Thursday, April 9, 2009

...intervals for endurance

Great interview with Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance

The Most Dangerous Man in Endurance Training!

So, you want to do your first endurance event (anything over 2 hrs)? I know, you’re thinking where to begin? I mean, if you want to run 26.2 miles or swim, bike and run 140.6 miles or run an ultra marathon (anything over 50 miles), you’ve got to put in the hours, right? I mean at least 14-30 hrs per week to be really ready and to do your best, right? Wrong.

How about getting your deadlift up to 460. Instead of your “Sunday run” of 2 hours, you work on getting your back squat up to 350? Sounds insane doesn’t it? Not when you find out that the guys doing just this kind of work are averaging less than 9 hours per week of training and are finishing 100 mile runs only a handful of hours behind such endurance legends like Dean Karnazes. Brian MacKenzie and his team at CrossFit Endurance are shaking up the world of endurance training by teaching technique, adding intensity and then doing it faster in all their regimens.



rappstar said...

Hi Chris,

I love your blog, but you realize that when it comes to true endurance racing, Brian has zero credibility. An 11:33 Ironman is an average time, but not even close to the top of what folks that train a similar amount (say 10-14) hours per week do. Not pros, regular age group athletes. Same with his ultras - a couple of HOURS behind Dean Karnazes, who generally finishes a couple of hours of behind Scott Jurek, FYI. 26:48 for the Western States is impressive only as much as it is a finishing time, but it certainly does not belie any great insight into training methodology for that sort of event.

I don't think any endurance athlete would say that posture, core engagement, etc. are not critical to racing well. But deadlifts, squats, etc. are not the only way to do it. Nor are they necessarily the best way. They will never replace swimming, biking, and running. Look at Michael Phelps as a prime example - the man cannot bench press his own body weight even once. But he has plenty of specifically applicable strength. He also does relevant dryland training (medicine balls, etc.), so it's not like it's only swim, swim, swim.

The common misconception about endurance training is that it is all "LSD." A good endurance program has a focus on all intensities levels, from very low to very high. That's what periodization is. Periodization is the fundamental basis of endurance training, and it seems to be something Brian has absolutely no concept of. Tell him to go read Tudor Bompa, Arthur Lydiard, or any of the other folks who actually have done research on the subject. It might actually improve his own training, both in the weight room and out of it.


Jordan Rapp

Ken said...

I have to disagree with some of your comments. Brian MacKenzie does have a great deal of credibility among a growing number of endurance athletes. You should not judge his methods by his times, you should judge his methods by the improvement in the times of the people he trains. By that standard, he has been very successful. Also, it probably only a matter of time before he get to train someone with exception talent.

I think your comments about what he does and does not have a concept of are very presumptuous. Perhaps you should do something like read the full article, look at his web sit, or try to contact him. Because it is clear you have no concept of what Brian MacKenzie actually does and does not understand.

rappstar said...

Hi Ken,

I did read the entire interview. I think Brian himself shows what he does and doesn't understand through his implication that LSD is how endurance athletes train.

"How do you overcome the status quo and endless volumes of data that virtually mandate a long, slow distance regimen vs. short term, high intensity program?

Uh, which studies are you referring to? If you could show me any study that proves LSD is in any way, shape or form, better than anaerobic training I’d love to see it! This is the problem with most endurance athletes... They believe for some reason that there is evidence that “neurotic and obsessed” is a study or form of training. It isn’t, nor has it ever been proven. It is still theory, and “folk lore”! Meaning a bunch of neurotic out of shape fat people believed because professional athletes can train long hours they can. Unfortunately it doesn’t work, which is why they are fat, and slow!"

I don't see that as being presumptuous in the least. I was responding to what it is that was written in the article, which was limited to his comments on training in general and his performances. There was no mention of the performances or improvements of his athletes. The article held up Brian's achievements as "proof," and I was challenging that. I based my replies on the available information in the article, both the introduction and the interview itself. The fact that Brian only addresses LSD, which is not at all representative of the way endurance athletes train - especially at the elite level - shows a clear lack of understanding of proper endurance training and periodization. The word "periodization" was never mentioned in the entire interview, which is shocking. The whole debate, as presented in that article, is as if it is "either/or" between CFE and LSD, which is not even close to an accurate portrayal.

