If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is, don’t worry you’re not the first person to wonder. They are both very different, as we’ll find out.
CrossFit aims to take any human body and create a fitter version of it, using its specific methodology and functional movements, carried out at a high intensity. It operates across broad time domains and aims to improve the 10 modalities of human fitness. Bodybuilding on the other hand seeks to create muscle mass by way of isolating muscle groups and using EIMD (Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage) to stimulate muscle growth. The aim of Bodybuilding is to increase physical size, and therefore become greater in strength as a by-product.
There are 10 fitness domains which CrossFit seeks to develop and improve:
1. Cardiovascular / Respiratory Endurance
These are also known as physiological developments.
Improvement is carried out by using high-intensity and constantly varied functional movements, with many workouts covering a wide number of these domains in one go.
Crossovers of Bodybuilding and CrossFit
Number 3 and 5 on the list are utilised in Bodybuilding, and to some degree also number 2, too.
The framework behind CrossFit is to purposefully train over a wide array of domains, with a goal of achieving improvement among all of them, creating a more rounded and fitter human being.
Bodybuilding seeks to improve mainly strength and power, thus increasing mass and ‘building’ the body.
Isolating muscle groups
With the isolation method, bodybuilders will train one specific body part that day with 3-5 exercises, training those muscles, or a group of muscles.
In between, the diet plan and recovery period encourage growth, whilst training another body part, if on a non-rest day. The focus is strongly on hypertrophy.
Bodybuilding plans on a rotational basis, to create an effective long term goal of bigger and stronger muscles for the body, allowing for muscle growth and recovery.
Similarities between CrossFit and Bodybuilding
Although they’re both very different, there are a number of crossovers. And whilst CrossFit’s sole aim is not exclusively to build muscle, it in fact does do exactly that if the dieting is approached properly and training is being done enough.
The top male and female (“elite”) CrossFit athletes that compete at the CrossFit Games are not lacking in muscle. The amount of weight they shift, well-designed programming, along with an appropriate diet is a suitable recipe for muscle gain.
Below is an example of the more natural side of bodybuilding.
It must be noted there is a huge amount of unbridled steroid-use in the bodybuilding world. But aside from that, the outcome looks physically different when doing Bodybuilding, compared to CrossFit.
How it looks
I’ve heard non-CrossFitters say that the top CrossFit athletes look akin to spartan or gladitorial in nature; whereas bodybuilders are less easy on the eye, even having a look of fakery.
A fair judgement of bodybuilding is that it’s far more of a vanity project. Most bodybuilders would admit to that, given bronzing, parading and flexing are part of the culture. The idea is to show off the physique they’ve worked so hard to create.
What Elite CrossFit athletes look like
Below is a picture which shows 3 of the previously top athletes (Matt Chan, Rich Froning Jr and Jason Khalipa), about to start the swim, bar muscle up workout at the CrossFit Games.
Interestingly they are clearly very body-built, except they are about to embark on a cardio and gymnastics-based workout.
This helps substantiates the concept that CrossFit endeavours to achieve: to be a rounded and extremely fit (in the 10 domains sense) human being.
So whilst CrossFitters and Bodybuilders do look different, they both project a sense of athleticism.
CrossFit vs Bodybuilding. Which Should I Do?
What you want out of exercise is the first question you need to answer.
If you’re looking to pack on mass, Bodybuilding is possibly the path you should take. However, should you want to look trim, be fitter in a more rounded sense and crave variety, then CrossFit is a much better route.
You will find at the bottom of the page a flow chart decider diagram. It runs through the whether doing CrossFit is a good fit for you.
Check it out!
More than fitness
It needs to be said, too, that CrossFit is not just for fitness.
In fact, that is only a small element as to why so many people enjoy CrossFit. It’s as much down to the community and sports side as it is for fitness and health. A huge part is for mental health that CrossFit delivers on.
On the contrary, Bodybuilding can do the opposite quite often. It can create a huge sense of obsession with how you look. In extreme cases, this can manifest as BDD (body dysmorphic disorder).
It comes from intense scrutiny of oneself in the mirrors. Naturally, if we are going after a certain look, drawing comparisons often and not getting the results we want, or quick enough, it’s an unfortunate recipe for anxiety.
What’s important to CrossFitters?
When surveying our 2 CrossFit Affiliates to improve the business, 62.2% of members said they come to our gyms to have fun.
Many also said it is important to make friends. So a huge emphasis is placed on the social side that CrossFit gyms bring.
Bodybuilding can often be a lonely endeavour. Headphones on, shake by your side. Starring at a mirror for 2 hours.
Phone in your hand between sets. We’ve all seen it. That’s what some people love, but it can become monotonous.
Male and female bias in Bodybuilding and CrossFit
Bodybuilding is heavily biased towards the male gender, whilst CrossFit is very largely split.
When going to a Bodybuilding gym, or in the weights section of globo gyms (normal run of the mill gyms) and look around, there is often an emphasis on men.
CrossFit is very often split male and female. For example, our 2 affiliates are almost 50/50 split men and women. Of the 70+ CrossFit Gyms I’ve visited all over the world, this male-female near equal split is almost ubiquitous. Sometimes it is tilted one way or the other, but often it levels out.
Some example polls on our members and the importance of why they choose CrossFit as their training format:
Here’s A Summary That Might Help You Choose Which To Do.
CrossFit and Bodybuilding is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. Nor is a globo gym-ing, BoxFit, Spin or a Nintendo Switch.
Maybe the below summary will help you lean one way or another in your decision process:
|Well rounded fitness||Extremely strong|
|Generally look more trim||Appear stronger in physique|
|Socially geared with every class being a group||Lonely endevour (solitude or with small groups)|
|Diet aim: balanced||Diet aim: calorie-intense with bias on protein and carbs|
|Training intensity level high and more random||Training less intense and more repetitive|
|Less equipment but many more skills to learn||Lots of equipement but less skills to learn|
|Circa 50/50 men women ratio||Male oriented|
Should I Start CrossFit?
If you’re looking at getting into one of them and still don’t know which one, have a think about why you’re getting into it. Think about your character too.
If this article has helped you rule out Bodybuilding, maybe our flowchart will help you decide whether CrossFit is your ‘cup of tea’.
You can also read this Best Gym Hacks article which will give you further insight as to what a CrossFit gym is like.
Ultimately, you can do a bit of both if you fancy. Only this morning did a hear a member say at one of our affiliates that he wanted bicep curls thrown in the next strength cycle! Which they will be apparently…(thanks Katie).
Update: see left said bicep curls!