CrossFit Vs. Traditional Weight Training

Whether you dream of winning a bodybuilding competition or just want to tone up your frame, working with weights is one of the most efficient ways to add muscle. Gone are the days of hefting logs to build muscle; today you can choose to do traditional weightlifting on your own, or you can follow a more structured program like the one created by the company CrossFit.

Man doing weight training (Image: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images)

The Basics

While CrossFit and traditional weight training share some of the same benefits, they differ in terms of intensity. In traditional weight training, you'll typically work out in a gym setting using weights that vary from 5 pound hand weights to barbells weighing 200 pounds or more. CrossFit is a more intense and structured workout. CrossFit uses a wider variety of equipment, only some of which you'll find in a typical gym. You'll do exercises with sandbags and iron balls, called kettlebells, as well as with free weights, giant medicine balls, tractor tires and plyo boxes. You can learn about specific CrossFit exercises on the company's web site and do them on your own, though there are also CrossFit workout centers and certified trainers available in certain cities.

Pros and Cons of CrossFit

The CrossFit method is intense. If you follow the program, you'll do exercises that require bursts of power and energy -- and you'll have to do them over and over again. These exercises burn calories quickly but they can also be exhausting. You're also at risk of injury when you push yourself as hard, and do as wide a variety of movements, as CrossFit requires. One benefit of CrossFit that you won't find with traditional weight training is the built-in community that comes with following the program. The program has a devoted group of followers who offer one another tips and support on the company's web site as well as at CrossFit events and centers around the country. It's easy for newbies to get swept away by the community and push themselves too far. One dire consequence for even the most experienced CrossFit aficionado going too far is rhabdomyolysis. Simply put, your muscles cells explode, secrete a protein called myoglobin and your kidneys become over-taxed trying to clean these proteins up. This is a potentially lethal condition that should be avoided at all costs.

Pros and Cons of Weight Training

Perhaps the biggest benefit of traditional weight training is that you can set your own pace. If you're recovering from an injury or just starting to work with weights, you have the freedom to start slowly with light free weights. You can also opt to use only light weights if you want to build muscle without building bulk. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, you won't build it as quickly with traditional weight training as you will with CrossFit.

Choosing Your Workout

When it comes to choosing the right weight-based workout for you, don't make the decision on your own. Consult your doctor first, since you may have certain medical conditions or past injuries that make CrossFit too risky for you. If you do decide that CrossFit is the right workout for you, the American Council on Exercise recommends working with a personal trainer first. He can help you build the flexibility, strength and endurance you need to follow the CrossFit program without getting injured.

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