Before all of you in the CrossFit and running community come kicking down my door, I encourage you to stop, take a deep breath and just listen to my rationale. I know both CrossFit and running has done a lot for people’s health and fitness. However, I’m just here to give my 2 cents.
First off, let’s get something out of the way – BOTH metcons and running will improve your overall health and fitness so long as you’re not sacrificing another domain of fitness and your maintaining or building skeletal muscle mass in the process. For those of you new to exercise or returning to it after a lengthy layoff, metcons and running can build muscle mass, but it’s limiting because of the loading.
Let’s look at this objectively. If you’re frequently spending most of your time running and doing metcons, you’re likely taking away time spent on building muscle mass – just in case you didn’t read my post on what builds up your metabolism the most, you can read it by clicking here. If you don’t want to read it, then spoiler alert, it’s muscle mass; the more you have the higher your metabolism. Herein lies the problem with frequent metcons or running that’s not also supplemented with strength training, it will signal your body that your current level of muscle mass is too much and your body needs to get rid of some of it. Remember, building and maintaining muscle mass is one of the hardest physiological things the body has to do. This is why I frequently say, “It’s easier to lose weight than it is to gain quality weight via muscle mass.”
Now I know lots of you in the CrossFit community are about to say, “Look at all those athletes in the CrossFit Games, they metcon and they’re jacked.” Aside from “advanced supplementation,” I encourage you to look at their actual training programs – away from competition, lots of it is spent just getting stronger and building more muscle. They’re not great at CrossFit because they metcon more, they’re simply stronger than you – so a 315 deadlift to them is cardio, whereas it’s strength to you. Someone who puts more “time” into metcons than strength generally lacks shape and definition. Why, because their body doesn’t want them to have muscle mass. Trust me, I dated a couple girls (at different times, come on now) that hated to strength train, but they loved doing metcons. As a result, they were trying to slay the mythical dragon but could never get any leaner because they refused to do strength work.
Now some people say, “Coach Vinh, why are we doing metcons every day in class?” Well, it’s because of our programming and the block we’re in. It’s about fifty-fifty strength to conditioning right now because it’s summer and people tend to come in less and enjoy our short summers. However, once fall rolls around it’s 70-30, strength to conditioning. In fact, there are days where there are no metcons, but we’ll superset or do EMOMs to get some higher density work rate in. One of our members attends our Simple Strength class 3 times a week and attends our Cross-Training classes once a week. He has found that combination to be just as effective as attending Cross-Training 5 times a week, but this way he frees up a day. But most importantly, he enjoys the strength work more so he’s more consistent!
Let me be 100% transparent about something. While my philosophy towards fitness is focused on building and maintaining muscle first, I also understand strength training isn’t for everyone. That’s why I encourage our members who like to run, who like to do extra metcons, etc. to do that as long as they enjoy it. However, I also say that it should be supplementary to the programming and not a replacement. But this is why I cringe when people say they want to lose body fat (this is what they actually mean by “losing weight”), add muscle (this is what people actually mean when they say “tone up”), and get into shape, and I see them doing more metcons and running. When in fact, they should spend more time building muscle and likely eating more (this is a whole different can of worms I won’t get into with this post).
Author’s Note: The 1st image is NOT an actual client and just an example of someone who made an incredible transformation and just emphasized adding muscle mass. HOWEVER, the 2nd image is a recent image (Feb 2017 – May 2017) from a 12 Week Transformation challenge of one of our online fitness & weightlifting members. It’s not coincidence, but she too emphasized eating more and adding muscle mass.