CrossFit: Cult or Community?

CrossFit

By now most people have heard of CrossFit. And most of the time, they’ve heard both good and bad things about it. Whether or not you’ve actually attempted the sport, you probably know it’s an intense workout involving heavy weights, weird jargon such as “WOD” and that it calls itself the “sport of fitness.” You may also know lots of people have very strong opinions about it, to the point where they claim it’s a cult. However, those in CrossFit claim this isn’t true, it’s just a community of people passionate about fitness.

Crossfitter

I took my first CrossFit class around 2 years ago. My friends Justin and Lindsay invited me to their friend Dan’s gym, CrossFit Thrive. After about one week of muscles so sore I couldn’t walk, I loved it. I only worked out at CrossFit Thrive for the 8 months leading up to my wedding, since I immediately moved to Columbus, OH to begin life with Stuart. Even though I would have loved to continue CrossFit upon moving to Columbus, all the gyms close by were too expensive at the time. (more on that later…) So I joined a “normal” gym, and did classes such as Zumba, Boxing and a class using the Navy Seal-inspired TRX bands. And honestly, nothing even came close to CrossFit.

Right about now you may be thinking that I’m just a girl who drank the CrossFit kool-aid, and this post is just going to be a big fat love letter to a crazy form of fitness. Before you stop reading, bear with me…I think it may end different than you think.

Let’s start with the whole “cult thing.”

The definition of Cult (from dictionary.com) is: a particular system of religious worship, especially with references to its practice and ceremonies.

If you compare the definition of a cult to CrossFit, the two definitely seem to have some things in common. CrossFit has specific practices, (heavy weights, fast reps, killer workouts) and ceremonies (CrossFit Games). And some people could probably be so consumed with CrossFit and fitness that it may seem like religious worship. And the deeper/more intense some people get into CrossFit, the more it seems to take over their life: diet, politics, beliefs, lifestyle, etc. But a lot of other things can seem similarly cult-like from the outside (or inside) as well. Star Wars/Star Trek? Yoga? Video Games? Football? Different type of cult-like qualities, but similar intensity and passion.

Most men out there (probably including my own husband) would probably be appalled that I’m making a correlation between a cult and football. (Although I doubt I’m the first person to do so.) But when you look at the definition, it can be just as easily applied to football as to CrossFit. (And I can say that, seeing as I’m from Philadelphia, home of the incredibly welcoming, gentle, kind, peaceful Eagles fans.)

After all, the passion expressed by CrossFit and football fans alike can easily be seen as religious worship. They both have their own clothing apparel, paraphernalia and jargon and ceremonies. (Speaking of cult-like behaviors, um, have you seen Oakland Raiders fans?)

oakland raiders collage

And I know the diet part of CrossFit (aka, Paleo) is looked down upon heavily. (Hello worst diet of 2013) But eating pizza, wings and drinking beer does not get you looking like this:

Rich Froning

You may not agree with my assessment, but to me football and CrossFit could be equally cult-like. Just pick your poison. (or Kool-aid.)

But before you harp on me for thinking football is a cult, I honestly don’t think it is. But in the same breath, I don’t think CrossFit is either. I think at their core, they are both things that people are really passionate about, enjoy talking about, and enjoy spending their time doing, that’s all. However, do I think that either (or other hobbies/interests) can become so all consuming that they take over your life and affect your life and relationships in a negative way? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean that that it’s that way for every person who partakes in it, or that it’s a cult. I mean really, do people say that athletes who are training for the Olympics are involved in a cult?

What’s funny to me is that people who don’t like CrossFit, usually have a pretty strong opinion about it. And many times, they’ve never even tried it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of the reasons I’ve heard for people thinking CrossFit is cult-like, intimidating and ridiculously expensive are actually not true. You have to look at it with the right perspective.

A lot of people think that it’s an hour of pushing yourself to the edge of exhaustion and/or vomiting, competition so fierce you’re looked down upon if you can’t cut it, and that it’s only for people who want to end up looking like Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan

Now, I can’t speak for EVERY CrossFit gym, but with regards to the ones that I’ve been a part of, and ones I’ve heard about from friends, that is not the case. CrossFit is known for being universally scalable. On their website they claim to give the same workouts to elderly individuals with heart disease as they do cage fighters. They’re just not lifting the same amount of weights. (Duh.) So if you’re pushing yourself to the point of vomiting, that’s your fault, not CrossFit’s. You can push yourself to exhaustion and vomiting with any sport or fitness regimen, not just CrossFit.

