Friday, 23 October 2009

Discussion Question: Where is this all going?

A group of beginners at CrossFit Monterey goes through their first "Helen."

How many of you started Crossfit within the past six months?”

 The majority of people at Crossfit Level 1 certifications raise their hand when the presenter asks them this question.  We all know what this rate of growth means for Crossfit right now.  The number of affiliates is approaching 1500, and apparently growing at one percent per day. 

What percentage of the people who will be doing Crossfit ten years from now, are Crossfitters now?  Such talk of the future is surely guesswork, but let’s give it a shot.  Almost certainly, the vast majority of people who will be Crossfitters in 2019 are not Crossfitters now. Many future Crossfitters have not even heard the name Crossfit before. 

This trend has important implications for the way that we, as current Crossfitters, interact with people who haven’t yet kipped a pullup or squat cleaned a barbell.  Many people have noted that the longer you do Crossfit, the harder it is to relate to normal people.  I certainly have been guilty of only interacting with people remarkably similar to myself.  This insularity is a problem if we are to expand Crossfit into the vast population of people who have never done it, and in many cases do not regularly exercise at all. 

Sure, I have encouraged you to build your badass inner circle.  This does not mean, however, that you should cut yourself off from the less intensely Crossfit world.  Such isolation will greatly limit your ability to be a part of the Crossfit expansion.  The people who really need to train more are the ones who are the least likely to be currently interested in it.  The people you most need to reach out to are the ones you’re least likely to think of as the “Crossfit type.”

One of our athletes at Crossfit Monterey, Tom Hickey, gave Jacob and I some good advice last week.  Tom told us that we have been Crossfitting so long that we have forgotten what it’s like to walk into a Crossfit gym for the first time.  This is true, for myself at least.

In my time at Crossfit Monterey, I’ve realized that I cannot tell who is going to flourish as a Crossfitter and who is going to drop out or take the program less seriously.  A middle school teacher currently taking Body Pump classes may start Crossfit, train hard five days a week and double her strength in a few months.  On the other hand, I’ve seen more experienced athletes fail to thrive.  We expose their weaknesses and sometimes they find that they’d rather not struggle at the movements they suck at. 

You don’t know who is going to make an awesome Crossfitter either.  So how do you make future Crossfitters?  What has worked for you?  What hasn’t?

Post thoughts to comments.


Serge said...

The key to getting new Crossfitters into an affiliate for the first time, isn't going to be advertisement or selling it direct to the potential client. Their participation will come from the news of a trustworthy friend would has had an experience with Crossfit that has changed their lives or bettered it in some way. The word of a friend is far more valued than that of what we are told during a television commercial break or even a media bit on Crossfit. Most news bits on Crossfit play it out to be some sort of "sensation." The New York Times did a story on Crossfit and the title of the article was, "Getting Fit, Even if It Kills You." This paints an ugly picture for what we stand for and is actually quite the opposite of what we are after. If we are after a betterment of lifestyle and wellness, how does a title of killing ourselves represent us? Even if we do sweat our hearts out in the middle of a WOD.
We cannot rely on the media to display what we are, we can only do what we know best: quantifiable results. If an individual is seeing results with his or her work, they will tell their friends and family about it. Why? Because it's exciting! Bettering ourselves and seeing progress before our eyes is an amazing experience. It is only natural to want to share this information with the ones around you. That is what will bring in a client base, giving your clients results.

adam said...

My very incomplete thoughts, in no particular order, with little conclusion:


"So how do you make future Crossfitters?" makes the assumption, in the first place, that we ought to. Is it worth backing up a notch to ask if we even should actively try to 'make people crossfitters'? Bare with me here.

Special Operations programs don't recruit (excessively, I should add. they do have commercials, fancy websites for those who look, etc). Maybe I should say they don't recruit as excessively as the other parts of the military.

