If you really want to set the cat amongst the pigeons, as it were, simply get a group of bodybuilders together with a group of CrossFitters in the same room, and ask them all which is better of the two.
CrossFit vs bodybuilding debates have been raging for close to a decade now, and things only look set to heat up as time goes by.
Some people swear that bodybuilding is the superior form of training, whereas others are adamant that CrossFit is the king of the fitness world.
So, who is right?
Well, the answer to that question is Everybody and nobody.
You see, it’s all subjective.
For somebody that is looking to build a strong and muscular physique, bodybuilding is obviously the best.
For somebody that is looking to improve their functional fitness, though, CrossFit will be the more beneficial of the two.
Whilst we can’t all agree on which is the best of the two, what we can do is look at how the two are so different from one another.
Here’s a detailed look at the differences between CrossFit and bodybuilding and the various benefits and drawbacks of each one.
Table Of Contents
To kick things off today, we’re going to begin by taking a look at what CrossFit is.
In truth, it’s hard to describe what CrossFit is because there are so many different elements to cover.
Describing the game of ‘soccer’ for example is easy because you simply describe the rules of the game and you’re all set.
With CrossFit, no two workouts are exactly the same, so it becomes hard to describe.
Despite this, though, because we’re so committed to you, our readers, we’ll do our best.
CrossFit is basically a form of working out which is designed to promote functional fitness.
By this, we mean, fitness that can be implemented and beneficial to you, in the real world.
CrossFit is a hybrid of Olympic style lifting, athletics, cardio, bodyweight training, plyometrics, and much more besides.
CrossFit, despite being so incredibly popular nowadays, hasn’t actually been around all that long.
CrossFit, which is now a brand, was founded by Greg Glassman, back in the year 2000.
However, the idea behind CrossFit was born many years before that.
Glassman, at the time, was a gymnast still in his teen years.
If you look at the physiques of gymnasts, you’ll see that they’re big, muscular, lean, and powerful.
This is because gymnastics requires a lot of strength and power.
Greg wanted to be bigger and stronger.
He did what many gymnasts would have gasped in horror at – he started training with weights.
Instead of performing bodyweight exercises, as his other fellow gymnasts were doing, he started to incorporate dumbbell and barbell complexes into his training.
He was also into other physical fitness pursuits, including cycling.
He learned that, despite being stronger than his gymnast friends, when it came to endurance because he was focussing on strength and power, his cardio suffered and his cycling friends were much fitter and faster than him.
He realized that, if he wanted to be the best all-around athlete, he would need to focus on multiple disciplines at once.
And so, the concept of CrossFit was born.
In the early 90s, Greg Glassman worked as a personal trainer for police officers.
He would incorporate high-intensity training into his routines, though each training session was different.
His goal was to help offices become big, fit, strong, healthy, fast, and powerful, making them functional in all aspects of fitness.
He wanted his clients to be able to chase down a fast-footed 160-pound car thief, whilst also having the capabilities and power to subdue an angry 300-pound bodybuilder after a few too many drinks on a Friday night.
In the year 2000, Glassman purchased his first gym and created the CrossFit concept and brand.
As the years went by, more and more people began training at Glassman’s gym and were hugely impressed with the fact that, during one workout, they could work on their:
Word spread of this revolutionary new training concept, and personal trainers began “liberating” Glassman’s CrossFit ideas and principles.
Glassman decided to create CrossFit affiliate programs, whereby CrossFit gyms could open up across the country, and benefit from being associated with the CrossFit brand.
CrossFit gyms became known as ‘boxes’.
Between the years 2003 and 2005, there were just 13 CrossFit boxes.
Over the next few years, that number rose dramatically, and CrossFit affiliates began popping up all over the globe.
Today, there are over 13,000 CrossFit boxes, and that number is growing every day.
CrossFit only really became popular in the mainstream a few years back, and many people, bodybuilders especially, thought that it would simply be a fad that would last a year, maybe two years tops.
That wasn’t the case.
CrossFit went on to become one of the most lucrative fitness brands in the world and picked up impressive sponsorship deals, including one from Reebok.
In 2007, along came the CrossFit games.
Sponsored by Reebok and CrossFit INC, the CrossFit Games is an athletic competition held annually each summer, requiring athletes to compete in a series of CrossFit workouts which they will only learn the details of a few days or even hours, beforehand.
The winner of the CrossFit games claims the title of ‘fittest on earth’.
We now need to take a look at what bodybuilding is.
Despite being classed as a sport, many people consider bodybuilding to be a lifestyle or even a form of art.
Bodybuilding is all about building a physique that, based upon the opinions of a series of judges, simply looks better than everybody else that you happen to be competing against.
To put it very simply, bodybuilders are looking to attain the perfect physique.
