SkinnyFit: CrossFit’s Other Dirty Little Secret
Open any magazine and you will see what we all preach against. Airbrushed, too-thin models, who represent the so-called ideal that is in reality, mainly because of the Photoshopping techniques, unattainable. These are women who starve themselves and yet despite having nearly zero fat not a hint of an abdominal muscle can be seen.
We don’t do skinny. We’re CrossFit. We post our pictures to Facebook of the side-by-side butt-shots - one muscular, rounded well-developed set of glutes, the other an emaciated, flat derrière with the words “Women! Take Notice! Squats – No Squats!” We tell our girls that strong has replaced skinny as the ideal, and that strength and performance trump aesthetics every time. We post our My Butt Is Big motivational posters, celebrating the curves, the muscles, and the very antithesis of skinny.
Why then, is there a subculture of skinny-hawking bikini-body programming starting to creep up at CrossFit boxes around the country? I happened upon a box’s website the other day and found this:
2013 BIKINI CHALLENGE:
Spring is here and summer is right around the corner. Though our training ideology has always been to train for function and allow form to follow, let’s be honest – We’re all still motivated by the way we look with our clothes off.
Introducing our second annual CrossFit Bikini Challenge.
CrossFit. Bikini. Challenge. You read that right. The instructions directed interested parties to first pony up the entry fee and a before photo, and then get ready for eight week’s worth of workouts designed to leave them in beach-ready shape.
Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that every person trains for his or her own reasons, and there is no question many people who walk through the front door do so with the wish to end up with a rockin’ body. Our egos and collective self-esteem are, after all, only human. Of course we want to look good, feel good, have our clothes fit us well, and so on. But the CrossFit generation, especially the box owners, the ones with the voice, should be above all of that. We shouldn’t be selling aesthetic - we should be selling health.
The side effect of CrossFit is that you will look better. The primary goal has always been, and should remain, that you need to be fit for life. Greg Glassman drew the analogy himself in the early days of CrossFit when he talked about an old woman picking up a bag of groceries - a deadlift - and this has been reinforced through the years, that CrossFit keeps you vital into your golden years, keeps you out of a nursing home, keeps firefighters charging into the fire, Rangers charging into battle, and police charging into a riot zone, all while at the peak of our personal fitness.
After all, “We don’t do abs. We do midline stabilization.”
But a bikini challenge? What this does, in my humble opinion, is simply reinforce the Photoshop aesthetic-as-ideal, and asserts that fitness is not about health, but about how good you can look in a swimsuit.
Most boxes have a melting pot of body types, from athletic to overweight, from young to masters. All body types are represented, and most likely include women who may be dealing with body issues enough as it is. One would think that women have finally landed in a CrossFit box because of our historical trumpeting of function over fad, strong over skinny, and above all, healthy, in both mind and body.
How then does a “CrossFit Bikini Challenge” serve those women?
It’s a slippery slope, to be sure. As affiliates proliferate and competition among boxes becomes fiercer, boxes are looking for ways to attract more members. New programs that serve a wider variety of clientele are, frankly, a good idea. At my gym, we offer Olympic and strongman training as supplemental tracks along with traditional CrossFit programming, and many boxes now offer a CrossFit Games track for those wishing to excel beyond everyday fitness and compete. In addition, things like Krav Maga, MMA, and the like are offered at many gyms. Between individualized programming and nutritional counseling, a person can almost design a program to meet his or her own needs.
BUT: (and it’s a very big but, pun most definitely intended) The slope gets the iciest when we begin to appeal to the masses through programs seeking not to broaden their fitness, but to appeal to their dollars. Yeah, I know those may be fighting words. But read on.
CrossFit boxes are a business. As a business, they need to turn a profit in order to remain a business. Most CrossFit boxes, I would posit, have a business model that starts with offering excellence, and from there, the money flows. But, there are those whose business model starts with making money.
Case in point: the first box I worked for had a strong AdvoCare presence. A huge AdvoCare banner hung right by the front door and a big product display greeted people when they walked in the door, and the products were hawked rather aggressively. I was always curious how after an on-ramp class graduated nearly every member of that class was suddenly doing the AdvoCare 24-day challenge. I soon became convinced the nutrition portion of this gym’s on-ramp curriculum was simply a ploy to push the products. When I would try to start a conversation with many of these new members about paleo, they would respond, “That’s okay, I am doing that AdvoCare 24 day thing. I’ll probably start paleo after that.”
It seemed instead of teaching people how to eat food, the box owners were simply plying these people with supplements. They didn’t give two shits about teaching their clients to eat right. They cared about growing the AdvoCare pyramid.
Now, we see one particular program starting to gain a foothold: classes with the word “skinny” attached. I know of at least two boxes in the Midwest that offer “SkinnyFit” classes, and another that offers “CrossFit Skinny.” It’s described as “CrossFit without the barbell.” Another box describes itthis way, “We created a fat blasting program designed to sculpt lean muscle while constantly burning calories long after you leave the class!”
Oh, I didn’t know that fat blasting and burning calories were among the cornerstones of the CrossFit ideology. This is sounding suspiciously like the Tracy Anderson Method.
Many more are beginning to offer programs that fall into the bootcamp mold, or have names like “CrossFit Core.” I follow a lot of boxes of Facebook and it seems every week there is a new CrossFit alternative being offered - a high cardio, metcon heavy, barbell-free 9:30 a.m. class, targeting the bootcamp crowd.
Trust me - I get this. I understand there is a demographic who simply doesn’t want to go full-CrossFit. Better to have them in our boxes where we can at least help them, rather than have them slogging away in a globo gym somewhere on a treadmill. Yes, a need is being served here, a vital fitness service that is much better than the alternative. It’s just the way it’s being packaged that I am concerned about. Bootcamp all day under the banner of getting fit, and I am your biggest ally. Bootcamp under the banner of getting skinny, and now we’re in dangerous water.
Perhaps we’re on the precipice of a movement that is going to take off - the CrossFit-alternative bootcamp offerings. How the community at large decides to market those offerings will determine whether we remain true to the core ideals of CrossFit - constantly varied functional movements done at high intensity - or whether we’re going to sell a fat-blasting, calorie-burning swimsuit package.
But skinny? For the love of all humanity, avoid that word at all costs. Skinny girls are not strong. Skinny may be a genetic inheritance for a small minority of people who can’t gain muscle no matter how they try, but it should never be the goal.
My 23-year-old daughter, Chelsea, (pictured) just cleaned and jerked #195, then cleaned #200. TWO HUNDRED POUNDS. The look of elation on her face in the photo reveals a lot. She is strong, confident, and happy. She has zero interest in being skinny or posing for before and after pictures in a bikini. She can clean, snatch, muscle-up, chest-to-bar, deadlift, squat heavy, and is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, females at Cincinnati Strength and Conditioning.
And she is fit. Very fit. If “strong is the new skinny,” then stop pushing the old skinny.
Photos 2&3 courtesy of CrossFit LA.