How Extreme Exercise Regime CrossFit Mirrors American Militarism
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to see and hear with the utmost keenness; amid the many changes of water and also of food, of summer heat and winter cold, which they will have to endure when on a campaign, they must not be liable to break down in health.
Training for warrior athletes should prepare them to confront a range of challenges. It should hone them for the unexpected and the unknown. “Routine,” writes Glassman, “is the enemy,” not least of all because you can’t predict how and when the enemy will come at you. Seen in this light, CrossFitters look more like amateur “wakeful dogs” or would-be commandos than athletes: men and women who train the way you might if you were at Quantico, preparing for combat in the field.
CrossFit’s military ethos leads me back to my opening question. What does a new sport tell us about America’s culture of sports? It’s not lost on me that the rise of CrossFit coincides with the War on Terror, and that neither of them have a foreseeable end. Almost twelve years of war can’t help but transform us as a people, not only in obvious ways, such as whom we elect and how we travel, but also in ways that might surprise us. In the rise, for example, of gated communities, gun sales (2012 was a record year), and those “survivor” narratives that litter reality TV shows, disaster films, cancer testimonies, and sermons about the end of days. Who among us, we obsessively ask, will survive? I see something similar in the excessive self-disclosure we do on Facebook, Twitter, and other 2.0 sites, which often look as though we’re more than willing to turn over the privacy we’ve been losing since the Homeland Security Act first passed. And now I hear myself sounding like Orwell or Chomsky, spotting dystopia in every tweet, and I don’t like that. Still, I don’t think it’s overblown to claim that, as the citizens of a country involved in an ongoing global war, we’ve changed—are changing—because of it, perhaps in ways as seemingly tangential as how and why we workout.
Coincidence, I’m aware, is not causation. The rise of one thing alongside another might be a matter of chance. I’m reminded of this fact whenever I watch the final minutes of the “Gym Rats” class at our box, in which a gaggle of kids shriek and laugh as they scramble over big green mats, dangle from ropes, and draw squiggles, hearts, and turtles on the floor in pastel chalk. There are Robert’s and Jill’s daughters, trying to do pull-ups with their beany arms and grinning like goofs when they succeed. At that moment, I think I’m about as far from global conflict as you can get, that I’m part of a tight-knit community where people feel welcomed, supported, and challenged. And then I see the flag, hanging on the gym wall, and I realize that the observations I’ve been making don’t clash, that a strong sense of community and a martial ethos go hand in hand, and that one thing the emergence of CrossFit may very well show us is America’s ongoing transformation from a culture of sports to a culture of war.
[i] Most of these quotations are taken from the promotion materials that CrossFit, Inc.has released. The company regularly puts out an impressive number of videos; it also has a podcast and an online magazine called the CrossFit Journal, which offers everything from nutrition and training tips to inspirational narratives and political profiles. As CrossFit’s primal scene, “Fran” has inspired its own media flourish. See, forexample, “The Story of Fran by Greg Glassman”
CrossFit’s “Ode to Fran,” as well as the dozens of other videos of people doing “Fran” on YouTube.
[ii] In 2002 Glassman had only a fledgling Wikipedia to use as a resource. Accessing it today, you can readily find fitness defined as “a general concept defined in many ways by differing scientists.”