Brenton Barker

CrossFit And Functional Fitness: What’s The Difference

If you're new to training, you'd be forgiven for thinking that CrossFit and Functional Fitness are the same. But truth be told, there are several nuanced differences. Let's look at what they are.


In recent years, the term ‘functional fitness’ has become a buzzword in the health and fitness sector, but I wonder how many people know what the word ‘functional movement’ actually means.

Now, things get even trickier when you throw a sport like CrossFit into the mix. Why? Because if you ask most people, they’ll tell you that CrossFit is functional training, but is that really the case?

While CrossFit relies heavily on functional movements, it can’t really be defined as functional fitness. Yes, these two types of fitness modalities are closely related, but there are also some striking contrasts that differentiate functional fitness from CrossFit.

Let’s take a closer look at both.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit can be intimidating, especially if you’re a newbie, but the reality is CrossFit and the CrossFit community are some of the most friendly, passionate, and supportive gym-goers you’ll ever meet.

So what is CrossFit? While CrossFit looks complicated, it’s actually based on the simple philosophy of constantly varying the exercises and ensuring they’re performed at high intensity. In short, this sums up CrossFit.

CrossFit bases most of its exercise on functional movements, the trouble is that over recent years, the term functional movement has been bandied around so many times that it has lost its luster and meaning. Put simply, functional movements are movements used in everyday life, not just at the gym.

Here are four examples of daily functional movements:

1. Hopping up out of your office chair requires you to perform a bodyweight squat.

2. Bending down to pick something heavy off the floor like the shopping demands you to complete a deadlift.

3. Lifting that same heavy shopping onto the counter requires a clean.

4. Packing away items into an overhead cabinet requires a shoulder press.

What are the benefits of CrossFit?


While CrossFit has numerous benefits to the body and mind, let’s look at the five most valuable. Remember, these are not in order of importance. Rather they aim to provide more of a general outline as to why you should consider giving CrossFit a go.

Five CrossFit health benefits:

1. Improve your strength and conditioning

2. Improve your flexibility and range of motion

3. Boost your self-esteem and confidence

4. Increase your aerobic fitness

5. Be a part of a passionate, dedicated, and supportive fitness community

What is functional fitness?


While most fitness goers are obsessed with getting 6-pack abs and bulging biceps, Functional Fitness aims to strengthen the inner stabiliser muscles; Yep, the ones you can’t see. In short, Functional Fitness works to make our everyday tasks and movements more comfortable and, more importantly, pain-free.

Whether it’s more energy to play with your kids or reducing knee pain when you bend over, Functional Fitness aims to make things easier. The two primary ways it does this is by improving your balance and stability.

Most of the exercises performed target the entire body with a significant focus on improving core strength. Functional Fitness movements are performed in a slow and controlled manner, making them perfect for people of any fitness level and age.

Five benefits of functional fitness?

Similar to CrossFit, Functional Fitness has a laundry list of benefits for the mind, body, and soul. While both training modes look similar, they differ significantly, particularly in their overall outcomes and goals. Let’s look at the five most valuable benefits of performing Functional Fitness.

Five functional fitness health benefits:

1. Functional Fitness is perfect for those recovering from injury

2. Functional Fitness focuses heavily on injury prevention

3. Functional Fitness intensity is low to moderate, making it ideal for seniors and beginners

4. Functional Fitness focuses on everyday movements to make your life easier

5. Functional Fitness can vary its intensity to meet people’s needs

What are the differences between CrossFit and functional fitness?


For the newcomer to health and fitness, it may be somewhat difficult to spot the differences between Functional Fitness and CrossFit but rest assured, there are several distinctions between the two.

Understanding the differences will help you decide which mode of fitness suits your schedule and, more importantly, your goals. Let’s look at some of these differences to help keep you better informed.

Main differences between CrossFit and functional fitness

  • While CrossFit exercises are primarily based on functional movements, they are performed at a higher intensity than Functional Fitness.

  • Functional Fitness has the advantage of varying its intensity levels, while CrossFit is 100% to the max.

  • CrossFit involves lifting weights with short periods of rest to boost strength and conditioning.

  • Functional fitness is targeted toward injury prevention and rehabilitation rather than purely building fitness.

  • Age, physical limitations, and underlying health conditions can limit people from performing CrossFit.

  • Functional Fitness is ideal for people of all fitness levels and ages, particularly seniors and beginners.

  • CrossFit emphasises physical and mental development and inspires participants to reach their peak potential.

  • Functional Fitness aims to improve our performance in our everyday lives. That said, many professional athletes perform Functional fitness to prevent injury..

Sum it up

When it comes to choosing between CrossFit and Functional Fitness, it really comes down to what your personal fitness goals are. As a professional coach, I highly recommend incorporating CrossFit and Functional Fitness into your training program to help you develop your strength, aerobic capacity, and well-being.

Both modes of fitness do wonders for your strength, stability, balance, and conditioning, while CrossFit provides that added boost to your cardio fitness. If you struggle with the more ‘high intensity’ workouts of CrossFit, then the slower and more controlled movements of functional fitness are the better option.

Finally, CrossFit is performed in a lively and motivational training environment, whereas Functional Fitness, while demanding, tends to be more easygoing. Either way, you can’t go wrong with both of these modalities.

Want to learn more?

CrossFit has many physical and health benefits, but undoubtedly, the most significant advantage of CrossFit is the positive impact it has on daily life. This video explains the relationship between the most common CrossFit movements and performing tasks like squatting while gardening or picking groceries up off the floor.

Healthypedia FAQ

When it comes to CrossFit, the movements are based on everyday functional movements such as picking things up off the floor and squatting down while gardening. Another element that defines CrossFit is that the movements are designed to push heavy weights in a safe manner while simultaneously improving aerobic capacity.

It would be fair to define CrossFit as a type of functional fitness that improves the participant's functional movement. CrossFit classes incorporate strength training, aerobic fitness, flexibility, range of motion, and pushing and pulling motions. In short, these exercises are generally defined as functional fitness.

CrossFit has several benefits, the most valuable being that it improves your strength and conditioning and boosts your aerobic fitness. Not only that, CrossFit does all this in 60 minutes or less by utilizing the popular training method known as HIIT, or high-intensity interval training. HIIT involves periods of high-intensity work followed by short periods of rest.

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