But if you did come to CrossFit for all that sweet muscle mass, don’t worry. We’ve got the best CrossFit workouts for building muscle just for you. Because even though your average WOD will help you get jacked, these CrossFit-style workouts are designed to take your boulder shoulders and teardrop quads to the next level.
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Best CrossFit Workouts for Building Muscle
- Best CrossFit Workout for Building Upper Body Muscles
- Best CrossFit Workout for Building Lower Body Muscles
- Best CrossFit Workout for Core Building Muscles
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Building Muscle
- Best No-Equipment CrossFit Workout for Building Muscle
CrossFitters use their upper bodies like nobody’s business. Even if a movement seems to be about their lower bodies, it’ll often be performed in a way that taxes the upper body. For example, lunges seem like they’re all about your lower body until you’re performing them with a barbell or kettlebell in the front-rack position or hoisted overhead.
But for this workout, you’re going to focus entirely on your upper body. The goal here is to really shore up the smaller muscles of your upper body that risk getting overshadowed by your back and chest. Your triceps and biceps are going to get a lot of play, so get ready to feel a pump.
CrossFit workouts are about pushing your limits. Even when workouts look simple on paper, they’re designed to present extreme challenges in practice. For the workout below, the rep scheme combined with working against the clock will get very taxing, very quickly.
12-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
You’ll have to be very strategic about how you’re splitting up your reps, especially since you’ll be performing strict chin-ups instead of kipping pull-ups. Consider modifying the movements later in the workout even if you don’t have to right away.
This workout is deceptively simple, but the fatigue will build extremely quickly. Since there are only two moves — and they’re both upper-body focused — your exhaustion will have nowhere to hide.
You might not have to modify this workout right out of the gate. But to keep working up to the 12-minute mark, you might need to use variations of these exercises to get you to the finish line with sharp form.
Some modifications for the chin-ups follow:
Some alternatives for the bar dip follow:
- Band-Assisted Dip
- Bench Dip
- Close-Grip Push-Up
CrossFit will take a toll on your lower body, plain and simple. Anyone who’s ever suffered through a WOD can probably tell you that it’s like getting hit with multiple leg days at once when you try to hobble out of bed the next day.
But that’s no reason not to give your legs a little extra love. The more attention you give your legs, the better equipped you’ll be to face down the rigors of your next WOD (as long as you’re prioritizing muscle recovery).
This workout will go after all areas of your legs, including one place where it’s notoriously difficult to build muscle — your calves. Make sure that you’re giving your heels and ankles ample attention in your warm-up and recovery time.
Five rounds, for time:
For each lift, choose a weight that feels very manageable during the first round but will be challenging by round three. It should be quite difficult to get through unbroken by round five.
To get the stimulus of a back squat, stand with each foot on a bumper plate or a step riser, with a gap in between just wide enough to accommodate a dumbbell. Squat while holding a dumbbell between your hands with your arms long. Keep your torso tall.
This position will allow you to sink deep into the squat while using a significantly heavier weight than you might be able to goblet squat.
Speaking of goblet squats, they are an excellent option for modifying your barbell front squat. If you need unweighted versions, you can use a PVC pipe or even a broomstick to simulate the positions of a barbell in both types of squats. You can also perform air squats.
Instead of doing a barbell Romanian deadlift, swap in dumbbells. You can also perform hip hinges with the same form as a Romanian deadlift, but with empty hands. Just focus on maintaining tension in your glutes and hamstrings. Move slowly and with control.
If you can’t pull off a single double-under, let alone 20, try for single-unders, which are regular jump rope skips. Without a jump rope, you can simply simulate jumping rope with small hops. If your feet, knees, or hips can’t abide jumping, you can opt instead for eccentric calf raises. Be sure to stretch your calves — maybe even treat yourself to a calf and heel massage — afterward.
