CrossFit or traditional gym training?

CrossFit or traditional gym training?

Initially used to train firefighters, CrossFit is now very popular.

By Pierre-Luc Dubé


CrossFit, or course training, is in itself a sport involving several muscle qualities and energy systems. Founded in 1970 by Greg Glassman, CrossFit was not incorporated until 2000. It was initially used to train professionals in high-risk occupations such as policemen, firefighters and the military. Today, CrossFit is used in all kinds of functions, from improving overall fitness, developing strength and power qualities to improving body composition. However, is it better to use this method instead of traditional training? In the literature, the most common positive points seem to be the improvement in body composition and then in aerobic and muscular endurance capacities, in addition to facilitating individuals’ adherence and retention to the practice of physical activity.

Studies show a strong trend in the effectiveness of cross-training in an approach to improving body composition, regardless of the initial physical condition of the participants. Likewise, a reduction in waist circumference is observed in an adolescent population following an 8-week training protocol. This therefore demonstrates that the effect is applicable for a population of all ages. The effectiveness of the method in improving body composition can be attributed to the modulation of intensity which allows for greater volume at high intensity in combination with a more marked increase in post-exercise basal metabolism. Thus, greater energy expenditure could be promoted following the practice of the activity.

Then, a study by Sousa et al. (2016) reportedly observed an increase in muscular endurance following CrossFit-style training compared to traditional training. However, circuit-type training produces similar effects when compared to course training. Indeed, improvements in VO2 max and anaerobic capacity were observed in a Battogtokh et al. study (2015). These observations make sense, given that circuit training is based on the same principle: high density of high intensity training. The use of submaximal loads allows cardiovascular stimulation, since failure is felt by the accumulation of fatigue and not by the intensity. The potential of the method can be interesting for certain endurance sports, for the simple reason that it allows for the implementation of important and necessary adaptations to performance.

In addition, to achieve results in clients you have to be able to get them to adhere to the training plan. CrossFit, by the varied nature of the exercises and workouts, may increase the interest of clients. Also, in an age where people have very little time to spend on training, CrossFit, being short and intense, is less time consuming. This is, among others, reported by the study by Heinric, Patel, O’Neil and Heinrich (2014) which obtained a better response to high-intensity training as opposed to one combining moderate aerobic training to regular resistance training for to the pleasure felt and the intention to maintain the behavior over time.

Finally, CrossFit allows you to stimulate several qualities at the same time. However, given the wide range of qualities used, it becomes difficult to develop a particular one to its full potential. It is then important to ask what the objectives and the reasons are for using this training method and adapting it, in order to really produce the desired effect in clients. In addition, it is often mentioned that CrossFit is at higher risk for injury, but with the right guidance and individualized training planning, it is possible to minimize the risks. Consider CrossFit as a sport first and foremost, and prepare accordingly in order to give your musculoskeletal system a chance to tolerate the training load and benefit from the method’s full potential.


  1. Smith MM., Sommer AJ., Starkoff BE., Devor ST. crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(11) 3159–3172 2013.
  2. Choi,  So WY., and Jeong TT. Effects of the CrossFit Exercise Data Analysis on Body Composition and Blood Profiles. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 46(9): 1292–1294 2017.
  3. Eather N., Morgan PJ., Lubans DR. Improving health-related fitness in adolescents: the CrossFit Teens™ randomised controlled trial. Journal of Sport Science. 34(3):209-23 2016.
  4. Sousa AFM., dos Santos GB., dos Reis T., Valerino AJR., Del Rosso S., Boullosa DA. Differences in Physical Fitness between Recreational CrossFit® and Resistance Trained Individuals. Journal of Exercise Physiology. 19(5) 112-122 2016.
  5. Heinric KM., Patel PM., O’Neal JL., Heinrich BS. High-intensity compared to moderate-intensity training for exercise initiation, enjoyment, adherence, and intentions: an intervention study. BMC Public Health 14(789) 2014.
  6. Zagdsuren B., Evans, GS., Inman C., Stone , Arnett S., Schafer M.,  Lyons S., Maples J., Crandall J., Callahan Z. Crossfit Vs. Circuit-training: Effects Of A Ten-week Training Program On Aerobic, Anaerobic And Flexibility Indicators. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 47(5) 2015.

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