The Ugly Side of CrossFit

The following is an excerpt from Train For Something Greater: An Athlete’s Guide to Spiritual Fitness available at


The Ugly Side of CrossFit

bootcampsOne of the knocks against CrossFit is that many CrossFitters come across as arrogant to outsiders. Where are they getting this impression? I have no idea.

Wanna buy a T-shirt? Here are a few of the more popular options:

“CrossFit: Our Warm-up is Your Workout”

“The Girls at My Gym Can Beat Up the Guys at Yours”

“Your Gym Sucks”

These slogans do a great job articulating the judgmental attitude many CrossFitters display toward others who aren’t working out as hard or eating as clean as they are. In addition to wearing the shirts, they make snide comments to their friends about how they’re not really serious about fitness because they’ve yet to embrace the glory of CrossFit. Such arrogant exclusivity is one of the few negative side-effects of the CrossFit Kool-Aid. This is both tragic and ironic.

It’s tragic because arrogance is rarely attractive. Judging and insulting others who don’t pursue fitness the same way we do is not the best way to invite others to join our community.

“Hey you carb-sucking fatso, get your hand off the Twinkies and your butt off the elliptical and let us teach you the right way to workout.”

“Okay. Sounds fun. Thanks for caring enough to insult me.”

Sometimes I wonder how fast CrossFit would be growing if so many CrossFitters weren’t such jerks about how CrossFit is the only way to pursue elite fitness.

CrossFit arrogance is ironic in that the average jerky CrossFitter didn’t have a clue it even existed three years ago and can take zero credit for developing it into the world’s greatest fitness program.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were all on the treadmill of conventional fitness, doing long sessions of cardio while watching TV or moving through a circuit of weight machines while our iPods blasted a motivational playlist. We were congratulating ourselves for eating a high carb snack because it was low in fat or because we had taken a stand and started buying products made with real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

I’m not describing CrossFit arrogance as an innocent bystander. I’m a full-fledged participant. The first year I did CrossFit I maintained my membership at my globo gym because it was cheap and I enjoyed dropping in on an occasional yoga class. The deeper I got into CrossFit and the more I learned about proper standards of movement, the harder it was to walk through the free weight area on the way to the yoga room. I had to avert my eyes from the dude standing in the squat rack or else I’d lose control and scream, “You have no right to grunt like that if you’re only going to go halfway down!”

When I see someone loading up a plate with pasta and chasing it down with a side of garlic bread I want to go over and grab him by the love handles and tell him the sluggish feeling coming his way in thirty minutes is his body’s way of saying, “You’re killing me with this crap!”

Never mind that five years ago you would have found me doing the same things, and much worse.

How quickly we forget that CrossFit comes with a built-in humiliator. It toys with our confidence while exposing our weaknesses. Every CrossFitter, no matter how accomplished, has one or two domains or movements that don’t quite measure up to the rest. Just because you went into beast mode in yesterday’s workout doesn’t mean you won’t be sitting in a corner with your head in your hands wondering why you even bothered to show up at the gym later today.

How can a program with a knack for reminding us just how far away we are from elite fitness breed so much arrogance and exclusivity in athletes who still can’t overhead squat their bodyweight or do twenty-one unbroken handstand push-ups or do a strict muscle-up or ________ (insert your goat here)?

What gives me (or you) the right to display even a hint of arrogance to those outside of CrossFit community?

I didn’t formulate the Zone-Paleo diet.[1] I didn’t invent CrossFit. If it weren’t for multiple invitations from a persistent (and humble) friend, I wouldn’t have tried it. I was blessed to have a good gym with a great trainer nearby. I didn’t deserve the opportunity to explore a new way of chasing fitness. I certainly haven’t earned the right to be a jerk to those who have yet to try CrossFit or have decided it’s not the best program for them.

My CrossFit experience has been a gift. Something for which I’m profoundly grateful. It’s only when I lose touch with this deep sense of gratitude that my CrossFit arrogance goes on a rampage.

The Ugly Side of Christianity

I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of arrogance in myself and other CrossFitters because I recognize a similar arrogance in the Christian community. One of the primary stereotypes non-Christians point to when explaining why contemporary Christianity lacks credibility in their eyes is the arrogant, judgmental attitudes of the Christians they know personally and see on TV.

I know these stereotypes aren’t just caricatures from people with an anti-Christian agenda, because I’ve done my fair share of contributing to their perceptions. I’ve worked with churches where the majority of members believe that anyone who isn’t a part of their community or doesn’t believe exactly what they believe or worship exactly as they worship is lost and going to hell. Not only do some Christians cherish these beliefs, but they say them out loud to others while in line at the grocery store or when in front of a camera.

“Want to come to church with me? You should. Because if you don’t, you’re going to hell.”

“Okay. Sounds like fun. Thanks for caring enough to ask.”

What gives followers of Jesus the right to harbor in their hearts, much less display for others to see and hear, this kind of judgmental arrogance?


The Apostle Paul cuts the legs out from under all forms of Christian arrogance when he writes:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world. . . All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. . .For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.[2]

We didn’t invent the Gospel. We didn’t behave our way into salvation. We didn’t do a single thing to earn our status as children of God. It was a gift from the Father. Pure grace.

