Power Speed Endurance: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training promises to uproot much of the conventional wisdom surrounding endurance training. The author, Brian Mackenzie, is the founder of CrossFit Endurance, a program that uses CrossFit and sport-specific training to propel endurance athletes to new heights.
The book starts with a simple premise: What is the best way to learn a skill? In countless areas outside endurance sport, the answer looks something like this
- Learn to do it correctly
- As you gain proficiency, slowly start adding intensity and volume on top of your newly acquired skill
- After you’ve mastered the technique, go for broke and see what you can achieve by pushing your limits
Unfortunately, endurance training often progresses differently. Let’s use running as an example:
- You obviously don’t need to “learn to run correctly.” After all, you can run a few meters without dying, right?
- However you may run, just start doing it more…and more…and more.
- Now that your shitty running technique is thoroughly ingrained in your brain, keep adding volume until you get injured by the combination of the volume and your shitty running technique.
- Back off training for a while, let the injury heal, and then repeat.
Mackenzie is very clear that this is not always the case, but it happens far too often. He’s also very clear that nothing in his book is new. He begins by teaching the reader the proper way to run, bike, and swim. Much of his instruction is derived from the POSE method developed by Dr. Nicholas Romanov. This is where the book really shines. It is one of the best arranged instructional books I have read. Sections are color coded and tabbed on the edge of the book for ease of reference. Mackenzie begins each section with a brief explanation of “why” and then proceeds to show pictures and captions of progressive drills used to achieve proper technique. The book even shows common faults and outlines them in red adjacent to the correct technique outlined in green. Pictures of each position are often shown from multiple angles. For a coach looking to teach proper running, biking, or swimming technique, this is a valuable resource.
The run, bike, and swim sections are followed by a similar section called “Strength and Conditioning as a Skill.” In this section Mackenzie gives the same excellent pictographic treatment to almost every CrossFit exercise. One could dicker about a few fine points (I think his landing position for the power snatch shown on page 204 is too wide) but this section is also extremely well done. One would have to compile many articles from the CrossFit Journal to get such a comprehensive resource. And while this section is great for a beginning coach, any coach that has been to a CrossFit Level 1 certification and studied his craft for a few months won’t find any new information.
The next section on “Mobility as a Skill” written by Dr. Kelly Starrett is also excellent, and alone worth the price of the book. Until Starrett’s book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, is released on March 12th, this section will serve as the most authoritative print resource available on mobility. This is also the most entertaining section of the book. Starrett’s dry humor and description of what most athletes really do compared to what they should do is right on target.
The last few sections very briefly address nutrition, hydration, programming, sample workouts, and some other fluff. While it is all good information, it feels like filler added to thicken the book. The programming section is quite extensive. I was really surprised by the high volume of training required by the CrossFit Endurance method. Perhaps the most elite athletes in any field train at very high volumes. To be fair, the volume prescribed by CrossFit Endurance isn’t anywhere near the status quo prescribed by the long, slow distance running camp. But it’s certainly not the “one hour a day, general fitness” that most CrossFit affiliates are based upon.
On the whole, the book was a great resource. I highly recommend it for endurance athletes and their coaches. With that said, now I’m going to be a picky asshole and tell you everything I didn’t like about it.
First, the book reads more like a college textbook than a novel. I have the odd ability to sit down with my nose in a book for long periods of time. I read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth when I was 12 years old–in about three days. If that’s not you, then you may want to just use each section as an independent reference guide, as finishing the book from beginning to end will feel like quite a chore.
Next, while the book repeatedly states that working with a good coach is essential to mastering the skills therein, many of the drills given to the reader are very difficult if not impossible to implement correctly without a coach. I specifically tried to implement some of the basic swimming drills, and had some success, but quickly found myself in need of a coach to observe and correct my new movement pattern. What am I to do then? Keep the book next to the swimming pool to reference the next drill? In short, the book is an excellent tool for coaches, wrapped in the tone of a book for athletes. I know very few casual athletes that would finish a book like this. But many coaches will. Therefore, I think Mackenzie could better address his audience by specifically focusing on coaches.
Finally, if your goal isn’t endurance sport or you don’t coach athletes for endurance sport, then the book is of limited value. That’s kind of obvious, I suppose. After all, it is a book about endurance training. But this is one of the first large scale publications from a member of the CrossFit community who proudly wears the “CrossFit” label. I had hoped for some insights more applicable to general CrossFit. To be sure, the sections on running and mobility are excellent for the general CrossFit athlete. I also found the section on swimming particularly insightful, as I am trying to tame my gorilla stroke into something more recognizable as a human swimming rather than an ape drowning. Still, the truth is that the average CrossFit athlete runs 200 meter to 800 meter intervals in his daily workout and tackles a 5k and 10k about once per year. That athlete isn’t going to put the time into learning POSE running because his faulty running mechanics (I’m pointing at myself, by the way) won’t get him seriously injured with that low volume.
Overall, I recommend this book to coaches and endurance athletes. The book’s value to the average CrossFit athlete is somewhat low. But its value to the CrossFit coach or endurance athlete is high.