How CrossFit Builds Athletes Regardless of Age or Ability
Written by Tricia Moore

The profession of strength and conditioning has reached a pivotal point as more participants are asking themselves if the focus on max lifts, aesthetics, and leaner body composition are making them better athletes.

People who are expecting to become better athletes are asking their coaches some tough questions, such as – Strength and size matter, but to what extent? How much is enough? And what types of strength are actually most applicable to sports performance? Why is it that the person who can lift the most is rarely the best athlete?

The answer lies in the magic of CrossFit training which includes variance in training the 10 physical domains that relate directly to athletics. However, before we dive into how the CrossFit methodology creates better athletes, we must first define some basic terminology.

What are athletics?

Athletics is a term encompassing human competitive sports and games requiring physical skill, and the systems of training that prepare athletes for competition performance. (1)

Who are athletes?

Walk into any CrossFit gym and you will quickly notice every participant is referred to as an “Athlete”. An athlete is a person who competes in one or more sports that involve physical strength, accuracy, speed, or stamina/endurance. (3) Athletes may be professionals or amateurs, and their purpose is to compete in athletic sports events demanding these characteristics.

Yes, CrossFit itself is considered a competitive sport, and athletes of varying degrees and ages can compete for several times each year. As well, many also participate in more traditional sports or games.

How CrossFit Differs from Other Types of Training

What separates CrossFit from other training programs is how CrossFit approaches fitness and delivers results. Crossfit isn’t a gym regimen focused on aesthetics, nor is it biased to training one athletic quality such as endurance, or power. CrossFit trains its participants to increase their work capacity. This requires both the physical body and the nervous system be trained, therefore making its participants better athletes. CrossFit aims to train 10 fitness domains.

10 Physical Fitness Domains

Structural Adaptations

Strength, Cardio/Respiratory Endurance, Stamina, and Flexibility which are adaptations to training that alter structural components of your body.

Nervous System Adaptations

Coordination, Accuracy, Agility, and Balance are adaptations to practice that affect your nervous system.

Training Adaptations

Power and Speed are adaptations of both training and practice.

By focusing its training regime on these 10 domains, CrossFit athletes are gaining skills that transfer to their sport of choice, regardless of ability level. In other words, the skills one trains must transfer to sport in order to make the athlete better.

College and Professional Athletes Using CrossFit

To that end, more professional sports teams are integrating CrossFit into their training program. In 2014, the New Orleans Saints incorporated CrossFit into their strength and conditioning program after their head coach Sean Payton found CrossFit to get back into shape.

When asked if CrossFit can help build a better athlete, University of Cal Berkeley Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Adam Potts answered, “I think that if CrossFit is properly utilized it can most definitely be beneficial to an athlete. CrossFit utilizes multiple types of movements that can increase the rate of force development in athletes.”

A football player is going to be asked to have cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy – all of which are the 10 recognized fitness domains of CrossFit.

James Townsend, a two-sport high school All-American and Division 1 college football player, is an avid believer in CrossFit. He is co-owner of Automo CrossFit in Southern California and said, “CrossFit can make you a better athlete. In football, we train the power movements (power clean, power snatch, etc.) so the explosion and power of ground-force movements can translate onto the field for your specific position. I became more flexible, more powerful, stronger, faster and more conditioned.”(4)

Measuring Results with CrossFit

CrossFit uses science to track progress. In a journal article from, fitness is defined as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. Capacity is the ability to do real work, which is measurable using the basic terms of physics (mass, distance, and time).” By timing specific exercises and by tracking the increase of weight during specific lifts, coaches can watch their athletes increase in both strength and conditioning. (5)

No matter the sport, being a stronger athlete who can perform at a higher percentage of the body’s ability for a longer period of time is never a bad thing. Having a sprinter holding his top speed for longer or a basketball player who isn’t winded in the fourth quarter all because they not only focused on their conditioning but they also focused on their strength and power simultaneously, is a win-win.

Lauren Gibbs, a member of Team USA Bobsled and a 2018 Olympic hopeful explained that “CrossFit is great for teaching an athlete how to push themselves, training both physical and mental toughness, which I believe has made me a better athlete.”

CrossFit in Strength and Conditioning Protocols

The ability CrossFit has to be tailored to any specific sport and maintain its methodologies is what makes CrossFit such a valuable program in the world of strength and conditioning.

The focus on CrossFit’s 10 domains of fitness will not only yield a better all-around athlete for any sport. It can help develop an athlete who is less fatigued late into the game, and who can push longer and harder without breaking mentally. This is an athlete who can meet and go beyond the demands of their specific sport. And, these skills also lead to accomplishments off-field, mental strength is a life skill we are wise to nurture.

CrossFit athletes are challenging classic strength and conditioning protocols. They are demonstrating at both the amateur and professional levels, that a focus on PRs, and aesthetics, simply doesn’t transfer to their sport of choice, or contribute to a more enjoyable life.

Athletes of all levels are proving that a focus on integral athletic development, can not only make them better athletes, they just might help them enjoy their life outside the gym as well.

CrossFit has challenged and brought awareness to the amount of time, energy and importance the fitness industry places on strength and body composition over other athletic development skills like sprinting, agility, and jumping mechanics and is documenting awesome results to further influence changes in our industry approaches training, and what its athletes are gaining.

Also Check Out…

5 Misconceptions About CrossFit

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The Best Pair of CrossFit Shoes Depends on Your Goals



1- “Athletics”. Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. December 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
2- ^ “Archived copy, Athletic Movement Skills”. Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2011-06-26.
3- Collins English Dictionary, Millennium Ed. – ‘athlete’
5- CFL journal ” what is fitness ”

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