Cross Training vs CrossFit – Differences, Benefits and Drawbacks

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

1. CrossFit and cross-training are two distinct types of exercise programs, with varying levels of intensity and equipment used.

2. CrossFit workouts are high-intensity and designed to challenge all aspects of fitness, while cross-training is designed to complement the training of athletes who already perform a specialized sport.

3. CrossFit is ideal for those looking to improve their overall fitness and health, while cross-training is better suited for athletes dedicated to a certain type of sport.

4. CrossFit may also be used as a form of cross-training by some athletes, depending on their fitness level and goals.

5. Always assess your needs in order to determine which type of program is best for you.

Cross Training vs CrossFit - a group of athletes
Science behind CrossFit

The Science Behind CrossFit

Why It Works

The Science Behind CrossFit


“What kind of sport are you doing?” was the question from a guy at a birthday party just recently.

“I´m doing CrossFit quite regularly and of course, I also enjoy nature by hiking, biking, and so on…” I replied.

“Ah, you are doing CrossFit?” he responded with a happy face and quickly added, “I´m doing Cross Training as well…!”

My alarms got triggered by that since I have had such conversations already – but I asked: “Cool, at which CrossFit box do you usually work out?”

His confused look and the following question “Box?” told me: we are not talking about the same thing!

It often happens that people mistake one for the other, but Cross Training and CrossFit are two different training regimen.

Both training methods intersect in many ways and might look very similar at a quick glance.

Let´s compare Cross Training vs CrossFit and find out about the differences and the benefits each method provides.

Cross Training vs Crossfit - Crossfit athlete workoing out

Explanation of CrossFit and Cross Training

CrossFit and Cross Training are two types of exercise programs that have become more and more popular in recent years.

Both are designed to help you get in shape and improve your overall fitness, but they differ in their approach to achieving these goals.


CrossFit is a high-intensity fitness program that combines elements of weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardiovascular exercises.

It’s designed to improve your overall physical fitness by challenging your body with a wide variety of exercises and movements.

That is why CrossFit has the term “constantly varied” molded into its definition.

CrossFit workouts typically include a mix of weightlifting exercises like squats and deadlifts, gymnastics movements like pull-ups and handstands, and cardiovascular exercises like running or rowing.

Crossfitters accept the fact that they are not specializing in one particular movement or exercise.

The goal is rather to become the best possible version of yourself with the widest range of movements, exercises, and skills possible.

CrossFit is – in most cases – a Crossfitters main sport.

Cross Training vs Crossfit - Crossfit athletes doing pull-ups

Cross Training

Cross Training, on the other hand, is a more general approach to fitness that also involves combining different types of exercises to achieve a balanced and well-rounded fitness routine.

Cross Training can also include a variety of exercises such as weightlifting, cardio, calisthenics, and functional movements. It is designed to vary your workouts to prevent boredom and to work on different muscle groups and energy systems.

The idea behind Cross Training is to find balancing activities, exercises, and workouts for those who perform a sport that would usually constantly target very specific muscles or muscle groups while underutilizing other muscle groups.

The goal is to achieve a higher level of performance in your primary sport by adding strength to muscle groups that support your primarily used muscles in your sport.

Cross Training vs Crossfit - female athlete with her coach
Crossfit Coach at work

Crossfit For Beginners

Where To Start

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Cross Training vs CrossFit - a First Summary

While CrossFit and Cross Training share some similarities, they have different focuses and training styles.

CrossFit workouts tend to be more intense and focused on competition and achieving personal records. The purpose of CrossFit is to become better at CrossFit and through that also to improve your overall fitness.

Cross Training, on the other hand, is more geared towards overall fitness and well-being for rather specialized athletes.

A professional cyclist might do Cross Training to improve upper body strength, or a swimmer might do Cross Training to increase explosiveness for the start jump.

Regardless of which program you choose, both CrossFit and Cross Training can help you achieve your fitness or competitive goals. They offer a challenging and varied workout routine that can help improve your strength, endurance, and overall health.

Cross Training vs Crossfit - a group of happy athletes

Importance of Understanding the Differences


Definition of CrossFit

There is an official definition for CrossFit that contains these words:”…constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity…”

Another phrase that often pops up when talking about CrossFit is: “…preparing for the unknown and unknowable…”

As you can already see: CrossFit is not designed to make you the world’s fastest runner, swimmer, or skier.

The goal of CrossFit is overall fitness and health for everybody who decides to participate.

You could do CrossFit as your primary sport to ultimately be prepared for the CrossFit games and finish as the best athlete there.

Or you could also apply CrossFit as your Cross Training for your specialized sport.

Characteristics of CrossFit Workouts

CrossFit training can be described as tough, loud, sweaty, noisy, hard, exhausting, eye-opening, challenging, and absolutely rewarding.

CrossFit gyms are not like “normal” gyms – you will find equipment that you would never see in standard gyms.

Here, dropping weights is just as normal as leaving a sweaty mark on the floor while trying to get some air into your lungs after a tough workout.

