There’s a common misconception that cross-training and CrossFit are the same thing, but they have different approaches to fitness and serve different purposes.
So what are the differences between CrossFit and cross-training? CrossFit is a structured training methodology that combines powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, endurance training, gymnastics, and interval training. Cross-training is training that an athlete does that isn’t directly related to their main sport but still helps them improve their performance.
Another way to think about it is this:
CrossFit can be cross-training, but cross-training isn’t necessarily CrossFit. If all you do is CrossFit, you’re not cross-training — you’re doing CrossFit. But if you’re a football player who does CrossFit to help your football performance, then your CrossFit workouts would be considered cross-training.
In this article, I’ll break down the differences between cross-training and CrossFit, discuss the pros and cons of each, and talk about who should do cross-training vs Crossfit. I’ll also provide sample cross-training and CrossFit workouts.
Cross-Training vs CrossFit: 4 Differences
Below are four differences between cross-training and CrossFit.
1. Terminology and legality
The biggest difference between cross-training and CrossFit comes down to legality and nomenclature.
Cross-training is simply a term that people use to talk about exercise that’s not directly related to their chosen sport or activity. For example, a soccer player may consider endurance sessions that they do on the bike to be cross-training. It’s something that’s done outside of their normal soccer training, but it can help make them a better athlete by improving their endurance.
On the other hand, CrossFit is a trademarked training methodology that combines elements of strength, endurance, gymnastics, and interval training. CrossFit on its own isn’t cross-training even though it includes different types of training. However, it can be considered cross-training if you do CrossFit workouts outside of your usual sports training.
2. Exercise selection
As I mentioned above, CrossFit tests your strength, endurance, and ability to train at a high intensity. There are also a lot of bodyweight movements involved in CrossFit. You may have to deadlift 225lbs, run 400m, and do push-ups all in the same workout.
CrossFit also has workouts of the day (WODs). The WODs are different across CrossFit gyms and programs, but whether you take a class at a CrossFit gym or train at home by following someone else’s programming, the workouts are laid out for you every day.
Furthermore, there are several themed workouts in CrossFit such as hero workouts that honor military men and women who have died in the line of duty.
Cross-training doesn’t necessarily have a set of defined exercises. It can include whatever strength or cardio exercises that you want it to depending on what elements of your sport you’re looking to improve.
Related Article: What Is A Typical CrossFit Workout? (Let’s Break It Down)
3. Social components
When you cross-train, you’re most likely working out by yourself. You may be in the gym at the same time with your teammates or friends, but chances are that you’re all focusing on your own workouts.
CrossFit is built around community. CrossFit boxes have regularly scheduled class times nearly every day of the week. Many boxes have in-house competitions, holiday parties, and birthday celebrations for their members. The social aspect is one of the biggest appeals of CrossFit.
Even people who do CrossFit at home will often have access to coaches and other individuals who follow the same programming through social media groups or chat features on mobile apps.
4. Workout duration and intensity
Cross-training and CrossFit can both be as intense as you make them, but CrossFit is inherently an intense form of exercise. It often involves short workouts that require you to move as fast as you can to finish a workout or complete as many rounds as possible within a specified time frame.
In addition, many CrossFit workouts are only 12-15 minutes long. Some are less than that and some are longer, but you have to push yourself hard the entire time.
Conversely, when you’re doing cardio workouts for cross-training, your workout will likely take at least 30 minutes. You’ll also be working out at a more sustainable pace that won’t leave you gasping for air after just a few minutes.
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What is Cross-Training
Cross-training refers to any form of exercise that’s done outside of an athlete’s main sport. A runner who does strength training on non-running days or a powerlifter who does sprint intervals on the bike to improve their conditioning would be cross-training.
Cross-training doesn’t necessarily have any structure or a predetermined set of exercises. It’s more of a general term that describes any activity that’s different than the drills and routines an athlete would practice for their sport.
It prevents muscular imbalances by allowing athletes to work muscles they don’t typically use while also giving them an opportunity to do activities they don’t have time to do during their competitive season.
Benefits of Cross-Training
1. It can help prevent injuries
When you’re training for a particular sport, you do the same activities and training drills repeatedly. That can lead to overuse injuries because the same muscles are being used in the same way over and over again.
