Fitness fads come and go. Fitness crazes, however, are a different animal altogether. They grab a hold of the popular consciousness and don’t let go. There aren’t very many of them. In the 1980’s the gym craze took hold and in the last decade, we’ve had the rise and rise of Crossfit. What it took the gym craze 30 years to achieve, Crossfit has achieved in less than half that time.
In this article, we discover the 7 key factors that have led to the phenomenal popularity of the CrossFit lifestyle.
To borrow a phrase from Brad Pitt, the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit. Crossfit enthusiasts are passionate about what they do. And they’re always talking about it. This word of mouth advertising is a key reason that what started as a new and different way to train in a fringe California gym has grown to tens of thousands of facilities in every corner of the globe and an international tournament with more than 200,000 competitors.
In fact, CrossFit devotees tend to rave on about their training, their improved body and their CrossFit inspired life changes so much, that their friends usually accuse them of being part of a cult – and then they join them.
The birth of CrossFit couldn’t have been more timely in terms of wanting to spread a message. It coincided perfectly with the rise of all the social media platforms that we rely upon today to get the word out to the masses.
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CrossFitters were among the first to make use of social media to build a community of support. Sure, you made friendships in the Box (that’s what CrossFitter’s call a gym) among those who were sweating alongside you. But, then you could go home, post your Workout of the Day (WOD) results to your little (and often not so little) online CrossFit community. You’d receive feedback, and encouragement. You’d also see what results others were achieving, and this would inspire you to go harder in your own workouts.
Social Media was also a superb way to spread the CrossFit mantra. YouTube clips explaining what it was all about, along with sample workouts and challenges drew people like a magnet. They just had to get down to their local Box and try it out for themselves.
By the mid-2000’s, the gym scene had become too ‘civilized’ for many people. The facilities were too pristine, the instructors too fake, and the workouts too formulaic for a growing number who were looking for a greater challenge than that offered by 3 sets of 8 on the leg extension machine.
To these people, the raw intensity of Crossfit was instantly appealing. Even the facilities provided a stark contrast to the gleaming polished steel boutique look of most gyms. CrossFit boxes reminded people of Mick’s gym in the original Rocky movie – and they liked it.
CrossFit introduced people to the exercises that were off limits in most conventional gyms – the Squat, the Deadlift, the Power Clean. This was real training – the grown up version of what they’d get down at their local boutique gym.
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Challenge and Variety
One of the greatest barriers to exercise success is boredom. When an exercise routine becomes formulaic we tend to lose interest and end up simply going through the motions. Before long, most people give up on it altogether.
With CrossFit, you very rarely get the opportunity for boredom. Every day you walk in for your training session, you are likely to be confronted with a new and different challenge, written on the wall in chalk. It’s called the Workout of the Day. You never know what tomorrow’s WOD is going to be, which keeps you guessing. Of course, it also keeps you challenged. In fact, every workout you do is a challenge against the clock. Your goal is to complete your session with good form as quickly as you can.
There have been many studies that confirm that a sense of competitive challenge, coupled with exercise variety are key factors that determine exercise success. Crossfit delivers both of them.
Crossfit involves high-intensity exercise. And high-intensity exercise will always bring you faster and better results than low or moderate intensity exercise. Moderate intensity is the domain of the plethora of cookie cutter gyms out there. It’s the reason people can go to them for years on end and never change the way they look.
Contrast that to CrossFit. Your workout may be only half as long as what you’d get down at the gym, but that half hour or so will be hard as nails, and you’ll be flat on the floor at the end of it. Thirty minutes later, having showered and taken your post-workout recovery formula, you will have a sense of accomplishment that is positively addictive.
A peer-reviewed study compared two exercise groups. Group one exercise at moderate intensity for 45 minutes, while group two did twenty-minute high-intensity training similar to a CrossFit workout. Over the 12 weeks of the study, the high-intensity group lost nine times more body fat than the moderate intensity group. Their strength levels also increased markedly in comparison to the other group.
The results that people achieve in terms of fat loss, strength and muscle gain and cardiovascular efficiency feed their passion for CrossFit. This makes them want to spread the gospel far and wide. But, even if they didn’t say a word, other people can see the results for themselves, which makes them want to head down to their local box in order to improve their own body. Multiply that a few million fold with the before and after pictures that are routinely published online, and you have the makings of a viral movement.
For thousands of years, military instructors have capitalized on the bonds that are forged when a group of people sweat, toil and achieve together. CrossFit has taken this social bonding instinct and used it to terrific advantage. Training sessions usually involve between half a dozen and twenty people. Over the course of a few weeks of hitting the Box four or five times week, these prior strangers are able to build a military style camaraderie.
CrossFit doesn’t separate people based on their strength or experience. Instead, each person’s workout is scaled, but they are all doing the same moves. And they are all giving maximum effort. That allows a 28-year-old bodybuilder with 19-inch biceps to sweat alongside, encourage and motivate a 54-year mother of four who is a complete novice to the workout scene. In this way, barriers are broken, opening up whole new social experiences.
Every movement has got to have its celebrity, a person that the masses can look up to, even aspire to be like. The gym, bodybuilding movement had Arnold Schwarzenegger – and CrossFit has got Rich Froning. Froning is the four-time world CrossFit champ, having won over a million dollars in prize money. He’s also the universally acknowledged greatest crossfitter to have ever walked the planet. The man is also articulate and engaging. To top it off he’s good looking and has a body that most guys would love to have.
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Froning has all the ingredients that a movement spokesman needs. His high visibility and reputation as the fittest man on earth have attracted untold millions of people to the sport that he champions.
People Building Gyms in Their Garage
In the last five years, with the improved quality of home fitness equipment, there has been a huge increase in people building gyms in their garage. Having installed a power rack and bought Olympic weights, many of them have naturally gravitated toward CrossFit style workouts. It makes sense – CrossFit training takes less time, it makes you stronger and it doesn’t require a great deal of space. In addition, there are an endless supply of CrossFit WODs available online, allowing home trainers to a never ending supply of workouts.
When CrossFit burst onto the scene in the year 2000, many people predicted that it would have a short shelf life. Nearly two decades later it is stronger than ever. Of all the reasons that we have identified for its popularity the key reason that it is so successful is that it works. It will get you fitter, leaner and stronger more effectively than virtually anything else that’s out there. If you haven’t joined the revolution yet, maybe it’s time you headed down to your local box.