When they do recruit, how do they do it? My own guesses:

- By challenging people. SEAL booths @ state fairs have a whiteboard with the high scores for situps, pushups, and pullups that day. Marine booths have a pullup bar with the same intent.

- By showing off. Ever seen the leapfrogs at an air show? Also, during the Boston marathon I saw a guy with "" plastered on his shorts and singlet... and he was moving, to say the least.

Do we want to seek to introduce people to it? Or do we only want to encourage those who show up by their own means? I'm sure we could convince 10 people we know to at least show up... but would it be worth keeping the 2 for the 8 who we had to coax there in the first place and who didn't stay? Maybe the 2 would have found their way eventually, and we would have spent our time better with other people until they arrived.

I guess I end here.

Crossfit is a worthy cause, but I don't think we need to "promote it", per se.

But let's challenge people, and maybe show off a little. Grab shirts from your local affiliate and make teams for whatever you feel like. Marathon relays; Climbing Competitions; Decathlons; Triathlons; Adventure Races; Invent your own competition.

I suppose when they day comes that the same person finishes 2nd place in every one of the above competitions rockin' a shirt, that's when the mainstream might wake up and smell the chalk dust. If that hasn't happened already.

thomas.m.hickey said...

I started crossfit in June. I've tried a workout or two on and off since around 2004, but nothing remotely serious.

Maybe for some this precludes me from making knowledgeable observations about it. However, while I can't necessarily critique it in technically detail I can provide my notes and let other people pick at them.

I want Crossfit to be widely available. Widely Available. It isn't a sure thing that I'll be able to travel to a small city or new post and find a community that can support me. After I leave Monterey in under a year- I may not find a good place to continue my training. So I'd like to see crossfit expand.

And so it turns me off when I hear coaches say that they don't want to train just anybody, when people act like finding crossfit should be some personal journey, or that we should be elite like seals and other will follow.

Rather successful movements throughout require availability in a mass produced form with the understanding that all will not be top quality but many will. There is nothing wrong with mass production. There is no reason crossfit's goals should be anything less than replacing standard fitness practices. Replacing.

This requires us to drop the elite or underground attitude. It requires an active public relations with athletes and coaches. But it also requires helping people become familiar that may initially be opposed to it. Salesmen use different techniques and approaches to convince customers to buy products because the understand a product isn't necessarily as important as it's sales pitch.

Crossfit has an advantage- its product is exceptional. But this doesn't eliminate the necessity of selling it to people that wouldn't try it without encouragement.

So this brings me back to my initial point. Weightlifting wasn't always the primarily accepted route to physical fitness. Running shoes started in the 70s. There is no reason that crossfit can't replace standard fitness practices.

And this requires a charm offensive and the abandonment of the in your face elite attitude.

One person's route to finding Crossfit isn't necessarily the same as another's and it doesn't have to be.

I'm a Ranger. When I was at Ranger School the attitude was always- see if you have what it takes to be a Ranger- See if you deserve it. This is generally a bullshit attitude. An organization should hope to train everyone possible. Crossfit isn't special operations. It shouldn't strive to be.

Bringing Crossfit to the masses does not mean a reduction in the value of the training. If anything more people doing crossfit should equal an increase in value, after all part of it is community.

So yes- I think you need to promote it.

I also agree with Serge that the best way to get new people is through recommendations of friends. But this is certainly not the only way. I'd recommend crossfit help develop and involve itself in local activities like having representatives participate in intramural sports, local leagues, and sporting events.

Entering a crossfit gym for the first time is hard. But it doesn't have to be. If you're looking to maintain the hard edge- the WODs will speak for themselves. Well I need to go to bed. I'm running a 10K in the morning with no specific training, relying on broad modal time demands kip burp etc etc etc........... night.

adam said...

In reference to Tom - really great post. Made me rethink the way I came off in my own post. My thoughts:

"There is no reason crossfit's goals should be anything less than replacing standard fitness practices."

Phrase of the day. Seriously.

