When it comes to bodybuilding, most lifters stick to traditional exercises like bench presses, squats, and biceps curls. This makes a lot of sense as these exercises have been used for generations and by some of the biggest names in the sport.
But, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, which means there are alternative exercises that may be just as effective.
If you’ve been doing the same selection of compound and isolation exercises for a while now, your progress may be slowing down, and you may have even hit a wall. The good news is that studies show that exercise variation is an effective way to get your progress back on track (1).
There are lots of places you can find new exercises to try, including gymnastics and martial arts, but one of the best places to look for novel bodybuilding moves is CrossFit.
CrossFit workouts combine gymnastics, calisthenics, weightlifting, powerlifting, and a host of other athletic training exercises to create arguably the fittest athletes on the planet. And many of these guys and girls have incredible physiques too.
Before you go and blow up the bench press or set fire to your squat rack, we’re NOT saying that you should give up your bodybuilding staples. However, if it’s been a while since you saw any changes in your muscle size, why not supplement your bodybuilding training plan with some CrossFit exercises?
Here are TEN of the best CrossFit exercises for bodybuilders!
10 Best CrossFit Exercises for Bodybuilders
To make it onto our list, all of these exercises had to pass our rigorous selection process. After all, we aim to provide you with the best training information available. There are no dud exercises on this list!
Each one exposes your muscles to a significant amount of overload, creates plenty of metabolic stress, gives you a good pump, and is safe. Plus, we’ve also chosen exercises you should be able to pick up quickly and that don’t require years of training to master.
Combining a front squat with a push press, this is the daddy of CrossFit hypertrophy exercises. Done with very heavy weights and low reps, this combo move will build phenomenal full-body strength. For high reps, it’s a lung-busting cardio monster.
But, done with moderate weights and medium reps, thrusters are all but unbeatable for beefing up your delts, triceps, and quads.
How to do it:
- Rest and hold a barbell across the front of your shoulders. Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs, lift your chest, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Go deeper if your mobility allows. Do not round your lower back.
- Stand up explosively and use this momentum to help you push-press the weight overhead to arms’ length.
- Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
You can also do thrusters using dumbbells or kettlebells. Alternatively, use a heavy medicine ball, releasing it at the top of each press. This is called a wall ball shot.
2. Sumo Deadlift High-Pull
Sumo deadlift high-pulls are another two-move combination exercise. Often done using light weights and high reps for metabolic conditioning, this exercise is also a very useful posterior chain, upper traps, deltoids, and biceps exercise. Paired with the aforementioned thrusters, these two exercises work almost your entire body.
How to do it:
- Load your barbell and place it on the floor. Stand with your toes under the bar, about 1.5 shoulder-widths apart. Bend down and hold the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip.
- Straighten your arms, drop your hips, brace your abs, and make sure your lower back is slightly arched and not rounded.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand up explosively to lift the bar off the floor.
- As the weight approaches your hips, pull with your arms and row the bar up your body to just below your chin. Make sure your elbows are above your hands.
- Lower the bar back to the floor and repeat.
You can also do this exercise with a single kettlebell or without setting your weight down on the floor between reps. No barbell or kettlebell available? No problem! You can also do sumo deadlift high pulls with a strong resistance band.
3. Kettlebell Swings
Here at Fitness Volt, we LOVE the deadlift. After all, it’s one of the best ways to build posterior strength and size, and it’s the final lift in most powerlifting meets. But, while we WOULD marry the deadlift if we could, we also understand that you can have too much of a good thing, and some program variation is always welcome.
Like most CrossFit exercises, kettlebell swings are often done with light weights and for high reps but, if you apply the bodybuilding rep range of 6-12 reps to kettlebell swings, this popular met-con exercise quickly becomes a useful bodybuilding exercise.
The folk at CrossFit like to swing their kettlebells overhead, an exercise often called an American swing. This increases the range of motion and anterior core activation. On the downside, this variation can be hard on your lower back and shoulders.
A better option may be to swing your kettlebell only up to shoulder-height – an exercise sometimes called the Russian swing. This allows you to go heavier, increasing posterior chain activation. Try both options and see which one works best for you.
How to do it:
- Hold your kettlebell with an overhand grip in front of your hips. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Pull your shoulders back and down. Brace your abs.
- Bend your knees slightly, push your hips back, hinge forward, and lower the kettlebell between your knees. Do not round your lower back.
- Drive your hips forward and stand up explosively.
- Keeping your arms straight, swing the weight forward and up to shoulder-height or overhead.
- Swing the weight back down and repeat.
No kettlebell? You can also do swings using a dumbbell. Swings can also be done using just one arm, and you can increase resistance by doing banded kettlebell swings.
4. Ring Dips
If you want a big chest, you need to bench press, right? While the bench press IS a classic chest building exercise, it’s not the only way to build powerful pecs. Dips can be similarly effective but, when done using traditional parallel bars, but they can be hard on your elbows and shoulders.
Done right, ring dips are BETTER for your chest and triceps than regular dips and also easier on your shoulders. Talk about a win-win!
When you do ring dips, you’ll have to work extra hard to control the rings and stop them swinging around. This increases muscle activation and also improves joint stability. In addition, because you aren’t locked into a repetitive movement pattern, they are less likely to cause the overuse injuries that regular dips can.
How to do it:
- Adjust your rings so that your feet just touch the floor at the bottom of each rep. Your arms should be bent to around 90 degrees. This ensures that, if you lose your balance, you won’t hyperextend your shoulders. It also means you can start your set standing on the floor.
