CrossFit vs Bodybuilding

CrossFit and bodybuilding are two very popular methods for developing fitness.

However, the two types of training are much different than one another. CrossFit training tends to focus on developing well-rounded fitness across many different skills, while bodybuilding really comes to achieving your potential around a very specific goal.

Here's a breakdown of CrossFit vs Bodybuilding. At the end, we'll give you an unbiased answer on which is the right fitness methodology for you.

As a business entity, CrossFit was officially established in 2000. However, the founders Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai have said in interviews that they started developing the methodology years before this.

From the very beginning, CrossFit had a very specific brand for their fitness: constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.

Unpacking this may seem easier than it first reads. "Constantly varied" implies workouts change daily; "functional movements" mean exercises that mimic daily movements like push-ups and pull-ups; and performing them at a high intensity and across broad time and modal domains means varying the way the exercises are performed.

For example, doing calisthenics exercises like muscle-ups for time one day, then performing them as a strict skill exercise another day. In general, a CrossFit workout can vary widely in terms of how it's structured and what aspect of your fitness it's meant to develop.

Since 2010, CrossFit has grown steadily, thanks in large part to their (now disbanded) affiliation with Reebok to host the CrossFit games. 

The 2019 CrossFit open boasted a record 358,000+ participants.

A Brief History of Bodybuilding

In contrast to CrossFit, the sport of bodybuilding has been around for several centuries. Historians say it first popped up in 19th century Britain, though the location of its origin is sometimes disputed.

Bodybuilding uses resistance training exercises to develop one's physique to it's ultimate physique. Competitors typically have tons of lean muscle and diet down to very low body fat percentages for shows, and are then judged on things like size and balance of their appearance.

Whereas CrossFit movements tend to prioritize functionality and crossover, bodybuilding specifically focuses on adding lean muscle to the physique. As such, weight training exercises used are often done on machines instead of with barbells or your bodyweight.

Each year, the Mr. Olympia award is given to the top bodybuilder. Famous winners of the award include Arnold Schwarzeneger, Ronnie Coleman, Dorian Yates and Jay Cutler, among others.

Many general fitness enthusiasts rely on bodybuilding-style workouts to achieve their fitness goals.

CrossFit athlete completing bear complex WOD

The Benefits of Both

Here are some of the benefits of both CrossFit and bodybuilding exercise. Use them to make an informed decision about which fitness methodology is right for you.

Benefits of CrossFit

  • Wide variety of workouts. They change daily and entire programs change monthly, so you're always doing something new
  • A wide variety of skills to master. CrossFit uses hundreds of exercises/pieces of equipment, meaning you'll always have a new technique to work on.
  • High intensity workouts are great for fat loss. Many people that come to CrossFit to lose weight are pleasantly surprised that simply doing a CrossFit WOD 4 to 5 times per week and eating a whole-food diet helps them really shed excess weight. 
  • Develop a well-rounded physique and fitness skills. CrossFit helps you develop strength, speed, agility, power, coordination and endurance, among other fitness skills.
  • Exercise with a community. CrossFit is usually performed at a CrossFit gym with (or against) others, adding a sport vibe to it.

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Various levels of buy-in. You can be a one-percent CrossFit athlete trying to compete on the world-stage, or just be a CrossFit beginner who enjoys fitness. This methodology works for any fitness level!


Benefits of Bodybuilding

  • Good for adding lean muscle mass and strength. This also helps keeps joints strong and protected from injury, too.

  • Helps you burn more calories at rest. The more lean muscle you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is, meaning you'll burn more calories throughout the day doing absolutely nothing!

  • A good introduction to strength training/fitness. 

  • Better suited for typical gym settings. Unlike CrossFit, bodybuilding can be done at most conventional gyms. You can add size and strength with machines, or lift heavy weights.

  • In all likelihood, a leaner body fat percentage. If you take bodybuilding seriously, you will likely lose weight as you strive to build the perfect physique.

Read Also: Our review of the best pro hormones for mass and strength

Easier to get started. If you know your way around the gym, you can start building muscle using gym equipment today. New CrossFitters often need a coach or personal trainer to teach them the exercises they'll be doing.


Honestly, there's no reason you can't try both. Most CrossFit boxes do free or introduction classes so you can see what it's all about. And to try bodybuilding, simply look for an easy-to-follow template online and try that for a few days.

What’s Best for You, CrossFit or Bodybuilding?

The answer to this question really comes down to your goals and what matters to you.

CrossFit is going to appeal to people who like variety in their workouts, and those who may want the benefits of their training to translate over to sports outside of the gym (i.e. biking or running races).

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Bodybuilding is going to be better suited for those who really just want to add size, muscle or strength to their frame. Alternatively, this is a good method if you're really serious about maxing your potential and putting it on display. (You could argue CrossFit does this too, but bodybuilding is probably more noticeable.)

They're not completely different either; both fitness methods use compound exercises to achieve their goals. And both are one-hundred percent better options than doing nothing at all. You'll reap the myriad health benefits of regular exercise by practicing either fitness method.

If your goal is simply to lose weight and enjoy your workouts, we'd say CrossFit is the way to go. But if you really want to revamp your entire appearance, bodybuilding might be more up your alley.

Ben Kissam

Ben Kissam

I help college athletes maximize their 4-year sports window and succeed after graduation.

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