"Entering a crossfit gym for the first time is hard."

I agree - the first day walking into a group of random people doing muscleups and overhead squats knowing what they're doing with a perfect circle blaring in the background in a garage with no tv's and a concrete floor saying "hey. I'm new here." isn't the welcome desk at the local Gold's Gym that we're used; that scene needn't not change so long as our passion and positive attitude is imparted upon new people (i speak as though i'm not new lol) and veterans alike

"If anything more people doing crossfit should equal an increase in value, after all part of it is community."

Heck yeah, a LARGE part of it is community - reference the do you know what your friends eat for dinner post (and thanks to Michael's Mexican restaurant, I now do)

My single qualm for the expansion of crossfit is less detail paid to important issues such as proper form and safety.

Tonight, at a party, by pure chance, I found myself preaching the Crossfit gospel to a guy at MISS who said he wants to show up tomorrow, (yeah, showed him fitness defined on my cell phone, ill admit it) out of simple desire to share the real, awesome experience I've had @ CFM so far. Is that weird? God might be upset cause I have yet to do this with my faith... should I bring Crossfit to the Vatican then?

Lastly, as far as my attitude in my first post... I would say at least that Crossfit doesn't need to rush to open a PR department, if for no other reason than because it's already spreading via word of mouth from people whose lives its literally changed.... as I found myself doing ironically tonight

Justin said...

Very cool exchange. It's refreshing to see people politely debate, and (stop the press) actually agree with someone who criticizes them. My hat is off.

Personally, I believe that CrossFit is what people individually choose to make it out to be. Some people come looking for a hard edge, some people need a gentle nudge to get them to take the first step.

I do agree that "selling" crossfit is part of being a crossfitter. But I would consider an evangelist a salesman as much as I would a customer service rep. Anyone who chooses to "Be CrossFit" is the front line distributor of what CrossFit will be interpreted as to the layperson.

I believe the role of great affiliates is to make sure that the image of CrossFit that they are distributing through their own culture is representative of the core values of CrossFit. Every affiliate will gravitate towards certain characteristics (some choose to focus on strength, some on misery, some on having fun, etc, etc), but was long as we hold each other accountable for presenting a powerful and positive image, our community will grow stronger as it grows larger.

Good on you guys for spurring a healthy discussion, CFM is on my "A" list right now!

Garth said...

Get them to an intro class and it'll either click or it won't. Some people don't like to be uncomfortable and that's really what Crossfit WODs essentially are, extremely uncomfortable. Some people will walk in and see a modified 10 minutes of 'Cindy' on the board and think that's not to bad. That is, until they hit round 4 and run for the door to puke in the bushes! At that point, they have a decision to make. Either Crossfit isn't for them or they'll decide that they want to come back and beat that bitch Cindy at her own game :)

I've been Crossfitting for a year now and love it. I used to spend hours a day in the gym and it was a chore. Now, I head to, with a bit of trepidation and at times, during a particularly tough week of WODs, downright fear. I'll accomplish more in that next 60 minutes than I ever did spending 10+ hours a week at a globo gym. Gotta love it!

I tell everyone about Crossfit and encourage them to hit the free intro class on Saturday mornings at 10am or at the very least, check out the main site. The rest is up to them :)

Russ said...

It's very important not to give overly complicated information to clients at first, especially on day one. Keep the focus on them and what they want.

For example, if you are going to talk to a beginner class about nutrition, make sure you ask them how they eat now and give them practical tips on how to improve that. If you try to talk to them about glucagon in week one, most likely their eyes will glaze over.

I credit Nicki Violetti for first mentioning this. Of course, I had to learn it the hard way after reading it on the computer screen.

Russ said...

There is an underlying current throughout this discussion that I would like to highlight: the bottom line is always going to be the results that Crossfit affiliates achieve with their clients. Serge brought up the huge value of friend reccomendations. The key point here, which he made, is that people talk about Crossfit to their friends when they see Crossfit's results in their lives.

