CrossFit is a branded fitness regimen created by Greg Glassman and is a registered trademark of CrossFit, Inc. which was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000. Promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport, CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman, and other exercises. It is practiced by members of over 13,000 affiliated gyms, roughly half of which are located in the United States, and by individuals who complete daily workouts (otherwise known as "WODs" or "workouts of the day").
Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai founded CrossFit, Inc. in 2000. The company was conceived a few years earlier, in 1996, as Cross-Fit. The original CrossFit gym is in Santa Cruz, California, and the first affiliated gym was CrossFit North in Seattle, Washington; there were 13 by 2005, and today there are more than 13,000. Coaches associated with CrossFit include Louie Simmons, John Welbourn, Bob Harper, and Mike Burgener.
Glassman retains complete control over the company after a divorce resulted in his estranged wife, Lauren, attempting to sell her share in the company. Glassman was able to obtain a $16 million loan from Summit Partners to buy out her share.
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program consisting mainly of a mix of aerobic exercise, calisthenics (body weight exercises), and Olympic weightlifting. CrossFit, Inc. describes its strength and conditioning program as "constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains," with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as "work capacity across broad time and modal domains." Hour-long classes at affiliated gyms, or "boxes", typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, the high-intensity "workout of the day" (or WOD), and a period of individual or group stretching. Some gyms also often have a strength focused movement prior to the WOD. Performance on each WOD is often scored and/or ranked to encourage competition and to track individual progress. Some affiliates offer additional classes, such as Olympic weightlifting, which are not centered around a WOD.
CrossFit gyms use equipment from multiple disciplines, including barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, jump ropes, kettlebells, medicine balls, plyo boxes, resistance bands, rowing machines, and various mats. CrossFit is focused on "constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement," drawing on categories and exercises such as these: calisthenics, Olympic-style weightlifting, powerlifting, Strongman-type events, plyometrics, body weight exercises, indoor rowing, aerobic exercise, running, and swimming.
CrossFit programming is decentralized but its general methodology is used by thousands of private affiliated gyms, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and military organizations including the Royal Danish Life Guards, as well as by some U.S. and Canadian high school physical education teachers, high school and college sports teams, and the Miami Marlins.
"CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program, but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 recognized fitness domains," says founder Greg Glassman in the Foundations document. Those domains are: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
CrossFit appeals to both men and women alike and a recent statistical analysis showed that CrossFit participants were almost equally 50% male and 50% female.
CrossFit, Inc. licenses the CrossFit name to gyms for an annual fee and certifies trainers. Besides the standard two-day "Level 1 Trainer Course", specialty seminars include gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, running and endurance, rowing, kettlebells, mobility and recovery, CrossFit Kids, CrossFit Football, and self-defense and striking. Other specialized adaptations include programs for pregnant women, seniors, and military special operations candidates. Affiliates develop their own programming, pricing, and instructional methods. Many athletes and trainers see themselves as part of a contrarian, insurgent movement that questions conventional fitness wisdom; besides performing prescribed workouts, they follow CrossFit's nutrition recommendations (adopting a paleo and/or zone diet).
CrossFit makes use of a virtual community Internet model. The company says this de-centralized approach shares some common features with open source software projects and allows best practices to emerge from a variety of approaches, a contention that is disputed by some competitors and former affiliates.
It has been theorized that CrossFit's combination of resistance and aerobic exercise may benefit muscle size and cortisol levels, but this has not been substantiated by a body of good medical evidence.
The "CrossFit Games" have been held every summer since 2007. Athletes at the Games compete in workouts they learn about only hours beforehand, sometimes including surprise elements that are not part of the typical CrossFit regimen. Past examples include a rough-water swim, a softball throw, and a pegboard climb. The Games are styled as a venue for determining the "Fittest on Earth," where competitors should be "ready for anything."
