Church of CrossFit (9): CrossFit Cult?

By February 23, 2011No Comments

Up until this point, I’ve been examining CrossFit from a very positive light.  Is there a dark side as well?  Some in the fitness community say yes.  When I called XSport to cancel my membership, the lady on the phone said, “Oh, yeah my brother does CrossFit.  That’s like a cult.  So you’re drinking the kool-aid too, huh?”

The XSport lady isn’t alone; just type “CrossFit” and “cult” into Google.  Why the backlash? That’s what I’d like to explore in this post.

Well, some CrossFitters wear the “cult” moniker like a badge of pride. They talk joyfully about “drinking the kool-aid”; one popular site is actually called Gym Jones (a play on the name of the infamous cult leader who had his followers drink cyanide-laced kool-aid). The CrossFit in Melbourne, Australia actually calls its gym “CrossFit Cult.”

Other CrossFitters are defensive when it comes to the accusation.  Greg Glassman, the alleged charismatic leader himself, rejects it outright: “We don’t care if you come, we don’t care if you leave, how is that a cult?”

How indeed.  Is CrossFit a cult?  Well, cults usually have a charismatic leader and brainwashed followers.  Check. They usually engage in practices considered strange by the mainstream – a departure from accepted orthodoxy. Check.  But at their worst, there is usually not only groupthink but manipulation and exploitation going on.  Check?  Ok, maybe not.

So where does the name-calling come from?  In my opinion, the main thing that puts CrossFitters under fire is the attitude of exclusivism, superiority and arrogance that some CrossFitters exude.

This attitude comes out in sneering disdain about the mindless Globo-gym members.  It comes out in sarcastic disparagement for any other workout philosophy, including other high intensity programs like P90X or Insanity.  CrossFitters are quick to point out where each of these programs is missing the point and why CrossFit is smarter and better.

Of course, when your slogan is “forging elite fitness”, how can you avoid the accusation of elitism and exclusivism? Do you even want to?

Let’s be honest.  Some fitness trends should only produce satire.  The shake weight.  Forearm curls. Reading a book while pedaling a stationary bike.  When something is stupid, sometimes the right thing to do is to laugh.

And isn’t elitism necessary, especially when what you are being elite about is actually the truth?   Isn’t some music is just better than other music? (Should we accuse American Idol of elitism?)  Isn’t some food just better than other food, whether in terms of health and taste?  Should we disband the “special” forces for making ordinary servicemen feel, well, ordinary?

You get my point.  Elitism is inevitable.  This is the case whether you are talking about workout routines or worldviews.

But here’s the real question I’m after:

Is it possible to embrace something that’s true in a way that doesn’t lead to a superiority complex?

Is it possible to be elitist and yet profoundly humbled by what you’ve found?

I think that it is.  And that’s Friday’s post.

Question: What are you elitist about?

Friday: Church of CrossFit (10): CrossFit and the Cross

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