“Everyone in the neighborhood rejoices?” or “A bunch of meatheads have to look for something else to talk about?” you’re probably thinking. You’re right, there’s a tremendous and well-deserved reputation for Crossfit gyms to be full of braggadocios who are constantly throwing around jargon like “WOD,” “PR,” “AMRAP,” and the like. The Crossfit experience has definitely bred these things into members, but what it’s also bred is what’s given rise to the cultish following: fitness, healthy habits, weight loss.
I can already feel your eyes rolling at your computer screen, but before you dodge out of this article I want to try and make a case for why Crossfit gets talked about so much by members, why they seem to have it wrapped so much into their respective identities, and why humorously rejoicing at the closing of a gym may be the biggest tragedy.
According to some estimates the average American’s body fat percentage is 15%-20% above the healthy ceiling, somewhere in the 35-40% range. The Center for Disease Control recommends that the average American between the ages of 18 and 64 should be getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking, jogging, etc.) and 75 minutes of vigorous activity (lifting weights, calisthenics, vigorous sports, etc.) per week. That’s 225 total minutes of exercise a week, or about 30-35 minutes a day. Despite this recommendation it will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that most Americans fall dismally short of this amount, a study by the US Census bureau showed the average American gets 17 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Again, just brisk walking qualifies. Most Americans are obese, sedentary, and have no idea what their bodies are capable of.
Enter Crossfit, a gym that makes a promise that if you show up, give 100%, and learn the movements you too can become fit, strong, and healthy. How do you know it works? Because look at all the hard bodies around the gym!
To someone who has bounced in and out of diets, workout routines, personal trainers, goals that have been set and broken, and the shame of carrying around a potentially unsightly amount of extra weight, becoming a part of a community that supports you, meets you where you’re at, gives you encouragement and friendship during your fight through the limits you’ve carried around with you for years, and all the while showing you over and over again that your body is capable of so much more than you thought, Crossfit becomes a topic worth talking about. Most adult Crossfitters are not the meathead nut-jobs that are conjured up when the word “Crossfit” is heard, they’re moms, accountants, computer programmers, hair stylists, and seniors. The gym I belonged to had exactly this kind of clientele.
When someone sees those pounds they’ve carried around for years disappear while they watch their body do things it hasn’t done since they were a teenager, or ever, something changes in who that person is.
Crossfit isn’t like other gyms. The community, the group of people who go regularly get to know one another because they’re all doing the same workouts, going through the same pain and the same growth. That group of people shares a common language of fitness, they sweat together, they see one another’s faults, one another’s strengths, and are there to push one another beyond where they thought they could go. Please forgive them if they can’t shut the hell up about it.
It’s a promise, a commitment, it’s a give-and-take in the way that all strong, healthy relationships are. If you show up, and give your all, we’ll be here for you. If you push as hard as you can, and fight with us, we’ll fight with you.
In the gym I frequented I saw grandparents get mobility back they hadn’t had in decades, morbidly obese people see their bodies transform; people become who they always wanted to be. That’s not just “exercising” or “fitness,” it’s a kind of health that goes beyond the body. The lesson someone learned at our gym was that they could become who they wanted, they could change their life. All they had to do was put in the effort. All things were possible with effort.
So when our coaches gathered the classes together earlier this week and broke the news that our gym was closing, it wasn’t just sad. It wasn’t just inconvenient. It was like hearing a friend you’ve grown with, spent time with, learned from, tell you he was leaving you. You cared about that friend, he made you better, he helped you become who you are, he didn’t give up on you when you gave up on yourself. You planned your life and included him in it. Now he’s leaving.
When a Crossfit gym closes promises get broken.
The small town of Manistee, Michigan, where I’ve decided to spend my winter (I know, I’m insane for picking the coldest, snowiest place to stay during the coldest, snowiest time of the year), is miles away from the next town. The reasons for the closure were never fully explained, but things were cited such as rezoning, financial issues, and an attempt to incorporate our gym, a satellite gym, with the main gym in the next town, forty-five minutes away. Whatever they were the result was the same: people felt betrayed, lost.
“We’re orphans now,” was a common thing heard around the gym.
When a Crossfit gym closes there are a lot of questions. Where do I go now? How do I come up with my own workouts? What should I do? The resources the gym provided were suddenly disappearing, leaving everyone on their own.
The commitment to fitness becomes even more challenging in the absence of a battleground of health. For a small west Michigan town the options are limited. The gym occupied a space that was both business and social service. Here there is little incentive to do much else in the winter but sit and get wasted. Showing up to Crossfit once a day became a ritual, and like all good rituals it gave one’s time meaning. Without a space that meaning disappears, and we become like a congregation without a church.
If you’ve ever felt that Crossfit might be a cult this is why: it was a kind of communion. You entered, it asked something of you, you gave something, sacrificed something, and you came out changed. For my little west Michigan gym of a few dozen, we’re now trying to make sense of what seems like a crisis of faith.
In the end, the commitment to health isn’t just a personal one, it’s a public one. Health is a personal habit, but it’s also a community habit. Good communities are bound together through shared responsibilities, shared accountability and interwoven support. This is what makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Regardless of how much of a punchline Crossfit might seem to you, our west Michigan gym was the hub of these interwoven layers of support and responsibility. Without it we all found ourselves alone. That’s what happens when a Crossfit gym closes.