Last Updated on August 6, 2020
Your quick primer to the history and future of CrossFit
Fitness fads have come and gone. From Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons to Prancercising and Bowflexing our way through the day, there have been a plethora of fitness trends and fads to keep us all busy and (hopefully) fit. But one of the fastest growing fitness movements today hit the scene in 2000, and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. In fact, 60 Minutes said that CrossFit, the $4 billion brand and fitness method, can make you look like a superhero. And who doesn’t want that?
But do you know where it all began? Here’s a quick primer to get you up to speed on the history and future of the CrossFit phenomenon.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a fitness method that incorporates movements from gymnastics, rowing, weightlifting sprinting biking, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and more toward its goal of developing a person’s fitness across 10 domains: cardio/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Along with its emphasis on clean eating, CrossFit is making strides among new and seasoned athletes alike.
Going back to where it all began
As a young gymnast, CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman was influenced by a variety of movements and activities that prompted him to seek a more comprehensive type of fitness rather than a targeted form of excellence. Over the years, as his own ideas about fitness took shape, he defined fitness in an innovative way for a new generation: as a measurable “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” Put simply, it means that fitness shouldn’t just focus on one area (like strength or gymnastics) but across a number of domains.
Little did he know then that this revolutionary definition of fitness would fuel the future of what would soon become a global cultural and fitness phenomenon.
Glassman’s method developed and refined over the course of several years. After opening his first gym in Santa Cruz, CA, he began offering individual training sessions to the local police officers. Soon, finding himself short on time, he began booking small group sessions in which he could still focus on individual development, while maximizing his time. CrossFit officially opened its doors in 2000.
Glassman developed an affiliate marketing system that enabled people to become certified in the training method and buy into the CrossFit name and brand, but use their own marketing methods, which set it apart from typical franchises. So while any CrossFit gym (known as a “box”) anywhere in the world will be doing the same WOD (workout of the day), each box maintains its own distinct flavor. Five years after its launch, 13 affiliate companies had opened their doors. In 2007, the U.S. Marine Corp began adopting a training regimen that had a distinct CrossFit flavor. And by 2012, 3,400 affiliates around the nation were training athletes in the box. Today, the training method has been adopted by many high school and college sports teams, and also adapted for combat athletes, kids, seniors and soldiers. Many elite athletes celebrated for being at the top of their games have also joined the movement.
The CrossFit Games
2007 saw the launch of the CrossFit games—a spectator event that tests the functional fitness and brawn of CrossFitters from around the globe in order to identify the strongest among them. Between two qualification rounds and a shot at $250,000 of prizes, it’s not uncommon for athletes to train for 6+ hours per day in an effort to gain the title of “fittest on earth.”
People who workout together stick together
Despite the competition, there is an undeniable camaraderie among the CrossFit community that has led skeptics to refer to it as the CrossFit cult. Why? Adherents seem to always have CrossFit on their lips. They eat it (cleanly, of course), they sleep it, they breathe it, they live it—and they practice it passionately. This way of life brings people together in a way that few things can. It’s not uncommon for an athlete to become fanatical about doing whatever it takes to reach the next level, and beat their PRs. While some people might see new CrossFit adherents as drinking the Kool-Aid, individual members see it as achieving a broad-spectrum level of peak fitness that few can compete with.
The future of CrossFit
Whole body functional fitness is in. With its focus on dynamic and high-intensity movements that improve the muscles you actually use in real life, this “sport of fitness” and training philosophy is seeing a growing following—because, after all, it takes form and function to get through a day with finesse. And by preparing athletes to always be ready for whatever WOD may be thrown their way, CrossFitters are trained to expect the unexpected—and isn’t that what life is all about?
Despite the reported 16% injury rate, the method and philosophy is spreading like a wildfire that CrossFit aficionados don’t want to put out. In 2016, there were 13,546 active affiliates in 144 countries operating their own boxes.
As it continues to grow, one thing is certain. This workout fad of the present, and by all appearances, of the future, is gearing people up to not only succeed in the box, but to succeed in their functional lives.
Walking handstand, anyone?