Don’t Laugh, Hate, or Yawn Watching the CrossFit Games

If you think the CrossFit Games are just a competition, you have it all wrong.

Image courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Image courtesy of CrossFit Inc

Full disclosure: I really believe, deep in my heart, that CrossFit changed the gym business for the better over the last decade. I also believe, equally, CrossFit screwed up the gym business this last decade, too. I don’t think there is anything wrong about CrossFit as an exercise philosophy, but as a business model for coaches and trainers, it has proven to be, at best, uneven, compromised and badly managed. I think that’s what has helped create so much animosity towards it. That and the childish behavior of CrossFit staff towards anything that they perceive as not completely pro-CrossFit.

Probably most of the blame for what CrossFit is or isn’t lie at the feet of its management, CFHQ, and it has oscillated between being smart about some stuff and an obnoxious frat boy in other parts. AIf you catch any CrossFit affiliate owner in a quiet moment of reflection you will rarely if ever, get much praise for the organization out of them, and you’ll get a lot of the Kool Aid drunk passion for CrossFit, too.

CrossFit has proven itself. Greg Glassman, CrossFit’s co-founder, is probably the most successful strength and conditioning coach of all time, and today CrossFit can attribute its relevance and operational success to its marquee product, the CrossFit Games. This is the event that is supposed to pick “the fittest on earth.” At this point, the CrossFit hater may be turning red.

To be fair, this is CrossFit’s definition of fitness, clearly laid out in a CrossFit Journal article, What is Fitness, where Greg Glassman says:

The implication here is that fitness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, even unfamiliar tasks and tasks combined in infinitely varying combinations. In practice this encourages the athlete to disinvest in any set notions of sets, rest periods, reps, exercises, order of exercises, routines, periodization, etc. Nature frequently provides largely unforeseeable challenges; train for that by striving to keep the training stimulus broad and constantly varied.

Do the CrossFit Games actually live up to the definitions of fitness that CrossFit itself set in this article? That’s a good point of argument if you ask me.

CrossFit Isn’t a Sport

Well, the first thing we need to do is to say is CrossFit actually a sport that deserves a competition? I’d say no, it’s a philosophy, and the article referenced above is pretty much all you need to read to understand that about CrossFit. On the practical side of things, CrossFit is whatever each affiliate coach decides it is or interprets it to be.

Some coaches do a great job of it, and a lot don’t. It’s hard to be a generalist who also has to be a multi-faceted specialist, too so, frankly, it is really hard to be a great CrossFit coach. The good ones tend to be pretty good coaches with or without the CrossFit part. They make or break an affiliate.

What has proven very effective has been that the CrossFit Games and the Open and Regionals that lead up to it are all very useful in giving CrossFit affiliates, enthusiasts and athletes a purpose, a focus that takes all this inconsistency and drives it to an objective endpoint for all – the winner’s podium.

This is where I think of the competition part as a great marketing vehicle for a brand but can’t say that I would ever see it as a sport. That’s just me. I am sure that it will continue to be seen as a sport for many enthusiastic CrossFit adherents for years to come. But, watching people row for a few hours, sit on exercise bikes or just look like they’re auditioning for a part in the next Saw movie, well, that doesn’t make it much of a spectator sport.

Games Programming Gimmickry

CrossFit hasn’t changed the format or the approach to its events since the first one over a decade ago. They’re pretty much boilerplate and the result has been a steady ratcheting up of the torturous elements of a workout and a reluctance to stay consistent. CrossFit may argue that’s the whole point, not knowing what is coming, but obstacle course racing, even American Ninja, seem to do a pretty good job of making events entertaining and unexpected.

I am surprised that CrossFit didn’t learn from those other events, as much as they have from CrossFit. If you take Glassman’s original definition of fitness making people do handstand walks, sit on cardio equipment, or even weightlift for a one rep max score doesn’t really fit the holistic generalistic approach that CrossFit espoused initially.

You’re kind of just testing their capacity to do a workout as opposed to test their fitness. They train to do this stuff every day and their workouts are designed like this every day and the guy who designs the Games’ programming designs workouts.

Wouldn’t it have been better if a CrossFit athlete in a competition had to actually do something like an obstacle course or an American Ninja-like panel? Or, maybe CrossFit asked the Navy Seals to come up with a set of challenges or Cirque du Soleil because, dammit, handstands.

Surely that would be unexpected and would test all their fitness and capacity of the unknown. Right now, CrossFit athletes train to be CrossFit competitors. They don’t really train to complete a functional fitness test.

Praise the Game, Not the Player

This is all semantic quibbling. I am neither a fan nor am I a hater, of CrossFit. Everyone has their own taste in entertainment, and yes, I count watching sporting events as entertainment. I don’t discount the value of CrossFit.

It’s not everyone’s thing but CrossFit bodies have their own physicality, CrossFit athletes have their own strengths and weaknesses like any other athlete, and CrossFit competitions have their own adoring audience. The CrossFit haters should probably pack up and let things be.

So, don’t laugh the Games off because torture, or not, it’s still damn hard. And don’t yawn at the CrossFit games. Well, you can yawn a little. It may not be entertaining to you but they’ve managed to get people to Madison, Wisconsin for something other than dairy products so, each to his or her own taste.

You should, however, make sure you applaud the marketing magnificence of the CrossFit Games. If you don’t want to see exercise as a sport, just appreciate that exercise as spectacle has worked out pretty good for CrossFit Inc. And for that, give them credit.

Leave a Comment