In an interview with CNBC, Greg Glassman, the 63-year-old founder of CrossFit, said that CrossFit’s success happened without a business plan, without any marketing. Dave Werner, the founder of CrossFit North, the first affiliate.
Talking to Box Pro Magazine, Werner recalled how Glassman’s first reaction to his using CrossFit as a name for his gym was, “No, no, no, I’m not taking any money from you.” From accidental beginnings, CrossFit grew to become the most influential force in strength and conditioning, and fitness training over the course of the last decade.
This is why, in the early days of CrossFit, it was touted as an open-source model for fitness training. Many of the first CrossFit affiliates began as garage gyms that evolved into the “boxes” that we see today all around the world. That is why, even to this day, the word community is often used as a way of referring to the followers and members of a CrossFit gym.
Breaking Muscle started around the time CrossFit was a handful of affiliates, before the rapid growth in CrossFit gyms that occurred in the early part of this decade. To be a little cliché about it, CrossFit was a breath of fresh air in a fitness industry that was moribund with almost no true innovation in training methodologies fluctuating between bodybuilding and aerobics with nothing much in between.
Greg Glassman should be recognized for taking a seemingly ragtag mix of ideas and putting them into a format that has ended up becoming the de facto standard group training in strength and conditioning.
If it wasn’t for CrossFit, would we have seen the same interest in Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, and now, gymnastics? Everything that went into a CrossFit training routine was already there before Glassman came along. However, he managed to do a number of things simultaneously that helped define a generation of coaches and trainers and changed the face of gym-going forever.
First, Glassman popularized a level of intensity and training that did not shy away from its intentions: to leave you utterly spent, as if you had been in the fight of your life, at the end of a short, intense session. The high-intensity interval training of CrossFit appealed to first responders, the military, fighters, and varsity athletes, all with a vested interest and desire to perform under enormous pressure.
Secondly, Glassman’s personality and presentation were a template for coaches and trainers who, up until he came along, couldn’t really point to as charismatic a guru, and one who managed to avoid creating a dogma for training routines while at the same time managing to stamp them with his brand
Because, at the end of the day, Glassman never told his coaches and trainers what they should do. He provided a framework, and he did provide example workouts every day on CrossFit’s website, but every affiliate was freestyling their own training programs.
Thirdly, Glassman was ruthless is protecting his brand, and promoting CrossFit without ever having to own anything other than the trademarks and licenses of his business. There was no liability, no actual product, no uniforms, no property or anything of substance that could drag the company down. There was only the CrossFit way and the myth of CrossFit, ending with the ultimate accolade of, Fittest on Earth, at the CrossFit Games.
CrossFit doesn’t have the same luster and appeal as it did at the beginning of the decade. It is growing internationally, but it has had its fair share of criticism in the US, and many affiliates have come and gone, never to be replaced.
CrossFit has probably only ever managed to penetrate 10% of the gym going public. The average affiliate membership is over $100 a month compared to the average gym membership of $20 a month.
It more resembles the martial arts studio model than a gym franchise business and as such demands a devoted, motivated coach/trainer/owner to work. But, all these things don’t matter when you consider how CrossFit’s vernacular has found its way into popular culture.
I remember at my first certification this laid-back, almost nonchalant guy who didn’t at all look like any sort of fitness guru. And yet there was a level of confidence and inner knowing that he had.
Like, for example, the first time he introduced the work out “Helen” – he did so in such an easy, relaxed tone, with a slight smile, as if he knew something that the five of us that were there for the first time didn’t. He knew even though we might have done it already at home, it would be different here, and he knew he didn’t have to do anything to pull our best effort out of us. He also knew the level of “whoop-ass” it would unleash on us.
Up until that moment, I really had no idea. My version of CrossFit on my own was quite subdued, comparatively. I also remember the first time I worked on my squat with him. I had been a squatting and training clients for years at that point, and he said, “Give it about 5 years, kid.”
I thought he was nuts… 5 years?! But he was 100% right. I became a believer (and then an affiliate) after doing my own test of CrossFit. I was a professional, sponsored endurance athlete at the time, and here was this guy saying I could build endurance with short, intense workouts using calisthenics, weights, and a little cardio. I thought it was nuts.
But I decided to give it a try, on my own (all my friends thought I was crazy), in a small personal training gym and surrounding neighborhood. No one in that gym had ever seen anything like what I was doing before. I must admit, it did appear crazy. I plotted out and ran a 5k. Then did nothing but CrossFit workouts (per the main site in 2004) for three months.
After that time, I ran the same 5K course and was almost 3 minutes faster in my time (from 22:00 down to just over 19:00). My training volume had dropped dramatically. From like 8-10 hours per week to below 4 hours per week. My strength had increased dramatically, and I had become highly capable of high volume bodyweight movement. I became a huge believer! Shortly thereafter, I attended my first 3-day cert and affiliated right after. I opened the doors of CrossFit LA in Nov 2004.
Andy Petranek of Whole Life Challenge
You look on social media these days and the influence of CrossFit cannot be underestimated in the number of people doing weightlifting, kettlebells, and handstand walks. Was there a burpee or a wall ball underground before CrossFit came along? Today, you can find functional fitness areas in increasingly more mainstream gyms, a direct result of the influence of CrossFit. Lifting platforms, pull up bars, and box jumps, and kettlebells, and barbells, lots of barbells.
Glassman and CrossFit redefined strength and conditioning. You are more likely to see people purse CrossFit-like exercise programs than bodybuilding. You will find local gyms that focus on weightlifting, and even when a small, box-type gym is not a CrossFit affiliate, you will find someone who started in CrossFit or was influenced by it.
Greg Glassman and CrossFit helped changed my views on strength and condition and traiing in general. I was collegiate athlete and successfully training high-school and college athletes myself. In fact, I had a great career.
But Glassman created something special. I felt that. I knew how innovative it was, I was using the same principles and having success with my athletes. I wanted to do the same for as many people as possible.
So, I thought I was lucky he also created a business model that has drastically changed my life. Before CrossFit, owning a gym was just a dream. It felt like it would be way over the head of any coach or trainer. It is a significant investment attached to a singular modality of fitness.
Yet, here I am with my own CrossFit affiliate. I have been doing this for nearly a decade. I have a small gym filled with other great coaches, a community that I cherish, and I feel accountable to everyone. It’s very satisfying. I don’t think it would have happend without CrossFit.
Greg Glassman has defined fitness, strength and conditioning, and the way people go to the gym in the last decade. Whatever you may think about the organization that is CrossFit, or the man that Glassman is, you can never deny the influence both have had in this last decade.
It has been unequaled since the seventies when Arnold shaped the growth of bodybuilding around the world. There are a lot of reasons why Breaking Muscle can call Greg Glassman Coach of the Decade.
Note: check out An Antidote to CrossFit for a counterpoint to this piece.