- Stand between your rings. Grab the bottom of each ring with your hands facing inward and the strap outside your arms. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Push down and press yourself up until your arms are straight. The rings will wobble – that’s normal. Do your best to control them.
- Bend your arms, descend, and repeat.
- Once you’ve mastered bodyweight ring dips, make them more challenging by wearing a weighted vest.
5. Box Jumps
Box jumps are a joint-friendly plyometric leg exercise. They’re done explosively, which means they target your type two fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the fibers with the greatest potential for hypertrophy or muscle growth.
Unlike almost all other types of jumping, box jumps are relatively low impact because you land on a raised surface. Jumping onto a box also helps keep you honest, as each jump in your set will be roughly the same height.
As well as being a great stand-alone exercise, you can use box jumps to increase your squat and deadlift performance for greater gains.
Do a set of box jumps, rest 2-3 minutes, and then do your squats/deads. The jumps will fire up your nervous system, which should translate to more powerful lifts. Rest another 2-3 minutes and then repeat the pairing.
6. Rope Climbs
Pullups and chin-ups are awesome back and biceps builders. In fact, we’d say they’re almost unbeatable. But, for a change of pace, why not give rope climbs a try? Climbing a rope doesn’t just work your back and biceps, but your forearms and grip as well, making it a fun and functional addition to your upper body workouts.
On the downside, to do this exercise, you’re going to need a Manilla rope and somewhere to hang it. Ideally, the rope should be between 20 to 30 feet long. Providing that doesn’t put you off, you can replace a set of chin-ups or pullups with a trip up and down your rope.
While you can use your legs, doing so takes stress off your arms. You’ll get a better and much tougher workout if you go hand over hand and don’t use your legs for assistance. Once you’ve mastered the legless rope climb, you can make this exercise more challenging by wearing a weighted vest.
No space to hang a rope? You can get similar benefits from towel-grip pullups. Just loop two towels over your pullup bar. Grip the ends and start pumping out the reps.
7. Power Cleans
Power cleans are a stripped-down version of one of the Olympic lifts – the clean and jerk. However, despite being more straightforward, the power clean is still a very effective exercise that works your posterior chain, biceps, shoulders, and traps.
As the name implies, power cleans are an explosive power exercise. However, because they target those all-important fast-twitch muscle fibers, they can also produce gains in muscle size.
Power cleans are one of the most complex exercises to learn on our list, but they’re still far more straightforward than the full Olympic version. Learn how to do them in this in-depth guide. You can also do power cleans with dumbbells or kettlebells.
8. Single-arm Snatch
Single-arm snatches are MUCH easier to learn than the two-handed barbell version. Also, because they’re a unilateral or one-limbed exercise, they’re potentially better for hypertrophy, core, and shoulder stability. Done for high reps, they’re a tremendous met-con exercise. But if you use heavier weights, they’re a good posterior chain and shoulder hypertrophy exercise.
Check out this article to learn how to do dumbbell snatches.
You can do single-arm snatches using a dumbbell or kettlebell. After some practice, you could even do them with a barbell.
However you do them, you’ll get better hypertrophic results if you do a set using one hand, rest a moment, and then switch sides. This will produce more localized overload than alternating hands rep-by-rep.
9. Ring Pull-ups
If regular pullups and chin-ups hurt your elbows, this is the back exercise for you. When you use rings, your arms are free to move and gravitate toward the most comfortable position for your joints. In contrast, using a straight bar locks you into a fixed and repetitive movement pattern, which can put a strain on your joints.
Like all types of pullups and chin-ups, ring pullups work your lats, biceps, and your abs. The long head of your triceps also gets a useful workout.
Use this exercise if joint pain makes regular pullups and chin-ups uncomfortable.
10. Man Makers
Man makers are a full-body exercise. Not unlike burpees, man makers involve doing a series of exercises back to back to make a single, non-stop sequence. Man makers work pretty much every muscle in your body, so they’re ideal for those times when you need a good workout but only have a few minutes to train.
Because you use the same weights for the entire sequence, some of the moves that make up man makers are harder than others. You can get around this problem by doing an extra rep or two of the movements that you find easiest, such as the push-ups.
How to do it:
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, get down and into the push-up position. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back. This is your starting position.
- Bend your arms and do a push-up. Pump out an extra rep or two if you want to work your chest a little harder.
- Next, row one dumbbell up into your ribs. Place it back on the floor and then repeat on the opposite side.
- After the rows, jump your feet up and into your hands. Drop your hips and arch your lower back.
- Clean the weights up to your shoulders, and then squat press the weights up and overhead.
- Lower the weights back to your shoulders and then down to the floor.
- That’s one rep; keep going!
CrossFit is one of the most effective ways to get fit, burn fat, and get stronger. With its emphasis on varied workouts, it develops the type of all-around physical conditioning appreciated by soldiers, fighters, and those working in the emergency services. It’s also a competitive sport, and the CrossFit Games is designed to find the fittest athlete in the world.
A lot of bodybuilders view CrossFit as completely incompatible with training for hypertrophy. However, some CrossFit methods and exercises are actually very useful muscle builders.
Use these exercises to add some variety to your workouts. Use them in place of some of your regular lifts, or as accessory movements after you’re finished with your squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, etc.
Adding new exercises to your workouts is one of the best ways to push past a training plateau, and these movements are potent muscle growth stimulators.
1. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research- Changes in Exercises Are More Effective Than in Loading Schemes to Improve Muscle Strength (source)
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