Adam's example of challenges and competitions also is based upon Crossfit's efficacy. If we didn't produce fit athletes, there wouldn't be much use in sending them to represent Crossfit.

Tom wants Crossfit to replace the current fitness paradigm, as do I. If Crossfit were to sacrifice its efficacy in the process of reaching the mainstream, then it's replacement of the current paradigm would be meaningless. Tom is right that we should study how to promote Crossfit to diverse populations, it is just key that in doing so we don't water it down (and I don't think he's saying that we should, it's just a risk.)

Justin is correct that the affiliates have a responsibility to uphold Crossfit's values. I think the core Crossfit value is its commitment to the black box model: we will do what gets our athletes results.

Garth has a good point in saying that to a large extent, whether someone decides to commit or not depends upon their willingness to put up with the pain. The pain of Crossfit is an integral aspect of the program. Without regularly experiencing high levels of pain, we would achieve a small portion of the physical and mental results that we achieve. And our community, currently forged through shared suffering, would weaken as well.

Therefore, I think that Adam and Tom have great points. When it comes to prospective Crossfitters, let the WOD's speak for themselves. No need to talk about how badass or elite we are. No need to get really technical. Just introduce them to Crossfit and explain what results it gets.

As for getting them in the door, I think Serge's point is key. When we get people results, they tell their friends, and their friends will often listen.

Terrance said...

It's all about how talk to that person. Being in California we have a huge diverse group of people that dabble in different activities. The way I would approach a person with a background in football would not be the same as the cyclist that goes on that long ride on Sunday mornings. You have to be able to speak the lingo of the crowd you are selling the product to. We as trainers/coaches have to understand this IF you want your gym to go more mainstream.... This is just MHO..... Great topic Russ and Jacob...

Joe Lieber said...

I have a different take. I think a simply way to increase the numbers of CrossFitters is to provide a flexible schedule. As a member of an affiliate that has GREAT times and hours I'm amazed when I travel the country and see, frankly, the terrible hours some CrossFit boxes have. Most aren't open on Sundays (whatever happened to 3 days on 1 day off--can't do it if the box is closed one day a week) and many have too few classes in my opinion. How does someone CrossFit seriously for example when boxes are closed on Sunday and the last class is at 4 pm on Monday? I don't know about the rest of you but I work and can't always make it to such limited schedules. Yes, I know as boxes grow they can add more staff, etc. But our box has seen incredible growth and they started from the beginning with an incredible schedule--M-T 6:30 am; 7:30 am; 9:30 am, 12-2 pm open gym; 5 pm, 6 pm, 7 pm (on Mondays and Wednesday's an 8 pm) on Friday no 7 pm. Saturdays a 9 am, 10 am, 11 am and a free class to newbies at 12 noon. Sunday--yes, our box is open on Sunday--they have a 10 am, 11 am, a 5 pm and 6 pm. Thank God I found this box. Had I found a different box with crappy hours I might have become disillusioned with CF since I wouldn't have bee able to come on a consistence basis. Flexibility guys. Give those who work longer hours, have families, etc. a chance to participate! It is the one thing CF owners can learn from the globo gyms.

Jay Ashman said...

We don't need to show people how "elite" we are, our results speak for themselves. For every shit-talker online that laughs at CrossFit, there are 20 people who improved beyond their wildest dreams.

I was one of them. I have results to back up how effective we are.

Some people have these catchy tee-shirts like "elite this" and "mess you up" that... its not needed.

We are our own walking billboards. When I walk people notice me, and conversation invariably revolves around "how did you get like that".

In coaching we all have our strengths. Mine is with athletes, strength coaching and conditioning for sports. Russ and Jacob have strengths in straight CrossFit and the results speak for themselves.

