Two Ways Across the Yard

As with most things in life, there is an natural yin and yang to CrossFit. On one hand it is a raw, powerful fitness program that is capable of unleashing the primal beast in any athlete, attracting the hard-charging, athletic, alpha types. On the other hand, it is a simple, functional, universally scalable model that can be applied to any person regardless of age, sex, weight, experience level, or personality. It’s a culture that openly borrows from other disciplines and is obsessed with results, yet relentlessly bashes all opposing methodologies and any who challenge their assertions. It’s a business model that stresses both brazen individualism as well as professionalism, while denouncing profit seeking.

I walk a fine line with CrossFit. I believe very deeply and passionately in what I do- I’ve witnessed first hand the trans formative power of CrossFit. And I’m proud to be a part of something that is capable of inducing such incredible changes in people, even as the sickly obesity epidemic blankets the nation, smothering us is sugary carbohydrates. I’m all for using CrossFit to forge elite fitness, both in individuals and in the community at large. But I don’t consider myself elite- my fitness or otherwise. In all honesty, I’ve never cared about being elite. For a lot of us, being “elite” isn’t the goal… we’re just here to be “fit.”

I’m aware of the intimidating environment that a box presents. Not everyone is familiar with feel of a barbell in their hands- we didn’t all spend high school in the weight room preparing for the next football season. The cold, naked metal of a pull up bar, or the mystical sight of gymnastics rings suspended high above the ground can be imposing- we haven’t all been through basic training, and we don’t all have the memories of those grueling gymnastics practices. The sound of a heavily loaded barbell clanging to the ground from overhead can be scary for a lifelong runner that is used to the quiet solitude of an early morning run. Watching strong, well conditioned athletes seemingly cruise through a brutal workout can make even former collegiate athletes think twice about what they’re getting into.

When I opened ABV, I did everything I could to make the gym inviting. I stayed away from barbells or kettlebells in my logo, I made the website as soft as I could- I was trying to dull the sharp edges of the box, because I didn’t want to run the risk of scaring someone away from the program. I recognized that the hard charging, we-don’t-give-a-shit attitude that is part of the CrossFit spirit can drive the more timid athletes away… and what’s the point in having the greatest fitness program in the world if everyone is too scared to even give it a try. I wanted broad appeal, and not because I was being greedy, but because I felt that it was the best way to get the most people involved- my goal is to impact the whole community, not just a handful of elite athletes. I wanted ABV to be a welcoming environment, where new or visiting athletes would be treated as part of the family the second they walked through the door.

I understand that part of the CrossFit model is to just not give a shit. As JC Herz said in “Learning to Breathe Fire,” CrossFit affiliate owners are more or less a bunch of pirate captains- each of us leading our own little tribe in our unique ways, bucking the conventional wisdom of how to be successful in the fitness industry. Part of this attitude is inherent to what CrossFit is- a challenge to the status quo… the answer to the question “Is there a better way of doing things? Can we do better than ‘the way things have always been done?’” To a large degree, you have to have some of that bold, swashbuckling moxie in order to be successful in challenging the system.

Yet, I often find myself swimming against the counter-culture current that is CrossFit. I don’t look down on anyone’s fitness program- be it Zumba, pilates, or Planet Fitness… I might disagree with the methodology, but I recognize that the real enemy is the sedentary culture we have fostered- the guy who spends 8 hours a day sitting at his desk only to go home to watch TV all evening sitting on his couch- not a competing program.

Just because CrossFit is the best program I’ve ever seen at improving people’s health and fitness, it doesn’t mean that other programs are WRONG- there were some really fit people in this world well before the rise of CrossFit. And just because I do and coach CrossFit, does not mean I’m above anyone or anything- I frankly do not understand the “holier-than-thou” attitude that seems to be pervasive in so many boxes… who cares if a guy wants to go to a “globo gym” and do bicep curls and tricep extensions? If that gets him off the couch and moving, I’m fine with it. Do I think he’s getting the most out of his workout? No, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the workout he’d be getting ordering that pizza to be delivered (okay, fine… I do make fun of any gym that has “Pizza Tuesdays” or events of that nature… that’s just ridiculous). Shouldn’t we be supporting anything that improves an individual’s fitness?

The “business of CrossFit” can be comical. As an affiliate owner, I have a front row seat to all kinds of ridiculousness- everyone wants you to sell their products, people fight about a new box opening up “on their territory,” and everyone seems to have their own guru or book on how to maximize the profits… everyone is looking to cash in on this rising tide of CrossFit, and if they had their way, every box would be a retail store with a little space to try workout products in the very back.

I subscribe to Glassman’s school of thought: pay attention to your athletes, strive for excellence, and success will follow. Stop selling all the bullshit- trainers train athletes… our business is coaching and taking care of athletes, not selling protein powder and workout shorts. Stop pursuing the profits and pursue excellence- excellent coaching develops excellent athletes, which in turn gives rise to an excellent community, and the business will take care of itself.

If you’re in this business for the money you will be both sorely disappointed and wildly unsuccessful. If you do it because you’re passionate about it improving the health of your community, and you have the intelligence and drive to relentlessly pursue excellence as a coach, and truly believe in what you do,people will buy into what you are doing, and slowly but surely the success will follow. As Simon Sinek says, people buy the “why” you do something, not “what” you do.

It’s a fine line- I believe in CrossFit and it’s ability to forge truly elite fitness. But I will do whatever I can to keep ABV an open, welcoming community that is a good fit for people of all types, not just the elite hard bodies. I recognize that as a pirate captain, it’s in our code of conduct to not care what anyone says about me, our program, or CrossFit. But I acknowledge that there are certainly other ways of doing things, and that the real enemy is obesity, not other programs. I know this is a business, and at the end of the day, we have to be able to pay the bills. But we will never pursue profits… we’re here not here to change lives, we’re here to change a culture, and that demands the pursuit of excellence.