science of us

Maybe I Should Quit Everything and Join CrossFit

Photo: Mihailo Milovanovic/Getty Images

A few years ago I tried CrossFit. It was for a story, and I dropped out after completing their on-boarding course. The idea of continuing didn’t really occur to me: The gym (or “box”) was nice, and I’d loved the sense of community, but I was smoking and drinking a lot at the time, and exercise in general made me nervous. If I couldn’t keep up, it would mean I was unhealthy and should change, but I wasn’t ready to do that, so it was easier to avoid acknowledging it altogether.

Yesterday on Vox, Julia Belluz wrote about how doctors are increasingly embracing CrossFit in official capacities (as “affiliates”) in an attempt to help patients/members get healthier. Strikingly, one doctor she spoke with said that “physicians are becoming very desperate. We are finding the Western medical model isn’t providing us with the tools to help people. Most physicians don’t see we’re doing anything to improve people’s health.”

Getting doctors on board with CrossFit is part of founder and CEO Greg Glassman’s plan for the company’s future. As Belluz writes of a discussion they had: “While he wasn’t interested in drawing doctors away from medicine, he hoped they’d feel empowered to think about prescribing CrossFit to patients, incorporating it in their medical practices, maybe even opening up CrossFit affiliates.” The argument is that while traditional medicine vaguely tells patients what to do (eat healthier, exercise more), CrossFit invites people into a community that creates sustaining reasons for them to actually start and keep doing these things — like working out and, increasingly, amending diet. (In addition to guiding workouts, CrossFit instructors often encourage members to avoid eating processed carbohydrates and foods with added sugar.)

While Belluz seems to have enjoyed her own (one-off? ongoing?) experience at CrossFit (“For me, what really set the class apart was the sense of community. … At the end, I felt strong and uplifted”), she ends on a more measured tone: “Simply opening more CrossFit boxes … may help — but it likely isn’t going to fix this broken system.” She doesn’t quite endorse CrossFit, but the implication is there, and she comes close in a thread on Twitter:

I’ve been taking a barre-based exercise class for the past couple years, and I love it with something like the religious devotion she nods at in the piece. I’d never been a regular exerciser, and because I now think of myself as part of the studio’s community, I accept things about it that a few years ago I would have thought were reasons to skip trying it in the first place. (For instance, they recently started selling jewelry alongside leggings and sports bras in the lobby shop. I find this funny, because there’s really no rationale that jewelry is somehow exercise clothing.)

I think there’s some truth to the idea that it helps to believe in things like exercise regimens and eating plans with something more than purely scientific rationality. Belluz makes a compelling case for CrossFit, and I’m now tempted to convert (although I found myself wishing she would throw caution to the wind and say something more like, “CrossFit is amazing, people. Life’s too short; come join me in the box!”). I’ve finally saved up for an exercise necklace, though, so maybe I will give it a few months.

Maybe I Should Quit Everything and Join CrossFit