The Endurance Paradigm

By Brian MacKenzie

Video Article

The days of long, slow distance work are over—at least for anyone who’s discovered CrossFit. With the CrossFit Endurance program, distance athletes are suddenly finding success without the four-hour steady-state workouts that can beat their bodies into the ground.

Brian MacKenzie breaks the CFE program down into three parts: skills and drills, intensity, and stamina work. Skills are required to prevent injury and give you the tools for success, while proper intensity ensures that the athlete is getting enough stress to enable an adaptive response. For most, four to six CrossFit workouts per week will suffice, but some competitors (such as triathletes) need to do only four WODs a week while adding in a number of sport-specific sessions based on stamina training and intervals. The final piece is stamina workouts that take the place of endurance work.

“The important thing to note is that in this paradigm shift that’s occurring, the direction that we go is the exact opposite direction the endurance community takes—every time,” MacKenzie says.

5min 37sec

Additional reading: Less Is More for Champion Runner by Parker Morse, published June 9, 2009.

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15 Comments on “The Endurance Paradigm”


wrote …

I love it


wrote …

yeah baby! Mac is back! Learn so much from MacKenzie's videos. Keep em coming please.


wrote …

In the video Brian mentions that stamina is replacing endurance. I don't really understand what the difference is and how you train stamina vice endurance. I know that in the basic CF Journal "What is Fitness" stamina is one of the 10 general physical skills and is defined as "The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy." The article also defines cardio/respiratory endurance as "The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen." Is he saying that you are more concerned with how your body uses energy than you are with how is uses oxygen?


wrote …

I enjoy challenging the conventional wisdom as much as anyone, but Brian's answer to the last question just does not make sense. You cannot replace the gains that you get from 3-4 hours of cycling with some perfect squats. Otherwise, Lance Armstrong would only be doing squats :-P.


replied to comment from Michael Balint

Michael, I too am a little skeptical about the transference of functional movements to something very sport specific like posture for extended saddle times. I completely agree with Brian M. to the extent that it helps. Applied correctly I think you can get 70-80%, but there comes a point when you need some specific training to grab the last little bit. For some athletes the 70% solution is what they are looking for, others may need more. (Overall love the paradigm shift. Good work CFE!)

I think your comment about Lance is a little off though. Are you assuming his training staff has discovered the absolute most effective way to train cyclists and that there is no room to evolve their practices? Maybe Lance would have won this year had he thrown in a few WoDs, maybe not. Maybe he has been incorporating functional stuff all along(not my arena so I don't know). I think it is dangerous to assume someone/anyone has the definitive answer.



replied to comment from Michael Balint

I have to agree that CFE and CF will absolutely help make it easier to have a better posture when you climb on the bike. I think depending on the length of the events that you do need those longer training sessions to really get your body used to being in that position, especially on a bike.


wrote …

I am looking forward to attending an Endurance seminar but I was wondering why a CFE Endurance Seminar costs $95 more than an introductory POSE seminar from Romanov. I understand that CFE will go into much more detail on overall training and conditioning, not just POSE running...

I would much rather listen to bMack for two days though!


replied to comment from Brian Ross

Sorry if I wasn't clear -- my comment about Lance was meant to be a hyperbole. I'm sure that he does some circuits or WOD-like training in the off-season (see this for a photo of Lance with a kettlebell). However, I'm also sure that if Lance didn't bike 6 hours a day he wouldn't be one of the best long-distance/endurance cyclists out there. Cross-training using WODs/lifts/etc can certainly help, but in the end there is no substitute for the real thing.

I think the paradigm shift towards working skill first is great. It's just that a common theme I've heard from Brian MacKenzie is (and I'm sorry if this quote isn't exactly correct) "why go for long distance runs/bike sessions/etc when there are better things that you can do to increase your endurance that do not take as long and decrease the chance of injury". I don't agree with Brian there. The discrepancy might be that Brian is coming from a running background and I am coming from a swimming background (where you are much less-likely to get hurt).


wrote …

Lance Armstrong working out with weights.

I can't get enough of BMack. I don't think I got the endurance/stamina thing either. But, I think it's why runners do intervals, say, three one-mile intervals at the desired race pace to prepare for a 5K. I just read "The Runner's Body" by Runner's World magazine people, which encourages runners to do plyometrics, speedwork, and strength training.


Brian MacKenzie wrote …

Great comments. 1st the difference between what we do and POSE does is simple. We teach perfect running mechanics and focus about a half day of lecturing on it. POSE teaches perfect running mechanics too, but focuses on it all weekend. We also get into training correctly and effectively for endurance events, the nutritional side of endurance, psychological stuff, and injury prevention. Big difference.

