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What Makes a Better Athlete—CrossFit or Traditional Weightlifting?

It depends on your goals, new research says. One yields greater strength, while the other fosters better endurance.

What's the greatest training method of all time? The answer, of course, depends on who you ask. 

There are tremendous benefits a guy can gain from adopting a traditional bodybuilding or weightlifting program, just as there are impressive benefits from joining a CrossFit box. Researchers put some science behind the divisive argument and created a study to compare the differences in physical limits and capabilities—like explosive and dynamic strength and aerobic fitness—between recreational CrossFit and traditional weightlifters. 

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Since CrossFit Combines resistance and endurance training, it has the potential to negatively affect strength development. More or less it throws things a little off balance, so you can gain a greater amount of explosive strength versus maximum strength (something referred to as "interference effect"), the researchers say. 

In the study, published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, 26 men ranging in age from 20 to 32 with at least a year of training experience were brought on board. Half were CrossFitters, half weightlifters, and all trained 2 to 3 times weekly. But they weren't just fitness enthusiasts who volunteered for the study; these guys were legit. Weightlifters had to be training in accordance with the American College of Sports Medicine, meaning their regimen included periodized training with 1 to 12 max reps and some emphasis on heavylifting (think 1 to 6 rep max) using 3- to 5-min rest periods between sets; their reps also had to be done using a 1-2 second concentric phase and a 1-2 second eccentric lowering phase. Meanwhile, CrossFitters had to be training under a certified trainer within a certified academy.

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Participants' body mass, height, and body composition (skin folds) were measured a week before the assessments. In terms of body fat, 23.1 percent of the men were classified as “average,” 34.6 percent “good,” 19.2 percent “very good,” and 23.1 percent as “excellent.” From a physical standpoint, there weren't any major differences between groups. 

All the men completed the same fitness tests, in a randomized order, with at least 48 hours of recovery in between:

1) Pullups (to measure relative strength of upper body)  
2) Shuttle Run over 40 meters—run between two 20-meter lines, guided by an auditory signal, getting faster, and repeating until exhaustion—(to measure endurance and estimate VO2 max)
3) Countermovement Jump—from standing, hinge at the waist, bend knees, while keeping hands on hips, then immediately jump up for height—(to measure lower-body explosiveness)

*A 15-minute warmup with 10 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and 5 min of calisthenics was performed before pullups and countermovement jump.

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The Results

For the most part, the men didn't have significant differences in performance in regards to muscle strength (i.e. the countermovement jump and pullups). Weightlifters hit 35.85cm (give or take 7cm) while CrossFitters hit 41.1cm (give or take 7.7cm). And results flip-flopped for pullups: Resistance-trained athletes as a group performed more reps (11, give or take 3) versus CrossFitters (9, give or take 6).

But there were marked differences in VO2 max; CrossFitters reigned supreme. Using the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines about 31 percent of weightlifters were classified as having a “regular” VO2 max, 61.5 percent had a “good” score, and 7.7 percent were “excellent,” while 46 percent of CrossFitters were classified as “good” and 53.8 percent as “excellent.”

What This Means For You

Bottom line: CrossFitters demonstrated greater endurance and jump capacities, while resistance trained weightlifters had greater relative strength in their upper bodies. So, it becomes more of a question of your personal goals. What are you striving to improve? 

If you want more explosive, dynamic strength, try more traditional body part-specific workouts. If you want to better yourself aerobically, work in more CrossFit; it's known to amplify VO2 max, provide better body composition, and improve aerobic capacity, the researchers say.

If you want to try more CrossFit-centric routines, check out:

The 10 Best CrossFit Workouts to Improve Your Endurance >>>

10 Best CrossFit Workouts for Strength >>> 

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The Best CrossFit Workouts to Help You Get Faster >>>

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For more traditional weightlifting routines, check out:

Starting Strong: The Basics of the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press >>>

The 30-Minute Dumbbell Workout Program to Build Muscle >>>

The Push-Pull Routine to Gain Muscle and Simplify Your Training >>>

The Beginner's Guide to Weight Training>>> 

 

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