Crossfit Powerlifting Program: How to Build Strength in Crossfit

Crossfit Powerlifting program How to build strength in Crossfit

Crossfit is an excellent way to improve your fitness, but some Crossfit programs only focus on the workouts of the day (WODs) and don’t prioritize strength. This leads many Crossfitters to wonder how they can get stronger and whether or not they can combine Crossfit and powerlifting.

So can you combine Crossfit and powerlifting? You can combine Crossfit and powerlifting as long as you’re mindful of your overall training volume and recovery. If you do both simultaneously, it’s best to do your powerlifting training first and then use Crossfit WODs as your accessories. It also helps to prioritize one goal at a time to enhance your results.

I’ve been doing both powerlifting and Crossfit for a couple of years now, and I’ve been able to combine the two in a way that keeps me healthy and happy with my performance in each.

In this article, I’ll discuss:

  • Whether it’s possible to train for Crossfit and powerlifting at the same time
  • Reasons why you’d want to combine Crossfit and powerlifting
  • Tips for combining Crossfit and powerlifting
  • Powerlifting programs that work well with Crossfit
  • Crossfit programs that work well with powerlifting
  • A sample weekly Crossfit + powerlifting routine

Is It Possible to Train for Both Crossfit and Powerlifting at the Same Time?

Crossfit and Powerlifting

It’s possible to do Crossfit and powerlifting simultaneously, and there are benefits to doing so. Getting stronger through powerlifting can improve your ability to move heavier weights in your WODs. Improving your conditioning through Crossfit can make it easier to recover in between sets when lifting and improve your overall athleticism.

That said, they are both demanding sports, and combining them takes some careful planning to ensure you don’t burn yourself out and increase your risk of injury.

If you compete in either sport, you must also manage your training schedule appropriately to peak for your competitions at the right time. 

Later in this article, I discuss ways to safely and effectively combine powerlifting and Crossfit so you can get stronger and fitter without sacrificing your ability to train for the long term.

Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.

5 Reasons to Combine Crossfit and Powerlifting

Five reasons to combine Crossfit and powerlifting are:

  • You need to get stronger
  • You’re not working on your strength as frequently or consistently as you’d like
  • You’re looking for more customized programming
  • You want to improve your aerobic capacity
  • You enjoy both sports

1. You Need to Get Stronger

One of the biggest reasons to combine Crossfit and powerlifting is that you need to increase your overall strength. Whether you’re a competitive or recreational Crossfitter, you can benefit from getting stronger.

For example, 95lb thrusters are programmed for men frequently in Crossfit. But if your 1 rep max front squat is 110lbs, you likely won’t be able to complete multiple thruster reps for several rounds at 95lbs, especially since your body will also fatigue from all the other movements in the WOD.

And if you plan to compete in Crossfit, getting stronger is a must. Many Crossfit competitions include at least one heavy lift event, like finding a 1 rep max deadlift or a 3 rep max back squat. You’ll need to be strong if you want to keep up with your competitors.

2. You’re Not Working on Your Strength as Frequently or Consistently as You’d Like

You may want to combine Crossfit and powerlifting if your current programming doesn’t allow you to train your lifts as often as you’d like.

If you take classes at a Crossfit gym, you’re at the mercy of whatever programming it follows. Many gyms follow strength cycles but may not focus on the same lifts you want to improve at any given time. For example, your gym may be working through a 12-week snatch cycle, but you want to work on improving your back squat instead.

Similarly, because there are so many lifts that are essential to Crossfit, your gym may only do certain lifts once every 10 days or so. If there’s a certain lift you want to get stronger in, it can be difficult to do so if you train that lift less than once a week.

If you find yourself in one of these scenarios, additional strength work on top of your Crossfit programming can help you focus on the specific lifts you want to improve.