Cross-training allows you to train and strengthen other muscles that you don’t frequently use. It also allows you to strengthen the ligaments and tendons surrounding your joints and muscles, which makes them less prone to injury.
And even if you do get injured, cross-training makes it possible for you to continue working out around your injury so you can maintain your fitness while you’re on the sidelines.
2. It helps make you a better athlete
Cross-training can help you develop better balance, coordination, and agility, all of which are necessary for most sports.
When you cross-train, you also have the opportunity to train muscles you don’t normally use and test your physical skills in different ways. This not only helps prevent injuries, as I explained above, but also helps you develop a more well-rounded body that’s better prepared to handle unexpected challenges.
Cross-training can also help you recover faster by promoting blood flow to sore muscles and preventing you from getting too stiff. This means your body will be more primed to work hard at your next competition, game, or practice.
Related Article: Should You Do Cardio On Rest Days (Yes, And Here’s How)
3. You have a lot of flexibility
While cross-training should have some carryover to your primary sport or help you improve necessary skills for your sport such as a vertical jump in basketball, you can pick and choose the activities you want to focus on.
For example, if you know you need to improve your endurance, you can choose to bike, run, or swim for your cross-training workouts. If you need to improve your strength, you can choose from a variety of upper and lower body movements.
You also have room to schedule your cross-training workouts around your sports training. You can still prioritize training for your sport while giving yourself a couple of days per week to focus on cross-training.
4. It can keep you motivated
Even if you love your sport, you may still have times when you suffer from boredom or find it difficult to get excited about your practices and games. Cross-training offers you a way to switch up your training, which can present new physical challenges and keep your mind and body stimulated.
Cross-training is also beneficial when you’re in the off-season so you can maintain your fitness while giving your body a break from sport-specific training.
And if you simply just like playing other sports, cross-training gives you an opportunity to do other activities you enjoy.
Drawbacks of Cross-Training
1. You have less time to dedicate to your sport
Incorporating cross-training may mean that you have less time to dedicate to your sport. If, for example, you cut down to running four days per week instead of six so you can cross-train two days per week, those are two fewer days that you can dedicate to running.
2. It can lead to overtraining
Trying to do too much cross-training while you’re in season may not leave you with much recovery time. You can wind up overworking yourself, which can cause injuries instead of helping you prevent them.
As such, it’s important to choose your cross-training activities smartly so they don’t interfere with your regular training. This is part of the reason why it’s recommended to save most cross-training for the off-season.
Types of Cross-Training Workouts
Below are two examples of cross-training workouts that you can choose from depending on whether you’re looking to improve your endurance or your strength.
Below is an example of a rowing interval workout you can do to improve your conditioning. Rowing is an ideal cross-training activity because even though it’s challenging, it’s low impact and doesn’t place a lot of stress on your joints.
If you don’t have a rower or just don’t like rowing, you can do a similar interval workout on the bike or elliptical. You could also do swim intervals in the pool, but I recommend shortening the distance to 50m or 100m.
- 5 minutes of light rowing to warm up
- 8 x 500m intervals, aiming for 28-30 strokes per minute with each interval
- Rest for 1 minute after each interval
- 5 minutes of light rowing to cool down
Related Article: The Top 5 Cardio Machines That Are Good For Weight Loss
Below is an example of a full-body strength training day. I designed this routine with runners in mind, but anyone can do it.
You’ll also notice that this routine is low intensity and relatively low volume so that it doesn’t leave you too wiped out to keep training for your sport.
- Squat – 3 x 6 @ 75% of your 1RM
- Bench press – 3 x 8 @ 75% of your 1RM
- Single-arm bentover rows – 3 x 10
- Romanian deadlift – 3 x 10
- Side planks – 3 x 45-60 seconds per side
Related Article: Low Impact Strength Training: 15 Exercises For Beginners
Who Should Do Cross-Training?
You should do cross-training if:
- You compete in a sport and need to do other activities to help improve your strength or endurance.
- You feel burned out from your sport and want to try something new.
- You’re in the off-season for your current sport.
- You’re rehabbing an injury.