Endurance: the ability for one to maintain aerobically for desired amount of distance or time. It also refers to sufferance... Or ones ability to deal with pain! The breakdown of your body in an endurance event has nothing to do with aerobic activity though. This is a strength and conditioning issue. Period.

Stamina: simply put is the ability to prolong a very stressful situation. For our needs, take swim, bike or run. Most events

Take my word for it or don't. I wouldn't! I'd challenge what I'm saying, but that might mean you need to give up some old stuff and give this stuff a shot. Until then its just he said/she said. I've got guys and gals who ride for centuries and beyond that have not rode more than 30m in training. Whether we like it or not all movement begins and ends with posture. If it doesn't then the movement is flawed. Even in Lance Armstrong. For a few of us, we would see only more potential in this athlete.

Starrett and I had a conversation a couple months ago about an Olympic Rower that came in to train for a session. He said how tight she was and how limited her range of motion was. Then we both proceeded to talk about how much more potential she has, even as an Olympic Athlete. She is a stud, no doubt. And could CRUSH me in rowing, but she still could crush me even more with her potential and not utilizing her entire range of motion by learning how to move correctly.

Hope this helps...



wrote …

"Stamina - The ability of body systems
to process, deliver, store, and
utilize energy."

From "What is Fitness":


wrote …

This one is for Jason Pohly. Basically your answer is in your definition of STAMINA- "The ability of the body systems to process,deliver,store,and utilize energy". So lets break it down (body systemS) there are 3 metabolic pathways that the body uses as energy toward what ever it is you are doing. 1st Phosphagen: short 5-12sec. ex. sprinting 100m or a max snatch 2nd Glycolitic:middle 15sec.-3min ex. 800m run or "fran" 3rd Oxidative:long >3min ex. Marathon or "murph". With all this in mind, training the way CFE/CF prescribes, you will reap benefits that will change your level of performance to a higher standing. The CFE WODS stress these 3 energy systems through the interval tempo/stamina workouts, and training this way will allow your body to adapt and increase its capacity for more energy to be processed,delivered,stored,and utilized which equals better performance. Also when oxygen is present it is simply just one of the energy sources utilized by the body. (Above BMAC shows the difference between stamina and endurance.)


wrote …

I always learn so much from BMack. Thanks so much!!


wrote …

As a road-racing cyclist with events up to 6 hours, I think of my longest workouts not as fitness enhancers (I tend to agree with Brian MacKenzie here based on my own reads of relevant research, and data from my own years of training), but as "gear checks" and "nutrient delivery checks".

By that I mean it is difficult to know how much electrolyte replacement you will need on an 80F 5-hour ride that averages 70% threshold until you try it - basically you start with a typical protocol (say, 1gr sodium / Kg body weight) and do the trial to make sure it works *before* an event you care about or you may cramp during the important moment near the end of the race. Likewise with calorie rate and hydration.

I also mean that it is hard to determine if you have your contact points and posture dialed in correctly for 4-5hr+ events until you actually attempt them. A specific example here is that I had a pair of shoes that were the best I ever owned...for around 4 hours. After that my big toes would go to sleep every time. New shoes, no problem. Similarly, I've had gloves that were good for 3 hours but blistered my palms past 4.

My point being that to develop the work capacity, literature does finally seem to be converging on the style Brian is advocating here (form, short high intensity, then ability to suffer as opposed to LSD), but I would advocate a few full-duration sessions to help avoid the risk of taking an A race and accidentally having it become a learning moment for a simple lesson that could have been learned in advance, instead of a good result.


wrote …

I see the basis for Brian's teaching, and I agree with the other "on bike for 6 hours comment". We can all look at Lance and admire his "lack" of hydrogen buildup and unsurpassed lactate delivery, lack there of! There are factors within the realm of fitness that some people naturally posess that others don't. Speedwork, stength and flexibility all remain superior from a "O2 transport" point of view as per "what is fitness". I belive, and have witnessed in myself and within my competition community, that "Overall" high intensity, circuit type, strength and conditioning training is superior to the very long, steady state training principles once belived to be superior. Example, does the body, on a cellular level, really know the difference? Answer, no it doesn't. I can create and harness oxidative training for long distances, I do ultramarathons, etc, by pushing myself 10 fold, in a fast paced, strength/ metcon workout and reap the same benefit with less injury. I have had 3 knee surgeries. As far as an "oxidative" rate is concerned >70% MHR and below,I can better equipe my body and transport system to "stay" in this range for longer period through increased HR training and metcon, etc. Hope this helps.."All training is complementary"/ Dan John..quote.

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