It's not about 100% of either one. Brian's approach of 100% focus on CFE is just as bad a someone with a 100% focus on LSD. Neither one is optimal for endurance training. But this sort of black and white thinking is pervasive on both sides, but it certainly isn't the standard among folks that actually excel.

I doubt Brian has any idea how Chris McCormack trains. I know this because I actually do, and I know that Chris values very high intensity work as part of his Ironman program. Chris's program is certainly not "LSD," nor is any athlete who has actually won the Ironman Champs. So I would say that I am not the one who needs to "read more" in this particular case.

Ken said...

Hi Jordan,

I'm sorry but you comments give away your ignorance of his methods. Brian doesn't talk about periodization because the CrossFit method makes it irrelevant. CrossFit people "periodize" everyday.

The bottom line is that he is well aware of how everyone else is training, and he disagrees with this methodology based on years of personal experimentation and research with various methods. But most importantly, he is getting results. Just because he is getting these results, when everyone thinks he shouldn't doesn't make them invalid. It probably indicates that he has found something new, and that his methods need to be looked at more closely by the scientific community rather than dismissed because the current research doesn't support them.

His methods are too new to have been investigated scientifically, but the science is always behind the most cutting edge training methods. And as someone who has a degree in Exercise Science, I'm well aware that there is still a lot that is not well understood in field of Exercise Physiology and anyone who thinks that your can rely purely on scientific research for training methodology is sadly deluded.

rappstar said...

Hi Ken,

I'm not sure how you can "periodize" within a single day? Maybe you can enlighten me. As someone with a degree in ExSci, I will assume that you have read Bompa's work. When I discuss periodization, I am talking about a transition from what we can call "general" preparation to "specific" preparation. So I certainly think CFE could have a place, especially in the "general" period of training. It's the "either/or" tone of that article that I disagree with. LSD is NOT how Chris McCormack, Chrissie Wellington, Craig Alexander, etc. train. Equating endurance training with LSD by default is what is truly delusional. I do not disagree that biomechanics, hip movement, etc. is all very important. But to imply that someone of Chris McCormack's ability is capable of doing what he is doing without sound biomechanics is foolish. You don't run a 2:42 marathon off the bike (or a sub-30min 10k) without good biomechanics. LSD will certainly not get you there.

Ken said...

I put the periodization in quotes to make a point that the CrossFit people have a completely different approach to accomplishing what periodization of training is used for. If you want more details about what I'm talking about, it is all at

I know that Brian MacKenzie tends to talk in very strong statements, and maybe he oversimplifies the training of others the same way you are oversimplifying his training methods in order to make a point. Irregardless, that does not make his methods wrong, nor does it invalidate his results.

He may be incorrect about everything, but you are dismissing what he does because it doesn't fall in line with what is currently known and accepted. His methods need to be studied before they are dismissed. If he is getting results, there is probably something to his methods. But just to dismiss what he does because you don't like what he says, or how he says it, is not a sound line of reasoning.

As far as biomechanics, I completely disagree with your assertion the best endurance athletes must have good biomechanics or they wouldn't be able to perform at world class levels. I think most endurance athletes do not have good biomechanics, they simply have superior physiology for endurance activity. There is plenty of evidence to back this up. If you are unfamiliar with Pose Technique and Dr. Romanov I would encourage you to look into what Dr. Romanov is doing at One reason (of many) that the African distance runners are generally the better than Americans and Europeans, is that they do have good biomechanics relative to runners from the West.

Bottom line Brian MacKenzie gets results. The people he trains all show great improvement, and often within a very short period of time. He must be on to something or this would not happen. There is simply no way to argue away actual results.

Fanch said...

Hi Chris, Ken,

there is a somewhat easy way to look at what Brian brings to the plate. The article, in my opinion, only disses what many top athletes are doing (and AGers, some of them being pretty fast too), and unfortunately, does not provide much real information, essentially because it remains vague at best.

