As long as I can remember, my week was defined by the wide range of sports and activities I threw myself into. One day, I was running or biking. Then next, rock climbing and gymnastics. As a kid, I was attending ballet classes five days a week. As an adult, I was completing triathlons or marathons, then teaching yoga.
Then I found CrossFit and everything changed. This intense training system combined everything I loved. It had enough technique work to keep me stimulated and learning, and familiar movements like running and rowing to appeal to my athletic side. I dove right in.
And I saw results…for a while. Then they stopped. What I did to get them going again might surprise a few of my fellow box-dwellers.
The Power of Muscular Cross Training
During my first few years of CrossFit, I was also teaching yoga full time, and I found it was natural to blend the two. When I taught CrossFit, I used traditional yoga for my warm-ups and cool-downs, and I even brought a few gymnastic-style CrossFit exercises into my yoga classes.
The crossover worked! People in both classes began to move with more intention and focus while getting stronger. However, I wasn't being as smart when it came to my own fitness routine.
My "aha" moment came when I noticed my presses and squats in the weight room hadn't gotten stronger in quite a while. I realized that if I wanted to keep progressing, it wasn't just a question of practicing the skill of each lift, I also needed to beef up some muscle groups I had neglected over years of training.
So, I took step back, recalibrated, and began to introduce some strategic bodybuilding into my workouts.
CrossFit and bodybuilding workouts are both stronger and safer with a leather or nylon lifting belt for extra support.
The Bodybuilder's Approach
Why bodybuilding? Because the body is an efficient piece of machinery. It will always find the path of least resistance for completing a task. If a muscle isn't firing properly—say, your glutes, for a common example—the body will respond by using other muscles in its place rather than forcing that muscle to work.
This results in overactive and underactive muscles, both of which are the foundations of movement dysfunction, compensation, and potential injury.
Bodybuilders are mad scientists when it comes to finding new ways to isolate muscles groups and create balance. I needed to find a way to keep my CrossFit training schedule but incorporate muscle-isolating bodybuilding techniques into my daily workouts.
Plenty of CrossFitters and powerlifters do muscle-focused accessory work after their big barbell moves to keep those lifts from jacking them up. Me, I went the opposite direction and started using bodybuilding as a warm-up.
Here's an example of a daily CrossFit workout built around big, compound movements like pulling, squatting, and pressing:
My bodybuilding-style warm-up was designed to isolate those specific muscles groups and push blood into them. It involved stricter, more controlled versions of the same movement patterns as the main workout.
Here's how it looked for this workout:
You may think this would just fatigue me before my difficult WOD, but I found the opposite was true: It made me stronger!
If this is a warm-up, the weight of the dumbbells should be on the lighter side. If you're doing this after your WOD, you can push the weight a little heavier and closer to muscle failure.
Build Your Body to Get Fitter
Once you start viewing bodybuilding as injury prevention and performance enhancement, not just "aesthetics work," it gets easier to find ways it can work with CrossFit. Here are just a few to consider:
- Perform John Rusin's band shoulder warm-up before intense upper body lifting.
- Bro up and train biceps and triceps for 20 minutes after elbow-stressing moves like ring dips and kipping pull-ups.
- Do your skill-focused work for Olympic lifts, then perform higher-rep squats or deadlifts as accessory work, like in Kelly Bagget's plan "How to Combine Bodybuilding and Olympic Lifting."
- Perform strength or muscle-focused training on a split, then burn out in a quick full-body WOD, like in Ashley Horner's Charlie Mike program.