So far I have been arguing that CrossFit functions like a church. But up until now, I have only focused on the vibrant sense of community that sustains that members. In this post, I’d like to take it a step further and argue that CrossFit is actually interested in more than just elite fitness. They are interested in character formation, in forming people who can better navigate and serve the world.
I take this thesis from a quote by none other than Greg Glassman, who founded the first CrossFit gym in 1995. As the Godfather of the movement, he says: “We’re forging elite fitness, but we’re filtering for character.” In other words, he is hoping that CrossFit produces a certain kind of individual.
The sentiment is echoed and expanded by Lisbeth Darsh, Director of Social Media for CrossFit, Inc. She quotes Glassman and then applies the quote to would-be CrossFitters:
If you enter and leave your CrossFit affiliate and you don’t say hi or good-bye to anyone, guess what? You might as well go to the globo-gym and zone out. You’re missing half the point here…. It’s not enough to be a character in CrossFit, you need to have character. Integrity, honor, respect: these things matter here. If you don’t have them for yourself and for others, then don’t cross my threshold: I don’t want you. Find your own community that does not require these things. But if you have a good heart and an open mind? Come on in…. You’re one of us.
In another post she writes that the secret to success is realizing that life is not about making the world more useful to you, but making yourself more useful to the world. CrossFit, she argues, “helps you to be of more use to this world.”
In the minds of Glassman, Darsh and others like them, CrossFit’s purpose does not terminate on cultivating world-class athletes, but world-class people – people who actually have something to offer the world.
This is what I mean when I say that CrossFit provides religious significance: it offers its adherents a larger purpose and fills ordinary actions with meaning. Simple exercises like a pull-up or burpee take on added significance when you believe they increase not only your muscle mass, or even your overall health, but your capacity to serve something greater than yourself.
It makes me wonder if people going to churches every Sunday have a similar perspective. Are they going to put in their time, to put a tip in the offering plate, to have their weekly religious experience? Are they working on a religious image, helping themselves to feel superior to people who didn’t go to church? Are they just doing religious bicep curls?
Or are they looking for truth? Are they hoping to be a part of a group of people who, when they walk together end up experiencing deep character formation? Are they longing to receive power and hope so that they can actually give something to the world?
Question: I am nearing the end of the series: I have 3 more posts planned. Any aspect of the CrossFit phenomenon you’d like me to comment on?