com·mu·ni·ty <a noun, plural com·mu·ni·ties.3.
A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
CrossFit has a very strong and distinct community. I’ve heard some people call it a cult, such is the dedication many have to the training methodology, nutrition and praise for it’s many icons/celebrities. Call it what you want. That sense of community is what sealed the deal for me with CrossFit and is what I strive for in my own Box. It underpins everything I do.
Prior to discovering CrossFit, I spent many an hour punching out arm curls and leg presses at the Globo Gym. Now I was never a big guy, so yes, I did feel the judgmental eyes of the bodybuilding dudes and their sniggering at the weights I was using. But I continued just the same, doing my own thing, working on overall fitness rather than big guns. I would walk in with my Walkman (yes, I am that old) in the early days and an iPod in more recent times and spend the traditional hour working on a couple of body parts, then leave. There was the occasional nod of acknowledgement to other people in between sets, but no real bonding. I knew a handful of people by name, but the general atmosphere there was to come in, pump iron, and leave.
The only reason I went to the Globo Gym was to train.
Then along came CrossFit. I will be the first to admit, it took me awhile to get my head around it. When I first jumped onto CrossFit.com, I had no idea what I was looking at – Snatch 10-10-10-10-10….5 rounds for time of 3 muscle-ups, 7 L-sit pull-ups and 9 overhead walking lunges……..what the hell is that?
I trawled the pages looking for clues. I started watching videos and reading articles. The more I learnt, the more obsessed I became. My wife would start to get annoyed saying, “are you watching that stuff again?!” (I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced that).
While learning more about the methodology, I also noticed something different about this style of training – the strong sense of community. There was a level of support and encouragement, pride and accountability, that I not seen in any type of fitness training before.
I watched athletes competing against each other, throwing their hearts and souls into the completion of a WOD. Then when one finished, he/she would run to their nearest rival and spur them on to finish. There was no ego or selfishness. The act was done out of respect, empathy and the sharing of a common experience.
I was hooked but I started doing the training on my own because the old ego wanted me to at least be “competent” before I stepped foot into a Box (the Globo Gym mentality of not wanting to embarrass myself in front of others was still present). I introduced it to friends and started training with them. I incorporated it into bootcamps I was running and noticed a change in the way my clients interacted. It was like this shared experience of pushing their limits and doing their best to complete a challenge, bonded them beyond the relationship they had before.
So finally, one day, I decided to take a big step and join an affiliate. I had learnt as much as I could from watching videos and reading articles. I thought I had the “basics” down pat, at least to a point where I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I needed the guidance of a CrossFit coach and the support of a community to take it to the next level. I was looking forward to being welcomed with open arms (because that is what I had read about).
I Googled CrossFit in the area and came across Inner West CrossFit. Time to jump in. I phoned the coach, Dave Buckley and organized to come in for a free session. When I arrived, there were guys and girls chatting, some warming up. I introduced myself to Dave and we had a quick chat then he introduced me to all of the members that were there. They each came over and shook my hand or said “G’day”. “Okay, this is a good start”, I thought to myself.
The first WOD was “Filthy Fifty.” Ouch! I remember it well. 3,2,1 GO was called out and I got into it. Now if I was at home training on my own, I probably would have taken way too many breaks and rested for far too long, but having the other members there encouraging me to keep going made all the difference. When I finished, I was spent, but I felt so good inside. I had just performed like I never had before and it was a great feeling.
I spent the next 9 months training at Inner West CrossFit and made some great friends. There were some tremendous athletes there but the thing I admired most about the place was the sense of community. There were no heroes or selfish people there. Everyone supported each other and the end of a WOD was met with copious amounts of hi-5’s and backslapping. I always felt good walking away from a session.
This sense of community was something I wanted to emulate when I opened my own Box, CrossFit Geo in August of 2011 – something I had been procrastinating about for many months. To me, community was one of the, if not the most important thing to consider.
Why? There are many reasons. First of all it encourages acceptance. It doesn’t discriminate by age, sex, race, religion, financial status or occupation. At the start of a WOD the CEO stands beside the student, the Policeman stands beside the receptionist, the stay-at-home Mum stands beside the soldier, the Muslim stands beside the Christian and the Atheist. They are all on an equal playing field and about to undertake a task that will challenge their heart and soul. And it doesn’t matter who finishes first, just as long as they are doing their best and getting it done.
In that one hour, everyone can relate to each other and know exactly what the other is going through. It is an experience that forges strong bonds and respect. And it is why there is so much support and encouragement handed out.
That support and encouragement can inspire people to perform great feats. I recall one of my members, Amanda, making a lift on the second weight in the Snatch Ladder for the 2012 Open. She had not lifted anywhere near that weight before but when she got it, the Box went off. We had about 30 members there watching, and I believe it was their screams of encouragement and the positive energy in the Box that helped Amanda make that lift. It was an emotional moment acknowledged by everyone who was present.
Another reason community is so important is to make newcomers feel welcome and mitigate that sense of trepidation most of us feel when we first start. It can be awfully intimidating going to a Box for the first time, watching men and women yell and scream as they take their bodies through painful barriers. For a certain number of prospective CrossFitters this may be just what they are looking for, but for most it is a bit of a shock, even if they have watched a heap of CrossFit Youtube videos. I make a point of welcoming every new member to the Box, introducing them to other members, and giving them a bit of extra attention until they find their feet. I will normally also organize one or two of the senior members to take them under their wings until they become comfortable. I want them to feel included and safe. The Box is a place for them to try new things and not feel anxious if they do not succeed.
It seems to pay off with constant feedback from my members that the community feel in the gym is one of, if not the main reason they enjoy coming to training.
Now many of you may say, hey what about the training? Isn’t that the most important thing? Hell yeah, but if people don’t feel comfortable in your gym and develop that desire to keep coming back, then you aren’t going to have anyone to train.
Yes, there will always be those hardcore athletes who can train no matter what the environment they are in. But from my experience, many people out there have found it hard to maintain consistent training over the years, and if coming to a Box where they can hang out with a friendly and accepting bunch of people is what they need, then I want to supply it.
Our community is growing rapidly and I relish the prospect of welcoming new people into the fold. We have the chance to teach people how to lead a healthier life, and provide them with an experience that includes positive interaction with other people and opportunities to be proud of their accomplishments. How could you not want to be a part of this community? If the rest of the world could adapt the sense of community that CrossFit has, then maybe there would be less conflict in the world. A pipe dream? Maybe, but if there is one thing I have discovered with CrossFit, it is that anything is possible if you want it bad enough.