The Allure Of Crossfit

I was talking with someone the other day, a friend who weight trains pretty regularly, and he made the comment that he didn’t understand the allure of Crossfit. “I just don’t get it,” he quipped.

Well, I’m not a crossfitter, and I’ve never played one on TV, but I think I do.

Allow me to give you my thinking from a layman’s perspective. I’m going to start by saying I have never done CrossFit, but I’ve seen plenty of WODs being conducted in the box attached to my commercial gym–seriously, there’s a big old window between the two. It’s hard to miss it–and I’ve researched it a fair bit.

Some of what I say about Crossfit may be wrong, and I welcome correction on those points, but let’s also keep in mind that the word “allure” means what draws people, so what actually happens may be irrelevant. It’s what people think will happen.

So, with all that out of the way, why do some people find themselves drawn to something like Crossfit?

Well, there are a number of reasons that I can see.

1. Lots of Promotion

Dude. When your sport is on ESPN during prime time hours, you’re going to get some attention, and while it’s not entertaining for everyone, there’s something to be said about watching these athletes do everything from Olympic-style weightlifting to gymnastics to various forms of cardio. They’re doing all these different modalities and doing better than the proverbial couch potatoes watching.

The truth is, there are a lot of people who will watch something on TV and want to try it primarily because they saw it on TV.

2. Specialization is for insects

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyse a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -Robert Heinlein

There are people who look at fitness as the kind of thing where they have to pick. Do they want to do spin classes or lift weights? If they want to lift, are they going to power lift, bodybuild, or weightlift? What are they going to do?

And, really, a lot of people don’t want to specialize in just one type of training. They’re like little kids who want to be a fireman, a policeman, a doctor, and a rock star when they grow up, all at the same time. They don’t want to be pinned down to just one thing.

Crossfit, for any ills you may find, does seem to do just that. I recall hearing a crossfitter say that Crossfit makes athletes who are mediocre at everything. I can see what he meant, too. A powerlifter may be great at powerlifting, but he’s likely to suck at the clean and jerk. Bodybuilders may look good, but are they strong? Weightlifters can do a barbell snatch like it’s anyone’s business, but what is their physique like?

With Crossfit, though, you can do the bench, squat, and deadlift like a powerlifter. You can develop a nice physique like a bodybuilder (to a point), and you can learn to do the Olympic lifts like a weightlifter. You won’t be great at any of those things, mind you, but you can still do them.

Not only that, but you can do some running, some kettlebell work, bodyweight stuff, gymnastics exercises, rowing, and all kinds of other things.

There’s no specialization, and for someone who wants to be ready for what life might throw at them, that’s attractive.

3. Community

Some have jokingly (or not so jokingly) called Crossfit a cult. I get where they’re coming from on that one, too. Crossfit is a unique kind of fitness system, and part of that is the community that evolves.

Those who train at the same box become a bit of a family, in a way. There’s something about people who suffer hardships together bonding with one another, and while Crossfit may be voluntary, it’s still hardship.

For many people, especially those who may be a little socially awkward, this can be very attractive. It’s also great for people who move to a new location and are looking to make friends.

Plus, it makes sense. When you’re around people who don’t share your goals, it can be very difficult to stick to your plan. If you’re eating paleo, but all your friends want to eat pasta, for example…

4. Clearly, it works

Say what you want about Crossfit, but it definitely seems to get results. I have a friend who dropped a ton of weight on Crossfit and he’s not alone. Plenty of people have.

The internet is filled with stories of people who have lost weight or gotten into good physical condition thanks to Crossfit.

Further, take a look at the builds of the elite level crossfitters. They have an almost uniformity to their physiques that could only come from a uniformity in training, to some degree.

That doesn’t happen by accident.

People on the outside happen to see that. They want that.


These are, of course, just a few of the things that I’ve noticed.

Now, I’m not going to say Crossfit is perfect. From my outside position, I see several very real problems with the program and the system as a whole. I could probably write an entire post bashing Crossfit just as much as I’ve said I understand the appeal.

I’ll also note that for someone like me, with ADHD, Crossfit might actually be an awesome fit.

One of the big problems, however, is not all Crossfit boxes are created equally. Some boxes have embraced the idea of Crossfit and molded it into a great exercise system that gets results. Others have seen it as a way to cash in on a fitness craze and found that they can do so with minimal knowledge.

I understand the allure, though. There’s something about surviving brutal workouts that kick your ass, and Crossfit has plenty of those. But on the same token, if you succumb to that allure, make sure the box you join has people who know what they’re doing, how to coach the exercises, and that they insist on proper form.

No one wants to see people get hurt, after all, and it does happen.

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