The sport of CrossFit has quickly become one of the fastest growing activities in the world. It is experiencing a lot of coverage as well as a cultural presence that hasn't been seen by any other sport.

However, despite this activity’s relatively rapid emergence over the last decade, this sport’s origin is surprisingly simple.  The sport was created by a gymnast named Greg Glassman in the late 1990’s.

The Evolution of Crossfit
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Glassman made his discovery during experimentation with different training methods when he started lifting weights to improve his strength for gymnastics.

He did this while also cycling with his friends to keep fit and for personal enjoyment. This mixture of activity bred an interest in Glassman for variety and a comprehensive means of getting fit. He felt that any one sport was insufficient for developing every element of fitness to its maximum potential.

Greg took his experimentation further by practicing circuits and High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, in his garage gym. Considering this was also before HIIT training became popular, it showed Glassman’s drive to find a new way to train.

One day, in his garage, he performed a circuit that included thrusters and pull-ups for 21, then 15 and then 9 repetitions. Glassman found this so intense it caused him to throw up.

This intensity also created a deep love of these types of workouts for a young Glassman that formed a basis for his future work as a trainer and pioneer of CrossFit. What followed was a series of events that led to the formation of the world-renowned sport that many know today.

The Evolution of CrossFit: From a Garage to ESPN

A personal touch

Glassman set up a gym in Santa Cruz, California. He began personal training and worked with a variety of clients on a one-to-one basis. It was here that began using his circuit-style workouts to improve their strength and fitness.

As he became more popular, he began to include multiple clients into a single session. This way he could train more clients and at a cheaper rate per person.

This led to an increased need for a method of training that could be taken on by lots of different people and could easily be made more or less difficult.

This caused the eventual conception of scaling workouts to keep the movements the same, but the intensity different. This "scaling" was dependent on ability. These movements included weight training for strength, running for endurance and power movements like plyometrics for speed.

Meanwhile, a different workout was given each day to offer a means of progressing a program. It also provided variety and began the “Workout Of the Day” practice. These practices then laid out the basic structure of what would become a CrossFit program.


Rising through the ranks

Glassman was gaining popularity as a personal trainer. But, a new clientele he gained would help bring this popularity to a new level. In 1995, Glassman was hired to train the Santa Cruz Police Department.

He began utilizing his training methods to train the police officers to perform better in their jobs. The news of these training methods then began to spread throughout the police community and in California.

This gave Glassman the notoriety, and the business, to turn his methods into something bigger than a simple gym routine. Thus began the formal creation of CrossFit as a global sport.

The Evolution of Crossfit

The creation and controversy of CrossFit

In the year 2000, Glassman and his former wife Lauren Jenai established CrossFit as a company. The gym in Santa Cruz was established as the first CrossFit gym and was set up  as an affiliate-based organization.

This means that a gym who wants to carry the CrossFit logo needs to pay an affiliate fee. Coaches are also required to undergo a basic training course to be certified as a CrossFit trainer.

These gyms are allowed a large degree of freedom. This is because they are not required to conform to a set design or even a rigid practice. This greater freedom, compared to a franchised gym, allows for uniqueness in each gym.

But this form of affiliation also means that there is a reduced level of support and supervision from the parent company.

CrossFit has also drawn controversy due to its short training course for coaches. It is also reprimanded for the advanced exercises it includes in its routines.

These include Olympic lifts and plyometrics, which have a high risk of injury. But, this risk is brought about only when the exercise is performed incorrectly. Many of these injuries have usually come about through poor coaching rather than the methods themselves.

More criticism leveled at CrossFit is overtraining and issues like rhabdomyolysis. This is where excessive muscle breakdown of the muscles causes a chemical called creatinine to build up in the kidneys. This can cause kidney damage and may require a hospital visit.

Once again, though, this issue is often a problem with poor coaching and improper programming. Despite these criticisms, CrossFit has continued to grow. In 2005, 13 affiliate gyms were established.

As of 2014, this has risen to over 7000 worldwide. This has led many to ask how CrossFit evolved from a small business into a globe-spanning business.

The use of social media and the CrossFit Open

One of the biggest differences of CrossFit is its use of social media. This was done by online registration, workouts and scoring systems during early competitions like the Open.

The CrossFit open is a relatively new event. In 2007 the first annual CrossFit games took place for a prize of $500. Here, athletes were selected through registration and simple elimination in the tournament. This was a similar process to most sports.

But, as the sport got bigger, there was a need to filter the participants who were brought to compete at the games.

This led to the creation of the Open and Regional contests. In the Open, workouts are released once per week for five weeks. These workouts must be completed and recorded. The scores attained are then submitted online.

The Open is open to everyone and scores are ranked worldwide, with the best progressing to the regionals.

These competitions have been introduced and heavily promoted on social media sites. These include workout videos on Instagram, competitions live on Facebook, and even on Snapchat.

This new platform for promotion has created an unparalleled level of awareness. It also creates a larger interactive community, which encourages greater involvement and creates a great environment for athletes.

With this novel approach to communicating with athletes and scaling competitions, it should come as no surprise that CrossFit has risen to the popular sport it is today.

The rise to fame (and fortune)

As mentioned above, the first CrossFit Games took place in 2007 for a prize of $500 for the winners. This was supplied by the event creators. In 2016, the Games had a total prize fund of 2.2 million dollars, It was also sponsored by Reebok and was televised on ESPN.


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This immense rise in popularity has come from its open participation policy and high tech means of promoting its sport.

CrossFit was a fringe activity, and athletes were relatively obscure only a few years ago. But it is now a global sport and athletes have become icons. They have their own sponsors and a massive social media presence.

The sport also looks set to continue growing. It has a higher presence on social media and increasing viewership of the games. It also has a growing number of affiliate gyms joining up everyday.

This means that CrossFit could easily become a premier sport within the next decade. Despite the critics, it seems CrossFit is here to stay.

The Future of CrossFit: Where Does it go From Here?

The continuing growth of CrossFit leads to the question of exactly how this sport will develop over time. One area where the sport is beginning to emerge is in physical education curriculums in schools. Teachers are getting trained in the sport and bringing it to class to help fight obesity.

Along with this, the greater representation of outside nations will continue. At the moment, there are only five “regionals” to represent each continent. With a growing popularity in these continents, these regions are set to be diversified further.

So, for international athletes with a competitive streak, the depth of the open in your region may increase over the next few years.

Profiles and documentaries are also sure to increase. YouTube mini-documentaries and highlights are the extent of the current coverage of athletes.

But, these could be set to move to TV channels like ESPN over time. This will help further boost the profile of these competitors and bring in more young athletes.

With so many avenues for this sport to grow, it has the potential to attract further interest. Combining this with a passionate fanbase and increasing exposure makes for an ideal environment for CrossFit to grow in.

Anne Ramos
Anne Ramos


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