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Freak Fitness

Darren Mehling BA, CSCS

As a strongman competitor, Darren has pulled 50,000 lb trucks and dead lifted 805 lbs. As a competitive bodybuilder, he has won Provincial Super-heavyweight & Overall titles. As President & CEO of FREAK Fitness, he has coached his clients to hundreds of Novice, Provincial/State, National, and IFBB Pro titles. Having been involved in the sport of bodybuilding for over 20 years, Darren has his finger on the pulse of the local and international bodybuilding scenes, and will be keeping you informed through his column, “Freak Fitness."

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Should Bodybuilders Do CrossFit?

A bodybuilder’s foray into this fitness trend discovered some disappointing limitations of CrossFit

Most of you know me as the Freak Maker, a bodybuilder who runs a very successful contest-prep coaching business in Canada. But you may not know I also was a Level 2 CrossFit coach and in 2008, along with my wife, IFBB pro Christina Mehling, opened Manitoba’s first CrossFit affiliate. A decade ago, I loved what CrossFit was: a hardcore community of dedicated strength-and-conditioning specialists who intelligently coached their clients in garage gyms and were committed to maximizing human performance. Unfortunately, as CrossFit became more mainstream, it also became diluted, and to be frank, it quickly became the monster it was created to battle: a widespread virus of low-quality coaching and haphazard programming that produced injuries galore.

With any profession, there’s always going to be the good and the bad. And there’s definitely a number of great CrossFit “boxes” that employ professional and knowledgeable coaches, use sound programming, and produce great results for their clients. But these places and coaches are the exception, not the norm, in my opinion. So, I could no longer be associated to what CrossFit had become and returned all of my focus to my first love, bodybuilding.

So when I’m asked, quite frequently actually, if bodybuilders should do CrossFit, I can give them a very qualified “no.” Here’s why.

1. CrossFit exercise performance focuses on inclusion whereas bodybuilding focuses on isolation.

CrossFit’s training goal is to become as efficient as possible, using as many muscles as possible to spread the effort across the entire body, so that you can minimize fatigue and produce more work output. In contrast, bodybuilding training isolates a muscle group(s) or even a specific portion of a muscle to completely fatigue the targeted area. This creates a strong stimulus to produce muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth).

2. CrossFit programming is random whereas bodybuilding is systemic.

By its own definition, CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” Therefore, CrossFit is designed to create an athlete who is somewhat proficient in many areas of fitness. In contrast, bodybuilding can be defined as “the use of progressive-resistance training to develop muscle.” And because bodybuilding is more specific in purpose, it employs systemic programming to achieve that specific goal.

3. CrossFit focuses on function/performance whereas bodybuilding is all about aesthetics.

CrossFit programming is focused on improving function and athletic performance. I know many claim they have built muscle from CrossFit, but in all of the cases I’ve seen it was a case of a beginner, new to intense exercise. I don’t want to rain on the CrossFit lover’s parade here, but when someone is new to exercise, anything even remotely athletically challenging will build some muscle. But let me be very clear: Building muscle is not the goal of CrossFit; it is a side effect. In contrast, many bodybuilders consider themselves artists who use weight training to purposefully build and sculpt their bodies to create a specific, ideal look. For bodybuilders, it’s not primarily about becoming stronger or more efficient; it’s about building their best physique.

After learning how different CrossFit is in purpose, programming, and focus, I hope that any of you looking to build a body that looks like anything from a fitness model’s build to a Mr. Olympia physique will think twice about jumping in on the next “Murph” WOD (workout of the day—CrossFit lingo). If you want to be the fittest man or woman on earth, by all means join your neighborhood CrossFit box, but if your goal is to jack up your physique, keep doing your five-day splits, body-part specific training days, and dedicated hypertrophy workouts.