CrossFit utilises EIMD (Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage) as a mechanism for stimulating muscular growth. The concept is the same as in any weight training, whereby exertion of the muscles exercised for strength gains induces (desired) damage to muscle fibres. With the correct consumption of proteins during recovery, the human body will naturally rebuild the muscle bigger and stronger, which allows the muscle to tolerate more, thus creating greater strength and endurance. This process is commonly known as Hypertrophy.
The body needs the appropriate amount of protein in order to rebuild the muscle fibres, and compensate for the growth over and above the size that was previously present.
This, therefore, creates a visual and volumetric increase in size of muscle mass.
Over-exertion can lead to muscle loss. The EIMD technique toes a fine line, whereby overreaching can cause muscle tissue necrosis; and under-reaching, or non-proportionate protein intake during recovery, can result in strength stagnation, or even strength loss.
How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle With CrossFit?
A study in 2017 posits an overall average time period is approximately 5-8 months, depending on your propensity and commitment for CrossFit training, calorie intake with associated protein content, and level of exertion.
With a higher level of exertion, coupled with the correct amount of protein in your diet, the results for building muscle will be quicker.
A bias towards strength building by resistance training (weights, in other words) also speeds this up.
Will CrossFit Make Me Muscular?
CrossFit itself does not make you muscular per se.
As with all muscle building (hypertrophy), the other important aspects are your personal diet, how much you are doing CrossFit, and how well-disciplined your diet is.
For example, if you are a female CrossFitter and don’t want a muscular physique, this is much the norm amongst women doing CrossFit. The general advice for not wanting a muscular physique would be to do the workout with lighter than prescribed (RX) weights, and not overdo your protein intake.
A good way to keep track of this is by counting your Macros. This will enable you to accurately and successfully balance fat loss and muscle growth, suitable for your own body composition. That said, Macros can be complicated and many are not interested in tracking this, so listening to your body is the simplest way, taking a common-sense approach.
Despite some critics of CrossFit stating otherwise, it can make you muscular, should that be the desired intent. As noted above, hypertrophy is the key to obtaining more muscle mass, and with that comes more strength.
As the muscle fibres tear and rebuild larger, the hypothesis is that a direct correlation is an exponential gain in strength.
Genetics, body composition and raw inner ambition also play a part in gaining strength, so it’s not all about muscle mass. Patrick Vellner – a Canadian CrossFitter – is a great example of not showing gladiatorial stature but being ridiculously strong, pulling a 600lb/272kg Deadlift mid-competition at The CrossFit Games.
The Female CrossFit Physique – Is It Masculine?
Many women worry that doing weights will create a muscular physique and as such, would rather would avoid this appearance. A female person with ab muscles (abs) is unattractive to some. But some ladies do strive for that 6-pack, toned washboard tummy look. Again, it partly comes down to body composition as to how easily obtainable that look is for you, along with diet and discipline.
For many, a muscular female is too masculine, and even gives some a perception of using PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) or steroids.
Here are some examples of top-level female CrossFitters with their varying physiques.
Spoiler Alert! Doing CrossFit does not automatically make you look like these ladies.
They likely all have multiple coaches each, a diet specialist dialling their intakes and would work out multiple times per day for longer than 1 hour. These ladies are professional athletes, so it is no wonder how they look so toned, ripped, muscular, jacked – however you care to describe it.
CrossFit vs Bodybuilding. Which is better?
Here’s something interesting for you. French-Canadian Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (red undies…) was the female winner of The CrossFit Games in 2014. She competed at the highest level for a number of years.
She no longer competes at that level, and had a baby mid-2020 with her husband Dave Lipson. Since coming out of postpartum and getting back into training, she pursued the different avenue of high level exercise.
She chose body sculpting over elite CrossFit competitiveness. LeBlanc-Bazinet has devised a new program named feroce_fitness_ which can be found on Instagram.
