The WODFather: Why Greg Glassman Is Good for Fitness
In less than twenty years, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman has built what is arguably the most successful fitness entity ever. Not only has CrossFit created the biggest fitness community in history, CrossFit has also innovated a new sport.
Last year over 273,000 athletes competed for a chance to take part in the CrossFit Games. There are some 12,000 CrossFit boxes worldwide and CrossFit, Inc. is purportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Glassman as sole owner of the company.
Thousands of CrossFit affiliates can be found around the world.
Such success in less than a twenty-year period begs the question, “Why?” All of the fitness modalities CrossFit incorporates, from powerlifting to gymnastics, are hardly new or even particularly innovative. Yet, in the fitness industry, CrossFit remains unparalleled in its success.
To unlock the secret of CrossFit’s success, you need look no further than Glassman. Without Steve Jobs, you wouldn’t have Apple, and without Glassman, you wouldn’t have CrossFit.
The King Of CrossFit
Glassman is a lot of things - controversial, brash, and despite having a team of over eighty lawyers, seems to speak without a filter at all times. In the interview, Glassman pulls no punches in speaking about what is wrong with the fitness industry and how CrossFit aims to fix it.
Greg Glassman, or “Coach” as he is known in the CrossFit community, grew up in California and as a young adult participated in lots of activities from gymnastics to cycling. Through his experience, he observed that while some of his peers seemed to be proficient in one sport or athletic skill, few were able to excel across several. Glassman could out lift his gymnastics buddies and out tumble his cycling friends.
"While 60 Minutes addressed both points with Glassman, some reviewers of the piece felt they didn’t go far enough."
Such experience is at the core of CrossFit's methodology, which is based on the concept of “physical preparedness.” As Glassman explained, “For getting ready for war, getting ready for earthquake, getting ready for mugging, getting ready for the horrible news that you have leukemia. What awaits us all is challenge, that's for sure.” Spending countless hours on the elliptical machine might make you sweaty and burn lots of calories, but few if any would proclaim it prepares you for anything.
The Criticism Behind CrossFit
Despite its success, there are still plenty of big-time critics of CrossFit and its participants. Some liken CrossFit to a fitness cult where people use silly terms like “WOD,” “beast,” and “Pukie.” Others feel CrossFit is inherently dangerous. While 60 Minutes addressed both points with Glassman, some reviewers of the piece felt they didn’t go far enough.
The extreme nature of CrossFit workouts has been a large point of contention in the fitness world.
The report did not mention rhabdomyolysis, which some contend has a correlation to CrossFit and its training approach. Glassman responded in his typical frank manner, citing that while CrossFit has had many, many lawsuits brought against it, they have “won every single one of ‘em.”
The unsafe argument is certainly at the core of the CrossFit controversy. But just what is unsafe exercise? I attended a fitness lecture once where a renowned exercise physiologist explained there are no such things as contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals. Such a statement sounds like it would come from Glassman himself.
Citing the example of a deadlift on 60 Minutes, Glassman stated:
To say no [to deadlifts] is to say that, if you drop your pen on the ground, you're not gonna pick it up. It's a deadlift. It's picking something off the ground. It does not require a physician's OK. If your physician doesn't think you should deadlift, you need to get a new doctor is what you need.
Should everyone do heavy deadlifts? Certainly not. But in that case, it’s not the deadlift that’s contraindicated, it’s the person. In short, it’s up to you to know what you and your body should and should not do.
Changing the Fitness Game
When asked if everything we’ve been taught about fitness (until now) has been wrong, Glassmen responded simply and frankly, “Yes.” I tend to agree. Fitness should be about function and wellness. Unfortunately far too many in fitness are trying to profit on telling customers what they want to hear - that exercise is a means to an end, much like the archaic calories-in-calories-out equation that the masses still continue to buy into.
What you don’t hear with CrossFit is that exercise is easy or comfortable. And with its paleo-centric focus, CrossFit isn’t going to try to sell you some magic pill, potion, or powder. Glassman is a fierce Libertarian and hates being told what to do - which is also at the core of the CrossFit counterculture. Glassman explained, “I'm not trying to grow a business...I'm doing the right things for the right people for the right reasons.”
For better or for worse, it is hard to deny CrossFit's impact on the current fitness scene.
The Influence Of CrossFit
I’m not a CrossFitter, nor do I believe CrossFit makes sense for everyone. But you don’t have to like CrossFit or agree with everything Greg Glassman says to appreciate the CrossFit sentiment. CrossFit certainly isn’t and shouldn’t be a be-all-and-end-all. Glassman personally is a prime example of someone who shouldn’t (and doesn’t) do CrossFit as he walks with a pronounced limp from a preexisting injury (which he attributes to gymnastics).
Glassman takes a lot of criticism for not doing his own workout and not drinking his own Kool-Aid. And CrossFit proprietors could probably do a better job in helping educate potential participants on what they should and shouldn’t do. On the other hand, that’s not necessarily their job. It’s your job to know your limits and whether a CrossFit-type workout makes sense for you.
In the end, CrossFit and Greg Glassman are good for fitness. We need more people willing to stand up to profiteers, big business, and governments that influence our lives when it comes to our health and wellness. The world needs more fitness businesses that don’t see fitness as a business, but as a movement to get people moving the way they are meant to.
I might not do CrossFit, but I’m glad Greg Glassman invented it.
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1. “The King Of CrossFit” 60 Minutes May, 2015.
2. Burt Helm, “Do Not Cross CrossFit” Inc. Magazine, Jul/Aug 2013
Photos courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.