A CrossFit workout will see you performing high-intensity interval training, strength training, bodyweight exercises, olympic weightlifting, endurance training, and lots of functional fitness exercises.

The training modalities for your WOD (workout of the day) of a CrossFit session are laid out by your coach who will also be the one who has an eye on your form during the workout and who will also be your motivator if things are getting tough for you.

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Benefits of CrossFit

  1. Variety of exercises and workouts: There is not a single muscle that will not be targeted by the CrossFit training methodology. Exercises are in fact constantly varied and workouts never get boring.
  2. Supervision by a coach: Every CrossFit class is like a session with a personal trainer. Groups at a Crossfit gym are never too large which makes it possible for CrossFit coaches to keep an eye on each athlete.
  3. Community: The CrossFit community welcomes you all over the world. No matter which social background – athletes from all kinds of different places share a common interest and mindset. There is a sense of comraderie that roots in the fact that all athletes respect each other’s efforts.
  4. Made for everybody: Made for any fitness level, any age and even limited physical abilities don´t exclude athletes from reaping their benefits from CrossFit. People believe that they have to be super fit in order to start CrossFit. But that is not true! CrossFit will make you fit, but you don´t need to be fit to start doing CrossFit.
  5. Time efficiency: High-intensity workouts packed into a well-planned one-hour session. That is a very brief description of a CrossFit class. This one hour packs a massive punch and works the entire body.
  6. Improved health and fitness: A great physique is just a side effect. The true value lies in the long terms benefits like mobility, flexibility, strength, and mental toughness.
  7. Improved mental toughness: Talking about mental toughness – Constantly learning new skills like muscle ups, olympic weightlifting movements, handstand walks, or double unders, combined with having to work through extremely challenging workouts make you mentally strong and resilient.

Drawbacks of CrossFit

  1. Increased risk of injury: The high-intensity nature of CrossFit workouts can increase the risk of injury, especially for beginners or those with pre-existing conditions. In fact, according to statistics 20% of athletes performing CrossFit got injured while performing CrossFit-like workouts. Which brings us right to the next point:
  2. Poor form: CrossFit workouts often require complex movements that can be difficult to perform correctly, leading to poor form and potential injury. The only cure for this issue is a good coach! CrossFit lives and dies through a good coach who constantly reminds you to observe form and execution. One has to be very experienced and perfect in the execution of difficult movements to be able to work out alone.
  3. Emphasis on competition: CrossFit promotes a competitive atmosphere that can push participants to exceed their limits, potentially leading to injury or burnout. Regrettably, there is more to it than most would believe. Rhabdomyolysis – a very serious condition resulting from extreme muscle strain – is a common fear in the CrossFit community.
  4. Expensive: CrossFit memberships and equipment can be costly, making it difficult for some people to afford.
  5. Lack of emphasis on rest and recovery: CrossFit promotes a high-intensity, high-volume approach to training, which can lead to overtraining and burnout if rest and recovery are not prioritized. Many athletes believe in “more is better” and neglect resting periods just to be the one mean machine who works out every day.
Cross Training vs Crossfit - athlete on the rings
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Cross Training

Definition of Cross Training

Cross-training refers to athletic training that involves practicing sports or exercises that are different from an athlete’s usual routine, with the aim of enhancing overall performance.

This approach leverages the specific benefits of each training method to offset the limitations of others.

As CrossFit aims for the best overall fitness without focusing on one particular discipline or exercise, Cross Training is meant to complement your training efforts and make you better at your primary sport.

Characteristics of Cross Training Workouts

This is where people get things mixed up – a Cross Training program can often look very similar to a CrossFit workout. Functional movements and exercises similar to those used in CrossFit will also appear in Cross Training activities.

In the extreme case, CrossFit can be the Cross Training program of choice for an athlete. UFC fighter Jessy Jess would be such an example.

Cross-training workouts are all about switching things up and incorporating a variety of exercises to improve overall fitness.

They aim to balance strength, endurance, and flexibility, with functional movements that simulate real-life activities.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced athlete, cross-training workouts can be tailored to your fitness level, goals, and needs.

These workouts are typically organized into periods or phases, targeting different aspects of fitness or preparing for a specific event.

Recovery is also prioritized with periods of rest and lower-intensity workouts to allow the body to recover and prevent burnout.

Benefits of Cross Training

  1. Improved overall fitness: Cross-training involves a variety of exercises that are put together to improve overall fitness, including strength, endurance, agility, and flexibility.
  2. Reduced risk of injury: Cross-training is also designed to prevent overuse injuries by incorporating a variety of exercises that strengthen muscles and muscle groups which ultimately have a balancing effect on the muscular system. By doing so the strain on specific muscle groups is reduced.
  3. Increased motivation: Cross-training also prevents boredom by incorporating a variety of exercises, keeping athletes motivated and engaged. Hardworking athletes need some diversity in their training program in order to keep the necessary focus. Cross-training offers just that.
  4. Improved performance in specific sports or activities: This is the main goal of Cross Training! It helps athletes improve their performance in their primary sport or activity by developing other aspects of fitness.
  5. Increased calorie burn: Applied to hobby athletes, Cross-training helps burn more calories than just doing one kind of sport like running or lifting weights by incorporating additional types of exercises and intensities.
  6. Improved recovery: Cross-training can promote recovery by incorporating lower-intensity workouts, allowing the body to recover and prevent burnout.
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Drawbacks of Cross Training