We are all under one banner and no matter how different we may be in coaching styles and direction our main goal is to make everyone we come across better.

that is the goal of us, as coaches. No matter how we use CrossFit to train our clients, we make them stronger, better and are safe in doing it, they are a part of our family.

Dale Saran said...

Coach once told me that he actively solicited a lot of his clients. He would tell people "I want to train you." That's how he got them CF'ing in the early days. That's worth keeping in mind.

Next, it's worth adding that Coach didn't seek out athletes (always, although sometimes), but he also sought out friends, octogenarians, and regular folks, alike.

CrossFit, both in its WoDs, its aims, and its broad goals for increased "health", needs to be "mainstream" without being watered-down. These two requirements are not mutually exclusive. I wouldn't give my mom the same "CF" that I give my friend who's a cop on the SWAT team. One can make great improvements without ever getting to a 3:15 Fran.

Constantly varied, functional movements executed at "high-intensity" can be relative for the 70 year-old and the 30 year-old client. Let's not lose that perspective as we try to create our sweat-angels and get to a 500lb DL PR.

Russ said...

Lots of awesome, practical suggestions here.

Terrance is right, you have to "speak the lingo of the crowd you are selling to." I would add to this that actually trying some of the sports that your clients do really helps with this (thought it's not at all necessary.) You don't have to be an expert. For example, showing an interest in a rowers' erg scores or a cyclists 40k PR is a good way to show that you care about their lives and sport. It really helps if you have rowed a 10k (or 6k or 2k) before or biked 40k, because you have a base of experience to work with.

Crossfit Monterey's current box prevents the approach that you suggest. Once we move into our new box though, hopefully next month, we will be open from 6AM through 6PM for the first month. Rather than guessing when our clients want to train, we are going to find out when they come to the gym. We will then design our hours around them.

Russ said...

"We are our own walking billboards."

It probably helps that you are the size of a large billboard, Jay. Seriously though, this is a great point. I can't think of a good reason not to wear a Crossfit shirt everywhere you go. If your training is truly effective, it should be obvious to everyone. Your training won't only show in the size of your traps, but also in your posture, energy level, and attitude (not to mention the regular improvements which you are making in all of these as a Crossfitter.) How do you tell your Crossfit story to people, Jay? What do you focus on? How do they usually respond?

"I want to train you."

This is something I don't do enough of. Jacob and I were talking about how to do this more effectively last night. I know I need to work on explaining what I do to non-Crossfit people. How do you personally do this, Dale?

Jay Ashman said...

"How do you tell your Crossfit story to people, Jay? What do you focus on? How do they usually respond?"

I start by telling them what I do, there is no easy way to explain that but I usually say "we combine principles of strength work, weightlifting, gymnastics, running and bodyweight exercise and use all of them to create a fitness system that gets you strong, fast and fit without adding unnecessary bulk". People like to hear that, and not many people want to get huge. Certain ones do, and those are the guys that read FLEX magazine and will not be interested in what we do, so I write them off or I let my workouts do the talking.

Some people respond with curiosity and ask further questions, some people think I am nuts.

However, you can sell a LOT of people just by passion alone, no matter how good you explain CrossFit and what we do to people, it can all go out the window if you don't love it and show it.

Having said that, I wear CrossFit shirts almost exclusively. It advertises our community and it creates conversation.

Tsypkin said...

Jay, you said:

"Some people respond with curiosity and ask further questions, some people think I am nuts. "

Let it be made clear that the people who think you are nuts aren't wrong.


"However, you can sell a LOT of people just by passion alone, no matter how good you explain CrossFit and what we do to people, it can all go out the window if you don't love it and show it."

This is a big one for me. I can do a decent job of "selling" CrossFit, but I think what attracts people is the fact that I exude my love for it. I think this is rubbing off on my athletes: If you read Adam's second post above regarding the guy he told CrossFit about at a party...well, that guy showed up today, pretty much because Adam had an experience he genuinely wanted to share with someone else. It doesn't get any more real than that.