CrossFit vs Gym: Which is Better For You?

If you are looking to get into shape, lose weight, build some muscle, you may well be contemplating CrossFit vs gym. If you are curious as to how CrossFit weighs up against traditional gym workouts, read on. The reality is, both CrossFit and traditional gyms offer great benefits; however, each workout has its very own makeup and goals. If you are going to select one place to work out in on a regular basis, then it is important to choose the place best suited to you and your goals. There is no one size fits all. The “best” of the two comes down to your goals.

Much like with nutrition, fashion, or pretty much anything else, there is no one size fits all approach. One training method is not necessarily better than another, or more advantageous. Both methods offer a series of benefits. There is no doubt that CrossFit is effective, at the same time, millions of people have used traditional workouts to improve their health, fitness, and overall wellness.

Roughly speaking:

  • A “Gym” is a place where you can lift weights, do cardio training, and join group exercise classes. The word “gym” is loosely used to describe any physical exercise done within a fitness center.
  • “CrossFit” is a sport and a training routine founded on a basis of gymnastics, weight training, and cardio.

What Is CrossFit?

Crossfit vs Gym

The official answer: CrossFit is created by Greg Glassman, which uses functional and constantly varied movements fitness routines that are performed at high intensity. But what does that actually mean?

CrossFit is a type of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It is a strength and conditioning program that teaches functional movements, performed at a high-intensity level. Functional movements mimic actions that you perform on a daily basis, such as squatting, pushing, pulling, etc. CrossFit takes these ‘functional’ movements and leverages them for a workout by adding weights, speeding up the movements, or increasing distances. CrossFit boxes (gyms) have a standard “workout of the day” that all members complete on that day. The workout can always be adjusted to different fitness and skill levels.

The goal is to boost the overall power needed to execute these movements, to build muscle and strength, advance flexibility, and improve stamina. Every day the prescribed workout will challenge a different part of your functional strength or conditioning. These workouts do not focus on one particular body part, their goal is to build a body that is capable of practically anything and everything.

Another feature of CrossFit is the spirit of friendly competition and community. CrossFit boxes often use competitions or scoreboards to keep members motivated and enthused.

Benefits Of CrossFit

CrossFit has transformed the way that people work out by mixing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with functional movements. CrossFit is a fantastic way to get fit. You will learn a bunch of skills such as Olympic Weightlifting and Gymnastics within a group with a coach. Let’s discuss the benefits of CrossFit workouts.

1. The Community

As mentioned earlier, CrossFit is an individual sport within a team environment. CrossFit actively encourages community building and social interactions. The concept of a workout of the day also reinforces this by providing everyone with a common goal. Many CrossFit boxes also organize social events outside of class.

2. Classes are short but effective

High-intensity training, known as HIIT and also forms the foundation of the CrossFit program, is proven to be more effective than low- or moderate-intensity exercise at improving your cardiovascular fitness and body composition. Often gym-goers can find themselves spending far too long at the gym without really achieving much. A CrossFit session generally lasts for one hour and includes a warm-up, technique, workout, and a cooldown. This makes it easy to head to a session before or after work and be time-efficient. Additionally, those who work out at high intensity spend considerably less time training and yet experience the same results in their body composition.

3. Strength is developed through compound movements

In a traditional gym, people tend to focus on isolation movements, which concentrate on one main body part per session. In CrossFit, the focus is more on compound functional movements (i.e movements that target multiple body parts in a more functional manner) often completed at high intensity. Gone are the dreaded ‘leg days’ at the gym!

4. Boosts Physical and Mental Confidence

There will be moments where CrossFit can be tremendously challenging. If you are working out by yourself it can be very hard to push through certain barriers. At CrossFit, the team environment motivates you to keep going. This can result in a marvelous sense of accomplishment, whether it is completing your first pull-up, or finishing a workout in a better time than previously it is always incredibly motivating to see progress.

Most CrossFitters can recall with great pride the first time they performed certain challenging movements.

5. Dedicated Coaches

It can be very frustrating in the gym when you aren’t sure how to correctly use a machine or write yourself a coherent workout plan. CrossFit offers fully trained coaches to help you through the process and who will assist in modifying workouts where necessary, teaching techniques, and offering general advice.

6. A healthy dose of competition

CrossFit offers a healthy dose of competition which keeps motivation levels high. Not only are you competing with yourself in CrossFit but also with other members. This can be taken further as many boxes host competitions or take part in larger CrossFit events for those who wish to compete.

Cons of CrossFit

Challenging CrossFit workout

1. Frequent Injury

CrossFit injury rates are significantly higher than most other fitness regimes. These range from blistered hands to more substantial injuries. Of course, with any form of exercise, there is a risk of injury. CrossFit has a reputation for the intensity that is often intimidating, but CrossFit is open to everyone, relative to their fitness capacity.

2. Challenging Technique

Mastering the correct exercise form is very hard. Many CrossFit moves stem from gymnastics and Olympic Weightlifting (both incredibly technical sports that take years to perfect). It is imperative to perform complex movements using the correct form. Even though CrossFit emphasizes good form, many people struggle to maintain good form when there is a high number of reps, or when fatigue starts to set in. Functional, complex movements are often less controlled than isolated movements. They also have the benefit of activating numerous muscles at the same time, but on the flip side, the danger of injury is higher.

