The Great Debate: CrossFit vs. Bodybuilding

As the flurry of articles, studies and debate around the long term and short term effectiveness of these differing philosophies grew over the past decade, it eventually came to a head. As of this writing in 2017 its safe to say there is a thimble full of amiability between the two waring tribes.

photo credit: Reebok

To the outsider this may have seemed inevitable, but to those on the inside it can still be a very touchy subject. Unless you are a professional in either sport, there is little doubt of the collision course bodybuilding and CrossFit are on. Hybrid gyms are popping up left and right with a room for legit CrossFit classes as well as space designated for conventional bodybuilding.

Personal trainers are taking their clients through a very CrossFit-looking warmup, “WOD” and then finishing them off with cable flies and bicep curls. Even five years ago you would of at least been heckled for tainting the two together.

If you ask me, this is a good thing. Although I feel CrossFit is a healthier practice for the average person in need of general physical preparedness (GPP), it won’t necessarily pack on the muscle that a huge number of people still want so badly.

Don’t get me wrong here, bodybuilding isn’t a bad thing. In fact to watch yourself “bulk up” and then “lean out” is pretty awesome. When taken seriously the level of nutritional, supplemental discipline and physiology know-how is unrivaled. Every serious bodybuilder I’ve spoken with is like a freaking chemist when it comes to their body’s chemistry. CrossFitters seem to take a much more laid back approach to nutrition, but I sense a change in tides coming with that as well. The sheer interest in supplements from my members at StrengthRx and new companies manufacturing the stuff validates my suspicion of the merging between the two.

photo credit: Bodybuilding.com

Before CrossFit became a legit sport with potentially millions of dollars on the line the go to dietary advice from most coaches was to “just eat Paleo” which I would still recommend to most people simply looking to tone up and be healthy.

However, now that the pool of athletes has grown astronomically over the past decade, the refinement of its practices are evolving. In a lot of ways CrossFit athletes and their nutrition, supplementation and training cycles are increasingly resembling that of bodybuilders. For example, now a days its not uncommon to find creatine, BCAAs, and pre- and post-workout supplements in the CrossFitters gym bag along with weight belts, wrist wraps and a picture of Arnold (kidding). All of which were scoffed at not long ago.

However, the raw performance increases over the past few years from CrossFitters are undeniable. The bottom line is that if you’re competitive you’re going to be at a severe disadvantage going all natural with just food as your fuel source. Except for whey protein powder, I’m not advocating for or against over the counter supplements. Its a personal choice depending your goals. What I will say is that if you don’t need them you’re probably better off in the long run without. On the other hand, if you really want to see what your body is capable of and are competitive then yeah, I’d look into it. Ask your doctor and keep it legal of course.

Although I fall more into the CrossFit camp I can see how on some level CrossFitters are becoming the very thing they once fought against. Which is a good, because there’s no doubt that the collective awareness around proportional training and functional movement has been elevated since CrossFit hit the scene. Just as the periodization, supplementation and nutritional awareness the bodybuilding camp perfected will no doubt raise the level of the common CrossFit athlete.

photo credit: Men’s Fitness

Even researching topics in order to write opposing articles about one or the other has made us all better in some sense. Where there was once a lot of uncertainty around movements such as the squat and deadlift, there are now thousands of blogs and videos from olympic level coaches online for us to devour. The resurgence of function exercise has pooled the worlds best minds and made available a wealth of knowledge once reserved for the academics and professionals. Because of this there is simply no excuse for bad trainers and coaches. Everything one needs to know about movement and exercise science is an internet search away.

Power lifting and olympic lifting have also had their critiques of CrossFit. What they consider to be pointless sub maximal contractions is kinda the point of CrossFit WODs. What they can’t argue with, however, is the surge in popularity these two fading giants have enjoyed since CrossFit repopularize their sport by incorporating the movements in their programing.

In my four years of owning and operating a gym that offers CrossFit as one of our programs, I estimate that we have introduced olympic and power lifting to around three thousand people who had never before touched a barbell let alone performed a snatch.

These people are now buying special olympic lifting shoes, watching videos online from olympic lifting (OLY) coaches and in some cases even making a point to drive long distances to specific OLY gyms to get some finer tuning outside of a class environment. So from my perspective it has been a huge boon for all the related branches of weight lifting whether they care to admit it or not.

Benefits Of The Blending Of Sports

The blending of power lifting, olympic lifting, gymnastics, bodybuilding and metabolic or athletic condition into one neatly packed training regimen is analogous to MMA  (mixed martial arts).

This style of fighting is so dominant because you must be able to throw a punch or a kick and know how to handle yourself when the fight goes to the ground. The ones who have a killer stand up and ground game are most feared. In this world mastery of only one style is a recipe for a knock out or submission.

For the average person proficiency in any martial art puts you way ahead of the pack, but for the highly competitive world of MMA you must know it all.

photo credit: Esquire

Of course there will always be purest who swear only Ju Jitsu or  Muay Thai is all you need, but the data simply doesn’t back it up. Fighters with a well rounded stand up and ground game do better.

Different exercise modalities share a lot in common with this. For example, what good are you if you can bench press a truck but struggle to run a quarter mile? Conversely what good are you if you can run a marathon but are unable to do a single push up? As with martial arts, its the blending of all disciplines that yields the most well rounded athletes.

On the other hand, I do believe that exercise is goal specific, and if snatching 300 pounds is your goal then bless your heart and have at it. However, for the majority of people I speak to on a daily basis its a combination of strength, aesthetics, health and athleticism that they are after. Therefore, it is the hybridization and inclusion of all sound movement practices arranged in a way to best support you specific goals.

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