Maybe There’s No Such Thing As CrossFit
I get asked, all the time, “What is CrossFit.” I’ve started giving a really simple answer: Nothing.
It’s a word. (A trademarked word, specifically.) It’s a brand. (But a brand without clear definition.) It’s a way of doing things. (But not one way, more like a lot of ways, that are kind of similar, but not really.) It’s a concept. (Well, not really, because it changes so much from person to person.) It’s a group of people who share similar values that are organized and led by a guy named Greg. (Oh, hell no. Fuck no.)
There is not a single move done in a CrossFit gym that CrossFit invented. And CrossFit doesn’t tell us how to design and create workouts. (I have never looked at the CrossFit main site for a workout, and I never will.)
CrossFit, really, has come to have almost no meaning.
You could probably say, loosely, that it’s an exercise methodology that generally takes place in a group setting that usually involves some mixture of weights, plyometrics and gymnastics. But beyond that, every CrossFit gym is totally unique. The vast majority of them are owned by people who only own that one, and as such they do it their way.
Just like houses and apartments. You walk into one, and it’s set up and furnished in a way that is totally different from another. Just because you’ve been in an apartment before doesn’t mean you know what to expect when you walk into another one.
- I’ve been in CrossFit gyms that are 500 s/f, and in some that are 10,000 s/f.
- Some are designed to look like a Dwell Magazine spread, some look like the workshop of a sadistic hoarder.
- Some do tons of Olympic lifting, some do no weightlifting at all.
- Some seem like they’re run and organized by testosterone-fueled adolescent bullies with a Napolean Complex and no understanding of the human body.
- Some are really thoughtful and welcoming and run by people who are focused on you.
- Some are body-shaming misogynistic hell holes. Some are body-positive and nurturing.
- Some love HQ and Glassman and the Russes and will do anything they can to defend them. Others wish they’d shut the fuck up and go away.
It’s a crap shoot. You have no idea what you’ll find. AND THAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT.
As an affiliate owner, I wish people understood how fully and totally autonomous we all are. No one at CrossFit HQ tells us how to run our businesses. There are no guidelines, no rules, no expectations. We do it our own way. At first, anyway, that was the magic of CrossFit. They built a brand, we pay for affiliation, that affiliation serves as our marketing budget (and seriously, it’s a great deal,) and on we go, to do it our own way.
There are 3 CrossFit gyms in my neighborhood. We are all completely and totally different. The only thing we have in common is that we pay to use the word CrossFit.
Why does that matter to me so much?
Because when people say things like “CrossFit is dangerous,” or “Boycott CrossFit because Greg Glassman is attacking diabetics” (which he’s not, by the way,) it doesn’t make sense.
Let’s use Ice Cream as an example here. “Ice cream is dangerous because it has tons of chemicals in it that you can’t pronounce.” You can see why that makes no sense. Ice Cream, although it generally describes a frozen snack food, isn’t a single thing. There’s gas-station soft-serve, there’s handmade Ice Cream from pastured cows, there’s soy “ice cream,” there’s…… And then there’s all the flavors. Ice Cream, per se, isn’t a monolithic thing that you can just make statements about in that way. If you have a brand of Ice Cream that you don’t like, you can go try another brand.
Same with CrossFit.
Now, onto “Boycott CrossFit because HQ said yet another jackass stupid thing.” I’m gonna point to Cuba on that one. Glassman is our Castro. Castro is not an accurate reflection of the people of Cuba, or the experience of visiting Cuba. Castro is an asshole, but I dare you to find a people more welcoming, gracious and joyful than the Cubans you’ll meet if you go visit.
I don’t know how it resolves, in terms of those of us who passionately love “our” CrossFit, and have a visceral disdain for the leaders and reputation of CrossFit. But here’s what I do know, when you boycott CrossFit, you don’t hurt Glassman or HQ. You hurt neighborhood gym owners who may or may not agree with HQ. Who may or may not practice CrossFit in a way that …..
We pay our affiliate fee once a year. So we’ll call it one day. 364 days a year we run a nurturing and challenging gym that is totally focused on empowering people in a body-positive environment using highly-trained coaches and a methodology that has been proven safe and effective for 4 very real years in our particular gym. I can’t speak to other gyms, I just know our track record.
Because we pay that affiliate fee, we’re allowed to call it CrossFit.
But there is nothing that we DO that you can point to and call “CrossFit.” Kettlebells? Hell we’re trained in the RKC method as well as the CrossFit method. Weightlifting? Trained by USAW as well as CrossFit. Gymnastics? Running? Yoga? We do all that, as do countless other places who are in no way affiliated with CrossFit.
“CrossFit” doesn’t mean anything on a practical level.
I am increasingly frustrated by what that doesn’t mean. Because I’m starting to think it doesn’t mean anything at all. It doesn’t mean that I agree with Glassman or HQ (I almost never do, and have written about why, many times.) It doesn’t mean that we’re training people to compete in the CrossFit Games, (we’re not, at all, though it may happen.) It doesn’t mean anything other than we spend a lot of time carefully creating our own mixture of weights, plyometrics and gymnastics in a manner that we believe makes people more fit in a functional way to go about and live their lives however they want.
When people ask me to explain what CrossFit is to them, it’s usually after they tell me that they know it’s not for them. Because either it is dangerous or they hate something that Glassman said. And I then spend my time convincing them to try us despite the brand and reputation, not because of it. (Or, like a couple nights ago, when two people who registered for our Blast Off series, are standing in my gym telling me they were thinking about cancelling because of Glassman’s statements about diabetics, as one of them is checking his levels… Ya, that was a great moment.)
We’ve been changing lives for 4 years because people trusted us. Whatever we call it, we’re gonna keep doing it for years to come. Because we love it, we believe in it, and we’ve seen it change both individuals and communities.
As for Glassman, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve spent a little time with him and some of his inner circle. It’s hard not to laugh and smile around him. He’s charismatic, that’s for sure. Socially, they are people that I enjoy. They’d be fun guests at a BBQ. But yes, I fucking cringe when they say the shit they do. I can’t pretend that there isn’t a huge throbbing vein of playgorund bully in them that I find disgusting. And pathetic in the weakest possible way. But calling them on it doesn’t help. Like any bully, they get off on that. And like any bully, I suspect it’s masking some deep dark owie and insecurity that we’ll never know about.
I do know that they do not represent me any more than Castro represents the Cuban people. And they don’t claim to. But the world at large needs to know that.
And I do know that I love what we do at Rocket. I am inspired, daily, by the grit and transformation that I see. I truly believe in this thing that we call CrossFit, even if I have no idea what that word means anymore.