  1. Overtraining: Cross-training can increase the risk of overtraining if not done correctly, especially if an individual is not allowing enough time for recovery between workouts.
  2. Risk of injury: Although cross-training can reduce the risk of overuse injuries, incorporating new exercises and activities can also increase the risk of acute injuries if not done with proper technique or if the individual is not familiar with the exercise.
  3. Lack of specificity: Cross-training is less specific to the individual’s primary sport or activity. As this might be the point of doing Cross Training in the first place, one needs to find the right balance between Cross Training vs specialized training. Excessive or incorrect Cross Training programs could potentially result in a lack of progress or improvement in the main sport discipline.
  4. Time-consuming: Cross-training workouts can be time-consuming next to focused and specialized training and may require access to specialized equipment or facilities, which may not be accessible or convenient for everyone.
  5. Inconsistent progress: Cross-training involves a variety of exercises, which can make it difficult to track progress and make consistent improvements in specific areas of fitness.
Cross Training vs Crossfit - cross training workout

Differences Between CrossFit and Cross Training

CrossFit – when done on a maxed-out level – is a very challenging program. Technically difficult exercises like olympic weightlifting movements are part of this workout regime.

One has to be a very tough top-level athlete to use CrossFit in its “RX”-form (meaning maximum weight and maximum reps) as a Cross Training program.

What is often overlooked is the fact that CrossFit is more than just going hard in workouts, running, rowing, and moving weights. When talking about CrossFit, one also means the whole health concept that comes with CrossFit.

Healthy nutrition without any supplements other than fish oil is one major part that makes up the CrossFit concept.

A serious Crossfitter also works on understanding how the body works, how fitness can be built and kept up even at an older age, and what kind of nutrition and combination of macro-nutrients are beneficial.

Comparing cross training vs CrossFit shows that Cross Training is not such a holistic fitness and health program.

It rather is a balancing factor for people or individuals seeking additional ways to get better in their sport.

Comparison of Fitness Goals

Comparison of Equipment Used

Both CrossFit and cross-training workouts can be done with minimal or no equipment, and both can also incorporate a wide variety of equipment, depending on the individual’s goals and preferences.

Some common equipment used in CrossFit includes:

  1. Barbell and weights
  2. Kettlebells
  3. Pull-up bar
  4. Gymnastics rings
  5. Medicine balls
  6. Rowing machine
  7. Assault bike
  8. Plyometric boxes
  9. Jump ropes
  10. Dumbbells and other free weights
Cross Training vs Crossfit - crossfit quipment

Cross-training workouts can incorporate many of the same pieces of equipment, as well as some additional equipment such as:

  1. Resistance bands
  2. TRX suspension trainer
  3. Stability balls
  4. Foam rollers
  5. Battle ropes
  6. Sandbags
  7. Agility ladders
  8. Bosu balls
cross training vs crossfit - cross training equipment

Comparison of Intensity Levels

CrossFit workouts are known for their high-intensity level and can be very challenging, especially for those who are not used to high-intensity workouts.

The workouts are designed to push athletes to their limits, often incorporating heavy weights, explosive movements, and a variety of exercises to challenge all aspects of fitness.

CrossFit workouts can be very demanding and require a high level of skill and fitness to perform safely and effectively.

On the other hand, cross-training workouts are designed to complement the training of athletes who already perform a specialized sport, such as running, swimming, or even car racing.

While they can be challenging, cross-training workouts are typically not as intense as pure CrossFit workouts.

They are often designed to target specific areas of fitness, such as strength, endurance, or flexibility, that are important for the athlete’s primary sport.

This does not mean that some athletes might use CrossFit as their cross training method, but usually they would do so at a lower intensity and weight level.

Overall, the intensity level of CrossFit workouts is generally higher than that of cross-training workouts, as CrossFit is designed to be a complete fitness program in itself.

CrossFit workouts are designed for athletes who only perform CrossFit as their main sport, whereas cross-training is designed to complement the training of athletes who already perform a specialized sport. However, the specific intensity level of a workout will depend on the individual’s fitness level and goals, as well as the specific exercises and equipment used.

Which One is Right for You?

To find an answer to this question, answer a few more questions:

  1. Are you a person looking to improve your overall fitness, health, strength, and add capabilities in the form of new skills? But you are not exclusively performing or competing in a specialized type of sport? Then CrossFit is the training regime for you!
  2. Are you already an individual dedicated to a certain type of sport? Are you a runner, swimmer, cross country skier, football player, ect.? Are you seeking ways to balance your specialized training, or to recover from periods of extensive competition? Then Cross Training is what you are looking for!

But – as said before – CrossFit might also be the Cross Training program for some athletes!