Ideally, the perfect bodybuilder physique should be:
To complicate matters slightly, different judges have different preferences when it comes to physique.
Some look for mass and size, I.E in the form of Dorian Yates, whereas others look for symmetry and aesthetics, I.E Frank Zane.
Both of the aforementioned pro bodybuilders are former Mr. Olympia winners, yet they couldn’t look more different in terms of physique.
Dorian Yates was close to 100-pounds heavier than Frank Zane, so there is certainly a lot to consider.
As opposed to CrossFit, bodybuilding is very much resistance-based, with a little cardio thrown in for good measure.
Bodybuilders train with the objective of building as much muscle mass as possible.
Because they will be judged on the asymmetrical and proportionate physique, they need to ensure that they build up their entire bodies and target each individual muscle group.
If a bodybuilder has a huge chest, but small arms, for example, this will not look particularly aesthetic or symmetrical, and it will cost him or her points when they’re competing on stage.
To counter this, a bodybuilder would need to work harder on their weak points, which in this case would be the arms, and they would need to add muscle mass and definition to their arms to get them in proportion with the rest of their body.
Typically, bodybuilders will either bulk up or cut.
When bulking, they will increase their caloric intake, up to their protein, train heavy, and train hard.
The goal when bulking is to simply add as much muscle mass and size as possible.
At this stage, there is little focus on the definition, vascularity, or conditioning.
The primary objective is to get as big as possible.
In the lead up to competition, though, bodybuilders will cut.
Now, they’re looking to gradually strip away body fat so as to reveal the lean muscle tissue hiding underneath the fat.
Bodybuilders will often do more cardio and cut calories when cutting.
Including pull-ups, push-ups, jogging, sprinting, jumping rope, and jumping jacks.
When competing on stage, bodybuilders often get as low as just 3 – 4% body fat, sometimes less still.
Many, many decades ago, bodybuilding wasn’t taken seriously and was associated with circus freakshows.
If you were big and muscular, you were perceived to be a freak or a mindless meathead.
Then, along came a ‘mockumentary’ directed by George Butler, starring a little-known professional bodybuilder from Austria, who went by the name Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Filmed in the mid-seventies, the movie was ‘Pumping Iron’ and it introduced the world to a series of professional, and amateur, bodybuilders all competing to be the best in the world.
The movie showed the world the passion that these bodybuilders had for their sport, it showcased how hard they trained, and above all else, it showed that they were just ordinary people striving to be the best at what they were doing.
You couldn’t help but admire the young, cocky, perhaps even arrogant, Schwarzenegger, when you saw what a charismatic individual he was, and how hard he was willing to be the best.
Despite having appeared in a couple of low-budget TV shows and movies before Pumping Iron, many believe that it was this ‘mockumentary’ that helped launch Arnold’s career on screen, propelling him to become one of the greatest action movie stars to ever live.
As the years went by, bodybuilding became cool.
Action movie stars bulked up, pro wrestlers bulked up, and muscles became cool.
No longer was the desired look super-lean, now, muscles were king, and interest in pro bodybuilding skyrocketed.
Magazines such as Flex and Muscle and Fitness, became enormously popular across the world, bodybuilding supplements such as whey became more mainstream, and fitness expos and bodybuilding contests such as Mr. Olympia, and the Arnold Classic, really took off.
Many people train like bodybuilders nowadays, purely to look good, despite having no intention of stepping on stage and competing.
One thing that is for sure, however, and that is the fact that both disciplines have their dedicated fans and followers.
So, now that we’ve compared CrossFit or bodybuilding, and have looked at how different they are, we’ll now take a look at what they both have in common with one another.
Well, in truth, when it comes to the training, there aren’t many similarities at all.
CrossFit exercises that are performed with free weights are often done with barbells and are usually heavy compound exercises and Olympic style lifts.
You’ll find exercises such as the power clean, pull-ups, military presses, squats, snatches, and deadlifts commonly associated with CrossFit workouts.
Bodybuilding exercises are often performed at a slower, more methodical pace than CrossFit exercises, which are often highly intense and performed quickly because often the goal is to perform as many reps as possible in a certain duration of time.
Though bodybuilding routines can sometimes be fast-paced, generally, bodybuilders like to keep the pace under control for the risk of injury.
Some bodybuilders such as Branch Warren and Dorian Yates had a reputation for training heavily and intensely.
In fact, it was Dorian Yates that brought high-intensity training to the attention of the bodybuilding community, when he was training in the 1990s.
The main downside to this form of training is the fact that lifting heavily, with a lot of intensity, can put you at risk of injury.
Both Branch, and Dorian, and a selection of other bodybuilders can attest to this as they all have had their fair share of torn muscles and surgeries as a result of their training.
When it comes to CrossFit vs bodybuilding, one thing that we can all agree on is the fact that both disciplines are extremely beneficial in their own right.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.