1. what do you mean by slow?
2. what do you mean by fast?
for instance...So, endurance folks just do slow stuff? OK then. Take Bekele for instance. He runs about 120mi a week and his PB (and current WR) corresponds to 12.5 laps on a 400m track, each lap ran between 60 and 61secs, and he can clock a last 400m in 51secs in a 10km. Yet, he does not do any CFE stuff. He runs a lot, including a lot of XC running with makes him do more plyometric work than any CFE trained person. The same applies to many other athletes.

It also is full of misconceptions, many of them were actually pointed out by Jordan. It's not only about LSD. Moreover, the S of LSD is very relative. The crappy diet and use of supplements is also a complete misconception from Brian.

I find it a bit easy to discard years of Scientific research in exercise physiology (supported by years of research in the medical field, in biology, in chemistry, etc.), yet only offer comments along the lines of 'I tried something else and it was better'.

In his article, Brian says he 'nearly wrote a PhD' and has a lot of data. Maybe now is the time to submit these ideas.

Fanch said...


most people starting to train all show improvements regardless of the method.

The question is not whether they show improvement. The question is whether CFE is a better approach than a traditional approach to training. And Brian has not shown that.

By the way, traditional does not mean LSD. It includes max VO2, lactate threshold, endurance, specific race pace session, strides, periodization.

Ken said...


You have made some good points. However, as I said before, he does get good results. He also gets these results with far less training time than the more traditional approaches.

Yes, he has a long way to go before he has established that his methods are better, but he has certainly shown that his methods are worth a closer look. To dismiss his results because of what he says, or the way he expresses himself is just silly.
I don't really understand why everyone keeps stating that all the research doesn't support his statements. If he is getting results with new methods, then one should conclude that more research needs to be done, and not that he is wrong.

It seems that there are a lot of people in endurance sports that are very threatened his success.
As I said previously, the science always lags behind the most cutting edge training techniques. Science follows experience not the other way around.

Ken said...


I am also very familiar with the traditional training techniques. You don't have to explain them to me.

You say that most people will improve regardless of the training method, but that really isn't the point. He gets as good or better results with 1/3 of the training time. Again this is clearly worthy of closer study. This should be obvious.

I never said that he has proven that his methods are better, but he has shown that the research to date is clearly incomplete, and there is much that is still a lot to learn in the field of Exercise Physiology.

Fanch said...

I'm certainly not dismissing his results, but when you make claims as he makes, you have to be ready to back up your claims with more than anecdotal evidence.

It is not correct that scientific research always follows experience. Actually, this denotes a clear misunderstanding of what both scientific research and experience are.

You certainly cannot claim that he gets as good or better results (be it with the same amount of training or a 1/3). First of all, none of the best athletes in endurance sports use his method. Not Macca, not Wellington, not Armstrong, not Gebrselassie, not Phelps and the list goes on. All these guys use the same 'traditional approach'. And this is the best method, the one that produces all the best athletes in the world. At least until he can produce an athlete that beats these guys, using CFE only. Saying his method WOULD get better athletes does not cost a thing. I'm not discarding the idea, just saying that when you make such a claim, you better back it up.

No one ever said that exercise physiology was complete. There are indeed a lot of ideas to explore, and maybe some, such as CFE, may yield changes in training paradigms. But at this stage, it's at best anecdotal evidence, at worst, simply conjectural.

And if you read carefully what I've written, you will notice that I am certainly not saying CFE is crap and not worth looking into. Actually, I think there are some things to look at for sure. However, at the moment, it is pretty well understood that specificity is one of the key principles of exercise. Until CFE can refute this principle, with more than anecdotal evidence, you will not be able to break into the endurance community at large.

rappstar said...

Well said Fanch,

I thought I made a similar point.

@Ken, I've taken several clinics with Dr. Romanov, so I know all about Pose. I have some issues with it as a complete idea, but nevertheless, I think it does have a lot of value, especially if you look at running as a skill sport, which you ought to. That was one sentiment from the interview I really liked, when Brian talked about treating swim/bike/run as skills. I couldn't agree more.

