Participating in a CrossFit class guarantees you a full-body workout that combines strength training with cardiovascular conditioning. But does participating in a class also guarantee you genuine physiological changes? Specifically, does CrossFit build muscle? In this blog, we’ll dive into the intricacies of how this mode of exercise can affect your muscles’ growth and development.



How CrossFit Builds Muscle


Constant Variation

CrossFit workouts are renowned for their high-intensity and constantly varied movements. From powerlifting to Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics-inspired exercises, CrossFit covers a broad spectrum of activities. It incorporates kettlebells, barbells, and other functional equipment. This diversity in programming is a key factor in the muscle-building potential of CrossFit. Constant variation can prevent the body from plateauing and promote continuous muscle adaptation.


Functional Movements

Another mechanism through which CrossFit promotes muscle growth is its emphasis on functional movements. Unlike traditional bodybuilding routines that isolate specific muscle groups, CrossFit encourages compound exercises that mimic real-life activities. We squat because that’s how we get on and off the toilet. We deadlift because that’s how we pick something up off the floor. CrossFit believes in building strength in the positions and motions that will help you move better in everyday life.

There is still a place for isolation movements in your training, however. In CrossFit, this is commonly seen as “accessory work.” We do this because, in big compound movements where multiple muscle groups are involved, like squats and deadlifts, it’s easy for one muscle to slack off, as other muscles will kick in to help. This can lead to overtraining of the muscles that are helping out and undertraining of the muscles that aren’t contributing. We want all our muscles working effectively to prevent unhealthy compensations and reduce our risk of injury. Therefore, when your box programs more isolation-style accessory work, remember that it may feel less glamorous but is vital to improve your overall strength and safety.


Consistent Training

One key aspect of strength training to understand is that it does not happen overnight. In fact, it takes at least 8-12 weeks for TRUE strength changes to occur. PRs that happen before this window of time are actually due to your brain just figuring out how to move better, not because muscles have gotten stronger yet. While these PRs are still worth celebrating, this highlights the importance of patience and consistency when aiming to build muscle. Having a supportive environment like a CrossFit gym full of dedicated coaches and fellow athletes is an excellent way to stay motivated to keep working towards your goals!



Types of Muscular Changes


There are many ways in which muscles can change and develop, all of which are important for optimal physical functioning. The manner in which we train our muscles influences how these changes occur. The four categories we target are strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance, and power.



True strength training leads to changes in the FORCE that your muscles can produce. We target this by lifting heavier weights for lower amounts of reps, with higher amounts of rest in between sets.

  • Example: 4 sets x 3 Back Squats at 85% of your 1 Rep Max (RM) Back Squat. Rest 3 minutes between sets.



“Hypertrophy” refers to increased SIZE of your muscles. We target this by lifting moderate weights for a moderate amount of reps, with a low amount of rest between sets.

  • Example: 4 sets x 10 Back Squats at 60% of your 1 RM Back Squat. Rest 60 seconds between sets.


Muscular Endurance

Building muscular endurance means that you are trying to increase how much TIME your muscles can effectively work for. We target this by lifting low weights for a high amount of reps, with a low amount of rest between sets.

  • Example: 4 sets x 15 Back Squats at 50% of your 1 RM Back Squat. Rest 60 seconds between sets.



The “power” of your muscles refers to their ability to exert FORCE QUICKLY. There are multiple ways we can target this, depending on what we are trying to develop power for. When training for power in exercises like Olympic lifts, we use heavy weights for lower amount of reps, with a higher amount of rest between sets (similar to strength training). Conversely, when training for power in movements like box jumps, we instead use just our bodyweight or very light loads. The amount of reps and rest remains the same.

  • Example for Weightlifting: 4 sets x 3 Snatches at 85% of your 1 RM Snatch. Rest 3 minutes between sets.
  • Example for Plyometrics: 4 sets x 3 High Box Jumps. Rest 3 minutes between sets.



Because CrossFit is not ONLY about building muscle, many of our workouts do not follow any of the structures outlined above. Take the workout “Fran,” for example (detailed in this blog). This WOD consists of 21-15-9 reps of pull-ups and thrusters at 1 consistent weight with no defined rest. It breaks the traditional programming categories, but that’s because it’s targeting improvements in conditioning, gymnastics, AND muscle development. That’s why one CrossFit class may have a workout dedicated to just building muscle followed by a WOD like Fran. The goal is to produce well-rounded athletes who are prepared for any physical challenge.



Other Factors to Consider


The effectiveness of CrossFit in building muscle also depends on individual factors such as consistency, intensity, and nutrition. Regular participation in CrossFit classes and pushing oneself during workouts are essential for maximizing muscle growth. Additionally, nutrition plays a pivotal role in any muscle-building journey, and CrossFit is no exception. Adequate protein intake is crucial to support muscle repair and growth. CrossFitters should fuel their bodies with a well-balanced diet that includes lean proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. For help with this, check out our Nutrition Program! Lastly, while CrossFit is effective for building muscle, it may not be the sole solution for everyone. Individual responses to different training methods vary, and personal preferences, fitness goals, and existing health conditions should all be considered.



So, Does CrossFit Build Muscle?


In conclusion, the answer to the question, “Does CrossFit build muscle?” is a resounding yes. The combination of varied, high-intensity workouts, functional movements, and resistance training creates an environment conducive to muscle growth. However, success in this endeavor relies on consistency, intensity, and proper nutrition. So, if you’re looking for a dynamic approach to building muscle, CrossFit might just be the game-changer you’ve been seeking. Come visit us at CrossFit LPF to get started today!