“CrossFit means understanding that fitness is a journey, recognising where you are on that path, and understanding how to move forward on that path as long as life allows you to.” CrossFit is a Millennial phenomenon: but there’s nothing technologically advanced about it. High-intensity, fullbody movements that obliterate the distinction between weight training and cardio workouts, supposedly leaving you feeling stronger, quicker, more agile and
fitter than you ever dreamed possible. In addition to its comprehensive fitness regime, CrossFit claims to offer a supportive community, which aims to ensure that people do not exercise ‘together alone’. The tight-knit, almost
insular nature of this community, as well as some of its more extreme practices, have led followers and detractors alike to characterise it as a cult.
However it’s impossible to argue with the brand’s success. The number of advocates have grown CrossFit from a tiny startup to a behemoth that has surpassed the growth of well-known fitness franchises. As of 2017, the brand generates some £3 billion in annual revenue while CrossFit Inc. rakes in an estimated £80 million profit annually. The group exercise has exploded in popularity since being founded in Los Angeles in 2000 to the extent there are
now 13,000 CrossFit gyms, or “boxes” worldwide. Pretty impressive numbers, but there have been numerous allegations that the group exercise regime may not be all that it seems.
In a world where religious affiliation is declining at a rapid rate, people are turning to gyms and other fitness groups
as a way of bonding and filling a void. Admittedly any activity which keeps people fit, healthy and living a positive lifestyle can’t be intrinsically negative. So why does CrossFit seem to have more in common with Scientology on some levels than your average local gym? I’m being facetious, but there are genuine misgivings about this fitness
regime. From healthcare professionals to professional sports people and social commentators, shots have recently been fired at CrossFit from all directions. The New York Times magazine took issue with CrossFit and other extreme
fitness programmes, likening them to nothing more than labour camps you pay a king’s ransom to join. “Why not join a roofing crew for a few hours instead? Surely there’s a tunnel somewhere that needs digging,” sniffed Times columnist Heather Havrilesky.
The CrossFit workout is like Navy SEAL physical training taken to an extreme. It’s group exercise, done in classes where the workout itself is a competition. There are typically time trials where participants strive to perform the exercises faster than their workout companions. “The warm-up is usually inadequate. It could be jogging around a little bit in the parking lot followed by a little dynamic stretching, which can cause injury by itself,” said a former fitness instructor, describing a CrossFit gym she attended. “Good CrossFit instructors,” she said, “will assist in picking appropriate weights for members, but the competitive nature can result in amateurs pushing themselves too far.”
CrossFit does not take kindly to criticisms about its workout regimen. Recently, it sued the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for publishing a study by Ohio State University researchers, led by Steven Devor, an exercise physiology professor. This is a brand that seems highly motivated in protecting its reputation. Media opinion that is deemed hostile to CrossFit is often met head on, and aggressively. As one commentator on a Gawker forum put it: “Beware, once you write about CrossFit, a PR person will contact you, to let you know it’s spelled incorrectly, hence the capital ‘F’. They’ll then barrage you with testimonials via Twitter and every other social media
account you own…in 5, 4, 3, 2….”