Power Speed Endurance (PSE) – A New Training Model

by Dr. Lauren Cortjens

Does Crossfit Cause Injuries

A recent Harvard study determined that each year 79% of endurance athletes will suffer an injury while using traditional training methods. As a sports practitioner, the majority of my practice involves the care of endurance athletes who are experiencing repetitive stress injuries.  I began to question why these athletes would continue to train in a manner that results in such a high rate of injury.  The simple answer is that most just don’t realize there is a safer, more effective alternative.


PSE Training can reduce injury

Training utilizing Power Speed Endurance programming (or PSE) is gaining broad acceptance in the endurance arena as a safe and extremely effective alternative compared to the traditional training model.

The PSE training method is loosely based on CrossFit programming, and as a result some misconceptions about CrossFit are also often applied to PSE.

Misconception #1: CrossFit causes injury

The basis of this error is the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which vastly overstated the injury rates of CrossFit athletes using the CrossFit methodology. The article and its assertions have since been retracted and corrected by the authors.

Misconception #2: CrossFit is only for the super fit

CrossFit and PSE are not just for those willing to push themselves beyond their known limits. They can actually be used effectively for a much broader group. With some slight modifications, beginners, seniors and weekend warriors can benefit. But for my patients specifically, I found that PSE could benefit Ironman and ultra-distance runners who formerly trained using protracted low-intensity training sessions.

First, what is CrossFit?

When you remove all the marketing and gym speak, CrossFit is a fitness program that utilizes constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement.

“Fitness” is generally defined as work capacity across broad time and modal domains. For the average person, this means that one’s fitness is a measure of his/her ability to do a variety of activities that require effort over a period of time. The object is therefore to increase the individual’s power, speed and endurance. So regardless of one’s fitness level, anyone should be able to participate.

The constantly varied functional movement (lifting, squatting, stepping) at high intensity is the key to improvement in fitness and has been shown to increase growth hormones, improve mood, regulate dopamine levels, increase bone density and decrease healthcare costs for the elderly.

OK, so how does PSE Training work?

For the athlete, PSE training is a proven endurance training program, which can increase performance, fitness, and endurance sports potential – all with less risk of injury.  The PSE training method utilizes a model similar to CrossFit to improve training and help achieve the gains listed in the charts below. Typical programming includes about 4 CrossFit-inspired, strength training workouts per week, and either 2-3 sport specific, or 6 multi-sport workouts per week.

Studies (see references) validate the positive effects of low volume, high intensity training.  These same studies document greater training compliance, greater oxidative stress tolerance, decreased injury rates, and increased cardio metabolic benefits.

In contrast, constant repetitive training, which is all too common in the endurance community, is a recipe for repetitive stress injury and prolonged recovery time. There is little emphasis on preserving the supportive lean muscle tissue that is crucial for joint and body support. And despite what seems intuitive, multiple studies confirm that running and cycling alone will not preserve lean muscle tissue.

Pros of Traditional Endurance Training

Increased Cardiovascular Function

Increased Fat Utilization

Increased Capilliarization

Cons of Traditional Endurance Training

Decreased Muscle Mass

Decreased Strength

Decreased Power

Decreased Speed

Decreased Anaerobic Activity

Decreased Testosterone Levels

Pros of PSE Training

Decreased Time Training

Increased Quality Workouts

Increased Strength

Increased Mobility

Increased Power

Increased Capillarization

Increased Cardiovascular Function

Increased Fat Utilization

Improved Recovery

Cons of PSE Training


One question about the above data might be, “Why are there no cons to PSE Programming?”  The data demonstrates that, with proper coaching, this type of programming can minimize or eliminate the multiple hazards of overtraining. It hits the sweet spot where the greatest benefit is achieved with the least amount of training. It eliminates the unnecessary miles that lead to greater risk of injury without providing any additional benefit to the athlete.  It is those additional miles that are often the source of injury, adrenal fatigue, and slower race times.  Plus, fast workouts are fun workouts!

Traditional endurance training focuses on three principles, in this order: volume, intensity, technique/skill.  The PSE model, in contrast, puts technique and skill first, intensity second, and volume third.  The rationale is to perfect the movement before performing it repetitively for extended periods.  This emphasis on proper skill is essential to improved performance and shorter recovery times.

Endurance athletes have excellent stamina and can usually pace themselves effectively.  However, they lack intensity and power, two factors used to measure improved performance at any level.  On the other hand, the traditional CrossFit athletes have mastered power and intensity but lack pacing and endurance.  Using the PSE model, athletes can develop all four aspects–intensity, power, endurance, and pacing – through a unique combination of interval and strength training.

What about my long rides/runs/swims?

Endurance athletes will still need to arrange for the occasional long training days for mental/psychological as well as nutrition training.  However, exceeding 50-70 miles of running, 10 hours on the bike, or 4 hours in the pool each week for a triathlon is no longer necessary – in fact, we now know it’s counterproductive.  Overtraining eats away at the lean muscle tissue needed for support every time you train.  With training time so limited for most of us, why not invest it using a method that creates the greatest return?

A typical week of PSE training will incorporate a variety of short intervals, long intervals, time trial, and tempo sessions, along with 3-4 CrossFit inspired workouts.  You’ll include occasional longer workouts to address the mental aspect of long-distance racing as well as tweak your nutrition plan.  Your coach should build those days into your training schedule based on your goals and individual needs.


Training for endurance athletes has long been a challenge.  Families and jobs have suffered because of the strong will of endurance athletes to compete and their dedication to traditional long training sessions.

Fortunately there is a better alternative.  Using PSE, athletes can now achieve the desired training results in 1/3 to 1/2 the time.  This system has worked for me on numerous races and many of my colleagues attest to its benefits.  You don’t have to use PSE itself, but find a training program that uses the more efficient model.  It never hurts to try something new!  For more information, click on the links below.


Aro, Carlos Emilio Poblete, Javier Antonio Russell Guzmán, Marcelo Enrique Soto Muñoz, and Bastián Eduardo Villegas González. “Effects of High Intensity Interval Training versus Moderate Intensity Continuous Training on the Reduction of Oxidative Stress in Type 2 Diabetic Adult Patients: CAT.” Medwave 15.07 (2015): n. pag. Web.

Shepherd, Sam O., Oliver J. Wilson, Alexandra S. Taylor, Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani, Ahmed M. Adlan, Anton J. M. Wagenmakers, and Christopher S. Shaw. “Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training in a Gym Setting Improves Cardio-Metabolic and Psychological Health.” PLOS ONE PLoS ONE 10.9 (2015): n. pag. Web.


Dr. Lauren Cortjens is an ultra distance runner.  She has completed Ironman as well as multiple half Ironmans and triathlons.  She completed the Tahoe 200, a 200 mile trail race in just over 3 days in late 2014.  Since then she has been focusing on 100 mile trail races.  She utilizes this type of training to help her balance her family and profession, as well as coaching athletes using CrossFit Endurance.  With this method, she still performs well at each race and has not been sidelined from training due to injury.  She is a regular contributor to the RunJuryFree.com website on topics related to training, injury prevention, and life balance. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cortjens for an evaluation, call 404-300-9931.

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