I started CrossFit in 2004 at CrossFit Santa Cruz with Greg Glassman as my coach. I’d say it took me three months of consistent classes to really feel the results, but when it happened, it felt magical.
The way I describe that feeling goes something like this: One morning I woke up and felt like my relationship to the earth had changed. My feet hit the ground differently. My posture was different; I stood taller and firmer. I took up the space that was mine to take. I knew something had shifted, not just in my body but in my whole being.
A year later, Greg invited me to become a coach. Saying yes to that opportunity was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If getting results for myself felt magical, helping others experience the magic for themselves was transformative.
Sharing CrossFit and empowering others to get stronger, fitter, take up more space, grow more confident, and develop the courage to take on challenges they’d never dreamed of — that’s where I really became hooked.
I now realize this is part of the magic of CrossFit. When you experience it for yourself, you can’t help but want to share it with someone else.
“If I Could Just Get Everyone I Love Doing This …”
If you’ve ever done CrossFit yourself, there’s a good chance you’ve thought (or obsessed over) something along these lines:
“I need to get my mom/partner/friend, neighbor/second cousin twice removed to try this.”
“If only more people could experience this for themselves, the world would be a better place.”
We’ve heard this countless times from members of our community all around the world. We all want to share, and the reason is simple: We know in our bones that CrossFit has the potential to be life-changing. We know that when you show up consistently and put in the work, your life improves in countless tangible and intangible ways. When something changes your life so profoundly, you cannot help but want to pass it on.
For many of us, CrossFit has been a match struck in the dark, and the desire to share it with others is what has allowed our methodology to ignite the fitness revolution CrossFit morphed into from those early days in Santa Cruz.
Red Pill, Blue Pill
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. … You take the red pill … and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. … Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.” —Morpheus, “The Matrix”
When CrossFit, which had always been a founder-led company, was acquired and brought under new leadership in 2020, big changes were on the horizon.
After a bumpy 18 months, it had become obvious to everyone there were things that would need to change with regard to how we run the business, and there were things we absolutely could not change without losing what makes CrossFit CrossFit.
It was clear that, while sophisticated business knowledge was helping to evolve and grow the company, the conventional business playbooks were not going to work here, because CrossFit is not a conventional business.
Similarly, the Morpheus-like answer — “You just have to experience it for yourself. … Take the red pill and you will see how deep this rabbit hole goes” — was not having the desired effect.
Trying CrossFit, working out at a CrossFit affiliate, or attending a Level 1 Course are perfect for people wanting to do CrossFit or teach others to do CrossFit. But even these experiences were strained in their ability to confer knowledge that would support daily business decisions around preserving and evolving CrossFit and stewarding it successfully into the future.
As we sought to evolve the business to promote growth, many of us grew anxious that if we were not careful, our outward expansion could come at the high cost of a collapse at our core. So in response to this challenge, we looked for new ways to articulate and thereby protect that core.
We realized: To preserve what’s most important, we needed to create a shared common understanding of what the “magic” of CrossFit actually is. Next, we would have to continue to communicate and bring new people into that magic effectively.
This challenge is shared by all of us: CrossFit HQ, CrossFit affiliates, coaches, gym members, and garage-gym devotees. Rising to this challenge is, in my opinion, the most important thing we can do — as a business, as a brand, and as a community. It is collective work. Work that, if we align behind it as a team, will benefit all of us as well as the world around us.
So the goal was to demystify what makes our way of doing things so unique and incomparably effective. In addition to the technology, mechanics, and science behind our methodology, I wanted to bring to light everything that has been born out of that methodology — everything that magnifies our impact and has made that impact revolutionary.
To start, I argued we have to recognize the power in CrossFit isn’t just some strange alchemy. We might describe it as magical, but in truth, it can be framed very deliberately as something like a formula. A formula that works.
The Essential Elements of CrossFit
Importantly, we don’t need to invent anything new or redefine what makes us “us.” The formula is CrossFit, and CrossFit is the formula. It’s who we are and what we do. It is the recipe for our unparalleled efficacy — from forging elite fitness to reversing and preventing chronic disease to all those harder-to-measure things as well, like the deep satisfaction, grit, and resiliency we develop; the connections we create; and the sense of purpose we imbue.
