Pros and Cons of Using CrossFit to Lose Weight

Have you tried a CrossFit weight loss program? Many participants swear by the program’s ability to burn calories, build muscle, and change your life. The intensity of the commitment can seem cult-like. But is it smart to use CrossFit to lose weight?

Several research studies shed light on the pros and cons of the popular program for weight loss. And experts like Greg Zuffelato, the founder of I Believe Weight Loss, have strong opinions as well. Zuffelato is a former CrossFit trainer and avid CrossFit participant. He now uses a different approach to help people lose weight and reach their fitness goals.

What Is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a workout program, a culture, and a community. The mission of CrossFit is to “build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable.”

The CrossFit philosophy is one that employs an intense commitment to a strict workout lifestyle.

CrossFit Classes

CrossFit participants complete a workout of the day (WOD) either solo or with a trainer and a group of fellow exercisers at a designated Crossfit gym, also called a “box.” The workouts tend to be short, extremely intense, and involve functional exercises in a variety of forms.

CrossFit Nutrition

For participants who are interested, nutrition advice is offered on the CrossFit website. The suggestion is to follow either a 40-30-30 nutrition plan (40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat) or to use the Paleo diet to reach their performance and body fat goals. 

CrossFit Weight Loss Benefits

So should you use CrossFit to lose weight? “For weight loss,” says Zuffelato, "CrossFit can be an excellent program with some modifications.” Benefits of the program include:

  • CrossFit builds muscle to boost metabolism. CrossFit participants can expect to build strength and increase muscle mass. Zuffelato says that the biggest change he saw was a change in his body fat and muscle mass. An improved body composition not only helps your body to look leaner and tighter but also helps you to maintain a healthy metabolism.
  • CrossFit burns calories. When performed properly, high-intensity workouts like CrossFit are extremely difficult. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) reports that men can burn 15–18 calories per minute and women can burn 13–15 calories per minute doing the workouts. Participants who work at a high intensity burn more calories all day with EPOC.
  • CrossFit community members provide social support. A key element of the CrossFit program is sharing your WOD results online or with others in your community. For many people who are trying to lose weight, this element of sharing may help improve accountability and consistency.
  • Exercises are quick and efficient. For healthy people who already know how to perform typical CrossFit exercises, the workouts provided are both quick and effective. If you are a busy person who is trying to lose weight with exercise, short workouts may help you keep your exercise program on track.
  • Workouts are accessible to anyone. According to their website, CrossFit is available to “anyone with an internet connection and the willingness, curiosity, and bravery to try it.” Participants can work out on their own using the WOD on the website or they can go to a local CrossFit box. In many cities, the cost of attendance is less than the cost of joining a full-service health club.

Downsides of CrossFit Classes

While some people are successful when they use CrossFit to lose weight, there are drawbacks that may make it the wrong choice for some people who are trying to slim down. Zuffelato suffered injuries that interfered with his program. His experience is not unique.

Drawbacks of trying to lose weight with CrossFit include:

  • High drop out rate: CrossFit is too intense for many people. According to Zuffelato, “due to the high physical demand, there is a high turnover rate in CrossFit.” In addition, ACE experts also acknowledge that you might quit because it’s too difficult. If weight loss is your goal, then you need to find a program you can stick with for the long term.
  • Intense culture: The competitive nature of CrossFit training may be overwhelming for some exercisers, especially those who are new to exercise. If you are too intimidated to fully participate on a regular basis, you’re not likely to see sustainable results.
  • Modifications take longer: People who are new to exercise, who have not exercised regularly for a long time or have injuries to accommodate will need to modify the exercises in order to stay safe and healthy. This may be overly time-consuming. While anyone can do CrossFit, not everyone should do CrossFit.
  • Risk of injury: CrossFit workouts often include high-risk activities. When combined with the pressure to compete against the clock or other athletes the exercises may put many participants at risk for injury. Zuffelato was chronically injured and attributed this to the intensity of the program. He did not fully recover until he backed off and allowed more recovery time.

Is CrossFit Good for Weight Loss?

If you do CrossFit consistently and with proper modifications, you are likely to see positive changes to your body. But if you want to lose weight, you need to combine your exercise program—no matter what it is—with a good nutritional foundation. 

“The people that just do CrossFit and don’t have a nutrition plan do not lose weight,” says Zuffelato. "When they get serious with the CrossFit program their appetite goes into overdrive and without a proper plan, they don’t see any sustained weight loss. They will see a small change in their body fat, but like any other exercise program, if proper nutrition is not part of the plan the results will be disappointing.”

If you are a fit, active, athletic individual who likes competition and wants to slim down, then CrossFit might be the best way for you to lose weight. But if that doesn’t describe you, chances are good that you may lose more weight if you combine a healthy diet with a moderate exercise program that is sustainable.​​

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Article Sources
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  1. Claudino JG, Gabbett TJ, Bourgeois F, et al. CrossFit overview: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2018;4(1):11. doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5

  2. Babiash P, Porcari JP, Steffen J, Doberstein S, Foster C. CrossFit: New research puts popular workout to the test. American Council on Exercise. Updated November 2013.

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