How is F45 different from CrossFit?  The question has arisen enough times that I feel the need to address it.  I’ve even been approached by an F45 coach who thought her experience made her eligible to coach CrossFit.  She obviously was unaware of how the two differ.  Maybe you are too. 

I’m not writing this to critique F45 mind you.  Obviously I believe CrossFit offers a better training methodology and better fitness outcomes.  While I am happy to back up my opinion on the matter, I am in no way impartial.  As a fitness coach however, I will tell you that the best program for you is the one that you actually follow.  So F45 is far superior to reclining on your sofa.  If that’s what gets you into the gym, good for you!  Today’s question is not which one is better (CrossFit), but how do they differ?

First you need to know what F45 training entails.  This is a high intensity interval training methodology like Orange Theory or Fit Body Boot Camp that utilizes the group fitness format popularized by CrossFit.  Also like CrossFit, these programs have largely moved away from the conventional bodybuilding model eschewing slow isolation movements like the pec deck and calf raises in favour of higher intensity full body movements like squats and kettlebell swings.  These are great things!  And that’s about where the similarities to CrossFit end.

I realize that this can be confusing because yes, in CrossFit we do workouts like the Filthy 50 that very much resemble the kind of thing you might see a class doing in an F45 gym.  This is a very popular style of CrossFit WOD and the kind that immediately comes to peoples’ minds when they think of CrossFit.  It does not, however, reflect the actuality of the CrossFit programming.  CrossFit programming is built upon a backbone of couplets, triplets and single modality workouts. 

Fran is a classic couplet pairing a weightlifting movement (thruster) with a bodyweight movement (pull up).  That’s it, no stations, no fancy equipment, just two physiologically demanding movements paired together.  Recently we did the classic triplet Christine.  The triplet usually combines a monostructural aerobic element (row) with weight lifting (deadlift) and a bodyweight movement (box jump).  With 3 stations, the triplet more closely resembles the F45 workout.  But it is in the single modality workouts that CrossFit makes a huge departure from other training programs:

Single Modality Training
On a single modality training day, rather than combine strength, conditioning and gymnastics skills, we focus exclusively on one element.  This is what makes CrossFit a strength AND conditioning program.  We may spend the hour working on a deadlift set of 5-5-3-3-3-1-1-1-1.  This is strength development, something that these other programs do not offer.  Yes, they use weights – light weights which can be moved quickly to develop conditioning.  You will not see them doing a 15 minute metcon that requires them to mix running with reps of deadlifts at 275lbs.  In CrossFit this is a conditioning workout.  Because we have days when we develop our strength by focussing only on lifting we can do unbroken reps at 275lbs and get our heart rate up.  These days also  include technical lifts like the Snatch and Clean & Jerk which confer the greatest athletic benefit and yet are not a part of F45 programming because they require a level of technical coaching and practice that will interfere with the conditioning part of their program.

Another thing you won’t see in these programs is a 5, 10 or 15K run or row.  Why?  People do not like them.  And yet you cannot develop true endurance without the occasional long effort.  Yes, high intensity gives you more bang for your buck and is a lot more fun but long slow distance is valuable for developing an aerobic base.

What about a single modality bodyweight day like Zoe: 30 muscle ups for time.  Muscle Ups, Handstand Push Ups, Handstand Walking, Ring Dips, these are technical gymnastics movements that help develop incredible strength and body control but you will not find them practised at F45 for the same reason the Oly lifts don’t live there.

I hope you are beginning to see that while to the untrained, uninformed eye, there may appear to be some similarities, in actuality the bones of the programs do not resemble one another at all.  While F45 may contain a few of the elements seen in CrossFit programming it excludes far more.  CrossFit builds fitter, more athletic human beings by developing all 10 General Physical Skills: Cardiovascular respiratory endurance, muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, speed, power, agility, accuracy, coordination & balance.  While F45 narrows its focus primarily to cardiovascular respiratory endurance and muscular endurance.

Agility, accuracy, coordination and balance are largely the result of neurological adaptations.  All full body functional movements address and develop these athletic attributes.  But no movements challenge them to the degree that Olympic lifting and technical gymnastics skills do.  F45 and similar programs that utilize full body functional movements do provide much more of this than conventional isolation movements but they stop long before the difficulty levels practiced daily in CrossFit.

F45 makes its greatest contribution to cardiovascular respiratory endurance and muscular endurance but by leaving out longer duration work like the 5K row, the 10K run or Murph, they once again stop before reaching the full human athletic potential.

Without movements like overhead squats and other movements that seriously challenge participants’ mobility, they leave flexibility to be addressed in yoga studios and elsewhere. 

But the big missing in these programs is strength.  Strength is arguably THE foundational athletic attribute because to perform any activity you must first be able to overcome gravity and get yourself up off the floor.  Using light weights for high reps does not produce strength.  And this is important because without strength there is no power and power is the key attribute for athletic performance.  For those requiring a refresher, power = force x distance/time.  In the real world it’s simply a measure of how fast you can get that beer keg up a flight of stairs.  Your ability to produce power is one of the most accurate measures of your overall fitness.

By using full body functional movements programs like F45 do succeed in producing more power and therefore better fitness outcomes than you would see with conventional isolation movements or jogging.  But nowhere near what you will see CrossFit athletes producing.  For example, they do box jumps just like we do.  At 200lbs bodyweight, jumping onto a 24” box, I produce 400 foot pounds of force per rep.  Not bad for one jump, right?  That’s why box jumps are an effective training tool.  But what if I deadlift 275lbs 3 feet off the floor?  That’s 825 foot pounds per rep.  More than double my box jump power output!  What about a 20lb wall ball to a 10 foot target.  If we argue the ball travels 8 feet from my hands to the target (160 foot pounds) and my body travelled 3 feet from a full squat to standing (600 foot pounds) then each wall ball rep represents roughly 610 foot pounds of work.  Remarkable, right?  And that’s why both F45 and CrossFit use wall balls in our training.  But what about when I snatch 155lbs from floor to overhead (about 7 feet).  That’s 1085 foot pounds in less time than it takes me to do a wall ball rep.  That’s real power!  Do you begin to see how we are developing MUCH BIGGER, MUCH MORE POWERFUL engines?

It is like dressing Arnold Schwarzennegger and Danny DeVito in the same outfits and calling them Twins.  You can guess which twin I think CrossFit is.  And no, I’m not saying doing F45 will make you look like Danny DeVito, but wearing the same clothes does not give you the same genes.  Though F45 uses some familiar full body functional movements in a group class setting, it does not much resemble CrossFit in execution, methodology or outcome.

I guess in the end, I did wind up comparing the two.  Sorry, I just can’t help myself.  It’s not even that I think F45 is bad.  I think it is great!  It is way better than the old conventional bodybuilding approach of isolation movements.  If F45 or Orange Theory are what you need to get off the couch and get fit, I say hurray for you!  Stick with it and you will no doubt get fitter.  But please do not confuse what you are doing there with what we are doing at CrossFit.  Any similarities are purely superficial. 

Friday WOD

Equipment: Barbell or alternative deadlift option

Warm Up
3 Rounds:
1 min Full Body Rocks
1 min Cross Crawl Reverse Lunges
1 min Romanian Deadlifts


15 min AMRAP
1 Deadlift
50m Run
2 Deadlifts
100m Run
3 Deadlifts
150m Run

Cool Down