Sometimes when we share these results out loud, they strain belief. They seem like hyperbole, which is why we can play with the use of a phrase like the “magic” of CrossFit. In truth, there is a little bit of magic to it though — in the sense that the sum is greater than its parts.
But the real magic of CrossFit is in this “formula” that is supported by human physiology, by science and data, and by hundreds of thousands of individuals’ results over the last two decades.
It’s the formula for our mission, our cause, and it’s made up of the CrossFit methodology plus our ethos, all brought to life by the coach and lived and reinforced by the community:
Methodology + Ethos (Coach + Community) = CrossFit
I’ll explore each part of this formula in coming essays within this series, but for now, here’s a quick look at what each of these elements is all about.
The first part of the formula is the METHODOLOGY.
The first thing that’s absolutely critical to understand is that our methodology is the driver of our unparalleled efficacy, our results. And what do I mean by results? Not only does CrossFit make people fit, but you can make a strong argument that we make people fitter faster and more safely than any other program out there. Our results are universal, predictable, and repeatable. Our methodology works for everyone, can be scaled for anyone, and the results accrue over the long term.
The methodology is the mechanism that enables us to deliver the results people expect from CrossFit, and it provides a framework for our education that makes developing professional coaches a robust, repeatable, and scalable process.
Our methodology generates an ethos — that unique CrossFit culture — that enables strong local communities to deliver life-changing results to people every day.
It’s the foundation of the whole damn thing. Why? Because it is grounded in sound science, but the results feel like magic.
The second part of the formula is our ETHOS.
Our ethos is our culture, our values, our non-negotiables. And it is inextricably linked to our methodology.
We did not sit in a room to determine our values. We did not survey fitness fanatics at large and ask, “What do you value?” or “What’s important to you?” Our ethos did not emerge from a focus group or a marketing strategy session; it developed organically and authentically from the methodology.
Our ethos is the authentic, no-bullshit heart of what we believe and stand upon. It involves an appreciation for hard work, accountability, courage, and service in support of others. It is what makes us us.
The third part of the formula is the COACH.
The coach is the most critical ingredient. The CrossFit coach brings the methodology and ethos to life.
Our coaches are the gold standard. They are not cheerleaders or group fitness trainers. They are not characters on a stage. Instead, our coaches display true character through knowing and serving someone else with the goal of helping them achieve their goals.
The potency of the CrossFit methodology is only fully expressed in the hands of a great coach.
If we think of our formula as an equation, the coach is a force multiplier. They make the whole thing work in practice, and they amplify the impact.
The final piece is the COMMUNITY.
The community is the second force multiplier here. No other community is quite like the CrossFit community. Together, we are the collective expression of the expertise and values of our coaches.
The CrossFit methodology informed an ethos that would infuse a culture that would result in an incomparable community of legitimate fitness practitioners. The community is what allows us to magnify and spread the results of CrossFit, to help more people access the potential for themselves. This community fosters connection and centers on service to others.
These four essential elements — the methodology, the ethos, the coach, and the community — define CrossFit.
If you miss a single piece of this, you start to lose CrossFit’s efficacy, its “magic.”
On the other hand, when we follow the formula we create something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. This is how community develops, how we create a sense of personal transformation and belonging, how the magic spreads.
Knowing the formula doesn’t diminish its magic. There is magic in everything we do, from our movements to our fostering of a tight-knit community; from the excellence of our coaches to the unique mix of grit, determination, and caring we find in our friends at the gym. Our formula defines who we are and ultimately leads to the culture and community everyone recognizes as CrossFit.
In the coming essays in this series, I’ll unpack each element of the CrossFit formula. And I’ll explore the outcome of the efforts tied to each element, so together we can bring even more people into this ineffable thing we love so much — so it continues to thrive and spread for years to come.
— Nicole Carroll, GM of Education, CrossFit