3. Cost

CrossFit can be very expensive. The monthly fee is generally quite a lot higher than the cost of joining a regular gym.

CrossFit vs Traditional Gym  

Below we examine the main differences between the two training regimens.

1. Space

CrossFit takes place in a box, not a gym. A CrossFit box is literally just that, a box. For the most part, they are simple spaces that contain minimal equipment. There are very few machines, typically no mirrors and no TVs. They are cubes with lots of space to have an intense workout.

2. Equipment

Gyms are often jam-packed with equipment from cardio machines, benches, free weights, core workout machines, and plenty more. CrossFit boxes do not require too much equipment, a lot of the exercises are bodyweight. CrossFit boxes do have some equipment, typically barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, Plyometric boxes, pull-up bars, battle ropes, and some cardio equipment (Assault bikes, ski ergs, and rowing machines).

3. Types Of Training

CrossFit

CrossFit workouts are designed to combine a mixture of three different training modalities: cardiovascular, gymnastics or bodyweight, and weightlifting. Workouts are designed which either mix the modalities or focus on one. A full CrossFit program will ensure that all modalities are covered throughout the month and workouts are constantly varied, allowing coaches to work on all of the skills, techniques, and exercises within the CrossFit program.

Gym

Traditional gym workouts tend to combine several different elements including strength training and cardio. There tends to be more of a focus on specific muscle groups rather than complex movements and less structure to overall programming.

For those who work out in a gym without a trainer, coming up with your own routine and then motivating yourself can be a challenge. CrossFit takes the reigns here and offers different challenges every day. Every day the prescribed workout changes. Each hour session begins with a warm-up, followed by skill work (anything from skipping, to handstands to Olympic Lifting), this is followed by the WOD (workout of the day) and finally a cool down to round things off. Workouts are designed so that they can be scaled accordingly to suit any client’s fitness level and/or goals.

4. Weight Loss

Both workouts burn calories. However, CrossFit exercises may be more effective due to the use of high intensity. This encourages your body to burn maximum calories both during and after training which helps enormously in losing weight.

However, it can also be argued that if your sole goal is to lose weight, the traditional gym could be more beneficial as you could set that as your only goal and design an entire program based on just that. CrossFit programming includes a more general approach to fitness with the ultimate goal being to create a well-rounded athlete who is capable of executing “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.”

5. Muscle Gain/ Getting Ripped

High Intensity CrossFit Training

A specific gym program will probably help to develop more muscles than CrossFit. That is not to say that CrossFit does not promote muscle growth, however, it is often not the main objective. CrossFit also tends to focus more on volume, speed, and explosivity, the high-intensity nature of CrossFit training is not ideal for muscle growth. This is more suited to increasing athletic strength and burning calories than hypertrophy. Furthermore, isolation exercises can be used in a more specific manner when trying to gain muscle. CrossFit exercises tend to be compound movements.

6. Sense of Community  

CrossFit has a very social side to it. It is essentially an individual sport in a team environment. Workouts will often include partner work and/or teamwork, so friendships develop effortlessly and before you know it, everyone will be screaming your name! Traditional gyms tend to have less ‘ community-focused’ programs.

7. Coaching

In a gym, you may or may not hire a personal trainer. In a CrossFit box, there is always a coach. There is no need to pay for extra personal training. The coach writes all the workouts and guides all the classes. They are also available to offer advice and instructions when necessary.

8. Goals

The focus of CrossFit is on meeting general goals designed to improve overall fitness levels. Often people training in a traditional gym have a very specific goal in mind where they will perform exercises and weights in repetitions to form successful sets.

9. Price

CrossFit memberships can be anywhere from $100-300 PCM, which is typically far more expensive than an average gym membership.

10. Risk Component

The overall injury rate in CrossFit, according to studies, is roughly 20%. The study discovered that the most common injuries were to the shoulders, low back, and knees. Risks related to gym exercises tend to be comparatively lower. The average injury rate of gym workouts is approximately 10%.

Why is CrossFit so expensive?

CrossFit boxes offer a lot of value to their members. Gyms estimate that a large percentage of their clients will pay but not show up, this is very different in CrossFit where a high percentage of their members come daily.

Here are a few reasons why CrossFit is so expensive:

  • Small classes
  • Individual attention
  • Professional coaches
  • Clearly explained workouts
  • Programming
  • Results
  • Unique atmosphere

CrossFit vs Gym: Which One Should You Choose?

CrossFit Gym vs Traditional gym

Ultimately this is a personal choice, that depends on your fitness levels, goals and what you are looking for in your training, and the way in which you enjoy training. Do you need more motivation, or are you happy to push yourself and write your own programming? Are you looking to learn new techniques, meet new people? The list goes on!

CrossFit must be approached with caution. It is a fantastic training regimen that offers excellent high-intensity training, nutrition guidance, strength training, and camaraderie to top it off, but it does come with risks. There is no right or wrong answer here, both gym and CrossFit have a lot to offer and on balance, we should all aim to try and be active a few times a week, find a training routine that we enjoy and can stick to, and essentially make it part of our lifestyle rather than a chore.

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Steph Contomichalos

Stephanie is a sports enthusiast, an avid crossfitter, wakeboarder and yogi. An advocate for women’s sport who strongly believes in the use of sport as a tool for development. She is currently living in Athens, Greece where she runs a hiking and yoga wellness retreat.

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