The Differences Between Functional Training and CrossFit

Getting to know the differences between functional fitness training and CrossFit can help you to make the right decision when choosing your training type. What should you know?
The Differences Between Functional Training and CrossFit

Last update: 04 September, 2020

You might have heard about functional fitness training and CrossFit? Some say that they’re the same thing, while others insist that the two are completely different. Which of the two opinions is closer to the truth?

These two training methods are actually more closely related than you might think. This springs from the fact that both training methods are based on working on the body as a whole, and not dividing it up into sections to work on separately, as with traditional gym training.

To get to know more about the differences between these two methods, we invite you to read on. Below, we’ll show you what each method involves and what the key differences are.

What is functional fitness training?

Functional training is based on the improvement of physical capabilities by imitating normal daily exertions. It’s not based on any specific muscle group, but rather on the widest spread possible. It also involves strengthening the joints and tendons, that together with the muscles, forms the whole musculoskeletal system.

Working on all of these areas at once contributes to improving your whole body’s fitness. The idea is to train the body for the activities performed in daily life and to help avoid injury.

A group of young people practicing functional fitness training

Functional fitness training started as an option to help rehabilitate people who’d been injured, either through sports or an accident. However, with time it’s also evolved into an accepted training method, as well as a way to improve at a certain sport or just with general fitness in daily life.

Anyone can do functional training. Of course, the intensity of the exercises will depend on the fitness level you want to reach.

What is CrossFit?

On the other hand, you’ll find CrossFit. It’s a training method originally created to strengthen the United States Armed Forces personnel, such as firefighters and the police. That’s why it’s much more physically demanding than many other types of training.

CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen created by Greg Glassman. Everyone who wishes to teach this training method has to be licensed and train out of a ‘box’, or a specialized CrossFit gym.

Many of the CrossFit exercises are based on functional training, taking into account the fact that these are designed to exercise large portions of the body at once. However, the intensity of the exercises is much greater. CrossFit also includes aspects of other training regimens such as weight lifting and traditional gym training.

A woman doing CrossFit exercises to strengthen the shoulders

This sports brand is distinguished as a training method and even has its own competitions. Apart from that, it’s not technically considered a sport.

Differences between functional training and CrossFit

Well, we’ve seen some of the similarities. Now let’s clearly see the differences that exist between these two training methods. Based on the above, we’ll show you the most important differences to take into account when it comes to choosing one discipline or the other.

  • CrossFit is based on functional training but has exercises of much greater intensity.
  • Functional training can include different levels of intensity.
  • CrossFit routines include weightlifting and gym workouts.
  • Injury rehabilitation was one of the main ideas when functional training was first developed.
  • In CrossFit, physical capabilities and the age of a person can be a limiting factor; not everyone can do it.
  • Functional fitness training doesn’t discriminate. Age or physical capabilities aren’t a restriction, since you can vary the intensity and weight.
  • CrossFit focuses on personal improvement and progress.
  • Improving fitness for some sport or for exertion in daily life is the main objective of functional training.

Pros and cons of functional training and CrossFit

As we’ve seen, there are several key differences between these two training methods. Each one also has certain advantages and disadvantages. It’s necessary to get to know these as well when you’re looking at which one to go with.

Functional training

It contributes to improving technique with regards to exercise, preventing injury, and helps with physical exertion in daily life. For instance, lifting boxes, moving heavy objects around … also, your physical condition will gradually improve as you progress.

Despite these advantages, if you’re looking for an exercise regimen that’ll emphasize muscle building over a short time, functional training won’t give you what you need.

A woman doing CrossFit exercises with a tires


Since it’s an eye-catching, high profile training method, this can help with the motivation of its participants. It also fosters rapid personal improvement of physical capabilities.

Is there a downside to CrossFit? Well, someone who isn’t used to extremely high fitness and exercise intensity levels has a higher probability of injuring themselves. And of course, as we mentioned above, it’s not suitable for all ages and fitness levels.

Which one will you choose?

No matter what training method you decide on, it’s always necessary to do thorough research in a variety of different information sources. Help from a professional in the areas of health and fitness training will also be useful. When you decide on an option, don’t hold back; consistency will help you to achieve your goals!

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  • Isidro, F. P., Heredia, J. R., Ramón Costa, M., & Pinsach, P. (2007). Entrenamiento funcional: revisión y replanteamientos. Manual Del Entrenador Personal: Del Fitness Al Wellness.
  • Tibana, R. A., Almeida, L. M., & Prestes, J. (2015). Crossfit® Riscos ou Benefícios? O que Sabemos até o Momento? Revista Brasileira de Ciência e Movimento.