In 2011, the Games adopted an online format for the sectional event, facilitating participation by athletes worldwide. During the "CrossFit Open", a new workout is released each week. Athletes have several days to complete the workout and submit their scores online, with either a video or validation by a CrossFit affiliate. The top CrossFit Open performers for individuals and teams in each region advance to the regional events, held over the following two months.
The Games include divisions for individuals of each gender, co-ed teams, and a number of Masters and Teenage age groups.
The risk of injury associated with CrossFit training has been a controversial question since the program’s popularity began to climb in the early 2000s. Critics have accused CrossFit, Inc. of using dangerous movements, inappropriate levels of intensity, and allowing under-qualified individuals to become CrossFit Trainers.
In response to these criticisms, CrossFit, Inc. claims its methodology is relatively safe even when performed with poor technique. CrossFit, Inc. also claims risk for injury can be reduced by properly scaling and modifying workouts, a concept taught on its website and at the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course.
CrossFit, Inc. supports this position by citing three academic surveys of CrossFit participants. These surveys calculated injury rates between 2.4 and 3.1 injuries per 1000 hours of training, which CrossFit argues is consistent with or below injury rates found in "general fitness training."
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research entitled "Crossfit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition" followed 54 participants for 10 weeks of CrossFit training. The study said that "...a notable percentage of our subjects (16%) did not complete the training program and return for follow-up testing." The authors said "This may call into question the risk-benefit ratio for such extreme training programs..." In 2014, CrossFit, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the National Strength and Conditioning Association for publishing this study, alleging that the data was false and was "intended to scare participants away from CrossFit." The NSCA denies CrossFit, Inc.'s allegations but has issued an erratum acknowledging the injury data was incorrect.
The relationship between CrossFit and exertional rhabdomyolysis has been a subject of controversy for the company. Critics argue that both the CrossFit methodology and the environment created by CrossFit trainers put athletes at high risk for developing rhabdomyolysis.
Makimba Mimms claims to have suffered from rhabdomyolysis after performing a CrossFit workout on December 11, 2005, at Manassas World Gym in Manassas, Virginia, under the supervision of an uncertified trainer. He successfully sued his trainers and was awarded US$300,000 in damages. CrossFit, Inc. was not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
CrossFit, Inc. does not dispute that its methodology has the potential to cause rhabdomyolysis. The company states that exertional rhabdomyolysis can be found in a wide variety of sports and training populations and argues that its critics have conflated CrossFit's high awareness of rhabdomyolysis with high risk. One CrossFit spokesman stated that "ESPN's report on the 53 deaths in US triathlons from 2007 to 2013 should have put the issue to rest."
Since May 2005, CrossFit, Inc. has published several articles about rhabdomyolysis in the company's CrossFit Journal. Three of the articles are included in the CrossFit Manual provided to all prospective trainers.
CrossFit, Inc. has also been criticized for having a "cavalier" attitude towards rhabdomyolysis by promoting a character known as "Uncle Rhabdo" (a cartoon clown dying in a dramatic fashion—hooked up to a dialysis machine, with his kidneys and intestines falling on the floor).
In response to this criticism, Greg Glassman has stated "We introduced (Uncle) Rhabdo because we're honest and believe that full disclosure of risk is the only ethical thing to do."
Social media presence
CrossFit, Inc. has been variously criticized and praised for its unorthodox approach to social media. This approach has included publishing articles and tweets about non-fitness topics (including politics, philosophy, and poetry) as well as directly interacting with other social media users and critics of the company's program. In one example, CrossFit, Inc.'s Twitter account posted a doctored illustration of a Coke advertisement, with "Open Happiness" replaced by "Open Diabetes." The image was paired with a quote from CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman that read: "Make sure you pour out some for your dead homies." Controversy followed after singer Nick Jonas responded to the tweet, calling CrossFit, Inc.'s comments "ignorant." The company defended its tweet, stating that "Compelling statistical evidence supports CrossFit, Inc.'s campaign to prevent diabetes by raising awareness about its causes."