There’s no zealot like a convert. I should know. I’m one of them.
Imagine the sales pitch: you can get in the best shape of your life, do things you never thought you’d be capable of doing, and make some great friends -- and all it costs is $100 a month.
That’s the deal of a lifetime. And it’s called CrossFit.
For the uninitiated: CrossFit is a health and fitness regimen that mixes elements of Olympic weightlifting, cardio and gymnastics in an attempt to create all-round capable athletes.
CrossFit officially defines fitness as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” In real world terms, your friends should be able to ask you to tag along to a 5K, or a weightlifting meet, or to go rock climbing -- and you should be able to hang with them. You won’t be the best, but you’ll be good.
The founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, defined what CrossFit means in his “Fitness in 100 words”, which dons the walls of many CrossFit gyms around the world (including my local gym).
It’s worth fleshing out some more details before I make the case for CrossFit.
Firstly, most people who “do CrossFit” are members at a specialist CrossFit gym, and will attend a number of classes throughout the week. CrossFit is almost always done in group classes: I’ve been in groups as small as 3 and as large as 30-40. It’s estimated that about 4 million people do CrossFit in about 15,500 CrossFit gyms around the world. For context, that’s about one CrossFit gym for every Pizza Hut, and ten CrossFit gyms for every Planet Fitness.
Secondly, every class is led by at least one coach, who is there to sort out logistics, coach technique, and motivate everyone. The coaches also set the workout for each class. A common format for an hour class is to spend 5-10 minutes warming up and stretching, do some strength work for 20 mins or so, and then finish with a metabolic conditioning workout (known as “metcon”).
Here’s an example class workout:
E2MOM - 12 minutes
5 back squats at 70% 1RM
20 minutes AMRAP
If this confuses you or you’re umfamiliar with of these terms, know two things:
The last thing you should know about CrossFit is this: it’s really fucking hard. Like, intense, fall-on-the-floor-gasping-for-breath hard (if you want it to be).
When you combine the structure of a class and coaching with high intensity and constant variety, you end up with something that, in many cases, can be life-changing.
Here’s how CrossFit changed my life.
I started doing CrossFit in early 2017 when I was looking to get back into shape again. My relationship with exercise was best described as off-again, on-again. Exercise was the Rachel to my Ross, sometimes being a close partner, other times not in my life at all. But a new CrossFit gym had just opened near my house, and I decided to give it a go. I committed to going to at least three classes per week, usually at 6pm after work.
After a few months, I started to achieve the expected results. I lost 15 lbs. Suddenly I could do pull-ups, squat more than 120 kgs, and run faster and further than ever before. I felt better than I had for years.
But more importantly, I started to make friends.
If you think about your closest friends, who comes to mind? For me, the people tend to fall into one of three buckets:
What’s the common factor here? Forced regular interaction. You can’t avoid seeing these people over and over again -- so you ultimately become friends.
This is not a gym where everyone has headphones in and works out alone. CrossFit’s class environment is forced regular interaction, with a shared experience of suffering through hard work and overcoming challenges that binds you together like Marines going through basic training. Like any subculture -- death metal fans, golfers, or venture capitalists -- CrossFit has its own lingo, unofficial dress code, and shared idols. It’s a perfect recipe for making friends.
In fact, people have gone so far as to compare fitness classes like CrossFit and Soulcycle with church in the way that they unite people around a common cause. Vox’s Tara Burton wrote of CrossFit:
“People [are] longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships. Going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.... People come because they want to lose weight or gain muscle strength, but they stay for the community.”
How many people in your life do you have who push you to be better? The type of person that calls you out if you miss a class, who is trying to better themselves, the type of person that you want to become? CrossFit is full of these people.
I found that the more I went to CrossFit, the more friends I made. Which made me want to go to the gym more, just to hang out with my buddies. Which ultimately turned me into the type of person that wants to hit the gym 4-5 times a week, for 2 years running.
At that level of working out, of course, I had to make some other changes. I needed more sleep. I started eating less sugar, and more vegetables -- not because I wanted to look better, but because that’s what people do if they’re serious about their fitness goals. I adopted true identity-based habits.
The physical results speak for themselves. I am in better shape now than when I was 20. I can do handstand push-ups. This summer I ran my fastest ever 10k -- with no specific running training. Recently my wife and I moved city: when I started at a new CrossFit gym, someone asked me if I’d moved down to start at university. I was flattered, because I’m 31.
But that’s second to the benefits of community, friendship, and sharing a common purpose. I recently went back to my old gym -- a couple days prior, I dropped a quick note to some friends, and a bunch of them turned out to train with me.
That’s community. Kinship. Real bonds with real people, in a world that so often pushes us to be distracted and alone.
You can have all of this, with a side order of six pack abs and extended lifespan thrown in for free. That’s the CrossFit promise.
So, I’ll see you there?