If you’re looking for more cross-training ideas, check out the Fitbod app. You can create a routine based on the muscle groups you want to focus on, the equipment you have available, and how much time you have to work out. You can also ask the app to provide cardio recommendations to complement your strength training. Download the Fitbod app today and get your first 3 workouts for free.
What is CrossFit
CrossFit is a trademarked term that refers to a training methodology that includes various fitness domains. Those include endurance, stamina, power, strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, speed, accuracy, and coordination.
CrossFit is known for being “constantly varied.” It doesn’t prioritize one area of fitness over another but instead teaches that cardio, strength, bodyweight skills, and the ability to move quickly and efficiently are of equal importance.
CrossFit is also often referred to as functional fitness because it involves a lot of movements that have carryover to daily activities such as picking heavy things up from the floor or carrying heavy bags of groceries.
While the CrossFitters you see on TV have their own individualized programming or follow programming created specifically for competitors, CrossFit classes for the general population all follow a similar structure.
Each class typically includes a warm-up, 20-30 minutes of strength or skill work, the workout of the day (WOD), and a cooldown. Managers and coaches at CrossFit gyms either plan their own workouts for each day or follow programming that they obtain from other CrossFit professionals.
Related Article: 7 Best CrossFit Alternatives (That Won’t Break the Bank)
Benefits of CrossFit
1. Anyone can do it
Many people shy away from CrossFit because they think it’s beyond their abilities. And some CrossFit moves like bar muscle-ups likely will be when you first start.
But any CrossFit workout can be scaled. You can lower the weight, swap movements for easier alternatives, or do fewer reps or rounds when you first start.
And you definitely don’t need to worry about being the last person in your class to finish a workout. I’m not ashamed to say that I often came in last when I used to go to a CrossFit gym. But I kept showing up because I loved it so much.
Unless you have plans to compete at a high level, there’s no need to stress about being the best.
2. There’s a lot of variety
CrossFit is an ideal training regimen for people who easily get bored with working out. It’s also a great program for people who have a hard time narrowing down what they want to focus on.
It’s part of what initially drew me to the sport several years ago. I wanted to lift weights, but I also enjoyed running and doing HIIT workouts, and I didn’t want to give those up. CrossFit allowed me to combine everything I liked into one workout.
The variety of CrossFit also means that you can easily find a workout that fits your schedule. If you train at a CrossFit box, you’re limited by its class times. But if you train by yourself at home, you can complete an effective workout in just 10 minutes if that’s all you have time for that day.
3. CrossFit has a strong community
Many outsiders criticize CrossFit for being cult-like, and I suppose that’s true to an extent. People who do CrossFit like to talk about it a lot (I’m guilty of this myself). But when you find a CrossFit gym with members whose personalities mesh with yours and who support your fitness goals, it’s easy to get excited about working out.
One of the other things that I like about CrossFit is how it gives you an opportunity to meet people from other parts of the world. CrossFit boxes tend to be very welcoming to non-members who are traveling and want to drop in for a workout, which gives you a chance to interact with individuals from other cultures who share your passion for fitness.
4. You get to learn new skills
CrossFit involves unique movements like handstand push-ups and rope climbs. You can learn how to do the two Olympic weightlifting movements – the snatch and the clean and jerk. You can also train with odd objects that are similar to the equipment Strongman/Strongwoman competitors use (like tires and yokes) if your box has them.
If you’re looking for a training program that will push you outside of your comfort zone and encourage you to try new things, you’ll find it in CrossFit.
Drawbacks of CrossFit
1. The quality of coaches can vary
A common criticism of people both inside and outside the CrossFit world is that the requirements to become a coach aren’t very stringent. Anyone can take a coach’s course as long as you have the money to pay for it, and that means some coaches won’t necessarily have the skills or abilities to help you succeed.
Fortunately, there are a lot of CrossFit coaches who have also been certified personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches for years. They tend to be more qualified and knowledgeable than someone who’s only been doing CrossFit for 6 months and has no other fitness-related certifications.
But it can be difficult to find a CrossFit box with good coaches, and sometimes it takes some trial and error before you find a box with experienced coaches that you can trust.
