Five Things You Need To Know About CrossFit

Bloody clowns and dead soldiers are all in a day's workout

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Joanne Rathe / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

Maureen Becker and Dan Dougherty do burpees during a warm-up in a class at Crossfit New England, in Natick, Mass.

CrossFit, the high-intensity exercise regimen that has spawned its own ESPN television event – you may have noticed the CrossFit Games — is exploding. At the end of 2012, CrossFit had some 5,000 gyms worldwide. The company expects to pass 10,000 this year.

In the January 20th issue of TIME, you can find an in-depth story on the CrossFit craze, and the controversy surrounding the workout. Before signing up for CrossFit, here are five things you need to know.

1. Its Most Intense Workouts Are Named After People Who Died In War
CrossFit’s most difficult workouts are named in honor of members of the military and first responders who died in the line of duty. An example of a “Hero” workout: the Murph, named for Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005. The Murph is a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, followed by another one mile run, completed as quickly as possible.

Don’t worry: the Hero workouts aren’t assigned all that often, maybe at the top of the month. The core benchmark workouts have female names, like Cindy: 5 pullups, then 10 pushups, then 15 squats. Repeat this cycle as many times as possible in 20 minutes.

She’s mean too.

2. Its Mascot Is A Vomiting Clown
His name is Pukie.

3. Another Mascot Is A Bloody Clown
If CrossFitters overexert themselves, they risk getting rhabdomyolysis, a condition where muscle fibers break down and can cause serious kidney damage. Rhabdo cases are pretty rare: one researcher surveyed 132 CrossFitters, and found no cases; another surveyed 733, and found three cases.

(MORE: This Exists – CrossFit For Toddlers)

CrossFit acknowledges the risks, and stresses that its trainers shouldn’t push too hard. The company has written about rhabdo on its website, and has even adopted another cartoon mascot: Uncle Rhabdo, an exhausted, bloodied clown attached to a dialysis machine, with a kidney and his large intestine lying on the floor. “People look at that and they get offended and say, ‘You guys aren’t taking this seriously,” says CrossFit spokesman Russell Berger. “And the whole point – it’s supposed to get people’s attention. The last thing we want is somebody who’s uneducated or unaware of this condition giving themselves a serious case of it.”

4. It Takes On The Government Over Twitter
Most corporate Twitter accounts are bland product-pumping machines. But CrossFit founder Greg Glassman is a staunch libertarian, and the company uses its platform to broadcast his views. For example a recent missive from the CrossFit twitter account quoted a Financial Times interview with author and theorist Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “We have too many bureaucrats in power … Corporations are more responsible.” Another tweet: “Should the government be able to ban you from growing vegetables in your own front yard?”

His philosophy is reflected in the CrossFit business model: gyms are affiliates, not franchises subject to excessive control from corporate headquarters and state franchise laws. Owners pay an annual fee, now $3,000, and keep the revenues. “You’re in charge,” Glassman said in a 2012 interview posted on CrossFit.com. “Remove everything between you and your success that isn’t essential. I mean, that’s a beautiful thing.”

5. They’re Like Jehovah’s Witnesses
If CrossFit isn’t a cult – some CrossFitters embrace that label, others reject it – it’s at least exercise evangelism. Joshua Newman, co-founder of a New York City CrossFit gym, or “box” as its known in the CrossFit lingo, captured it perfectly:” “Are we the Jehovah’s Witnesses of exercise? Sure, that’s a fair tag. But there’s a difference. Jehovah’s Witnesses ring your doorbell and proclaim the good news. With CrossFit, it’s more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. ‘You used to be my friend. Now all you want to do is talk about your dead lift. What has gotten into you?”

Click here to join TIME for as little as $2.99 to read Sean Gregory’s full story on CrossFit.

8 comments
Justareader1
Justareader1

This seems to be an article written to generate controversy where there really isn't any.

I've been participating in Crossfit for almost a year now (I was looking for a program to get back in physical health) and had NEVER heard of this clown thing or "pukie" until I read this article. In fact the trainers are always stressing to me to NEVER go to the point of failure in any exercise. 

 I also find points 4 and 5 just as hyped, to make a better "story". I never hear any talk of politics or religion from others at the gym and as near as I can tell, we all have outside lives.

While I have no doubt that you can find specific examples of these things within a community as large as the Crossfit community has grown in to, it seems that picking out the outliers to feature as examples is at best misleading.

 As for #3 "If CrossFitters overexert themselves, they risk getting rhabdomyolysis," ... how can the author of this piece have been tagged to cover sports and have never heard of this condition? If he were familiar with athletics and actually interested in trying to write an informative article (instead of trying to generate controversy) that sentence would have read "If ATHLETES overexert themselves, they risk getting rhabdomyolysis,". As a former track athlete I can tell you this condition is a possibility for ANYONE participating in a strenuous exercise. I can say that my Crossfit  instructors are the only sports trainers I have ever had who have made sure I understood this condition and routinely emphasize monitoring for signs of this. To my knowledge no one in the gym I attend have ever had this.


The whole "tabloid" nature of this article has really disappointed me. I know that sensationalism is now the proven business model in the info-tainment world. I'm just sad to see Time Magazine wade into that muck.

robertmeade123
robertmeade123

Sean, please do your research. This article is so inaccurate it is appalling- you have listed absolutely nothing that people "need to know" about crossfit. It is also an insult to people like myself that have found a very effective workout regimen that is fun and has transformed my health. I have been doing crossfit for over 2 years and have NEVER seen references to mascots like "pukie" or a bloody clown. If you actually went on the Crossfit website, or frankly any reputable crossfit affiliate website, you will not see any reference to these "mascots". Secondly, why is Greg Glassman's political bias something that cross fitters "need to know". This has absolutely no impact on an individuals conditioning or the fundamentals of crossfit that it should be a "need to know"

AndrewK777
AndrewK777

It's like the conditioning workouts at my fighting gym, except it's for people too weak and cowardly to take punches to the face.

kmm84
kmm84

Also, it's not "the Murph" - it's just Murph.  

cfpgym
cfpgym

I have owned a CF gym since 2009.  Never heard of the bloody clown mascot.  You really can't generalize a product that is different everywhere you go.  4 CF gyms in our city, none has the same programming.  You could find the same programming as a CF gym at your Local Collegiate sports facility.  So these articles really make no sense and just show a lack of understanding.  Is it a cult?  Our gym certainly isn't  But go to the CF games in California and witness the worlds largest gathering of fit people.  It is a whole different world when you have 60,000 americans gathered and they all or fit.  That speaks for itself.  

TheBodyblaster
TheBodyblaster

CrossFit is different, on a number of levels. When I first saw the mascot "Pukie" I thought it very strange, but CrossFitters have a 'sick' sense of humour. CrossFit itself is not for the fainthearted. it takes effort, time and discipline but the rewards are exceptional. I now feel as if I 'own' my body rather than it 'own' me. Highly recommended.


The team at http://SpeedRope.co

RedMahoney
RedMahoney

@AndrewK777 the only group worse than Crossfitters are MMA 'fighters.' Psst.  Taking punches to the face isn't brave...it's idiotic.