You do not need a six-pack to be a successful CrossFitter. Elite CrossFitters are incredibly strong — visible abs aren’t technically necessary. Instead, the abs are generally a byproduct of intense training.
But if you’re looking to build out your core muscles, you’ve come to the right place. This workout will have you taking advantage of some classic CrossFit moves to help you build an incredible amount of core strength and muscle mass.
Here, you’ll be performing some of the most well-known CrossFit exercises in one of the most well-known CrossFit formats: the descending rep ladder of 21, 15, and nine reps. You’ll perform 21 reps of each exercise first. Then, do 15 of each exercise. Finish off your workout with nine of each movement.
21-15-9 reps, for time:
If need be, you can sub in a goblet squat or even an air squat to make the front squats more accessible. Try to use a weighted variation if you can, as the front-loading of the weight is what makes the front squat move particularly good for core strength.
A modified workout might go like this:
21-15-9 reps, for time:
- Goblet Squat
- Hanging Knee Raise
CrossFit beginners truly have their work cut out for them. Not only are they fighting an uphill battle of learning new skills, but they’re also developing strength and high-intensity endurance all at the same time.
To help ease the transition into CrossFit, beginners might find a muscle-building workout more their speed. It’s less traditional CrossFit and more introductory style to help athletes find their footing. You’ll be using a classic, sport-specific rep scheme — a descending ladder — but you’ll be doing it with an eye toward hypertrophy.
These movements look simple on their own, but they get very intense, very quickly. If you’re less used to the descending ladder nature of many CrossFit workouts, think of this workout as one big drop set. But instead of dropping the weight, you’re dropping the number of reps you perform with each round.
These moves are simpler than those you’ll find in typical CrossFit workouts. You don’t need specialty gymnastics skills to get accustomed to working out with rings. And while Bulgarian split squats are intense, they’re accessible to beginners.
Three to five rounds, for time:
- 40 Ring Rows
- 30 Bulgarian Split Squats (15 per side)
- 20 Box Step-Ups (10 per side)
- 10 Shoulder-to-Overhead
While this workout is already designed for beginners, that doesn’t mean everyone’s beginner level looks the same.
For example, ring rows might be too unstable for you. In that case, try inverted rows in a Smith machine or with a barbell anchored in a power rack. You can also perform light barbell rows — the sheer volume of reps will add up.
Bulgarian split squats may not be accessible to you in terms of balance or your current level of hip mobility. In that case, try forward or reverse lunges. If you need to, hold onto the handles of a TRX suspension trainer or equivalent to help give you a counterbalance. Your upper body’s engagement can also give your legs a little bit more strength if need be.
The box step-ups can be replaced with a regular step instead of a full plyo box. Or, you can substitute high knee marches in place.
Just because a workout is bodyweight-only doesn’t make it equipment-free — especially in CrossFit. Bodyweight moves include everything from ring muscle-ups to box jumps, all of which require equipment.
But with this equipment-free CrossFit workout, you’ll be able to build muscle (and get your heart rate going) anytime, anywhere. You’ll need enough space on the ground for you to essentially be able to lie down. Otherwise, space won’t be an issue.
Don’t mistake the lack of equipment for easiness. This workout is tricky — especially if you’re looking to perform each move to your maximum potential. With your overhead squats, keep your upper body just as engaged as you would if you were holding a loaded barbell.
Be just as disciplined with your form as you would be hefting a lot of weight. This diligence will pay off in spades when you start to notice all the muscle you’ve built.
21-15-9 reps, for time:
If any of these movements aren’t for you, that’s alright — they’re relatively simple to swap out.
For athletes who struggle with burpees, there are a few options. You can step back into a plank position instead of jumping back. If you’re pregnant or otherwise can’t get your belly on the ground, you can hike your hips up to help lower your chest. You don’t need to perform a jump at the top, and you can similarly eliminate the push-up from the bottom.
With the bodyweight overhead squat, simply keep your hands down or out in front of you instead of overhead if the reach is too intense for you. You might also sit down on a stable chair instead of going to full depth if need be.
