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Dispatch: CrossFit’s Triathlon Crossover

Ironman world champion Michellie Jones shares how CrossFit can benefit triathletes—plus, workouts and moves to try at home.


CrossFit. It’s all the rage in fitness circles. From what I’ve heard it’s hard as heck and a great way to strengthen and tone, yet in truth, I know very little about what actually happens in CrossFit. Ironman world champion Michellie Jones has been posting quite a lot about CrossFit lately, so I checked in with her to learn the basics and, most importantly, how CrossFit might crossover to benefit triathletes.

Jones became a fan of CrossFit through attending group workouts at CrossFit 760 (crossfit760.com), a strength and conditioning gym with locations in Carlsbad and La Costa, Calif. She soon joined forces with owners Casey Parlett and Scott Parlett, CrossFit coaching brothers, to run specialized classes designed for endurance athletes (open to everyone, Mondays at 6:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. at the La Costa location). “The classes are meant to enhance overall strength, something many triathletes are lacking as we tend to focus on the individual disciplines of swim, bike and run and let strength conditioning fall by the wayside,” says Jones.

Although CrossFit is steeped in its own jargon and seems a bit mysterious to the uninitiated, in truth many of the basic exercises (called “movements” in CrossFit lingo) are exactly that: basic. The focus is on simple yet essential functional movements performed at high intensity. The movements are applicable to all other sports, and are especially important to core stability, as well as to enhancing the CrossFit tenets of cardio-respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Movements are combined to create a “WOD” (Workout Of the Day), an intense training session usually lasting less than an hour (even under 30 minutes), thus easily scheduled throughout the day. Many WODs can be done anywhere–in a hotel room, garage, living room, airport or, of course, at a CrossFit “box” (that’s a gym to you and me).

While devoted CrossFit fans adhere to a daily WOD, Jones recommends that triathletes incorporate only one or two WODs per week into a triathlon training regime to build functional strength and complement a traditional swim, bike and run program. Jones, who also serves as the Athlete Manager for Compex, recommends using the muscle stimulator device for recovery after every CrossFit session to help flush away potential soreness from the high intensity training.

In the tabs to the left (or above on mobile), coach Casey Parlett shares three sample WODssimple yet challenging sessions sure to get your heart pumpingthen describes five of the foundational CrossFit movements and the benefits they provide. Note that most movements can be scaled up or down in degree of difficulty, depending on your starting point fitness (think assisted knee push-ups as opposed to push-ups starting in the full plank position, or squatting onto a medicine ball for added balance and support).

RELATED – CrossFit Endurance: To Hell And Back, Just Faster

3 WODs To Build Strength

Session 1:
AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) in 20 minutes of:
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 air squats
(For beginners, 10 minutes is a good place to start, as well as scaling the push-ups and pull-ups to the appropriate level.)

Session 2:
5 rounds for time:
400-meter run
20 kettlebell swings
(Scale the weight as needed.)

Session 3:
For time:
100 burpees
(Beginners should start with 50 reps.)
“Do 100 of these as fast as possible and then try to figure out what you didn’t work,” says Parlett.

RELATED – One-Hour Workout: Do-Anywhere Strength Circuit

Air Squat

From a standing position, squat down until the hips are below the knees, then straighten back up. “This works overall leg strength, stamina and flexibility and emphasizes using the posterior chain muscles.”

Kettlebell Swing

Standing with legs shoulder width apart, swing a weighted kettlebell from between the legs to overhead. “Another movement that focuses on creating power through the posterior chain, plus improves balance, coordination and core stability.”

Push-Up

From a plank position with arms fully locked out, bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, then push back up to full extension. “A full upper body strength and stamina builder requiring zero equipment, this helps with core stability and overall body awareness.”

Pull-Up

Hanging from a bar with straight arms, pull your body upward until your chin clears the bar, then lower back to the starting position. “Another full upper body strength and stamina builder, perfect for balancing out our often overly forward rotated shoulders.”

Burpee

From a standing position, drop to the floor, extend your legs backward into a plank position and perform a push-up; then tuck legs forward into a squat, extend back to standing and finish with a small jump. “The burpeeis an aerobic full body exercise meant to be performed as an uninterrupted series of fluid movements. It works multiple muscle groups and is a key feature of any CrossFit program.”