3. You’re Looking for More Customized Programming

Crossfit programming, whether at a gym or following a program on your own, isn’t always individualized. This can cause you to develop new weaknesses, exacerbate old ones, or hit a plateau, which can inhibit your performance.

Following a customizable powerlifting program can help you address your individual weaknesses (for example, if tricep strength is a weakness in your overhead pressing movements) more so than following a generic program that’s designed for the masses.

Adding in unique variations of the three powerlifts such as pauses and tempos, which aren’t always included in Crossfit programming, can also keep your training novel and interesting.

4. You Want to Improve Your Aerobic Capacity

 exercises

Another reason to combine Crossfit and powerlifting is to increase your aerobic capacity, or your body’s ability to use oxygen as fuel while working out. This, in turn, can help improve your cardiovascular system, which research has shown is beneficial for overall health and longevity.

Powerlifters notoriously hate cardio – not only because they don’t enjoy it but because they’re afraid of losing their strength.

But Crossfit is different than traditional cardio. It focuses on metabolic conditioning (i.e., metcons), which combines strength training and cardio into one. This can be a lot more appealing to powerlifters than plodding away on a treadmill.

Crossfit is also high-intensity, and studies have shown that individuals who do both high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training are less likely to lose strength.

As such, Crossfit can be a great way for powerlifters to improve their conditioning without losing too much strength.

For powerlifters, Crossfit is also a great option for general physical preparedness (GPP) training. Learn more about GPP in GPP Workout for Powerlifters: What Is It? How To, Benefits.

5. You Enjoy Both Sports

You may want to combine Crossfit and powerlifting because you enjoy both sports and don’t want to give up either.

This led me to start following powerlifting programming after doing Crossfit for about a year and a half.

The lifting portions were also my favorite parts of the classes. I didn’t hate the daily WODs (even though most of them sucked), but I preferred lifting a heavy barbell.

If you’re like me, there’s no reason why you can’t do both, whether you want to pursue one or both competitively or just want to be strong and healthy.

If you are interested in competing in powerlifting, check out How To Start Powerlifting (A Beginner’s Guide).

How to Combine Crossfit and Powerlifting: 8 Rules to Follow

combine crossfit and powerlifting

Eight rules to follow when combining Crossfit and powerlifting are:

  • Prioritize one goal at a time
  • Do your powerlifting first
  • Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some strength or aerobic capacity
  • Treat your Crossfit WODs as your accessories
  • Decrease your overall volume
  • Scale your Crossfit workouts
  • Cherry-pick your Crossfit workouts
  • Prioritize recovery

1. Prioritize One Goal at a Time

When combining Crossfit and powerlifting, you need to pick one goal to prioritize at a time. You can do both simultaneously, but it will be nearly impossible to dedicate 100% of your energy to both and achieve amazing results. Choose whether you want to focus on powerlifting or Crossfit for any length of time and prioritize that goal first.

This could look like going through “seasons” where you powerlift four days a week and reduce your Crossfit WODs to one to two per week or Crossfit five days a week and only work on additional strength training twice a week.

This is what I do, and it’s allowed me to stay mostly injury-free, happy with my performance, and motivated. During the cold winter months, I focus more on powerlifting and cut back on the WODs. I then do the opposite in the warmer months when it’s easier for me to do metcons outside instead of in my cramped garage.

You can choose however you want to prioritize your powerlifting or Crossfit performance based on whatever schedule works best for you. But focusing on one for a few months at a time will help you achieve better long-term results and enhance your overall training longevity.

2. Do Your Powerlifting First

powerlifting first

Whether you’re powerlifting and doing a WOD all in one session or breaking them up into two-a-days (doing one workout in the morning and the other at night), I recommend doing your powerlifting first.

When you’re powerlifting, you’ll likely be lifting much heavier weights than you’d use in a WOD.  If you fatigue your muscles by doing a WOD first, they won’t be able to move as efficiently under heavy loads as they can when they’re fresh, and your form may suffer. Your 80% will likely also feel more like 95-100%.