2. Not all boxes and programming are the same
Another drawback of CrossFit is that some gyms have poor management and aren’t run very efficiently. It’s not uncommon to come across a CrossFit box where the members cause a lot of drama and management turns a blind eye to poor gym etiquette or other issues.
Furthermore, some CrossFit gyms have illogical or poorly planned programming. CrossFit is designed to be constantly varied, but the workouts should still have some logic behind them. The coaches at some gyms may just slap some random workouts together for the week without considering progression, intensity, and workouts in different time domains.
For example, if you’re training your lifts at 90-95% of your 1RM every single day, or if you find yourself doing nothing but 10-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) workouts all the time, you should look for a new gym or consider different programming.
3. You have to be very disciplined
When I say you have to be very disciplined, I’m not talking about being disciplined with your diet or workout schedule. Those things are definitely important, but what I mean when I say this is that you have to be disciplined enough to know when to take a break.
CrossFit can be addicting, and you’ll be tempted to show up to class even when you’re sore, tired, or your body needs a day or two off. Rest days are important, but it’s easy to get sucked into the social and competitive nature of CrossFit, which makes it hard to tear yourself away from the gym.
4. You won’t necessarily become good at just one thing
If you want to be as strong as possible or you want to run a sub-3 hour marathon, CrossFit alone won’t help you achieve those goals.
CrossFit athletes are often considered jacks of all trades because they’re good at various elements of fitness but don’t truly excel at anything. For example, an elite male CrossFitter who weighs 200lbs may be able to deadlift 600lbs, but an elite powerlifter at a similar weight may be able to deadlift 730lbs or more.
Likewise, a professional CrossFitter may run a mile in 6 minutes and 25 seconds while an elite marathon runner can run a mile in 4-5 minutes.
So while CrossFit can help you become stronger and more conditioned, it won’t make you a specialist in one particular area.
Types of CrossFit Workouts
Below are three different styles of CrossFit WODs that are similar to the ones you may find at your local box or in your CrossFit programming.
For this workout, the goal is to complete as many rounds as possible. Once you’ve gotten through all 10 front squats, a full round is completed. You’ll then start over with the 400m run without taking a break between rounds.
- 400m run
- 20 American kettlebell swings (swing the kettlebell all the way overhead rather than stopping at eye level)
- 10 front squats
EMOM stands for every minute on the minute. At the top of each minute, you’ll complete one exercise. If you finish the exercise before the minute is over, you get to rest until the top of a new minute. You’ll rest for a full minute during minute 5, then start over again with the row and repeat for 20 minutes.
- Minute 1: 20/15 calorie row
- Minute 2: 50 double unders
- Minute 3: 15 push presses
- Minute 4: 10 burpee box jump-overs
- Minute 5: Rest
Even though this isn’t the same as a steady-state run or something similar, this workout is considered an endurance workout because it’s long and requires proper pacing to ensure you don’t gas out halfway through.
Workouts like this one are called chippers in CrossFit because you have to “chip away” at the reps for each movement before moving on to the next one.
- 60 wall balls
- 50 toes-to-bar
- 40 thrusters
- 30 pull-ups
- 20 power cleans
- 10 overhead squats
If you’re looking for strength workouts to complement your CrossFit training, check out the Fitbod app. You can customize workouts based on which muscle groups are fully recovered and build routines that work with your schedule and available equipment. Try Fitbod today and get 3 free workouts!
Who Should Do CrossFit?
You should do CrossFit if:
- You want to be part of a community.
- You want to do short, effective workouts.
- You like workouts that combine strength, cardio, and HIIT.
- You want to learn new skills like handstand push-ups, double unders, or muscle-ups.
- You want to learn lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk but aren’t interested in doing formal Olympic weightlifting training.
Cross-training describes any physical activity that’s done outside of an athlete’s chosen sport while CrossFit is a training regimen that focuses on cardio, strength, gymnastics, and mobility. Both are excellent ways to train and improve your fitness, but they aren’t terms that should be used interchangeably.
Athletes who want to get stronger or better conditioned for their sport can implement CrossFit as part of their cross-training routine, but doing CrossFit on its own isn’t necessarily cross-training. Whether you decide to do cross-training or CrossFit will depend on your goals and whether or not you’re currently training for another sport.
About The Author
Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.