Her visual physique has changed significantly since pursuing this new path. Below are pictures comparing Camille in various stages of her training and personal life.
Slimmer, more defined, bronzed and dolled up….vs athletic and fitter more rounded looking.
It’s quite a fascinating case study for the female physique, the human body and what a lot of hard work will do. Also the variance between her body shape when CrossFitting and when body-sculpting.
Do CrossFitters Take Steroids?
Despite common disbelief, it is speculated by those inside (and outside) the sphere of CrossFit that these athletes must take steroids, or PEDs, given their stature, recovery periods, strength and physique.
Many people think there are high-level competitors, and even those right up the leaderboard that are doping under the radar.
It’s a hard pill to swallow (ha!) for some avid fans of the sport to concede that their poster favourites would even consider taking something illegal to gain an advantage over their competitors. However, CrossFit LLC open does carry out stringent doping control and has uncovered a number of cheats.
You can read all about that in this Best Gym Hacks article here.
But I’m not so sure it’s as widespread that the muppets on Reddit make it out to be.
My naive opinion? Or correct assertion that hard work pays off…?
Having pondered the topic much over the years, watching many of them being questioned on the issue and accusation reactions, then seeing how exactly they train for The Games, my view is they are not all cheating.
Some, I believe, are doping and have gone undetected, but I do also believe in the mantra: Hard Work Pays Off #HWPO.
In fact, we know some are, as Ricky Garad most prominently endured a humiliating public undoing for getting caught using PEDs.
He falsely placed 3rd at The CrossFit Games in 2017, but was stripped of his shiny bronze medal after testing positive during a routine CrossFit drugs test.
Return from the ashes
What happened next? He served his ban, came back in 2022 clean and got 3rd place again! That in itself helps silence naysayers that believe every single top-level athlete is doping.
If Garard can demonstrate a clean 3rd (after a stupidly embarrassing downfall which would not see anyone dope again), then why cannot the majority of the rest of the field?
Athletes are getting caught by CrossFit for doping
Furthermore, 13 elite level athletes got caught doping this years 2022 season, by the Anti-Doping programme administered by CrossFit LLC!
They were lesser known, but it proves the anti-dopign programme is working.
Back to Garrard
It was announced his 4-year ban was been served on 3rd October 2021, and that he’s making a comeback into the sport.
Some foul-mouthed, arrogant videos ensued following his comeback. Many do not trust him for the simple reason: once a cheat, always a cheat. How he gets on this season “clean”, many will be closely watching.
In my own CrossFit ecosystem, it’s humbling to see those around me train 3x as hard, then watch the fitness disparity between me and them enlarge to a small chasm.
So I feel pretty sanguine that many of the highest level athletes do just work 10x harder than average Joe.
Throw in some good genetics, good dieting, excellent programming and a ridiculous amount of gym hours, then you have a substantial chance of getting somewhere without needing to dope.
I was dubious about him myself when seeing him on the 2022 CrossFit Games floor.
But it was an epic battle watching him, Justin Medeiros and Roman Khrennikov.
Those top 3 were steaks ahead of 4th and 5th below by the end.
The table shows that Garard in 3rd was 93 points ahead of 4th place Kwant.
The point differential between the top 3 was extremely tight all week/weekend, as saw Garard wearing the leader’s jersey (red short and white top) for much of it.
So Does CrossFit Gain Muscle Mass?
If you’re training correctly and your diet is dialled appropriately, you can most certainly see a difference in your muscular appearance an overall sporting performance. This is not just the Rich Froning’s or Tia Clair-Toomey’s of the world too.
I put on 5.5kg 12 years ago when starting CrossFit. I still have a naturally very low BMI and low body fat, but gained muscle mass from my previously scrawny state, and then consistently stayed at the same weight since the start of my 12-year journey.
For me, the grit and grind of a CrossFit workout and occasional protein shake are all I need. It’s still the 2nd best hour of my day – 2nd only after coming home to my wife and little girl.