How to target a CrossFit workout for hypertrophy

How to target a CrossFit workout for hypertrophy

CrossFit is a type a training that has undoubtedly turned itself into a lifestyle (although it’s a brand and would more correctly be referred to as functional training) . A wide and varied union of different exercises from different disciplines that is able to develop a multitude of capacities and skills, thanks to a training methodology that is constantly changing.

The truth is that hypertrophy is not really the aim of CrossFit. We all know that, we can’t question that, and we’re not going to insist it is at any time either. Nevertheless, thanks to the diversity of exercises that CrossFit training offers us, it is possible to target a CrossFit training towards hypertrophy if we follow some combination guidelines like the ones we propose today.

Get to Know CrossFit

The History of CrossFit

This sport discipline took its first steps in the 1940s with the Californian gymnast Greg Glassman, who decided that the traditional bodybuilding routines didn’t bring him the necessary productivity. He set about focusing on finding a new type of training that combined a wide variety of functional movements at high intensity.

Crossfit glassman

In the 90s, the expansion of CrossFit in the United States was truly remarkable, with new gyms specialising in the discipline opening up everywhere. From here, CrossFit became a training methodology, led by Greg Glassman himself, for the marines, firefighters and military.

Today, there are thousands of centres and gyms that incorporate this type of training throughout the world

What is CrossFit?

For those new to the world of CrossFit, it is a training and fitness method based on a constant variation of functional movements performed at high intensity, training natural and multi-joint movement patterns without focusing on muscle work in isolation.

The practice of CrossFit is not centred on any type of specialisation or discipline, favouring a much more complete development by training all physical capacities: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, muscle resistance, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, coordination, balance and precision.

Crossfit performance

How is it done? Very simply, by extracting the most effective elements from each sporting discipline, such as weightlifting, metabolic training or gymnastics. In a CrossFit training session, then, we might find from weight work such as squats, dead lifts or power pulls, to gymnastic exercises such as parallels or rings, all without forgetting a strong core work.

CrossFit is a training mode without marked rules or concrete exercises

The accessories used for this type of routine are extremely varied, but include the characteristic sandbags, medicine balls or kettlebells. All these features make the CrossFit a unique training experience with a diversity of tools and modalities.

Targeting CrossFit for hypertrophy

In order to focus a CrossFit session on hypertrophy, we still need to follow the methodology of the discipline, otherwise it would not be functional training or CrossFit , but we’ll be able to give it the approach we’re looking for thanks to the variety and functionality it offers. We’ll try to find a variant that continues to work on our general physical capacity, but orientate it towards the greatest possible hypertrophy.

We’ll continue to work without muscle isolation but, yes, with more general muscle groups

Type of training and frequency

According to Kraemer, Fleck & Deschenes (1988), training frequency is defined as the number of training sessions performed over a period of time, usually understood as sessions completed in one week; applying to this definition the appropriate frequency to ensure optimal rest.

The frequency of traditional weight training will normally be defined by the routine we do each day or according to the muscle groups worked. In CrossFit, as it’s a training mode with much more generalised muscle action (similar to a classic full body gym routine), we’ll opt for a circuit routine that works the whole body at the same time.

In this way, and following the optimal patterns of rest, as suggested by Chen et al. (2011) or Kosek DJ et al. (2006), to generate a good hypertrophy, we’ll follow a pattern of three days of training per week with 48h of rest to recover muscle and nerve damage; and without each training exceeding 60-70 minutes.

Graphic hipertrophy

Training density: rest between sets or exercises

Training density is understood as the time spent resting between sets of the same or different exercise, and is a factor that directly affects the maintenance of metabolic and mechanical muscle tension. Generally, in strength exercises, a rest interval of between 60-90 seconds is supported, although in the execution of basic exercises and with the objective of increasing mechanical tension, the rest time may be longer (Benito 2008).

To find a good balance between the recovery pause and the duration of effort, always oriented towards achieving optimal hypertrophy, and following the density patterns of Nacleiro (2004), we’ll opt for a high stimulus-pause relation of between 1:2 and 1:4. This way, in our CrossFit training aimed at muscle hypertrophy, we’ll be rest at least twice as long, even doubling this rest.

Target graphic

If, on the other hand, the objective of the training we were looking for was maximum or explosive strength, the work density that we would pursue would be of a smaller stimulus-break ratio than the previous one (from 1:15 to 1:30), varying notably the rest time between seasons.

Training volume: sets and repetitions

McDonagh & Davies, (1984), refer to training volume as the total amount of work done. Generally in strength training, it’s defined as the number of repetitions per number of sets, either per session, per muscle group or per exercise, although what’s really important at the muscle level would be the time under tension (TUT).

Since we’re not going to record our times, according to Badillo and Baechle (2000-2002), among others, the ranges we should move between for optimum muscle gain will be between 6-10 repetitions, with 8-10 as the optimum stimulus for muscle hypertrophy, without exceeding a total of 20 sets for total training.

Crossfit results

Training intensity

Understanding training intensity as the degree of effort exerted when performing an exercise in each repetition, we’ll work at a high intensity of between 70-85% of 1RM, for maximum hypertrophy, whenever possible in exercises such as squats or pull-ups. To generate more intensity in suspension movements, we’ll control the time under tension (TUT).

As it’s high intensity training, we should always be above 60% of the maximum load

Training pace: speed or repetition tempo

The speed or repetition rate is the parameter that best indicates whether the subject is within the established parameters. Starting from a high intensity, as required by CrossFit, to determine the time under tension we’ll follow Poliquin’s nomenclature (1997), who proposes a ratio of 3:0:1:0 (cited by Cabral, 2011), but making a small modification so that it’s 3:0:1:1, where the:

  • First number: corresponds to the eccentric phase of the movement, fundamental in muscle tension
  • Second number: position of maximum extension of the muscle/movement, applying an isometric force.
  • Third number: concentric phase. It must be fast compared to the eccentric phase for a greater stimulation of the fast fibre.
  • Fourth number: phase of maximum contraction of the movement, where an isometric force should also be applied.

This way, if we take an example of 8 repetitions taking 4 seconds per repetition, we would have an effort duration of 32 seconds and a rest time until the next station in our circuit, based on the previously established parameters of training density, of 64 seconds.

Intensity training


As we’ve mentioned, CrossFit training is not aimed specifically at muscle gain. But high intensity training itself generates hypertrophy, even though that’s not the objective, and we can orient the discipline towards achieving hypertrophy by following the appropriate exercises and guidelines of execution set out here, benefitting from the physical conditioning offered by CrossFit training and the resultant considerable hypertrophy.

By establishing circuits of six or seven stations that incorporate exercises with a focus on hypertrophy, such as squats, squats with a bag, bar pull-ups, rings or kettlebells lifting, and following training guidelines as we’ve commented on: frequency, tempo, rests, training volumes, sets, repetitions and intensity, we can create a CrossFit circuit oriented towards hypertrophy.


  1. ncbi | Efficacy of 3 days/wk resistance training on myofiber hypertrophy and myogenic mechanisms in young vs. older adults.|Dept. of Physiology and Biophysics, Muscle Research Laboratory, GRECC/11G VA Medical Center | 2006 Aug
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About David Diaz Gil
David Diaz Gil
David Díaz Gil contributes with excellent articles in which he deposits the essence of his experience as well as scientific rigor.
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