The CrossFit Explosion – The 16+ Year “Overnight Success” Story of CrossFit

April 28, 2011

Although CrossFit seems like an overnight success, its story began quite a few years ago. The first time I heard about CrossFit was back in 2006, about a year before I started this blog. At that time it simply looked like a small program to train SWAT teams and police units. Supposedly in 2005, 10 years after the opening of the first gym in Santa Cruz, CA there were just 18 gyms. From 2005-2011 this has grown to from 18 to over 2,500 affiliates. In this post, I simply want to talk about this massive growth as well as give a brief overview of this growing CrossFit movement.


[No doubt in my mind that Rocky would train in a CrossFit gym. On a side note, Rocky IV was a BIG deal when it came out in 1985. I bet almost 100% of the kids in the 80’s saw this in the theaters. I always got chills then the Rocky theme played. Still do.]

CrossFit – Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

About 3-4 months ago I was driving to work on a typical rainy Seattle day. I noticed a closed down auto-repair garage in my neighborhood that was being painted dark grey. A week later there was a “NW CrossFit Coming Soon” sign. I thought it was strange that they were turning a big garage into a gym. About 3-4 weeks went by and I peaked in while stuck in traffic and was pretty impressed with what I saw. This was the first time I had seen a CrossFit gym in person.

Olympic Gymnast Coach Bela Karolyi Would Dig This Gym

This CrossFit Gym in my neighborhood has a pull up bar that spans the length of one wall, a digital clock above that, and a well padded floor that looked perfect for power lifting. I love my fancy gym, but there is something cool about this place. It has more of an Olympic training compound and doesn’t feel anything like a commercial gym. This all made perfect sense once I did some research on the founder of CrossFit.

CrossFit Was Developed by a Former Gymnast

The creator of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, was a former gymnast. He found that certain body weight exercises he used as a gymnast were much more effective than many popular weight training exercises that were popular at the time. He kept the lifts that he felt gave the most bang-for-the-buck, to compliment the Gymnastics style exercises. What he came up with is a hybrid of body weight exercises mixed with technical Olympic style lifts and power lifts…what is now known as CrossFit.

[A good video showing a variety of different CrossFit workouts .]

How Many Days Per Week for a Typical Crossfit Workout?

The standard approach to Crossfit is to train 3 days on and 1 day off. Some weeks wind up being 5 days per week and some weeks wind up being 6 days per week. For those who can’t or don’t want to train on weekends, they can simply train 5 days per week and take weekends off. Obviously all of this is flexible depending upon goals and abilities.

“WOD” The Crossfit Workout of the Day

The brilliance of Crossfit in my opinion is that it posts a new Workout of the Day, each day, on its website. You can find it on the front page of the main website: I actually missed this the first time (almost too obvious). Each day is a new post with the workout that is to be done that day. Below each workout are updates, motivational stuff, and some of the weights or times recorded by fellow CrossFit’ers for that particular workout. This is the only workout needed for most to get in great shape. Others do supplementary work or take classes to learn proper form, etc.

The CrossFit Games = The Fitness Olympics?

In 2007, the 1st Crossfit Games took place at a small ranch in northern California. There were 70 athletes and a few hundred spectators. Fast forward to 20011…This event is now sponsored by Reebok and the top 4 winners will each win $250,000! The Crossfit headquarters picks out a new workout each week for six weeks. Contestants then either submit a video or are scored by a Registered CrossFit Affiliate. After 6 weeks the top people from each region compete against each other. Then it moves on to an elimination type of system: Details here —>2011 CrossFit Games.

[Here is my buddy Craig Avera doing the first week’s challenge. He had to see how many times he could do “30 Double Unders” and “15 Ground to Overheads” with 75 pounds…in a 10 minute period.]

So My Opinions on CrossFit?

My main concern about CrossFit is form breakdown that happens when training to exhaustion in theses technical lifts. Anyone with a history of back injury would need to be extremely careful and pick the proper CrossFit affiliate to work with who had a good understanding of this. If I was picking a CrossFit gym to work with I’d simply ask them about Stuart McGill. If they say “Who is Stuart McGill”…I would pass on that particular CrossFit affiliate. I can’t make a blanket statement that all CrossFit is good…or that I dislike CrossFit. The right CrossFit affiliate makes all the difference.

Could I See Myself Ever Doing CrossFit?

