Which is better, high intensity interval training (I’ll call it Crossfit for the sake of simplicity) or traditional lifting? Obviously there isn’t one answer to this question; and good luck trying to convince someone who has their mind set on one way or the other. The answer is depends on your individual goals. If you have the genetics for it, you can do either and see results as long as you keep working out. For a lot of us, however, if you stick to one routine, whether it’s lifting or Crossfit, you’re going to plateau.
I did traditional lifting for years throughout high school and college. I eventually transitioned to Crossfit. One thing I noticed is that when I first made the transition from lifting to Crossfit, I reached a level of fitness I hadn’t achieved before. However, after a few months of strictly Crossfit, I was in great shape, but had lost muscle mass. Being a big fan of Crossfit at this point, I tried to supplement my WODs with some traditional lifts, but still didn’t regain the muscle mass I had from regular lifting.
Once you get into a regular routine, it’s difficult to keep your routine fresh. But I’ve found you can get great results by doing a good mix of traditional lifting and Crossfit. My baseline workout is a rotation of traditional lifts: shoulders and biceps, back and triceps, chest and abs, and legs. Every week I’ll do one day of lower body focused Crossfit, doing exercises such as box jumps, wall balls, cleans, rowing, double-unders, walking lunges, or kettle bell swings, mixed with some upper body movements such as push-press, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Then another day I’ll substitute a Crossfit workout for one of the traditional lifts that focuses on the muscles that I was supposed to lift that day. For example, if its back and triceps day, instead of lifting, I’ll do a workout that incorporates pull-ups, ring-dips, diamond push-ups, and rows, along with some other unique movements for lower body and core.
A great way to mix up your routine is to include a quick Crossfit style workout after your lift. For example, after lifting shoulders, do a 10 minute AMRAP of push presses and battle ropes. After doing legs, do 5 rounds of 10 reps of goblet squats, walking lunges, and step-ups. Just doing a quick high intensity workout can fatigue your muscles in new ways to help bust through a plateau.
Another method is to create your own hybrid workouts by incorporating Crossfit style exercises into your traditional lifts. For example, if you're lifting shoulders, between sets you can work in box jumps and back extensions. During leg day, you could incorporate hand-stand pushups between sets. Ideally, you want to mix in exercises that focus on a muscle group that you're not exercising within a couple days, and you want to do movements or rep counts that you don't usually do during your traditional lifts.
Everyone has their own routine and their own preferences. This post isn’t meant to be inclusive of your options by any means, but rather a suggestion that if you’re doing only Crossfit or only lifting regularly, you will probably benefit by mixing up your routine. If you just lift, by mixing in Crossfit you will exhaust your muscles in new ways through different amounts of reps, higher intensity, and different angles. In addition, you will increase your cardiovascular capacity and overall fitness. If you just do Crossfit, by mixing in days of traditional lifting you will build strength and increase muscle mass. If you’re trying to cut weight, you might want to go heavier on the Crossfit. If you’re bulking up, you will want to go heavier on the lifting. Whatever you do, mixing up your routine is key.