What is CrossFit?

Origins

CrossFit is the name of a company started by a coach in California named Greg Glassman. What began as a small gym in Santa Cruz became extended by an online community when some of Glassman’s clients purchased the domain CrossFit.com, made him a web site, and showed him how to upload the “workout of the day” (WOD).

In October, 2002, Glassman wrote “What is Fitness?“, in which he defined the ideals to which CrossFit aspires, and the methods it employs to achieve those ideals. All quotes in this article are quoted from the What is Fitness article which you can read for free here.

Those ideals are:

  1. Be well-rounded.
    “There are ten recognized general physical skills. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills. A regimen develops fitness to the extent that it improves each of these ten skills.”
  2. Be prepared for the unknown.
    “Picture a hopper loaded with an infinite number of physical challenges where no selective mechanism is operative, and being asked to perform feats randomly drawn from the hopper. This model suggests that your fitness can be measured by your capacity to perform well at these tasks in relation to other individuals.”
  3. Be capable of the entire spectrum of explosiveness through to endurance.

In conclusion of those ideals, Glassman writes, “It should be fairly clear that the fitness that CrossFit advocates and develops is deliberately broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”

Pursuing these ideals, Glassman writes, is best achieved through the following training methods:

  1. Interval training
    “The key to developing the cardiovascular system without an unacceptable loss of strength, speed, and power is interval training.”
  2. Gymnastics
    “It is within this realm of activities that we can develop extraordinary strength (especially upper body and trunk), flexibility, coordination, balance, agility, and accuracy. In fact, the traditional gymnast has no peer in terms of development of these skills.”
  3. Weightlifting
    “Olympic weightlifting, as it is often referred to, develops strength (especially in the hips), speed, and power like no other training modality. It is little known that successful weightlifting requires substantial flexibility. Olympic weightlifters are as flexible as any athletes.”
  4. Throwing
    “Our weight training program includes not only weightlifting and powerlifting but also throwing work with medicine balls. The medicine ball work we favor provides both physical training and general movement practice.”
  5. Nutrition
    “Nutrition plays a critical role in your fitness. Proper nutrition can amplify or diminish the effect of your training efforts.”
  6. Sport
    “Sport plays a wonderful role in fitness. Sport is the application of fitness in a fantastic atmosphere of competition and mastery. Training efforts typically include relatively predictable repetitive movements and provide limited opportunity for the essential combination of our ten general physical skills. It is, after all, the combined expression, or application, of the ten general skills that is our motivation for their development in the first place. Sports and games like soccer, martial arts, baseball, and basketball in contrast to our training workouts have more varied and less predictable movements. But, where sports develop and require all ten general skills simultaneously, they do so slowly compared to our strength and conditioning regimen. Sport is better, in our view, at expression and testing of skills than it is at developing these same
    skills. Both expression and development are crucial to our fitness. Sport in many respects more closely mimics the demands of nature than does our training. We encourage and expect our athletes to engage in regular sports efforts in addition to all of their strength and conditioning work.”

Since publishing the article in 2002, CrossFit.com saw exponential growth of participation as people stumbled across the site, tested the methods, and found them to be challenging, beneficial and enjoyable. When I started doing CrossFit in June 2004, there were probably less than 2000 CrossFitters in the world (by my own estimation). Today there are over 2000 CrossFit affiliates representing probably a quarter of a million CrossFitters (again, an estimation, nobody I know of has solid numbers on these things).

The CrossFit Games

More recently, ESPN’s broadcasting of the CrossFit Games and Reebok’s advertisements have drawn even more attention to the CrossFit methods.

In 2007, Greg Glassman’s dream of starting a competitive fitness event that tested athletes according to the ideals he established in “What is Fitness?” came to fruition in the first annual CrossFit Games. What started as a walk-on event in 2007, had by 2011 become an event requiring online qualification, followed by a regional qualifying event, followed by the games themselves – all in pursuit of finding and crowning the fittest man and woman alive.

The Sport of Fitness

As a spin-off of the CrossFit Games, several groups around the world have created their own fitness competitions loosely based on Greg Glassman’s original ideals of fitness. These can be found in online competitions, competitions hosted by local CrossFit affiliates, and non-affiliated competitions, such as the Optathlon.

The Evolution of What it Means to be a “CrossFitter”, or, to “Do CrossFit”

In 2000:

“Doing CrossFit” meant that you worked out at Greg Glassman’s gym in Santa Cruz.

In 2004:

When I started “doing CrossFit” in 2004, “doing CrossFit” meant that you did the Workout of the Day that was posted on CrossFit.com.

In 2007:

You probably either followed CrossFit.com, or you followed the workout of the day as designed at your local affiliate. Your local affiliate may have employed their own training rather than follow the CrossFit.com workout of the day for convenience (equipment management/predictability), or because they had their own ideas on how to achieve the ideals or employ the methods that Glassman laid out in “What is Fitness”.

In 2011:

The phrase “doing CrossFit” or being a “CrossFitter”, unfortunately, has a very watered-down definition. In the last decade, many have seized on to the circuit training methods and called that “CrossFit”. Many have seen videos of people falling off of pull-up bars or lifting weights dangerously and associate that with being typical of “CrossFit”. Some have heard that “CrossFit” is dangerous, or too intense, or doesn’t make you strong. It is important to understand that there are as many implementations of CrossFit as there are coaches.

In Conclusion

When done well as a training program, CrossFit methods develop STRONG, HEALTHY and well-rounded athletes who have a foundation of general physical preparedness to live life the way they want to and deal well with the challenges that may arise in their daily life. They are able to SAFELY and EFFICIENTLY handle their bodies and any loads they may need to manipulate.

When done as well as a sport, CrossFit provides a very real and interesting challenge with unlimited potential for personal growth and achievement. In well-designed CrossFit competitions, athletes will be exposed to a well-balanced combination of events that test their fitness in many different ways and draw to the podium the most powerful all-around athlete.

We consider a well-designed CrossFit program to be the best thing available for the 99% of the population who are not competing in high level sports. There are appropriate implementations for the young, the old and everyone in between.

We find the definition of CrossFit as Greg Glassman laid out in “What is Fitness?” to be the best choice for training ourselves and our loved ones, and we think it will be beneficial for you too. While our implementation may be different, we feel that we remain true to the core tenets, and for this reason we are proud to call ourselves “CrossFit Sublime”.