CrossFit vs Weightlifting – Which is Better for You?

Crossfit is one the biggest fitness phenomenons on the planet, whilst weightlifting is an old-school sport that’s suddenly starting to make a resurgence in popularity.  This article is all about which one is best for you.  We’re going to cover:

CrossFit vs Weightlifting

The main difference between crossfit and weightlifting is in the type and variety of training:  

Weightlifting is a sport focused on two lifts, the snatch and the clean & jerk.  The goal of the sport is to lift the most weight possible in each lift, and so training mainly focuses around moderate to heavy snatches, cleans, jerks and close variations.

Crossfit is a sport based around having a good level of preparedness for a wide variety of physical tasks, including but not limited to running, weightlifting, gymnastics, rowing, dumbbell exercises and med ball exercises.  Training for crossfit is therefore significantly more varied.

A good analogy for weightlifting versus crossfit is like starting a role when playing a board or video game, where you get to choose which categories you put your experience points into.  In weightlifting you’ve mega-maxed strength and power, whereas in crossfit you’ve spread your points evenly across a broad spectrum of skills.

Weightlifting skill tree (depth)

Crossfit skill tree (breadth)

Pros of CrossFit

  • Wide variety of workouts which can be interesting and motivating
  • Workouts often take place in supportive and competitive team environments
  • Develop decent levels of capability across different types of fitness

Pros of Weightlifting

  • Focused workouts allow for maximal development of strength and power
  • Tracking progress is simple (max weights lifted)

Cons of CrossFit

  • Wide variety of workouts and elements to train can be incredibly time consuming
  • Competitive group based workouts may lead to pushing too hard under fatigue if not monitored correctly, which increases the risk of an injury.
  • Will never reach maximal proficiency in any single event or discipline

Cons of Weightlifting

  • The focused nature of training can become repetitive and boring for some people
  • Lack of movement variation and high frequency of heavy loading can increase injury risk.

How to choose which is right for you

Both weightlifting and crossfit are fantastic sports, and both require a good deal of time, effort and commitment to become great at.  So how do you pick the one for you?

  • Ask yourself, are you the type of person who prefers diving super deep into a single topic or activity (weightlifting) or do you prefer being well-rounded in a wide variety of topics or activities? (crossfit)
  • Try both sports for a few sessions, and see which one you prefer.
  • If you’re still not sure, look at your body type and performance in both sports, and consider which you would be better suited for.  If you’ve got super long legs, especially long femurs, and find it really hard to gain strength, then trying to become a weightlifter is sort of like trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole!

Frequently asked questions

The following are some frequently asked questions when people are weighing up whether to take up Weightlifting or CrossFit.

How is success measured in CrossFit & Weightlifting?

In weightlifting, success is easy to measure, as it is simply the most weight that you can lift in the snatch and clean & jerk under competition conditions.

In crossfit, success is somewhat harder to define.  The best way is most likely to complete the ‘Games’ workouts each year (or scaled versions of them) and see how your results stack up in relation to the rest of the world.

With that said, success for many people is found through personal improvement and progression, rather than through competition, and both crossfit and weightlifting allow you to do this by aiming to do a little better each week.

Why do weightlifters hate CrossFit?

As a weightlifter and weightlifting coach, I actually think crossfit is pretty cool.  In fact, I think that the growth of crossfit has helped increase participation in weightlifting.  

For sure, there are some ‘old-school’ or traditional coaches who like to talk smack about crossfit, but I think this mainly comes from not really understanding the massive amounts of athleticism that crossfit requires. 

Talent respects talent.

Should an athlete pick CrossFit or Weightlifting to supplement training?

My honest answer is neither. 

Having worked within professional strength & conditioning for athletes for just over seven years, I can say with certainty that an athlete’s training should be specific to their sport, training history, training goals, injury status and a whole host of other considerations.

Neither weightlifting nor crossfit will optimally meet the needs of an athlete.

Are CrossFitters strong?

This depends on how you define and contextualise strength:

  • In relation to non-training people, yes, crossfitters are strong.
  • In relation to weightlifters or powerlifters, no crossfitters are not especially strong.

It also depends on the level of crossfitter we’re talking about:

  • High level crossfit athletes are most certainly very strong. There’s no way to do sets of 20+ rep deadlifts with 100kg and not be.
  • On the other hand, your average joe recreational crossfitter who comes in at lunch a couple of times each week to do a thirty minute WOD, is likely not very strong at all.

Is CrossFit or Weightlifting better for weight loss?

Real talk, a diet that allows you to achieve a calorie deficit is best for weight loss.  This is far more important than any form of training.  I highly recommend the RP diet app.  Literally, just tell it your details, follow its recommendations and you will lose weight optimally (I’m not sponsored in any way, it’s just a really good app).

Now, if you want to do some training to complement your calorie deficit diet, both weightlifting and crossfit can work.  Fundamentally you want to find something that you enjoy doing and can stick to for the long term.

How many calories does CrossFit really burn?

There are rough estimates of 300-600 calories per hour, but there’s just no real way to answer that question, because each crossfit workout is so wildly different, and each person responds to workouts differently.

More than that, trying to track calories burned per workout is sort of a road to nowhere, as assuming you’re training a similar amount each week (which you should be) it’s essentially a constant value.

My best advice is to forget about calories burned through workouts and focus on tracking your food intake, which is the actual variable that matters.

​​Is CrossFit unhealthy?

Crossfit, and all forms of exercise, are actually very healthy.  They improve heart and lung function and reduce the risk of all-cause mortality significantly.  

Just like all forms of exercise, crossfit is only ‘unhealthy’ or injury provoking when performed incorrectly or excessively.

How can I minimise injury risk when taking up CrossFit?

Just like with any other sport or activity, you need to start slowly and build up incrementally over time.  You can’t just expect to walk into a crossfit box and start kicking ass on your first day.  

Chances are that when you start you’re going to suck, and that’s okay.  Aim to get a little bit better every single week, and over the course of weeks, months and years you’ll become the super fit, abs-wielding crossfit hero you always dreamed of being.

How can I minimise injury risk when taking up Weightlifting?

Exactly as I said for crossfit, you need to start your weightlifting career slowly and build up incrementally over time.  You’re not going to be breaking any national or international records in your first workout.

When you start your technique will suck, and you won’t have enough strength in key positions, that’s totally okay.  Keep the weights light, refine your technique, increase your strength, and over weeks, months and years you too can throw ungodly amounts of weight above your head.

I’ve also written a beginner weightlifting article, which you might find really useful. When you become more advanced we also have an intermediate weightlifting program.

Summary

  • Crossfit is a broad sport that includes a wide variety of movements, exercises and physical skills all trained to a decent level, whereas weightlifting is a deep sport that trains only two strength and power movements to the highest possible level.
  • Both sports require high levels of training, and take time, effort and commitment to become great at.
  • Picking the right sport for you is a combination of personality match, trialing the sports, and seeing if your body type matches the demands of the sport.

Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

Parry, A (2022). Intermediate Weightlifting ProgramAvailable from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/?p=1402 [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].

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Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.

He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.