What Happened to CrossFit?

Have you heard the rumblings about the shift within CrossFit? Do you follow CrossFit.com? Did you know about the changes to the CrossFit Open?

Plenty of CrossFit athletes are blissfully unaware of the change in direction for CrossFit, Inc. Many of us just enjoy showing up for our WOD, kicking ass, fist bumping, and taking it to the house. The happenings at the highest level of the community are totally and completely inconsequential to us. We’re here for the workout, and perfectly happy with that.

But there is also a large faction of CrossFitters that are paying attention and do care, very deeply, about what’s going on with HQ. This is the group that is intensely passionate about competing; they see CrossFit as a sport- the crew that trains all year for the CrossFit Open, and watch the CrossFit Games on 3 different screens at work. This is the group that is confused, puzzled, and a tad bit pissed off about CrossFit’s sudden change in direction. These are the ones that scoff at HQ’s new style of programming, leaving comments about how “I guess we’ll see strict pull ups in The Open this year!” They’re here for the competition, everything else be damned.

And then there are those of us that are sitting back smiling. The ones who knew what CrossFit was meant to be all along, and recognize what is really happening. Some of us understand that HQ’s change in focus is not a new direction, but rather a course correction to the original path; a return to the roots and fundamentals of what CrossFit is- not a sport, but a strength and conditioning program. These are the ones that know the truth: the programming on CrossFit.com has absolutely nothing to do with what will appear in The Open this year; it is very simply what CrossFit workouts should look like. We’ve always been here for the health, fitness, and well being that CrossFit provides.


The Early Days

Images from “What is Fitness” by Greg Glassman

Here’s the background (in a tiny little nutshell). Once upon a time, in sunny California, Greg Glassman and then-wife Lauren Jenai founded CrossFit in small corner of a jiu-jitsu gym to train their clients in a manner in which they found to produce the maximum results and highest levels of fitness- short, intense workouts, placing an emphasis on gymnastics and metabolic conditioning, with a healthy dose of heavy lifting mixed in. In the early days, CrossFit was an underground society, seen as practicing extreme methods that ran counter to all things in mainstream fitness. CrossFitters were a band of pirates who relished in the pain from particularly diabolical workouts designed by Coach Glassman, all the while giving the middle finger to the rest of the fitness world. Community and culture were paramount, an “Us Against the World” attitude, with high fives all around at the end of a workout.

In Coach’s early writings and lectures, the goal and focus is clear: we are here to quantifiably improve fitness and performance. CrossFit challenged the status quo, choosing to value measurable, observable, and repeatable data over outdated research. As standards were defined and doctrines written, a new methodology was forged, buttressed by impressive results. From its inception, CrossFit has embraced the universal application of its methods, stating in one of the earliest articles “The needs of an Olympic athlete and our grandparents differ by degree not kind. One is looking for functional dominance, the other for functional competence.” (“What is Fitness”)

In short, the intent was a training program to develop health and wellness, not to birth a new sport. As Coach wrote: “A fitness regimen that does not support health is not CrossFit.” He went on to diagram his “Theoretical Hierarchy of Development,” placing in order of magnitude and importance Nutrition, Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting and Throwing, with a dash of Sport sprinkled on top. The priority was clear: improve people’s lives by providing them a program capable of developing world class fitness. (“What is Fitness”)


The CrossFit Games

As the community grew, and as the fitness levels rose, there eventually came a call for a festival of fitness; a competition of sorts to bring the community together, crown the fittest among us, and celebrate everyone’s hard work. This gathering, eventually dubbed “The CrossFit Games,” was the birthplace of the “Sport of Fitness.” Year by year, as CrossFit grew in popularity and notoriety, The Games grew right along with it. A world wide “Open” was established, TV deals were inked, and the spectacle continued to expand and evolve into an enormous and lucrative fitness pageant.

Somewhere along the line the focus began to shift: Virtuosity, Fundamentals, and Improvement were replaced with Competition, InstaFace Videos, and Winning. Training calendars started to revolve around The Open and The Games. The score on the whiteboard became almighty, regardless of what it took to get there. Instead of “Train, train, train, compete,” the mindset slowly became “Compete, compete, compete.”

In the CrossFit program there is no value in cheating- you’re only shorting yourself by cutting the run a little short or not squatting all the way in order to go a little faster. The goal was to improve your fitness, not to “win.” You versus The Clock. But as the competition in the Sport of Fitness grew more fierce, and as the competition prize money began to grow, the incentive for trying to find an edge became immense. A community that once went to such great lengths to eat clean that hormone-free meats were considered the gold standard suddenly found among their ranks individuals that would intentionally ingest (or inject) hormones to help them excel during competition.


Two Roads Diverged

Where CrossFit once fought to defend health, the obsession had slowly turned to growing the Sport of Fitness and finding ways to make The Open and The Games bigger and badder every year.

This shift in focus appealed to some. The Former College Athletes found a new sport to unleash their competitive drive upon. The Weekend Warriors found an outlet in which they could prove their mettle. The Ultra Competitive found a bottomless well from which to ensure their cups were constantly overflowing. For some, the Sport of Fitness was the transcendence of CrossFit- only the dedicate, serious athletes need apply.

But for an untold number of people, the emphasis on Competition over Training is the exact reason this whole CrossFit thing is scary and intimidating. Some people just want to get a great workout and not get hurt in the process. Some people just want to be able to play with their kids without getting out of breath. Some people just want to get off their blood pressure medication.

For the former group, CrossFit’s pivot away from the Sport of Fitness is both puzzling and frustrating. For them, the competition is what CrossFit is all about. And the latter group is largely unaware of the transition. They’re either here for a good workout and could care less what HQ is doing, or they’ve already been turned off to CrossFit by its representation by the Ultra Competitive.

And as for those of us that recognize that Coach is simply restoring CrossFit to its original mission, this return to the roots and fundamentals of what CrossFit was originally meant to be is simply vindication and validation for all that we’ve stood for over the years. This is the CrossFit that we fell in love with; the strength and conditioning program capable of delivering measurable, observable, and repeatable results for everyone, not just the elite. Our goal is to deliver improvements in your fitness, health, and well being, and we really don’t care who “wins” the whiteboard.


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I’ve taken my fair share of criticism over the years for my zealous defense of our passionate application of principles of CrossFit. I’ve championed the pursuit of lifelong fitness and virtuosity since the day I opened the doors to ABV, espousing our belief in the core philosophies of CrossFit in article after article: Health, Getting Better Every Day, Coach Every Athlete, The Ripple Effect, Two Ways, On Competition, Culture Change. We’ve had to steer athletes to other boxes because their desire to compete in the Sport of Fitness. And while we’ve always encouraged others to pursue whatever brand of fitness makes them happy, I’ve managed to offend athletes by daring to choose Training over Competition. My stubborn refusal to participate in the Sport of Fitness has led to being accused of not understanding CrossFit and having no clue what I was doing. For me personally, this return to the original path of CrossFit is nothing short of absolution; confirmation of the values I’ve stood tall for and validation of what we’ve chosen to build our community around. We’ve managed to stay true to CrossFit all along, doing the right things for the right reasons. We’ve always been here for the health, fitness, and well being that CrossFit provides. And we’re not sorry.