Perform a regular push-up instead of a pike push-up if you have to. You can also do a wall push-up, an incline push-up, or a push-up from your knees.
Finally, eliminate the jumping part of the jump squat and simply squat, down to a steady chair if you need to. To maintain a similar explosive stimulus from jumping, sink into your squat slowly. When you’ve reached your full range of motion, explode upward quickly. No need for your feet to leave the floor for you to start generating power.
Benefits of Building Muscle for CrossFitters
Should CrossFitters even focus specifically on building muscle? If you’re able to dedicate the recovery you’ll need to accommodate any extra training sessions, then the short answer is yes — you probably should.
Prevent or Break Through Plateaus
Even smaller muscle groups get a tremendous amount of work from the functional compound movements found in any CrossFit WOD. But by building those smaller muscles, you’ll likely be able to improve your lifts a tremendous amount.
Take kipping pull-ups, for example. Your entire body and core will be taken to town in an incredibly intense way. Your grip will be on fire by the end of your sets. And, yes, that will give a tremendous amount of strength and development — even size — to your forearms.
But when the workload gets to be too much, your smaller muscles are likely to burn out before your bigger muscles. That creates a limiting factor in how many reps you can handle unbroken before taking a break to shake it off.
Pausing between reps costs valuable time and can hamper your gains. Relatively underdeveloped smaller muscle groups may even be the culprit behind your latest plateau.
By building up your smaller muscles (like your forearms, biceps, and triceps), you’ll be shoring up the bottom line of your bigger lifts. In doing so, you’ll be raising the bar on all of your lifts and WODs, helping you improve that much more before facing down your next plateau.
Combat Muscle Imbalances
Since so many CrossFit movements are bilateral (meaning done with two limbs at once) it’s easy for your dominant side to take over. If you’re a lefty, the left side of your body might bear more of the brunt of weight distribution during a handstand push-up. This can create both strength and muscle imbalances.
Perfect symmetry might not matter all that much to you if you’re not a physique athlete. But it’ll likely matter to you in terms of injury prevention. Keeping your muscles as balanced as you can be able to help make your body more resilient against injury. And the longer you can go without injury, the more likely you are to tackle each WOD to the best of your ability.
Help Transition Into CrossFit
Coming over to the dark side from a different strength sport? You’re likely used to performing a set number of sets and reps to induce a certain adaptation — say, building more strength or stimulating hypertrophy.
In CrossFit, you’ll be counting reps alright. But you’ll be doing it staring down a ticking clock. Training for hypertrophy lets you give a CrossFit flair to the types of workouts you’re already familiar with. That familiarity can help CrossFit beginners feel confident about their new sport.
CrossFit Warm-Up for Hypertrophy
No matter what your specific session goal is, you always want to warm up before tackling your WOD. Warm-ups not only prepare your body for the rigors of your upcoming workout — but they also optimize your performance and help make you more resilient against potential injuries.
When you’re training for hypertrophy, you’ll want to pay close attention to smaller, often overlooked muscle groups. You’ll focus closely on these muscle groups — think, your rear delts, triceps, and biceps — during your hypertrophy training, so you’ll also want to single them out during your warm-up.
Cater each warm-up to the specific movements you’ll be doing that day. For example, spend extra time on hip mobility if you’re going to be snatching, squatting, or lunging. Take extra time with your shoulders and thoracic mobility if you’re going to be doing any kipping or overhead work.
But generally speaking, CrossFit workouts are going to involve your whole body in some way, shape, or form. Because of that, a good CrossFit warm-up should cover all your bases.
