By now, most people are aware of the backlash against Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s founder and CEO, because of tone-deaf, insensitive, and dismissive remarks he has made about George Floyd’s death and COVID-19. We don’t need to rehash all that here because it has been done to death everywhere else. However, we need to address one thing, the future of box gyms, particularly as they struggle to open up in a post-Pandemic and, as seems likely, a post-CrossFit world. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no CrossFit.
CrossFit is a brand. It’s a name, and an ideal. It was, at one time, an advocate for a process that organized high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into a methodology for functional fitness and general phyiscal preparedness (GPP). It popularized Olympic weightlifting, kettlebells, Tabata, EMOM, gymnastics and calisthenics in group training. You either loved CrossFit or you hated it. For many personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches, it was their ticket to owning a gym, many starting out from their own garages. CrossFit made it possible for box gyms to find a mainstream audiences. It also helped private training studios to find an identity, binding them all to the brand.
For this, the box gym owners paid for certifications, affiliation, and eventually, CrossFit Open and Games entry fees. Certifications went from Level I and Level II to encompass all disciplines such as a CrossFit Strongman approach. Affiliations were an easy startup kit for would-be fitness entrepreneurs, just put the <insert name here> CrossFit sign up and wait for the customers to sign-up. As for the Open and the Games, well, they were recruitment tools, aspirational, and community building.
CrossFit Always Sucked
While the CrossFit community was, and is, a real thing, CrossFit HQ (CFHQ), the governing body, was anything but communal. CFHQ has always been brutish, aggressive, insecure, litigious, and just plain obnoxious to anyone and everyone that ticked it off. For many people who got caught in the crossfire, CrossFit sucked as an organization. For some, it seemed more like a cult than a fitness company.
So, while CrossFit thrived globally, opening up markets everywhere and becoming synonymous with crazy-intense workouts that would leave you throwing up or lying in a deep pool of your own sweat, it never took responsibility for individual affiliates and never really had a hand in providing training and programming guidance other than through its certifications.
In effect, CrossFit put everything on the affiliates, albeit backing them up with its own lawyers if it felt that its brand was under attack, never really committing to defining a CrossFit workout or methodology in any way that would make them bear any responsibility for liability.
In other words, there are no CrossFit workouts, as the brand is defined legally. Sure, there are CrossFit named workouts like Fran or Murph. We all know them. However, no affiliate could actually claim to have provided a CrossFit workout, particularly if that workout ended up doing damage to someone. Affiliates were providing their own workouts under the auspices of being a CrossFit box.
Didn’t matter one bit because the world applied whatever they wanted to do to the name CrossFit. It became a mythical workout for the general press, and it became a confusing mess of inconsistent quality for consumers who would go to affiliates not really knowing what they were getting.
The Darwinian CrossFit Box Gym
Glassman had always expected that affiliates would rise and fall based on market forces. The good would survive and the bad would fail. It was supposed to be libertarian or something, but ultimately, it just created inconsistency, unreliable coaching, and bad programming because there was no oversight.
And that didn’t matter as the brand was taking off. There were times when in some densely populated areas you would find three or four CrossFit boxes all within a few blocks of each other. It made no sense from a business perspective but each one was funneling the same money to CFHQ so, it didn’t matter.
Sure, as time went by, it became clear that you can’t build a business through attrition especially if you are asking your business partners to go to war with each other and pay you for the privilege.
But, that didn’t stop Glassman. When the US market started to stagnate and shrink for CrossFit, international markets picked up. The US was three or four years ahead of the rest of the world.
Whether CrossFit made good or bad business decisions pales in comparison to what happens to CrossFit affiliates as a result when they make bad decisions. So, as de-affiliation becomes a thing, and as CrossFit loses relevance, much as any other fitness fad or trend, the question is, what replaces the workouts?
Everything That Isn’t CrossFit Could be and Vice Versa
CrossFit box owners need to realize that they are the brand behind the workouts. Consumers should realize that the head coach or trainer at a CrossFit affiliate is the person responsible for the workouts and not CFHQ. Once you do that, you realize that CrossFit is, for all the good it has done, irrelevant. It made itself irrelevant, and to think otherwise is to overstate its ability to create great coaching and training.
Sure, maybe CrossFit is shorthand that everyone can understand. But, so is Box Gym. Box Gyms are a shorthand, too. CrossFit affiliates are, invariably, box gyms which means they are not globo gyms or Orange Theory or SoulCycle or fitness studios. They are pull-up bars, barbells, kettlebells, rowing machines, rings, sweat and chalk.
If everyone who wants to de-affiliate agrees to call themselves a Box Gym then, we at Breaking Mucle would be glad to standardized on that terminology. Let’s be honest, Box Gyms will do HIIT, Tabata, EMOM, AMRAPs, weightlifting, personal training, deadlifts, handstand walks, burpees and, much as we hate to say this, wall balls. What else do you need?