It’s when we lose touch with the gravity of grace and the immensity of God’s love for us that Christian arrogance rears its ugly head.

Stay Grateful CrossFitting Christ-Followers

A couple of years ago I suffered a painful back injury while doing yoga in an effort to reduce nagging lower back pain.[3] The injury occurred just a few weeks before Sectionals of the CrossFit Games. I had no delusions of grandeur. I’m not a contender in any CrossFit competition I enter, but I enjoy the energy of participating in competitive events.

When I hurt my back I was bummed. Not only was I going to miss competing, but I was also going to forfeit my entry fee. The only thing I hate more than missing a workout is wasting money. So I did everything imaginable to relieve my back pain so I could compete.

The week of the competition I found an online video demonstrating something called a “reverse-hyper.” The guy in the video said it would do wonders for certain lower back injuries. I gave it a try and—miracle of miracles!—within two days my back was pain-free. I was able to compete. My performance that weekend was about what you’d expect from a guy in his late thirties with a bad back, but it didn’t matter. I got my money’s worth without doing any further damage to myself.

There was a camera crew at the competition capturing highlights on film. After my third WOD, one of the guys with a camera asked me how I felt about the workout I had just completed. When he asked, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Within a span of just a few days I went from having no chance of competing to being able to complete a difficult WOD that not everyone in my heat finished. All I could say to the camera was, “I’m just glad to be here. This was a gift. Pure grace.”

On one hand, this is the kind of response you get when you ask a preacher who is too tired to edit himself to reflect on a CrossFit workout. I don’t usually use theological language to describe a WOD. On the other hand, I said exactly what I felt in my heart. I was humbled by the opportunity to compete, I was grateful for the power of reverse-hypers to heal my back, and I believe all good gifts come from God.

There wasn’t a hint of CrossFit arrogance in my heart that day, because gratitude and arrogance cannot co-exist with each other. It’s impossible to look down on and judge others when you’re aware of, and overwhelmed by, just how much of God’s grace your life requires.

If more CrossFitters experienced the grace of God through CrossFit, and took the time to appreciate what a gift it is to be able to move fast, lift heavy, and eat clean, while also remembering what life was like before CrossFit, it would change what we put on our T-shirts. It would also reverse the growing perception among outsiders that CrossFit creates great athletes and big jerks.

If more Christians experienced the grace of God through Christ (crazy thought I know), and spent more time reflecting on what a gift it is to be forgiven of our sins, filled with the Holy Spirit, and part of the family of God–in spite of our weaknesses, shortcomings, and sinful habits–it would change the way we treat our non-Christian neighbors. Perhaps this would change their attitude toward us and make them a bit more willing to listen when we put in a good word for Jesus.

Do you struggle with arrogance, either as a CrossFitter or a Christian?

What impact would gratitude have on your arrogance?

What are some ways you can begin to cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving?

[1] Who am I kidding? I’m lucky if I can stick to it 80% of the time.
[2] Ephesians 2:8-10
[3] The only thing worse than chronic injuries are ironic injuries.

You can read more in Train For Something Greater: An Athlete’s Guide to Spiritual Fitness available at



  1. I was unfamiliar with CrossFitter until now, but I agree that there’s a strong analogy to Christianity today.

  2. It’s funny that you say that about Cross fitters because I experienced that arrogance on their shirts during a recent tough mudder. And it was pure satisfaction (even though I knew shouldn’t feel this way) to see many of them walking after only half the race.

  3. As a pastor and as someone addicted to physical movement, I have been on both sides of the continuum. I have been smugly arrogant because of my involvement w/ CrossFit. But I have known the joy of being thoroughly exhausted from following the coaching & encouragement from good CrossFit coaches. Likewise, I have seen the good, bad & ugly sides of Christianity for the last 42 years. Great metaphor. If Christianity (MORE Life in Christ) weren’t deeply & objectively true, I would have walked away decades ago. But I’m learning to forgive myself, forgive others and realize that there is a real non-creepy, non-religious Jesus who is the source of all of my life.
    Thx for posting.

    • Thanks Buz. I love your description of a “non-creepy, non-religious Jesus.”


      • Wade, I so appreciated your post. I don’t know where you live but I’m sure that — if it were possible — I would enjoy your company over a cup of coffee.

        But isn’t it true? The image of Jesus given to us by the Christian Culture is full of images of art from some early century showing Jesus as emaciated, sad, sporting a halo of light; or, truer for me, a picture from my 3rd grade Sunday school class of Jesus, just after washing his hair w/ Head ‘n Shoulders and looking like he was posing for the Nazarene version of Land’s End.

        Whatever the Man, Christ Jesus, actually looks like, it is, at least, strong, playful, wild, dangerous, free and full of joy.
        Strength & Honor

  4. Al Garrett says:

    I’ve decided to do fitness elements at crossfit instead of fitness performance. My wife is tougher than me as she continues to do fitness performance. I’m still learning the fundamentals.

So, what are you thinking?