What do lifting weights, compound exercises, cardio sessions and competing all have in common? CrossFit and bodybuilding. There’s plenty of overlap, but these athletes are firing on two completely different engines. Step into each world and you’ll see just how deep their differences are. Some athletes move from one discipline to the other for a new challenge, while others remain content and never change, but you’ll find a rare breed of those involved in both simultaneously … and unless you’re factoring in national-level competitors, you’ll probably see those who practice crossover training are the fittest bunch on both sides of the table. If you’re looking to really mix up routines for a while, it’s best to know the fundamental differences between each of these intense worlds.
1. Range of Motion (ROM)
CrossFitters are monitored by a judge to ensure they perform the exercises fully during competition — no cheat reps allowed. On the flip side, bodybuilders will modify their ROM as needed throughout training to target different muscle groups or to alter the training goal. For enhanced assault, bodybuilders incorporate bottom-half-range reps (just the first half of the move, reps intentionally not going for full extension) to pump the muscle with blood at the end of their last set. It’s brutal, but damn does it work wonders. Come competition time, CrossFitters need to be hitting full- range movements. But incorporating some controlled partial-range sets in training will increase all-around strength so you’re not limited by the weakest part of the ROM.
2. Training Principles
CrossFitters learn the specifics of the WOD upon entering the box. It’ll be a mix of movements, essentially using the whole body and throwing in some cardio for good measure. A variety of muscle groups will be used in each workout session as you focus on overall performance. When bodybuilders enter the gym, however, their game plan is focused on one major muscle group — a wide array of exercises to stress every fiber that comprises it. Most exercises can be done with different grips or foot placement, to hit the muscle in slightly different ways, for multiple sets of the same exercise.
A bodybuilder’s training is split up to divide muscle groups, ensuring muscles grow and rest in balance, providing weaker groups the extra attention needed to balance physique. Bodybuilders will cycle through training plans with varying sets and reps, sometimes focusing on lower reps at a heavy weight or more reps with lighter weight. Rest time between sets is also considered, a notion almost unheard of in CrossFit circles (or boxes ☺). Bodybuilders, on the other hand, can tell you which muscle group they’re training on a given day and the entire week ahead. It’s easy to suffer an injury because of weak supporting (or antagonistic) muscles, so athletes of both sports should make a point to address all muscle groups equally. Trying to increase your squat but not strengthening your hamstrings and lower back? Good luck. Looking for a bigger back while ignoring your biceps and shoulders? Don’t bother. CrossFit covers all bases, so bodybuilders can quickly find any weak links in their anatomical chain after dropping in for only a few classes.
The better half of anyone’s physical fitness upkeep is nutrition. Most CrossFitters see this in its purest form: fuel. Bodybuilders may only hit the gym three days per week, depending on what phase of training they’re in, but their daily nutrition is calculated down to the last gram. Their focus is repair and recovery. They time their nutrition to the minute to maximize muscle growth. Whey protein is loved by all for its quick digestion and absorption speed, while the lesser-known micellar casein goes to work over an extended period. Bodybuilders love drinking casein shakes before bed to give the body an overnight, slower-digesting source of protein. Quest Protein Powder strikes a near 50-50 balance of whey and casein, making it a hard-to-beat choice and safe bet for any hour of the day. CrossFitters who only eat for their one-hour daily energy expenditure will be pleasantly surprised to see the results of a few well-timed protein bars and shakes.
In an AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible), CrossFitters are working against the clock. Their goal is usually for either a high number of reps in an extended time frame or to complete a set number of reps faster than their competitors. Reps are usually done with a single-time tempo, one count up and one count down. On the other hand, bodybuilders aren’t concerned with beating a clock unless they’re in a rush to get out of the gym that day. (If so, watch out!) They put muscles under different levels of tension each time by fluctuating the tempo of their lifts. This can be done on either the concentric or eccentric phase of the movement — or both. CrossFit uses a lot of explosive movements. It’s like sprinting with every muscle in your body. Altered timing in practice can help CrossFitters boost this explosive power, much like a runner who takes practice laps at back-and-forth paces. Squats, for example: Slowing down the decline, pausing at the bottom, then quickly pushing back up will stress the fast-twitch muscle fibers more than standard form, ultimately leading to improved execution on competition day.
5. Cardio Endurance
CrossFit athletes require tremendous cardiovascular endurance to get through tough WODs and competitions, so they need cardio components within training sessions. High-intensity interval training is one of the best ways to build cardio. On the contrary, a bodybuilder’s performance doesn’t rely on a ton of endurance, yet he logs hours and hours on cardio machines to prep for the stage (and posing in the comparison round is much harder than it looks!). The goal is to shed body fat, not get better at running. During a bulking period, added calorie expenditure isn’t ideal because you then need to eat more to compensate. After a while, eating so much food can get tiresome. Some light cardio should still be part of the plan, though, at least in cycles. That way, once it’s time for a bodybuilder’s competition prep (or anytime cutting), reintroducing more cardio to lose body fat won’t cripple him or have him falling off the stair climber!
Ready to change up your fitness game? Happy sweating, in whichever new sport you choose! Hopefully, it’ll be a little bit of both. ;-)