Again, it's the "either/or" sentiment of the article (and maybe it's just due to a limited word count) that I disagree with. I think CFE (or similar) certainly has a place for an endurance athlete. Biomechanics, posture, etc. are equally important as overall physiological endurance.

It's just hard when the "true believers" make it seem like it's their way or the highway, and that is true on both sides of the equation.

Ken said...


Let me be absolutely clear (because apparently I have not been clear on this point, and I'm sorry for the confusion). I'm not attempting to back up his claims. Either B.M. can back them up or he can't. If he can't, then his methods will fade away. But if he can, then they are worth studying, rather than dismissing them because they don't fall in line with current thinking and methods. I'm willing to give him a chance to back up his claims, before saying that his methods aren't as good as traditional methods.

Your statement about the top people not using his methods, and that makes the traditional approach the best until otherwise proven is simply incorrect. All that proves is that the top people have been very successful with the the current training methods. That is hardly surprising.

It is also irrelevant whether or not the top people are currently using his methods. His methods have to be judged by improvements in the people who are using methods, regardless of their level of talent.

I also never said that you said the CFE was crap. But the general tone of the comments have been very dismissive of CFE, base more on how B.M. expresses himself rather than attempting to look at his results. All I'm saying, is let's look at the results. B.M is fairly arrogant and opinionated, but that does not make him wrong.

Almost all new training techniques and innovations have to start out untested by the science. Then they have to be checked out in the lab. That is the normal process. Let's wait to pass judgment until independent research has been done.

Ken said...


I agree that the way B.M. talks about training methods, can be off-putting. However, I think it is important look beyond his personality.

Mike T Nelson said...

I think we are still just starting to understand how far we can push the human body!!

On one end, there is no question that the SAID principle rules--your body will ALWAYS adapt to EXACTLY what you do (I thanks Dr. Cobb for pointing me back to that one).

On the other end, doing some "cardio" (CRF) work will not make you weaker and doing some strength training will not make you slower.

Long endurance events are much about pain management and efficiency. Yes, you have to be very well trained of course.

In the literature, there are some newer studies again now looking at how far we can push strength AND CRF in athletes with some very cool work from Dr Hawley's lab. I have a few studies and thoughts on my blog at

I think that higher intensity is a better way to go if I had to pick and most (not all) endurance athletes do too much LSD. I think some low intensity CRF work may facilitate recovery by perhaps increasing parasympathetic tone; thus allowing more high intensity work.

You must give your body a REASON to adapt and then get the hell out of the way.

Rock on!
Mike T Nelson
PhD(c), CSCS

Jon said...

The methods were kind of researched in the past before CF and CFE existed.

Mark Twight @ Gym Jones put up all those quotes in his "There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" article on his site.

I honestly think that this is what CFE should have been (and frankly is what alot of people who are in the ultrarunning world that do CrossFit actually do in real life - CrossFit 2-3 times a week, do some easy/recovery runs, some tempo runs, some intervals, and a long steady run on the weekend).

Fanch said...

For what it's worth, I've looked at the CFE website, and I think there are some pretty decent sessions, that could easily fit into the program of a triathlete, be he/she an AGer or a pro.

However, there are sessions that are counterproductive, and even go against what CFE stands for. A good example is the 500m swim with a t-shirt or weighted vest for drag. One of the things CFE emphasizes is proper form at all times. How many swimmers/triathletes do you think will maintain proper form while swimming with a t-shirt or a weighted vest? Frankly, I'm not sure I can, and I've swam 52min for an Ironman, and under 19min long course for 1500m. Rappstar swims faster and may pull it off. But the vast majority of triathletes are in the 1h10 range and would swim with a dreadful technique.

In other words, yes, I do believe we can learn a lot of things from CFE, but it goes both ways. CFE has a lot to learn from other specialists. Just a thought :)

Ken said...


I'm not sure, but I know that both CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance have strong tie ins with Special Forces. Some of these workout may not just be for competitive athletes, but also for simulating military situations.

I also know that every posted workout is supposed to be scaled to meet individual abilities. The expectation for many of these workouts is that very few people will be able to do them as posted, and that some scaling will need to be done by most people. More information is available at the main CrossFit site