It can even increase your risk of injury if you’re not careful. For example, if you do a WOD with a lot of toes to bars or GHD sit-ups, your core may not be able to support you as much during a heavy squat or deadlift. This can lead to a lower back injury.

The heaviest, most taxing part of your workout should always come first.

You may wonder if powerlifting will ruin your body and affect your Crossfit performance. We dispel the myths about powerlifting and injuries in Will Powerlifting Destroy Your Body? (No, Here’s Why).

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Sacrifice Some Strength or Aerobic Capacity

If you rotate through “seasons” as I described above, you’ll likely notice some drop in performance in either your strength or Crossfit stamina. It’s difficult to excel at both simultaneously, so some decreases in strength or aerobic capacity are to be expected when you prioritize one over the other.

But don’t freak out. It may take a few weeks to adjust at the beginning of each new “season,” but you’ll eventually get back to the point you were at before you switched your focus if you remain consistent with your training.

And unless you’re a professional athlete in either sport, your performance really doesn’t matter all that much. What’s more important is being healthy and training in a way that makes you feel your best.

4. Treat Your Crossfit WODs As Your Accessories

Below, I provide several examples of Crossfit and powerlifting programs that complement each other well. But for now, I’ll say this – don’t think that you’ll be able to handle a ton of volume because you likely won’t be able to (and even if you can for a short time, you likely won’t be able to sustain it for long).

One of the easiest ways to prevent injuries and burnout when doing Crossfit and powerlifting is using your Crossfit WODs as accessories.

Let’s say you’re following a powerlifting routine, and this is one of your workouts:

  • Squats – 4 sets of 8, 6, 4, 2 with increasing weight (20)
  • Walking lunges – 4 x 10 each side (40)
  • Hamstring curls – 4 x 10 (40)
  • Back extensions – 4 x 12 (48)

And a Crossfit WOD you want to do on that same day looks like this:

  • 5 rounds for time of:
    • 10 toes to bars (50)
    • 15 overhead lunges (75)
    • 400m run

Between these two workouts, you’d be doing 175 reps of lower body exercises (with 115 lunges alone) and fatiguing your midline with almost 100 reps of exercises that work your abs and lower back. On top of all that, you’d be running a total of 2000m, which places even more stress on your legs and core.

Just thinking about doing this much work in a single session makes me exhausted! If you have an exceptional work capacity, you may be able to handle it. But chances are you don’t, and you’ll burn yourself out if you try to do this amount of work four to six days a week for months on end.

For workouts like the ones above, I’d recommend dropping the accessory work from your powerlifting routine and using the lunges and toes to bars in the Crossfit workout as your accessory movements for the day.

If you really want to do both, do your heavy lifts first, then the metcon, and then do accessory work after. This will ensure your muscles are fresh for the heaviest portion of the workout and that you aren’t fatiguing the smaller muscle groups before you get to the WOD.

5. Decrease Your Overall Volume

An alternative to cutting out accessory movements completely from your powerlifting routine is to cut back on the accessory work by at least half.

Using the above workout examples would mean doing one to two sets of the walking lunges, hamstring curls, and back extensions instead of four.

You’ll still get your accessory work in, but it won’t exhaust you to the point where you can’t complete your Crossfit workout.

6. Scale Your Crossfit Workouts

biking at the gym

Some people are still hesitant to scale Crossfit WODs, whether it’s because they need to satisfy their egos, have ultra-competitive personalities, or want to show off in front of their gym buddies. But when you’re combining two demanding activities like Crossfit and powerlifting, there’s nothing wrong with scaling.

Scaling means lowering the weights or reps or swapping difficult skills for simpler versions. For example, if you don’t have (or don’t want to do) handstand push-ups, you can swap them for regular push-ups or wall walks.

