The Rise of Crossfit by J.C Herz

Opinion on CrossFit tends to fall into one of two camps: those who have tried it, loved it, 'converted' and never looked back, and those who dislike it vehemently for its competitive atmosphere, sparse training environments and the prominence of barbell lifting. 

It's not for everyone, that much is clear yet it is without doubt the single most important phenomenon to happen to the fitness industry in the past decade, bar none. It's also a US$1billion+ business that was started by one man in a garage and practically no investment 15 years ago. So, like it or not, if you are seriously into fitness, you need to know your Crossfit. 

This book, written by a devotee of the training regime does not claim to be an evenly balanced account of Crossfit's pros and cons. Herz's fascination with the brand is hard to suppress, resulting in a tone that may eventually aggravate more skeptical readers. Nonetheless, she does a decent job of breaking down the birth of the movement in California, its early appeal to certain key audience segments and the primary factors of its success.

One of the key insights made by company Founder Greg Glassman, and the one that has arguably had the most benefit for the wider fitness community in our view, was identifying the ten key attributes of all-round fitness: strength, cardio endurance, stamina, power, flexibility, speed, agility, coordination, accuracy and balance. This approach borrows heavily from the army's notion of General Physical Preparedness (GPP), or being ready for anything anytime and is also a shared belief of ours at Biofit. It explains why spin classes, yoga and HIIT are never going to prepare you for the real world.

By incorporating the neurological components of fitness, CrossFit also opened up a new front that went far beyond what most standard gym equipment could ever cope with. This eventually spawned an entire new sector of businesses such as Rogue that supplied kit for the CrossFit workouts such as rings, ropes, sledges, slam balls and more.

CrossFit was at the same time infiltrating the armed forces, both at home and abroad, developing a cult following for its Metabolic Conditioning (MetCon) workouts and focus on heavy Olympic lifting. In a quirky brand-wide twist, WODs (daily workouts) were either named after fallen war veterans or girls.

To tap into the inherent competitive and community aspects of what he was building, Glassman put together an annual event known as the CrossFit Games where top athletes would battle it out in a series of randomly selected WODs. From a business and brand building perspective, this was another master stroke, providing a tangible opportunity for devotees to come together each year to collectively live the brand outside of their own 'box' (a CrossFit studio).

The number of boxes around the US mushroomed so fast as a result of Glassman's hands-off affiliate (as opposed to franchise) strategy that required little more than a low annual fee (starting at US$500), a certified coach and a web page. No brand standards, no equipment regulation but the class workouts were posted online every day for the box owners to follow.

This brilliantly simple, open-source formula came with its own risks (customer injuries from poor coaching standards being the primary one) but ultimately served to fuel the growth of the grassroots movement in a way that a more tightly controlled concept could never have achieved. By way of illustration, a total of 50,000 CF trainers had been certified by 2012, just 11 years after the certificates were first offered in 2001 and almost all of them in the USA.

Clients typically stump up US$150-250 per month to attend the group training sessions led by a certified coach - essentially buying shared access to an expert trainer rather than entry to a room full of machines and equipment. By placing the emphasis back on the coach and the knowledge that he or she shares during each session, CrossFit undoubtedly put the fitness industry back on course. Martial arts dojos had never lost this approach of course while gyms only had comparatively expensive Personal Trainers. Glassman split the difference and changed the game.

Finally, CrossFit rose to fame at exactly the same time as the paleo diet that it so heavily espoused. Coincidence? Perhaps not. The two are inextricably linked in the US at least. Training this hard on a caveman diet based around meat, fish and vegetables with a high fat, high protein and low carb nutrient breakdown was a revolutionary idea for many but it worked. The ripped bodies of Crossfit athletes was testament to that and the primal, raw feel of paleo and this type of training was a match made in heaven.