Crossfit for bodybuilding?
Crossfit probably isn't the most optimal choice if your primary goal is building muscle.
But that doesn't mean we can't steal some concepts from Crossfit and integrate them into our hypertrophy-oriented training to build some size.
If you like this article, check out Swole Town, where princples like this one and much more are integrated into a badass high-level training program.
What Is Crossfit?
In their own words, Crossfit is: "Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains."
"Functional" is a term I've always disliked in the fitness industry.
Almost anything can be "functional," assuming it is useful towards your goals.
A Biceps curl is functional if your goal is bigger, stronger Biceps.
"High intensity" is also not something unique to Crossfit, obviously.
Bodybuilders, Powerlifters, Strongmen, and recreational lifters generally train with high intensity, either training to failure or using high percentages of their 1 rep max.
OK, So... What is Crossfit?
Crossfit is concept, not a system.
There have been many spin-offs of Crossfit, including Crossfit Football (which I loved), Crossfit MMA, etc..
The idea is to be very strong, training big lifts in the low rep ranges, combined with intense metabolic conditioning (which can be just about anything), improving your ability to do more physical work in less time.
Can You Build Muscle With Crossfit?
Can you build muscle doing Crossfit?
Absolutely you can, yes.
You're performing a lot of work very close to failure, accumulating a ton of lactate/metabolic stress and probably getting in quite a bit of volume using compound movements.
The problem from a hypertrophy perspective is that this is simply not optimal if your goal is primarily building muscle/size.
You'll likely be limited by other factors, i.e., aerobic conditioning, endurance, etc.
When focusing on Hypertrophy specifically, you want to be limited by reaching failure with the target muscle group, not because you can't breathe and are gasping for air.
The law of specificity is always present, and this is no exception.
In short, if your goal is hypertrophy, training Crossfit is ignoring the principle of specificity.
You're targeting improvement over a broad range of fitness markers, but not specifically training to build size.
This is OK, of course, as long as that doesn't conflict with your primary goal.
The more specifically you train for a given adaptation (hypertrophy), the more likely you are to get it.
That means you have to pay attention to the type of stimulus you're presenting to your body.
Additionally, the emphasis is often on full body movements (snatches, cleans, etc.,) vs. isolating a target muscle group or groups specifically for growth.
If I want bigger shoulders, combining overhead pressing with box jumps isn't going to be of much benefit for that specific goal.
Again, I'm not saying it's "bad."
I'm saying it isn't optimal for the specific purpose of hypertrophy.
Enter the H-WOD
While Crossfit typically uses metabolic conditioning as the "WOD" (workout of the day), we can instead implement an "H-WOD," or Hypertrophy Workout of the Day.
We're basically going to use the same concept of training movements "at high intensity across broad time and modal domains," but we're going to tweak them to the specific goal of hypertrophy.
In the Swole Town programming, I refer to these segments as the "H-WOD."
Not something I use all the time, but it's a nice way to spice things up and really push some deep metabolic fatigue into the target muscle(s).
Hypertrophy Workout of the Day (HWOD) Examples:
There really are infinite ways to design these.
The following are some of my favorites, that I think lend themselves well to hypertrophy, and that I've used in my own programming.
"Death By" is a classic Crossfit WOD, in which you start with 1 rep in the first minute, and increase reps every minute, on the minute, until you can no longer finish within the minute.
This can be death by anything:
Death by Biceps Curls, death by bench press, death by pushups, etc.
These are my favorite "Death By" WODs for building size:
- Barbell Curls, 45-95lbs.
- DB Shrugs: Moderately heavy
- Pull ups, or pulldowns
- Push ups, close grip push ups, or deficit push ups
- Back or Front Squat, or leg press
In Crossfit, these WOD's are typically done with big movements like cleans, snatches, etc.. to make it more of a full body metabolic conditioning workout.
We're simply choosing movements that will lend themselves better to muscle growth.
AMRAP, or, As Many Reps/Rounds as Possible.
In this set-up, you perform as many rounds of a circuit as possible in a given amount of time.
Some AMRAPs I've used in Swole Town:
- 10 Barbell Biceps Curls / 10 Close Grip Push ups: 8-10 minutes, as many rounds as possible.
- 15 incline DB curls / 15 DB hammer curls/15 reverse curls: 8-10 minutes, as many rounds as possible
- 50 Yard Farmer Carry / 20 DB Hammer Curls: 8-10 minutes, as many rounds as possible.
- 10 Front Squats / 10 lunges: 8-10 minutes, as many rounds as possible.
EMOM, or, every minute, on the minute.
You'll hit a prescribed number of reps every minute, on the minute for a set number of minutes.
Some solid EMOM examples for hypertrophy:
- 7 lateral raises / 7 upright rows, every minute on the minute for 8-10 minutes.
- 1-3 deadlifts every minute, on the minute for 10 minutes. 1 rep for heavier work, 2-3 for lighter, faster reps (stick to 80% 1RM and under for this one).
- 7 Back Squats (or front squat) every minute, on the minute for 7 minutes.
You can also just complete a given amount of work as quickly as possible (for time).
Ideally, the weight is moderately heavy, somewhere around a 12-15 rep max.
This will ensure quality, tough reps conducive to hypertrophy over the course of the set.
- 50 Bent over DB rows / 50 DB Hammer curls / 50 close grip push ups.... for time.
- 30 reps with your 10 rep max bench press, in as few sets as possible or, for time.
Nothing New Under the Sun:
Crossfit didn't really invent anything. People have been training with these movements and concepts for a long time in one form or another.
They just put it together and made it mainstream.
I'm also not the first to use these concepts.
John Wellbourne (Power Athlete) launched Crossfit Football in 2009, which I actually used to participate in and love back in the day. It's since been restructured to "Jonny Bod," I believe.
Others have done the same in a myriad of different ways.
I make no claim that this is some superior way to train for hypertrophy, nor is it original.
It is just one of many ways we can spice up training and make it challenging, and sometimes that's what it's all about.
I hope this article helped you move a little closer to that best version of you.
Thanks for being here!