If you’re in the midst of a high-intensity block in your powerlifting routine, you may not have a ton of energy to complete a Crossfit workout as written. You can scale by lowering the weight (i.e., using 65lbs for thrusters instead of 95lbs), shortening the rounds (i.e., doing 3 rounds instead of 5), or decreasing the reps (i.e., doing 10 front squats each round instead of 20).

This will ensure you’re not doing an insane amount of volume that your body can’t handle and putting yourself at risk of injury or burnout.

7. Cherry-Pick Your Crossfit Workouts

Many people are against cherry-picking WODs (only doing the ones you feel like doing or containing movements you’re good at) because they believe it doesn’t allow you to improve your fitness. But you’ll likely have to do so when combining powerlifting and Crossfit to ensure the WODs don’t interfere with your powerlifting.

How you choose to do this will depend on how well you’re able to recover in between workouts.

You may choose to do leg-heavy WODs on your squat and deadlift days and shoulder-heavy WODs on your bench press days. This gives your upper and lower body muscles plenty of time to recover in between workouts.

Or you may prefer doing WODs that focus more on the opposite muscles of what you train in your powerlifting workouts so you can push yourself harder in the metcon with muscles that aren’t already fatigued.

It doesn’t matter which way you do it as long as you’re scheduling your workouts to allow you to recover properly.

It’s easier to cherry-pick your WODs if you’re following virtual programming because you can easily shift workouts around. But when you go to a Crossfit box, you have to follow the weekly and daily class schedule.

However, Crossfit gyms usually release their programming for the week in advance, which would make it easier for you to plan your week of training. If your gym doesn’t already do this, you can ask a coach if they can send you the workouts ahead of time.

8. Prioritize Recovery

Dialing in your nutrition and sleep is key when doing Crossfit and powerlifting simultaneously. It’s also important to take regular rest days and listen to your body to recognize when it’s time to pull back on the intensity.

You should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night and take at least two full rest days per week. This will keep your body and mind fresh and reduce your risk of injury.

On your rest days, you can do yoga or work on your mobility.

You should also make sure you’re eating enough to support all of your training. This doesn’t mean you should eat whatever you want, but you should consume enough protein, carbs, fats, and overall calories to fuel your workouts.

You can use a calculator like the Precision Nutrition macro calculator to determine how much you should eat.

If you’re a female, check out our guide on the Female Powerlifting Diet.

Powerlifting Programs You Can Combine With Crossfit

1. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1

squat, bench, deadlift

One of the most popular powerlifting programs to combine with Crossfit is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. The original program is designed to allow for steady progression, but the overall volume is low enough that it wouldn’t cause too much fatigue before a WOD.

5/3/1 focuses on each of the three powerlifts (squat, bench, deadlift) plus the overhead press once a week. Each week, you do 2 sets of either 5 or 3 reps followed by an AMRAP set (as many reps as possible). There’s also one week in which you do a set of 5, a set of 3, and then a heavy single.

You typically start the program at about 65% of your training maxes (which are about 90% of your true 1 rep maxes) for each lift and progress from there.

This is an ideal strength program to add to Crossfit if you’re short on time. You can do your workout within 45-60 minutes, depending on how long it takes you to warm up, how long you rest in between sets, and how long your WOD is.

2. Stronger By Science

training program exercise

Stronger by Science offers several customizable training templates that allow for a fair amount of autoregulation (adjusting your training based on how you feel each day). This is useful when you’re combining them with Crossfit because you can adjust your weights and volume based on how well you’ve recovered from previous workouts.

There’s also the option to build your own program from scratch, which gives you even more autoregulation than the templates.

Depending on how often you lift (2-6 days per week), the SBS programs focus on 1-4 main lifts per day, which include squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and variations of each. You can choose templates that prioritize strength or hypertrophy and follow a progression scheme (how frequently you increase reps, sets, or weight lifted) that works best for you.

The templates include room for accessories but don’t force them upon you, which is great if you want to use your metcons as your accessory work instead.

