CrossFit was conceived in 1996 by Greg Glassman (then called Cross-Fit) and was subsequently registered with the trademark ‘CrossFit, Inc.’ in 2000 by Glassman and Lauren Jenai, his then wife. Glassman obtained overall control of the company after his divorce from Lauren Jenai in 2013 when he bought out her share with financing provided by Summit Partners. In 2020 an announcement was made that he would sell the company to Eric Roza a former CEO of DataLogix.
The first CrossFit gym was established in Santa Cruz in California and since then the exercise regime has grown to over 13,000 affiliated gyms. There’s clearly something about this exercise regime that resonates with people and it has achieved cult-like status among some of its adherents. Following is an overview of the CrossFit philosophy and techniques and what makes it so popular among fitness adherents.
CrossFit is sold as an exercise philosophy rather than a particular method. It makes a competitive sport of fitness and is based on elements from a wide range of other fitness regimens including gymnastics, power lifting, Olympic weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, calisthenics and other types of exercises. In essence, it consists of performing daily workouts (called ‘workouts of the day’, or WODs in Crossfit parlance) that involve a specific set of exercises.
Essentially it is a strength and conditioning program that aims to promote overall fitness and consists of elements of aerobic exercises, calisthenics and Olympic weightlifting. The aim is to perform constantly varied exercises at high intensity over varying time periods and body movements. It aims to develop optimum health in an individual through the ten components that define ideal physical fitness: cardiovascular (or respiratory) endurance, stamina, speed, power, flexibility, coordination, strength, accuracy, balance, and agility.
These activities occur not in a gym, per se, but what is referred to as a ‘box’: that is, four walls, a roof and a floor. This is meant to emphasize that this exercise method does not rely on any particular machines, or the exercise techniques that rely on them, that one would find in a typical gym. A session typically consists of a warm-up, a skill practice and development segment, high intensity workout of the day and finally a period of stretching. Users are encouraged to measure their performance and seek to be competitive with others or track their improvements in performance. While specific gym equipment is not required, the regime uses equipment from a range of disciplines including such things as gymnastic rings, barbells, rope climbs, jump bells, jumping ropes, resistance bands, rowing machines and so on.
CrossFit offers a general methodology and philosophy for exercise that is practiced not only in its affiliated gyms but also by a range of organizations whose employees are required to be fit as part of their role including fire departments, law enforcement bodies, military organizations and life-savers, to name just a few. It has also been adopted by high-school physical education teachers to train their sports teams.
The people who do CrossFit tend to be almost religiously devoted to it and have a range of private acronyms, including the aforementioned WOD, that they use when talking about it. They also say AMRAPS (as many rounds as possible), ATG (Ass to Grass) when referring to a full body squat, EMOM (Every Minute on the Minute) to refer to a set of exercises that is repeated a specific number of times each minute, and so on. They also say that ‘people don’t require machines for Crossfit because they are the machines’. The use of the term ‘box’ for a gym belies the fact that Crossfit gyms can be as well laid out and boutique as a gym studio in LA but they’re regarded as not required, necessarily, to achieve CrossFit fitness goals.
One of the most positive elements of CrossFit is that it can be undertaken byalmost anyone – it doesn’t require a person to be a particular age, body size or gender. It is a program that can be adapted for any level of fitness starting out and then ramped up as a person starts to achieve their goals. CrossFit is differentiated from other workout programs in that it has an inherently social and community basis that each ‘box’ of adherents creates when they practice the regime together. Like in the military, a bond develops between the people that suffer together to achieve their fitness goals. While it does have a competitive element (people are encouraged to compete against themselves and others) it emphasizes a co-operative and supportive spirit which many users credit as being one of its best elements. It is also eminently scalable: a person can adjust the intensity and difficulty of exercises as they improve their fitness. For example, resistance bands can help a person build up their strength until they are strong enough to perform pull-ups without their help and when doing weight lifting exercises a person can stack up more or less weights as required.
Many people also follow the Paleo diet and lifestyle (since CrossFit emphasizes a healthy diet as part of its philosophy) but a person does not need to be a Paleo tragic that lives a life suited to a caveman (eating only meats, fish, nuts, seeds, and whatever vegetables they can forage). In fact some say that CrossFit requires a high level of carbs if a person wants to perform at peak level and a sensible, healthy diet is sufficient.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of CrossFit is that it requires people who practice it to exercise as hard as they can, each and every session. It emphasizes the greatest amount of work (or force expended) in the least amount of time; some of its exercises, for example, focus on moving the heaviest load the greatest distance in a specific time period. It’s all about the intensity of effort that a person brings to their exercise program. Because CrossFit also emphasizes a constantly varying approach in the exercises that it uses it doesn’t become boring. Supporters say that joining a CrossFit group means joining a community that can be as small as two people in a garage and as big as the worldwide group of CrossFit members.