- Air Bike: 3-5 minutes, low intensity
- Band Pull-Apart: 15-20
- Active Frog Stretch: 60 seconds
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 6 per side
- Lateral Lunge: 8 per side
- Half-Kneeling T-Spine Rotation: 8 per side
- Bear Crawl: 30 seconds forward, 30 seconds backward
- Crab Reach: 8 per side
- Session-Specific Strength Exercise: 2-5 ramp-up sets, 3-6 reps per set*
*For each main lift of the day, get a feel for the movement with your bodyweight only or an unloaded barbell. Gradually increase the intensity of the movement in separate sets until you approach the weight or intensity of the exercise as prescribed in your workout.
Don’t perform so many reps that you’ll tire yourself out, but aim to get your blood pumping and your muscles firing.
How to Program CrossFit Workouts for Building Muscle
In CrossFit, you’ll challenge most of your muscles in every session. It’s a big commitment to toss in an additional focus on intentionally growing certain muscles. Here’s how to program intelligently to make sure that you’re maximizing your gains and minimizing your risks.
Focus on Recovery
There’s no getting around it — CrossFit is a whole lot of work. Adding more sessions to your regimen to build muscle can mean you run the risk of interfering with your body’s ability to adequately recover from one session to the next.
Help your muscles recover by ensuring that you’re getting enough sleep and food to fuel your performance. Make sure you’re warming up and cooling down before and after each workout to help you stay more resilient against injury. Consider self-myofascial massage with foam rollers and filling out your stretching routine with resistance bands.
The more you focus on recovery, the more you’ll be giving your muscles the space and fuel they need to grow.
Program on Separate Days
This option may be especially appealing to strength athletes who are newer to CrossFit. If you’re currently doing one or two CrossFit WODs per week — on your weekends, perhaps — consider sprinkling these muscle-focused workouts into the rest of your week. That way, you won’t be taking away from your recovery.
You will also be giving your body a more familiar way to sink into CrossFit training. The sets and rep schemes typical of hypertrophy training in other sports like powerlifting, weightlifting, and bodybuilding can help you ease into the conditioning and mental rigors of CrossFit. You’ll be building muscle and getting better at CrossFit as you go.
Add Hypertrophy Finishers
For those who are more experienced with CrossFit, you might have trouble adding extra hypertrophy-based sessions to your program. You may already be doing two-a-day workouts or an intense WOD every day.
In those situations, it might eat into your recovery — or simply not work logistically — to add another standalone workout into your program. To solve this problem wisely and with an eye on your recovery, simply add a short hypertrophy-focused session to the end of your WOD.
Complete your WOD, grab some water, wipe off the sweat, and dive back in for a slightly less intense bout of muscle-building. Stack your hypertrophy sessions strategically. If you’re looking to drive muscle growth in your legs, choose that session after a legs-focused WOD. That way, your legs will get all the action in one day and you can consolidate your recovery period.
Program Around Your Weak Points
Be smart about which muscle-building workouts you want to focus on. Focus on what aspects of your performance are lagging during your WODs.
Having trouble with your shoulder-to-overheads? Focus on upper body hypertrophy, since your troubles may lie with weaker triceps for lockout strength. Having trouble with your deadlift lockout? Work on building those glutes and hamstrings with a lower-body hypertrophy workout instead.
Build Those Muscles
There’s no way around it — CrossFit pros are ripped. If you’re looking for your piece of the hypertrophy pie, you might not want to depend on WODs alone. While you can (and probably will) gain a lot of high-quality muscle mass with just your regular training, you can pack more muscle onto your frame with hypertrophy-specific CrossFit workouts.
Integrate these CrossFit workouts for building muscle into your training program after your typical sessions or on their days entirely. Make sure your recovery is dialed in, then proceed to build up your weakest links with hypertrophy sessions. Your WODs will thank you — and so will the size of your muscles.
If you’re ready to find out more about everything CrossFit training, here are some articles to sink your teeth into next.
- Everything You Need to Know About Progressive Overload for CrossFit
- 15 Exercises for CrossFit Beginners to Learn to Build a Strong Base
- The Best CrossFit Workouts for Beginners to Build Strength and Mental Toughness
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