Crossfit is an absolute phenomenon.
Its loyal followers will swear by it and defend it to their death.
There’s no question, CrossFit workouts are fun, tough and will definitely give you a great workout leaving you sore (in a good way) and feeling very accomplished.
If overall leaning up and getting stronger are your main concerns, CrossFit is your guy. But what about those muscle gains?? What about building muscle with CrossFit?? Deep breathe, here we go…
Sorry guys, CrossFit alone won’t take you to Jacked City! The main reason being…
It’s just not SPECIFIC enough!
There’s a reason there is no such thing as CrossFit bodybuilding.
HOLD UP... Before I get chased down by a mob of pumped up Crossfitters waving Olympic bars and battle ropes, allow this humble peasant one last breathe in which to explain himself - When you work out, you must decide what your personal fitness goal is. There are (generally) four main workout goals:
1. To lose Fat
Notice how increasing muscle size and getting stronger are two different things. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but if you prioritize one over the other, then a different strategy is needed. Muscle strength and muscle size are two different results from different muscular fiber adaptions. Different training protocols will induce different adaptions.
Also, notice how losing fat and getting fitter are also two separate goals. When you get fitter, losing weight is usually a by-product. However, there are ways to lose weight that can be very effective but don’t make you that much fitter. Conversely, you could train all day long, become very fit, but still have terrible nutrition, and lose barely any fat.
Essentially, you can absolutely focus on multiple goals at once, but just now your results be more gradual for both than if you just prioritized one.
Most people tend to have a combination of goals;
When it comes to a combination of goals, CrossFit workouts are a great choice. Their primary focus is on increasing what they call ‘functional’ all-around fitness.
The best Crossfit workouts will most likely make you stronger, lose body fat and put on a little muscle.undefined
For the people who end up much more muscular after CrossFit training, it’s usually either down to aesthetic trickery – they got a lot leaner, revealing the muscle they already had whilst adding just a little, thus making it ‘pop’ more OR because they supplement their CrossFit training with other more traditional training protocols.
CrossFit focuses on high volume, heavy explosive sets, and metabolic conditioning routines. The Interval nature of this type of workout and the high heart rate that comes with it means it is very intense on the respiratory system and very effective at burning calories.
For anyone well versed in muscle building, they will tell you when it comes to increasing muscle mass you need all the calories you get. New muscle is created with excess calories. Nobody can build muscle at a cleric deficit. This is why it is advised for most people, especially ectomorph body types (skinny), to not do any cardio work whilst trying to gain muscle size.
For optimal hypertrophy (muscle size increase), one needs to focus on an 8-12 rep range with 60-2min rest periods. Most CrossFit routines utilize much higher rep ranges with virtually no rests, this forces your muscles to adapt more for endurance.
For the sake of hypertrophy, your muscles need to recover between each set so that each set can be performed properly with maximal effort and within the appropriate rep range. In CrossFit's 'Workout of the Days' (WODS), your muscles get fatigued to the point where technique suffers and you utilize other body parts to make up for the muscles that is now exhausted.
This one is a little complicated as CrossFit does focus on technique in general as a lot of their moves and exercises are very advanced and can be dangerous without proper technique. However, the technique to complete the exercise safely is not the same necessarily as the optimal technique for hypertrophy. Eccentric training, rest- pause sets, isometrics, reduced ROM sets, constant tension... these are all advanced muscle building techniques that are missing from CrossFit style training.
Most exercises in CrossFit are compound exercises, utilizing multiple muscle groups. Compound exercises are the foundation to a well-designed muscle building routine, but isolation exercises are also paramount, especially when trying to tackle muscles that are stubborn with size increases for most people, such as the chest and back.
Furthermore, compound exercises coupled with high rep ranges is a very bad strategy when it comes to hypertrophy.
As soon as one gets tired, the weaker muscles give up and the stronger ones take over.
Essentially, your muscles that are already bigger are the only ones really working. This is why lots of CrossFitters can do 100 push-ups no problem but have tiny chests! The Press-Up is a chest exercise but executed with high rep ranges and fatigue enduring CrossFit routines, the force emphasis and muscle tension quickly migrate to the shoulders, delts, and triceps – whatever makes the exercise more manageable!
Explosive exercises are great for building athletic strength and burning calories. For building muscle, slower reps are advised for the most part with a focus on the eccentric portion of the rep (negative or downward portion). You won’t hear the words ‘slow and steady’ in any CrossFit Box!
Periodized planning is very important for hypertrophy. CrossFit has weekly sessions that anyone can turn up to. You can do as many or as little as you want.
Unfortunately, they don’t change the sessions for you. If you turned up on Monday and it was mostly legs and then on Thursday and its legs again, well then that sucks for you!
Whilst Crossfit sessions are programmed in a way to give variety they don’t necessarily progress in the same way a hypertrophy session would progress. In CrossFit the progression comes from beating your last time, score, or weight amount. CrossFitters are always trying to make that next PB (Personal Best).
For an optimal periodized hypertrophy program, this is too random. The exercises and routine are also not specific to you and your body at all. Right now I am doubling my training days where I work out my shoulders and reducing other aspects of my training, to maintain a balanced physique. In CrossFit you would not have the luxury to customize your workouts in this way.
Finally. muscles aren’t built in the gym. They are torn apart in the gym, beaten up and left at the side of the road. They grow when you are resting. With intense workouts, muscles need between 24-72 hours to recover. A lot of bodybuilders (who know a thing or two about increasing size!), sometimes will leave a week between each body part. With CrossFit, you work the same body parts almost every session, or at least work them in an ancillary fashion. If you do the prescribed CrossFit diet of 3 days on, 1 day off, your muscles are never getting enough time to really recover and grow. Not to mention your central nervous system is getting fried.
You can’t build muscles if you can’t work out and you can’t work out if you’re injured!
A typical CrossFit workout is not easy, by any means. It’s extremely taxing on the bodies energy systems and can also put a lot of strain on one’s joints and connective tissues. CrossFit weightlifting is also fairly advanced with the utilization of a lot of Olympic lifts. Proper Olympic weightlifting technique takes a while to master and is certainly not recommended for beginners.
The fast nature of a CrossFit workout coupled with advanced lifting results in a higher rate of injuries than your average training program. CrossFit injuries are very common and can impede your future workouts and muscle gains for a very long time.
This isn’t an article bashing CrossFit.
CrossFit has its place, especially if you just want to get all-round fitter and more athletic. If you have a problem motivating yourself, it’s also a great place to be, as the completive nature and camaraderie guarantee you push yourself every single session, which sometimes can be more important than doing a more personalized ‘optimal’ routine that your heart just isn’t in.
But if increasing muscle size is your number one concern and you are ready to put in the work, there are much more effective training programs out there.
There is definitely a strategy to help get CrossFit muscle gain….. but that is for another article!
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