I like to have precise control over all variables when I train. I am now to the point where I can dial in my workout to get the precise result I desire in a commercial gym. I like to keep resistance training for strength…and fat loss training separate. I simply like to lift heavy for strength and tone…and do intense cardio to get as lean as I desire. That being said…I could see myself doing CrossFit for 3-4 months just to add a little variety. I like to experiment with new routines for 3-4 month periods every other year. The last time I did this was with Adam Steer’s and Ryan Murdock’s body weight program and it was a good change of pace.

I’m Extremely Interested to See How Big CrossFit Becomes

I think there is definitely a place for both CrossFit gyms as well as big commercial gyms. Some people who do CrossFit knock commercial gyms as being a place where you can’t train hard. I don’t agree with that statement…but most commercial gyms don’t have a place to properly do Olympic lifts. On the flip side, a lot of CrossFit gyms don’t have a wide variety of high-end cardio equipment. I’m a big fan of doing HIIT on a special $10,000 StepMill followed by steady state cardio on another piece of commercial cardio equipment. To be honest, it would be cool to belong to a “Hybrid” gym that had both options. Maybe an LA Fitness combined with a CrossFit gym. I’d be the first member!

Speaking of Cardio and Burning Fat…

Within the next week or two, I’m going to interview the owner of a CrossFit gym who developed his own CrossFit workout specifically designed to burn fat. Its a circuit that uses lighter weights and is supposedly “kinder to the back” compared to some of the other CrossFit workouts for those of us with lower back issues. He is a busy guy with a sweet looking CrossFit facility, but hopefully I’ll get to chat with him soon.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Clement May 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm

The interview’s going to be very interesting. I don’t have a very good opinion of CrossFit, but I’m going to keep my mind open for this one, because I know that not every CrossFit trainer or trainee heralds rhabdomyolysis.

John the Drunkard May 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

skill focus

While ‘scaling’ to the individual is suggested, it is under-promoted.
Idiosyncratic equipment selection makes it impractial for home use.
While ‘good form’ is encouraged, most people who need such instruction can’t follow it–they lack kinesthetic acuity.

A ‘reform Xfit’ movement, using body-weight only, or body-weight plus simple additions (jumprope, kettlebelll, pull-up bar etc.)

Dale May 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

John the Drunkard –

Sounds like you’ve just described Monkey Bar Gym.

Kelly-Fitness Overhaul May 10, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I have a friend that owns a Crossfit gym in Pittsburgh. I met her at a 10K race last year and checked out her gym and actually made a few posts about it on my blog. I think your point about the specific affiliate making a difference is definitely valid. She is a chiropractor and is very knowledgeable on how to train as well as how to prevent and treat injuries. I think that in the wrong hands, a crossfit workout can be lethal. There are just so many ways to train wrong with this type of training and once you are at the point of exhaustion, injuries are more prevalent. That being said, if you have a good Crossfit trainer, it can be a great experience.


Craig May 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

Been doing crossfit for a couple years now. You are entirely correct on the “picking the right Crossfit.” The one I attend, crossfit North Fulton is run by 2 people with many years experience in the fitness, weightlifting, and competitive body building areas. They have multiple certifications and you can tell by the care, instruction and strict adherence to correct form, technique and safety. The other difference between crossfit and “globogyms” is the comradery and competition aspect. I have made lots of friends and everyone pretty much knows everybody else. Having the times to keep track of and multiple people at each skill level keeps everybody motivated and competitive. Here you are encouraged and grunt and yell. The music has expletives in it and nobody cares!

One thing I would like to point out: that you would like to “try it for 3 or 4 months.” #1 this is the point at which you will stop being sore 24/7, and actually really be able to push yourself and become a top competitor at your gym. #2. If you are competitive at all, you will be hooked and stick with it.

Craig May 13, 2011 at 11:56 am

Bill, I completely disagree. Because you can scale crossfit it can easily be tailored due to age. My wife has a 66 year old client who when she first started was in no shape at all. She is a 5fttall and 105lbs. She does the same WODs we do, but the exercises and weights are adjusted to keep her safe, but still make sure she gets a work out. She can deadlift over 120lbs and backswaut around 100lbs!

Raza - Workout Routines Guy May 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

You’re a fitness legend Rusty. Thanks for the great post.

I’ve been a martial artist for a while and am partial to body weight exercises. I also respect the strength that gymnasts, military folks, and martial artists develop from body weight exercises too.

Never been to a CrossFit gym though…

Trey May 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I did CrossFit for about 9 months several years back. I thought it was great. I was stronger and fitter than I had ever been in my life.

I was plagued by injuries though. I wanted to keep the intensity up and break my time records, so of course I got sloppy. A particularly bad neck injury made me give it up for good.

