If you don’t think Crossfit is cultic, consider that it only took one tweet and one snarky article about Greg Glassman to take half the organization down. Locally, two crossfit boxes closed during the COVID 19 epidemic. One remains, and the guy who runs it is a decent local: which generally means you are quite progressive and woke. Apparently about a snarky tweet that conflated COVID with the BLM moral panic. Glassman pissed people off. But he has always been like that.
In 1995, as Glassman was burning the last of his bridges at local gyms, he got a call from a friend who worked at the sheriff’s department in Santa Cruz. The department had heard about him and wanted him to train officers. Glassman, who was in the middle of a breakup with a longtime girlfriend, decided to go. He set up shop in a health center called Spa Fitness and taught his own brand of fitness training, which he had begun calling CrossFit, to officers and anyone else looking to buy 60 minutes of sweat.
The Santa Cruz mornings and evenings became packed with fitness clients. The stretch of day in between grew into a time of study and reflection. He had a friend bring in printouts of fitness articles the friend had found using his newfangled Internet connection. “I went through thousands of pages like that,” says Glassman. “When I finally got a computer, there was nothing on the Web on fitness I hadn’t already seen.”
Glassman began refining his approach. He favored gymnastic and powerlifting moves he knew from growing up, and functional calisthenics (squatting, pull-ups) that forced the body to use large muscle groups together, like in real life. He liked the idea of throwing exercises at clients seemingly randomly, believing it resembled the way early humans had to overcome daily physical obstacles. To goose participants’ natural competitiveness, he mandated that the workouts be for time, or for as many rounds or reps as possible in a set time period, so that no one slacked off.
Glassman attracted a little flock. “I was looking for a trainer, and a friend of my wife’s went to Spa Fitness,” says Ben Elizer, who today is CrossFit’s chief information officer. He went to Spa Fitness and was told he had his pick of two: “one guy who is really nice and not that good, and another guy who is really good but super-opinionated and arrogant”–Glassman, of course.
You need arrogant jerks to set up this kind of thing. Almost everything that I was taught as a kid about exercise is wrong except the need for periodization and volume. We got away with eating crap because we all ran over 150 km a week. We did not understand that the light shoes we had protected us — when the “good” shoes that protected our pronation came and orthotics, we got injured. And the diet left a fair number of the elite of my era with chronic disease.
Many saw Glassman as a guru, until he offended their sensibilities.
“I’m stepping down as CEO of CrossFit, Inc., and I have decided to retire. On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members. Since I founded CrossFit 20 years ago, it has become the world’s largest network of gyms. All are aligned in offering an elegant solution to the vexing problem of chronic disease. Creating CrossFit and supporting its affiliates and legions of professional trainers has been a labor of love.
Those who know me know that my sole issue is the chronic disease epidemic. I know that CrossFit is the solution to this epidemic and that CrossFit HQ and its staff serve as the stewards of CrossFit affiliates worldwide. I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ’s or affiliates’ missions. They are too important to jeopardize.”
The box became all kinds of things. Most of the clients were middle class, aspirational, and competative. They stopped being libertarian and became more generic urbanites. Semi woke.
Glassman did not change, but the people around him did. His abrasiveness put people off.
He has now gone, because change management means one panders to the moral panic du jour. Crossfit is now full woke.
Since I discovered CrossFit 10 years ago, it has changed my life, and I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to lead CrossFit through its next chapter as CEO and owner, following the closing next month.
As a box owner and athlete, I’ve experienced CrossFit’s transformative power and the shared bond it creates between people of different races, genders, ages, ethnicities, incomes, educations and physical abilities. That magic, created by our affiliate owners, coaches, and athletes in 158 countries around the world, is real. And I believe it makes the world a better place.
In the past weeks, divisive statements and allegations have left many members of our community struggling to reconcile our transformative experiences in the local box with what we’ve been reading online.
My view is simple: Racism and sexism are abhorrent and will not be tolerated in CrossFit. We open our arms to everyone, and I will be working hard to rebuild bridges with those whose trust we have lost.
I come to you with deep humility and the realization that we have hard work to do. I am committed to listening, I am committed to learning, and I am committed to leading positive change. Most of all, I am committed to CrossFit and to you, as a member of our community.
If you are committed to the future of CrossFit and have ideas, I want to hear from you. And if you loved CrossFit, and we lost you along the way, I want to regain your trust and partnership
I expect Crossfit will stop being at the cutting edge of fitness within two years. Their model does not work without disposable income. We need to look instead for a minimal form of fitness.