Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why not CrossFit?

As we have started sharing the word that we're opening a gym, both Mike and I have noticed a major theme in the responses - you're not a CrossFit?  Overwhelmingly, the reaction has been relief and enthusiasm that we are not a CrossFit. But I'd really like to address the elephant in the room and tell you WHY we are not opening a CrossFit gym and how we differ from CrossFit.

I want to start by saying that both Mike and I started CrossFit many years ago, Mike when CrossFit was in its infancy, when it was just a website, and me a few years after that, when there was really only about one CrossFit gym per city. And we had positive experiences with it. We know most of the owners and many athletes at CrossFit gyms in the area. Some are run very well, with good programming, and we have respect for our fellow gym owners. But we disagree with the direction that CrossFit as a movement is taking, and we want to distinguish ourselves from it.

When we started CrossFit years and years ago, it was a movement, a statement, a bit of a renegade choice for training. There were high-skill movements, short and intense workouts, days dedicated to strength, scoffing at concepts like calorie burn, and a whole lot of downtime and focus on learning. Gyms were plain garages or warehouse spaces, gritty, crowded, and basic. Trainers and athletes eschewed long, slow distance and stretching/yoga. CrossFit had great, knowledgeable, opinionated people like Robb Wolf and Mark Rippetoe on board (whom it eventually alienated with its inability to accept constructive criticism).

But CrossFit exploded. It is a bubble, just like the dot-com bubble or the housing bubble. Not only will the bubble eventually burst, this explosive growth has led to something unfortunate - the mainstream-ization of CrossFit. I see it more today than ever. And that is why I will not open a CrossFit gym.

What do I mean by mainstream-ization?  I mean that first, CrossFit sought out rebels, people looking for something different, athletes looking for an edge, regular people willing to take a chance on something that was not popular. What was popular then?  24-hour Fitness type models, hour-long group feel-the-burn classes, spin classes, endless running and cycling training, weight machine circuits, quarter squats and curls in the squat rack. The early adopters of CrossFit were fed up with fitness as usual, and they wanted something different. But this group was a limited market, and there was money to be made and new gyms opening every day.

So CrossFit gyms started to go after everybody else, in particular, the people who felt comfortable in their 24-Hour Fitness/yoga/running routine. And they catered to them by becoming what they wanted. They offered endurance classes. Workouts got longer. The strength or skill only days disappeared, replaced by 30-plus-minute suck-fest metcons. Guess what?  You can't have an intense workout that is longer than 10 minutes because the pathways don't work that way. Instead you get a low and slow workout that just sucks. You might feel like you're working really hard, but if it's spread over that much time, you're not training intensity or strength - it's aerobic endurance.

The mainstream-ization of CrossFit has also included much fancier gyms, kept immaculate by professional cleaning crews, with their trendy themed paint schemes and murals, rows and rows of brand-new equipment, formal front desks, stacked merchandise, stocked fridges, and supplement displays. You know what that is?  It's an attempt to match the amenities and look of a typical fitness center. Replace the treadmills and Cybex machines with Rogue bumpers and medballs, and it's not that different. And it has taken on the slick marketing and media of the big fitness players. Glossy magazines (complete with photoshopping controversies), official sponsors including sketchy supplement companies, and advertising you can't seem to escape.

Now, I don't hate CrossFit because it's popular. I hate what it's done and what it's sacrificed to become popular. There are many different paths to fitness, but what is important to me is to take a stand and only promote what I personally believe in. It is dishonest to dilute your programming and your message with what you believe to be inferior, whether it's long, grinding workouts, fancy, slick surroundings, groupon marketing, or supplement hawking.

Mike and I believe in the basics of strength and conditioning, minus the crap. We don't believe in high-fiving about your badass 30-minute box jump-air squat-banded pull-up party. We do believe in learning proper form, developing skills with close attention to detail, moving heavy weight safely under periodized programming to build strength, and doing smart, high-intensity sprint work with plenty of recovery. We don't believe in supplements, feel-good yoga, fancy surroundings, and shiny equipment and magazines. We do believe in good posture and movement patterns, healthy life habits, and real-food nourishment, in a back-to-basics, supportive atmosphere that's more about the people than the paint.

This is why Barbell Strategy is not a CrossFit. There are good strength and conditioning programs out there, and some of them are at CrossFits gyms. But overall, the movement has moved too far from its roots for us to feel comfortable with it, and we are excited to show you an alternative.