I also like that you can easily use these templates for year-round training. For example, if you’re in a period where you’re prioritizing Crossfit, you can follow a 2-day-per-week SBS template and do metcons 3-4 days per week. If you’re in a period where you’re prioritizing strength, you can follow a higher-frequency SBS template and cut back on the metcons.

3. Hatch Squat

back squat

While it’s not a full powerlifting program, the Hatch squat program is an excellent one to follow if you want to improve your squat. It’s an especially good program for Crossfitters because it trains both the back squat and front squat, and front squats are an essential component of Crossfit workouts.

The Hatch squat program lasts for 12 weeks and consists of 2 days, with the back and front squat being trained on both days. You work off percentages of your most recent 1 rep maxes for each.

The program follows an ascending pyramid, meaning you start each session with light weight and high reps and end with heavier weight and lower reps.

This is one program that you shouldn’t do leg-heavy Crossfit WODs after. The program already contains a lot of squat volume, and your legs will be toast at the end of each session. In fact, you may not even want to do a metcon the day after because you’ll have a hard time recovering.

Instead, I’d recommend following this program during an “off-season” of Crossfit so you can cut back on the metcon frequency and focus on building up your strength.

Crossfit Programs You Can Combine With Powerlifting

overhead press

1. Crossfit Linchpin

Crossfit Linchpin is run by Pat Sherwood, a former Games competitor and commentator. He programs just one workout per day, which are 10-30 minutes long and doesn’t require much extra time in the gym. There are also scaled versions of each workout that are great for when you’re fatigued from powerlifting and don’t want to push the intensity.

One thing to watch out for is that Linchpin doesn’t just program metcons – it also programs heavy strength days once every 10 days or so. These days may include 5 sets of 5 back squats or 7 sets of snatch singles.

On those days, you likely won’t want to do powerlifting on top of the Linchpin workout. You can either skip the Linchpin workout entirely or treat it as part of your powerlifting routine.

For example, let’s say Linchpin programs 5×5 back squats on the same day your powerlifting program calls for 4×6 back squats. Instead of doing 49 back squats in total, you can just do the 5×5 sets from Linchpin, skip the back squats from your powerlifting routine, and then do whatever accessories you want to do afterward. 

2. HWPO Classic

HWPO stands for hard work pays off. It was the mantra of 5-time Games champ Mat Fraser throughout his competitive career. He now offers programming that’s based on the training protocols he followed when he competed.

There are several HWPO programs to choose from, but the HWPO Classic program is ideal if you follow a separate strength program and are just looking for some daily metcons. You get 7 days’ worth of programming at a time, so you’ll be able to view them ahead of time to see how they can fit in with your powerlifting programming.

This program requires access to a fully-equipped gym with items like rowers, ropes, pull-up bars, and gymnastics rings. It’s also better suited for intermediate or advanced Crossfitters who have either already mastered technical skills like handstand walks and muscle-ups or know how to scale those movements appropriately.

If you’re looking for equipment to add to your home gym, check out my favorite fitness equipment brands.

3. Johnnie WOD

Johnnie WOD is a program that combines strength training with daily conditioning pieces. It’s run by John Welbourn, who played in the NFL for 10 years. Because the strength training portions are fairly heavy, you won’t have to combine this program with a separate powerlifting program.

The strength portions blend low reps of heavy bilateral lifts (which work both sides of the body simultaneously) with high reps of unilateral lifts (which work one side of the body at a time). This makes Johnnie WOD a great option for those with strength imbalances because most Crossfit programs don’t include much unilateral training.

The conditioning pieces consist of both metcons and machine-based cardio workouts such as intervals on the Assault bike. However, if you don’t have access to certain machines, you can usually sub the machine-based intervals for outdoor sprints or use whatever machine you do have.

