Fitness Face-off: Crossfit vs. Traditional Weightlifting

Jordan Zobrist
Racing expert
Jordan Zobrist
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Jordan Zobrist
More from this author

Although it may look simplistic at first, you have plenty of options when it comes to strength training. The whole process involves a lot more than just ‘picking things up and putting them down’ – providing a huge variety of options when it comes to program design. One of those varied approaches that has popped up over the past few years is the ever-present and ever-controversial Crossfit. How does Crossfit compare to traditional weightlifting? Which is better for you?

Traditional Weightlifting

Even the term “traditional weightlifting” is pretty vague, enveloping any number of exercise, set, rep combinations. Just to drive this home, consider the fact that Merriam-Webster defines a weight lifter as “one who lifts barbells in competition or as an exercise.” Which leaves plenty open to the imagination. In fact, this variability is one of the reasons some have decided to turn away from weightlifting; And why others have been attracted to it. But more on that later.

For the purposes of comparison, it’s important to point out that traditional weightlifting tends to use relatively slow, low-impact movements designed to work either specific muscle groups or specific movement chains. Typically, traditional weightlifting is a pretty solitary pursuit.

Crossfit

Interestingly, Crossfit is built on traditional weightlifting and draws heavily from exercises used in both Olympic and powerlifting competitions. Describing exactly what Crossfit is, founder Greg Glassman writes:

The CrossFit prescription is “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.” No aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly.

In practice, this means that Crossfit workouts are frequently changed and generally huge large amounts of weight to be moved quickly and repeatedly. By it’s very nature, Crossfit is extremely intense and is generally defined as a form of high-intensity interval training. One of the key identifying marks of Crossfit however, is the strong community element that has been constructed around the workouts. Glassman refers to Crossfit as “the sport of fitness” and friendly – or unfriendly – competition is a major motivational feature. Generally Crossfit is done in groups, at specialized gyms called “boxes.”

Side-By-Side

So, now that we have a basic understanding of each, how do these two methods compare? Really, it all depends on what you’re looking for.

For starters, one of the major criticisms against Crossfit is that exercisers often push themselves to extreme – risking serious injury and even death in the name of fitness. Glassman is even infamously quoted as stating plainly, “It can kill you. I’ve always been completely honest about that.” Plus, in their fervor to outperform themselves (and others) Crossfitters often sacrifice form for speed, which is not a great strategy when you’re holding a loaded barbell above your head.

Regardless, however, Crossfit works. Numerous studies and tons of anecdotes testify to Crossfit’s effectiveness. If you’re willing to risk it. For those who like – or need the social aspect – or are just bored with their current workout Crossfit could be a viable option. Remember, though, to go at your own pace, do not allow yourself to lapse into bad form and do not ignore pain you might feel during your workouts.

In the meantime, traditional weight lifting is still the method of choice if you’re looking to craft a certain physique or build strength. Since you are not focused on speed, but rather on efficiency of movement, this slow approach allows your body to properly adjust and repair itself. A luxury that Crossfit does not offer. Traditional weightlifting is not without it’s risks of course – you still need to think about your form and not overloading your muscles – but the low-impact nature of it make this a much better option for those with pre-existing injuries or joint problems.

Ultimately, the choice of Crossfit or traditional weightlifting is wholly dependent on your fitness level and goals. But what about cardio and all the other aspects of fitness? Take a look at some of our other articles like Cardio Showdown: Steady State vs High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to learn more.

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