5 Things CrossFit Can Learn From Bodybuilding


Jan 18, 2023
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In our quest for optimal physical fitness and aesthetics I feel it is important to try and incorporate anything that may help us reach our goals. To me that means taking principles from all training domains and incorporating it into my own programming.

Since the beginning of CrossFit Bodybuilders have been ridiculed within the community by those who think they train harder and more effectively than their cable crossover and concentration curl counterparts. However, as true as this may be there are definitely some things Bodybuilders have right.

I already wrote about what Bodybuilding can learn from CrossFit, now lets look at what CrossFit can take from Bodybuilding.

1 – Assistance Lifts

I have to admit i’m not huge on assistance lifts myself. However, they do have their place in a solid strength and conditioning program. The BIG exercises are great but they leave a few holes. The key is to find the right assistance lifts to include in your training without wasting time. As always I’m a huge advocate of training economy. Basically that refers to what exercises will deliver the BEST results for your time invested. If I recommend an exercise, its because I feel it is important.

Assistance lifts have a few benefits to a CrossFitter

1- Help improve the main lifts beyond what ONLY training the big lifts can provide.

2- Injury Prevention

3- Build muscle/strength in areas not hit by the main lifts.

My Favorite “Assistance” Exercises that are not commonly included in CrossFit WODS

  • Barbell/Dumbell Rows – When in doubt do some horizontal rowing. CrossFit does a great job with vertical pulling (pull-ups and muscle ups) but they hardly ever do any horizontal rows.
  • Good Mornings – Excellent Posterior Chain Exercise that will improve the squat and deadlift.
  • Tricep Work – This can include all direct tricep training. Some exercises to think about…skull crushers, overhead dumbell extensions, crush grip presses, even tricep cable pressdowns!
  • Bench Press – Although not technically an assistance lift, the bench press is very rarely used in wods. The bench press is a lot more then just a chest exercise. The Bench Press is one of the best exercises for chest, shoulder and tricep strength and will even help improve overhead pressing especially if done with a narrowish grip!

2- Improved Programing / Periodization

I know CrossFit at the core is centered around “constantly varied” routines without any real periodization. Surprisingly I do agree with that to an extent. However, I feel CrossFiters would benefit from using periodization within some strength blocks.

The best way to get stronger is through progressive overload. It can be very difficult to create a progressive overload without a structured periodization plan. I’m not saying everything you do needs to be based of percentages and RPEs but completely disregarding those training variables is not the best way to improve.

How I would set it up

  • Run a strength program. Pick a program…5/3/1, Sheiko, Smolov, an Olympic Lifting Program, a Hunt Fitness Program, etc and just follow it!
  • Periodize out some assistance/assessory movements to compliment the strength work. You can even rotate different exercises each session as to keep with the constantly varied theme.
  • Finish with some random Metcon/Wod that will balance out your program. This is where your true randomness can come out!

3- Competing NOT Training

Jason Khalipa

This is something I have to be careful with myself. I am so competitive I am always trying to beat myself in the gym, and if you throw a group of training partners in there with me it basically turns into the Olympics.

It is important to remember though that every training session does not need to be a competition. The MAIN goal of training should be to create progress and progression. There should be days where you go in and absolutely destroy yourself trying to hit a PR and on other days not so much.

The key is knowing when its time to go hard and when its time to just put the work in and go through the motions so to speak.

This is a tricky point because I also think the competition atmosphere is a great part of CrossFit. Competition pushes people to work harder and for most people the problem is not going too hard, its going hard enough! The fact of the matter is people train like pussies.

Bottom Line – Dont kill yourself and get rhabdo on the daily… ;)

4- Hypertrophy Focused Training

If there is one thing Bodybuilders have right its building muscle! I know, I know CrossFit athletes are not interested in aesthetics but muscle size has a lot to do with strength. However, if you look at the lower weight classes in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and strongman competitions, it’s also clear that size is not the only factor when it comes to strength. That being said the easiest way to get stronger is to get bigger.

CrossFit athletes who would benefit from adding some muscle/strength would be able to ultimately improve their CrossFit game by going through a hypertrophy focused training cycle at some point in the year.

In my opinion a CrossFit athlete should break up their training year into distinct phases. Block off a phase in the offseason between 8-12 weeks and focus on hypertrophy. Then come back to normal CrossFit training with added muscle.

A key point to remember here is to include bodyweight movements in the hypertrophy phase so the added muscle (weight) does not effect performance on gymnastics movements.

Also I’m saying build muscle through hypertrophy training NOT build muscle through bulking and getting fat! There is no benefit to getting fat…EVER.

5- Nutrition

Aside from hypertrophy training Nutrition is probably the area where Bodybuilders have the most knowledge. I am not going to say its impossible to out train a poor diet because I have seen it happen, but if you are serious about performance you should spend as much time dialing in your nutrition as you do with training.

I’m going to make this very simple and narrow it down to a few key points.

  • Nutrition needs to be measurable: Stop thinking about what is “healthy” or “not healthy” and starting thinking about macronutrients – Protein, Carbs and Fat. Macronutrient intake and distribution is what is going to determine the vast majority of results you see from nutrition. If that doesn’t explain itself Click here.
  • Match nutrition with your needs: If you are trying to improve your CrossFit game and are training for multiple hours a day it is going to be very important you are giving your body enough nutrients to recover from the training. It is disadvantageous to try and make improvements while in a caloric deficit.
  • Paleo? – Ok I feel I had to touch on Paleo since it seems to go hand in hand in with CrossFit. Most people would assume I am completely against Paleo seeing that I am an advocate of Flexible Dieting. The truth is I am not against it at all. I could care less what type of foods you eat. The only problem I have with Paleo in regards to CrossFit is that I feel a hard training CrossFit athlete may have a hard time getting in enough carbs for optimal performance following a strict Paleo diet. However, if you can get by with a lot of fats and getting enough carbs from fruit and sweet potatoes I’m all for it. I will probably keep my PopTarts though haha!!!


Can’t we all just get along? The simple fact is Bodybuilders only concern themselves with aesthetics and CrossFitters only worry about performance. Two different goals with two different mindsets.

Despite the different mindsets and goals, there are still some things to learn from each sport respectively. Remember the Bruce Lee quote I started with in the first article:

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own”

-Bruce Lee