CrossFit is a workout program that became popular only very recently around the world, but it has stormed into the forefront of exercise regimens during that time. There are approximately 13,000 gyms which now offer CrossFit programs in more than 120 different countries worldwide. Within the United States, there are at least 7,000 gyms offering programs, and that accounts for more than four million enthusiasts of the workout programs.
Is CrossFit a cult? The reason it has sometimes been described as being cult-like is that devotees of the exercise program are so committed to it, that it seems to outsiders like they’re almost obsessed. This article will answer the question about whether or not CrossFit is actually a cult, and what the similarities are between a cult and enthusiasts of the workout program.
What exactly is a cult?
If you look up the word in a dictionary, you’ll find that it is ‘an organized group whose purpose is to dominate cult members through psychological manipulation and pressure strategies.’ It has also been defined as an organized religious group considered spurious or unorthodox by outsiders, and one which includes members who often become lifelong members. So, does this sound like the experience that CrossFit devotees go through?
First of all, CrossFit can hardly be described as a religion, nor is it organized other than for the daily or weekly meetings at all those gyms across the country and the world. CrossFit enthusiasts are free to come and go as they please and can drop out of the program at any time. There is no cult leader they must report to, and there are no religious requirements forced on any of the participants. In fact, new members join the program every day, while others leave the program in pursuit of other exercise workouts.
If there is a rift between CrossFitters and bodybuilding purists, it may amount to no more than simple misunderstanding and jealousy. Humans often fear and distrust anything that’s different, and CrossFit certainly qualifies as different from conventional bodybuilding. On the other hand, the devotion demonstrated by CrossFit enthusiasts is for the most part, strictly due to the benefits they’ve realized from the program, and the desire to continue receiving those benefits.
What’s involved with CrossFit?
CrossFit is one kind of high-intensity interval training, and it’s done for the purpose of increasing strength and conditioning. It consists of a series of functional movements, all performed at a high level of intensity so as to achieve the maximum benefit. Most of the movements are comprised of the same kinds of activities you might perform in your normal daily life, e.g. pulling, pushing, and squatting. Many of the formal workouts include such exercises as push-ups, weightlifting, squat thrusts, and others, all done for a set period of time.
The real effectiveness of CrossFit stems from the fact that it focuses on distance, speed, and load, all of which contribute to having participants develop high levels of power. Sometimes, various types of equipment are used to enhance the workout. For instance, speed ropes, medicine balls, plyo boxes, rings, kettle bells, rowers, and bicycles may all be involved. There is usually a standard Workout of the Day (WOD) that all members must complete, and this can be found on the gym’s website. The beauty of the program is that it “is universally scalable and modifiable for all fitness levels, so it can be tailored to meet your goals and current fitness level,” says Tracey Magee, owner and head coach of CrossFit Clan Performance Center.
5 Similarities of CrossFit to a Cult
A great many exercise gurus have taken exception to the CrossFit workout, pointing to its austere gym (or ‘box’) setup, and saying “the program encourages camaraderie under duress (CrossFitters coach each other through the pain) and competition”, and is often “just a big empty room with medicine balls, barbells, and wooden boxes stacked along the walls. Workouts rotate daily but tend to involve free weights, sprints, and enough squats to cripple Charles Atlas.”
Critics point out that CrossFit is similar to a Navy SEAL program, in its extreme approach to fitness. Competition is encouraged among participants, urging them to perform the exercises faster than their companions. The kind of urging that enthusiasts get often drives them to push too hard and injure themselves, for instance, when weightlifting. On the other hand, even these critics will admit that this kind of atmosphere can be very stimulating and a great deal of fun for participants, provided that they don’t drive themselves beyond their limits.
Here are some of the similarities between CrossFit and cult-like organizations:
- Devotion of members – really devoted members of CrossFit tend to be obsessive in their devotion to the program and will often sacrifice aspects of their personal lives in order to stay deeply involved.
- Audience appeal – CrossFit tends to appeal to individuals who are lonely or outcast from society, much like a cult would. These individuals find a home in the CrossFit community and tend to thrive there in a way that they could not duplicate in ordinary society.
- Dominates your life – much like a cult tends to be the only important aspect of a member’s life, so does CrossFit tend to dominate existence and become the single most important aspect of living.
- Surging popularity – much like cults are enjoying a boost in popularity globally, so is CrossFit surging in popularity. While gym memberships in general have remained flat for quite some time, CrossFit growth has been soaring in recent years, and there are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.
- Membership pride – people who are devoted CrossFit members have tremendous pride in the workouts they do routinely and can point to the physical and neurological benefits it provides, not to mention the tremendous increase in self-confidence. If you talk to any cult member, you’d probably encounter this same kind of pride, because they believe they’ve found the one true way.
Is CrossFit religious?
In the sense that it inspires true commitment and devotion from its members, you could say that CrossFit is somewhat religious. But keep in mind that nothing and no one is worshipped in the practice of CrossFit, so it lacks the most important element of any modern religion. On the whole, you would have to say that CrossFit is not a religion, but simply a compelling program that draws a great deal of enthusiasm and devotion from its devotees.
This article takes a deeper look at the religious elements of CrossFit here.
Is CrossFit a Cult?
So that brings us back to our original question – is CrossFit a cult? No, it is not a cult. It definitely has some of the elements of a cult, but it cannot be truly said to be a cult, because it lacks the central religious component which defines a cult. Refer back to our definition of a cult, which states that cults are organized religious groups which tend to be dominated by a single charismatic leader. There is neither a religious aspect nor a single charismatic leader involved here.
Every gym or CrossFit box will have a leader in charge of conducting the workout program, and some of these people can be very commanding and dynamic, but they are not leaders who could inspire worldwide followings. Critics of CrossFit tend to be fairly harsh in their analysis of the workout program, because they don’t really understand it, and because they see that members are often obsessed by their own involvement. As true as all that may be, it does not constitute a cult.