The workouts are great though and I think a more controlled approach for someone who is interested would provide a nice change of pace

Ken May 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I did Crossfit for several months too. Although they say it’s scalable when signing you up, that fact somehow seems to get forgotten shortly after you begin working out. I liked it while I did it, but the pressure from trainers to beat personal bests and the personal need to not look foolish among the crossfit pros tends to push many folks beyond what they’re initially capable of. I always felt like I was on the verge of an injury while training there and in fact, did wind up with a partial rotator cuff tear that was finally traced back to dead lifts done while sacrificing form to pick up speed. As Rusty said, it’s all about finding the right trainer. A good one will whip your butt into shape. A bad one will send you to your surgeon.

Joe - College Essay Samples May 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I do like Crossfit, but I was getting a little too big doing it. May sound kinda strange.. I dont want to be huge though.

Matt - Veggies For Ecology May 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Will be trying this very soon!

Broseph - size and strength gains May 23, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Crossfit is an amazing way to train and it is definetly something different from the average training session. Its a great way to put on crazy strength gains and burn fat at the same time!

Health & Fitness May 31, 2011 at 12:01 am

is this what Sylvester Stallone actually used?

ann.marie June 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I tried crossfit about 6 months ago because I am all about outside of the box fitness programs. It was definitely a good workout but I think that boxing at Biscayne Boxing & Fitness Club was alot more enjoyable. It has a lot of non contact classes that keep me more motivated then crossfit did.

Tim@ Best Workout Routines June 6, 2011 at 2:07 am

I’m hearing more about Crossfit, must be some pretty effective training. Thanks for the post.

Clay June 7, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I think Crossfit is successful for a lot of people due to the social aspect. By participating in Crossfit you have a support group that helps you achieve your goals. That’s why Curves is so successful. Everybody doesn’t need to do Olympic lifts though. If more people realized all that is necessary to do plance pushups or pistol squats they might want to do that instead and bodyweight exercises are a little bit more forgiving then Olympic lifts.

Fitness Guy@ Get Skinny Arms July 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I think Crossfit is a great workout from what I have seen, but it just doesn’t seem to cover more then fitness in general. I cant see it being used for a specific sport.

Btw. Ivan Drago is a beast!.

Alem@ Brad Pitt Workout August 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Well, CF : CrossFit. No there is nothing new in Crossfit workout. i have been involved in Crossfit. actually its an Australian workout system and most of time followed via girls and ladies. it might be good for experienced and aged guys but initially in far most terms it should be used via girls.

cycling to lose weight August 30, 2011 at 9:26 am

Cross fit workouts will certainly improve your overall fitness and strength levels, but in a less targeted way.

Joe August 31, 2011 at 1:16 am

Im secfo and my flight chief had us do circuit training for workouts and ive tried crossfit along with a lot of other different methodologies .The workout one of the sgts put us through during the crossfit session was beast .And it is scalable just gotta make sure you scale it, if you let someone else push you to do something to hurt yourself your doing just that hurting yourself.

Exercise On Abs November 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

I agree with Rusty..
Always liked to separate my muscle build from fat loss.
However, Crossfit does sound interesting !

is bronchitis contagious December 13, 2011 at 12:56 am

Im secfo and my flight chief had us do circuit training for workouts and ive tried crossfit along with a lot of other different methodologies .The workout one of the sgts put us through during the crossfit session was beast .And it is scalable just gotta make sure you scale it, if you let someone else push you to do something to hurt yourself your doing just that hurting yourself.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms April 17, 2012 at 1:13 am

Hi Rusty, thank you for another great post. I just came back from reading your Facebook, I like the Idea of short intervals. I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. I don’t think I will do 8 -12 seconds, but probably 10 and 5 for 20 minutes, 10 sec work and 5 rest. I have a feeling it is going to be intense.

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Suresh June 12, 2012 at 4:31 am

Rusty, Great post here…

Just watching a sequence from Rocky and listening to the soundtrack is enough to get you started, if you haven’t worked out in a long time.

Crossfit can be quite challenging and one can find it difficult to keep up, in spite of being fit. I personally prefer it because the intensity is high.

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Chris July 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

I would be interested more in join a Crossfit except for the 140/month price tag. I am currently working out at a 10-20 / month but still trying to tailor a workout that is similiar.

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JT October 18, 2012 at 7:56 am

If you want to see a sweet bare bones gym with a good StepMill and some other cardio options, you need to check out the Virginia Military institute gym. Very few machines, mainly benches, squat racks, dumbbells, dip bars, pull-up bars, heavy ropes, kettlebells and the infamous step mill…Run by a former VT football great Jim Whitten.

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