out of the comfortzone. And yes that can be a long easy run, just a little bit longer… Or a crosstraining which they thought: i can’ t do that, i’ m sure you can make many examples. Or a rest phase at the time, just before it is really needed 😀. Looking back, we shouldn’t argue about general systems, as they will offer some general fitness and lucky excellence in some competition. But specific training for specific athletes, which are described in terms of character/strengths, is most useful.
      I would be very interested in the training development of alberto salazar, ryan hall, Paula Radcliffe and others, not to copy that, but to learn how they tried, improved, and focus on their strong points, and respected their weaknesses.

    29. Ed Davison on May 15, 2018 at 10:20 am

      Good article, but I wouldn’t say that Captain Barclay’s training was “low volume”. He walked 20 or so miles a day for training. As far as running, you are correct, but I don’t think he did much road racing other than the crazy long walks.

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