Why is The New York Times So Fascinated with CrossFit?

CrossFit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

CrossFit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In her recent New York Times article, Heather Havrilesky asks “Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?” Like the ACSM, she uses “extreme” as a euphemism for CrossFit. The “extreme” label defames CrossFit and its participants, but on what basis? As Jeff Glassman wrote, “I dispute that CrossFit is extreme in any sense but results.”

New York Times scribes have never articulated what part of “constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity” they object to. Is it “extreme” for each member in a group to train at an intensity scaled to his or her fitness level? In fact, would only be “extreme” for them not to scale intensity to each individual’s fitness level. Or is it “extreme” to train functional movements that prepare us for the challenges of life? Would Havrilesky argue we’re better off accepting accelerating decrepitude?

Perhaps intense, functional movements are acceptable but it’s taboo to vary them. Run or squat, but don’t mix them!

The central flaw in Havrilesky’s essay is obvious: People do the same WODs, and tell the same stories, in Bahrain, Mexico, and Israel. Consider Mohammad Salah Al-Sayed, aka Busalah, an athlete at CrossFit Delmon. (Click on CC to read the subtitles)

Havrilesky asks “Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful?”

By “we,” she means “we Americans.” But Busalah says:

What makes this whole thing different … is that you can ask anyone who does CrossFit and they’ll say: the community … Here, there will always be someone to push you when you’re about to give up.

CrossFit’s appeal is human, not national. Whether he speaks Arabic, English, or Danish a CrossFitter will tell you that burpees suck. Camaraderie developed through shared suffering isn’t just an American phenomenon. It may be exceptionally American to think so.

CrossFit Praha, Czech Republic. Photo: Kieran Kesner

CrossFit Praha, Czech Republic. Photo: Kieran Kesner

Ms. Havrilesky could have pondered, “Why are Bahrainis fascinated with Extreme Fitness?” Instead, she ignores the thousands of CrossFit boxes, and million plus CrossFitters, outside the United States. Acknowledging the non-American CrossFit community wouldn’t have fit with her unjustified focus on elite American privilege.

Havrilesky’s not the first in this genre – she joins Seth Godin and Fran O’Connor, among others. People with minimal experience in CrossFit wonder what motivates people to do it. Is fitness too simple an answer?

7 comments

  1. Matt

    Wondering if the word “relatively” is a new addition the description “constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.” ?

    And also, what are your thoughts on a separate article, link below, that takes a more aggressive stance against CVFMP[R]HI? The article doesn’t solely focus on Crossfit but does mention it by name.

    http://traindeep.com/militarization-fitness/

  2. ” I dispute that CrossFit is extreme in any sense but results.”

    Spoken like a true “marketer”……

    Look CrossFit went and courted controversy by actually pushing the whole go hard or go home mentality. They celebrated it. … Now that extreme cult like status is causing you some grief. You want to have a big cry about it.

    The way you have handled this directly reflects the lack of accountability that scares the crap out of disciplined trainers. I have not ONCE seen you guys take responsibility for a single negative report or opinion.

    What was it like to create the perfect system. And keep the system so tight and disciplined Globally zero reports of dangerous training have just never come in.

  3. Pingback: 10.15.2014 - CrossFit - American River CrossFit in Sacramento

  4. ” What was it like to create the perfect system. And keep the system so tight and disciplined Globally zero reports of dangerous training have just never come in.”

    Still waiting for my answer from the masters ……… How is it you are NEVER wrong. That all criticism is totally unjustified.

    Because you are perfect……. or full of BS

    • Russ Greene

      We didn’t claim, anywhere, that CrossFit is perfect. If we thought we had a perfect system, for example, our open source affiliate model wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, our affiliates all experiment with varying methods of increasing fitness.

      Nor did we assert that no one has been hurt in CrossFit or that there are no reports of CrossFit injuries.

      We never objected to the claim that some people get hurt in CrossFit. They do – just as they do in all exercise programs and physical activity in general.

      The ACSM and other aspiring competitors of CrossFit have asserted that CrossFit may present a higher rate of injury than other exercise programs. Our objection to this is not that CrossFit is perfectly safe. Rather, we have pointed out that no evidence supports the ACSM’s claims of a higher than normal rate of injury, and all available evidence suggests otherwise. See our posts on Giordano and Hak’s studies, for example.

      Thanks for your input.

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