Sample Crossfit + Powerlifting Weekly Routine – Crossfit Focus

bench press

Below is an example of a 5-day Crossfit and powerlifting routine with a prioritization on Crossfit. There are only two strength-focused days per week. On those days, the conditioning pieces include easier, lower-intensity movements so you can also do accessory work afterward.

To progress on the strength portions, I’d recommend lowering the reps and increasing the weight each week. For example, in week two, you’d decrease the bench press and back squat reps to 4 but increase the weight to 80%.

Follow this progression until you get to 90-95%, then either test a new 1 rep max or take a week off and then start over with 5-10lbs more on each lift.

Monday

Strength

  • Bench press – 4 x 4 @ 75%
  • Back squat – 4 x 6 @ 75%

WOD

  • 8 x 500m row intervals
  • Rest 1:1 (so if your 500m interval takes two minutes, rest for two minutes before starting the next interval)

Tuesday

WOD

  • 12-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
    • 200m run
    • 10 power snatches

Wednesday

  • Rest

Thursday

Strength

  • Deadlift – 4 x 4 @ 80%
  • Overhead press – 4 x 6 @ 75%

WOD

  • EMOM (every minute on the minute) for 18 minutes (6 rounds total)
    • Minute 1: 20 wall balls
    • Minute 2: 8-10 bar-facing burpees
    • Minute 3: rest

Friday

WOD

  • 7 rounds for time
    • 7 deadlifts
    • 7 power cleans
    • 7 shoulder to overhead

Saturday

WOD

  • 60 double unders
  • 50 overhead kettlebell swings
  • 40 toes to bar
  • 30 handstand push-ups
  • 20 pull-ups
  • 10 box jump overs

Sunday

  • Rest

Sample Crossfit + Powerlifting Weekly Routine – Powerlifting Focus

barbell bent-over row

This is an example of how you can schedule your Crossfit and powerlifting workouts if you want to prioritize powerlifting. It’s a five-day routine with just two WODs per week. The lower metcon frequency plus two full rest days per week should leave you plenty of room to recover.

To progress on your lifts, follow the same progression scheme I described in the Crossfit-focused routine above

Monday

  • Back squat – 3 x 6 @ 75%
  • Deficit deadlift – 3 x 5 @ 70% of your 1RM deadlift
  • Barbell bent-over row – 4 x 10

Tuesday

  • Bench press – 3 x 6 @ 75%
  • Pause squat – 3 x 5 @ 70% of your 1RM squat
  • Pull-ups – 4 x AMRAP

Wednesday

WOD

  • 3 rounds
    • 500m row
    • 25 burpees over the rower
    • Rest 1 minute at the end of each round

Thursday

  • Rest

Friday

  • Deadlift – 3 x 6 @ 80%
  • Close-grip bench press – 3 x 5 @ 65-70% of your 1RM bench press
  • Chest-supported dumbbell row – 4 x 10

Saturday

WOD

  • 15-12-9-12-15
    • Wall balls
    • Hang power cleans
    • Shoulder to overhead

Sunday

  • Rest

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Do Powerlifting and Crossfit?

You can do powerlifting and Crossfit. Combining them is a good idea if you want to increase strength, improve conditioning, or work on both simultaneously. But you must carefully plan your workouts to ensure your training volume is reasonable and prioritize sleep and nutrition, so you have enough energy to do both.

Which is Better: Crossfit or Powerlifting?

Powerlifting is better if you want to get stronger. Still, Crossfit is better if you want to improve your overall athleticism across various domains (i.e., cardio, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, etc.). Which one is better for you as an individual will depend on your goals and what kind of workouts you enjoy most.


About The Author

Amanda Dvorak

Amanda Dvorak is a freelance writer and powerlifting enthusiast. Amanda played softball for 12 years and discovered her passion for fitness when she was in college. It wasn’t until she started CrossFit in 2015 that she became interested in powerlifting and realized how much she loves lifting heavy weights. In addition to powerlifting, Amanda also enjoys running and cycling.