I polled some of my friends and family on their thoughts on CrossFit, and one legit concern that was mentioned was the high risk of injury due to the fast paced workouts using heavy weights. This is an honest hesitation for a lot of people, and I can understand why. I talked to my CrossFit coach about it, and his response was that that’s why it’s so important to have a good coach. In CrossFit, correct technique is key for avoiding injury. And since your technique starts going downhill as your body gets tired, the coaches are there to tell you to keep your back straight or your knees over your toes, etc. That’s also why part of every workout is “skill work,” where you work on the correct technique for the big lifts, working your way up from using a plastic PVC pipe to a weighted bar. The reality is that there are definitely risks associated with CrossFit, but the risks vs. reward for most people who do CrossFit is much stronger on the rewards side.

One of the other hesitations to CrossFit I hear a lot is the “outrageous” cost. I did some calculations, and it’s really only outrageous if you’re comparing it to gyms like Planet Fitness. If you’re comparing it to similar levels of personal instruction and training, it’s actually pretty cheap. Yeah I did just say that, but hear me out…Stuart and I go 3x a week, and its usually us and a few other people. Personal training sessions are usually upwards of $50-$100/hour. So we’d be paying anywhere between $600-$1,200/month for the same regimen with a personal trainer. (We’re paying a LOT less for CrossFit…)

And really, it’s all about what’s important and what your preferences are. Stuart and I decided that getting in shape now will be less expensive in the long run because we will be in better shape, causing us to have less health issues later on in life. And for us, CrossFit is our preferred way of getting in the best shape of our lives right now. We may be paying more than if we belonged to Planet Fitness, but it’s worth it to us because we know we’ll see the kind of results we’d never see working out on our own at a gym. You really do get what you pay for.

We also prefer more of a community feel with exercise. The CrossFit gym we’re at right now is only in it’s 2nd month, so unfortunately, there aren’t as many members quite yet. (We also go at a time when most people are working since we do our work at night when most people are exercising…) But even with a few people, the encouragement and motivation of working out with other people is what we like best. That’s not saying it’s what works best for everyone, but for us, we love it.

Ultimately, CrossFit is probably not the workout for everyone. Just like some people prefer yoga to running, or solo workouts to group workouts. But I know I’ve seen results from CrossFit that I’ve never experienced anywhere else (and I’ve tried a ton…just see my Jillian Michaels and Tae Bo DVD collection). And I know I’m not alone in that opinion. My brother, DJ, lost 60 lbs, gained an insane amount of muscle, and now looks like an entirely different person (in a good way…see below). My sister-in-law and friend Lindsay (mentioned at the beginning) both found that continuing CrossFit while pregnant (gasp!) and slowly starting back into it after having their babies made shedding their baby weight immensely easier.

DJ Crossfit Transformation

Although I never want to look like my brother, (or rather, more than I already do since we’re siblings…) seeing his transformation through CrossFit and eating Paleo, makes me know that CrossFit can help me reach my own goals. And that works for me because I enjoy CrossFit.

I also like community workouts. I push myself harder (but to this day have never vomited) when there’s some competition involved. I do like doing other forms of exercising, like running, but working out for 15 minutes and burning the same amount of calories (or more) as going for an hour long run, sounds a lot more appealing to me. But again, that works for me because I enjoy CrossFit.

But I’m not writing this blog post just to get you to do CrossFit. (No, they are not paying me to write this post.) I know CrossFit claims it’s for anyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

And finally, in conclusion to the Cult vs. Community debate, yes, I think CrossFit COULD be cult-like (surprised?), just like football, Star Wars, gaming, yoga, the Olympics (and many more things) could be seen as cult-like when measured by that same yardstick. Buuuuut, I say that with the stipulation that CrossFit could be cult-like when individuals get obsessed and take it to the extreme, which is not the norm. And thinking that is the norm is why most people think it’s a cult.

So in conclusion, based on my experience, I vote community. Don’t hate.

CrossFit