A few days ago, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” published several articles and videos that took aim at CrossFit, painting our program as dangerous. They extensively covered the injuries of two men, Kevin Ogar and Brad Hawley.
While there were many factual errors and inaccuracies within both the written article and the video produced for OTL, one stood out – ESPN falsely reported that Hawley and Ogar were both injured while doing “CrossFit.”
So what is CrossFit and what isn’t? Most people simply haven’t had to reflect on this question. Why would they? Others are misinformed by the economically motivated, who ignore the CrossFit trademark and insist the term is a generic training methodology, like circuit training. Unfortunately, this is also false, and CrossFit has won a number of major legal battles over that very question.
So what is CrossFit? CrossFit.com has this to say:
…CrossFit itself is defined as that which optimizes fitness (constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity).
This methodology (CVFMHI) was defined by CrossFit’s founder and CEO Greg Glassman, and is now nearly ubiquitous in the fitness world. This is why it is so easy to generically refer to everything that looks like CrossFit as CrossFit – because many in the fitness industry (even our competitors) are now using methods first developed by CrossFit. Burpees, thrusters, and snatches mixed together and measured against the clock? Must be CrossFit right?
CrossFit doesn’t own the application of CVFMHI. We also don’t own the Olympic lifts or burpees, and we don’t own classic combinations of these movements that first appeared on CrossFit.com. If we did, everyone in the world combining functional movements into intense exercise would need to send us a royalty check, a concept that’s obviously absurd.
This is where we have to introduce CrossFit as a brand. CrossFit is a federally registered trademark, owned by CrossFit Inc. By virtue of owning this trademark, CrossFit has the right to determine what activities and entities it will and will not extend that mark to. This isn’t an arbitrary distinction either, but one based in our philosophical outlook and responsibilities as a business. In other words, All CrossFit is CVFMHI, but not all CVFMHI is CrossFit.
What constitutes “CrossFit” is therefore limited to CVFMHI performed by a party that CrossFit Inc. legally recognizes. This means one of three scenarios:
1. Someone performing training on his or her own, using methods or knowledge he or she found on CrossFit.com or other CrossFit publications.
2. Someone performing training on his or her own, using methods or knowledge gained from our CrossFit Trainer education and certification programs.
3. A licensed CrossFit affiliate, employing CrossFit L1 Trainers who use CVFMHI to train members.
That’s it. As the owners of the CrossFit brand, we enjoy the privilege of being able to determine what is and isn’t recognized as CrossFit, and restricting CrossFit to activity of these three categories is our greatest form of quality control.
1. In the first category, we can control what we program and publish on CrossFit.com, and we can provide resources and guidelines for inexperienced athletes to begin training.
2. In the second category, we can control the content and testing processes that accompany our credentials, ensuring a standard of competence and understanding of our program among participants.
3. In the third category, all CrossFit affiliates are CrossFit L1 trainers, but we can also screen affiliates through a separate application process.
So is it CrossFit when you see a workout on CrossFit.com composed of burpees and deadlifts and knock it out in your garage? Yes. CrossFit Inc. recognizes this as CrossFit, and encourages this activity by implicitly extending the brand name to accompany it.
Is it CrossFit when you start a group fitness class at your local globo-gym and charge friends to allow you to coach them through the same pattern of burpees and deadlifts? No.
And this is where we lose people. If you operate on the “generic” definition of CrossFit described above, this will make no sense. But the term CrossFit doesn’t describe merely a way to train. This means that even if you continue to use the same workout of burpees and deadlifts in both examples, the latter is not CrossFit. Why? Because it wasn’t the workout or the methodology that made it CrossFit in the previous example.
Remember not all CVFMHI is CrossFit because CrossFit doesn’t own particular movements or repetition schemes. You doing burpees and deadlifts from the mainsite in your garage was CrossFit because the trademark was extended to you by CrossFit Inc. itself, which does so in recognition of the exchange that occurs when you visit CrossFit.com and make an attempt to try the “workout of the day” on your own.
CrossFit does not extend brand recognition to you when you start exchanging money for “CrossFit” services at your local globo gym. Why? Because you aren’t a licensed affiliate who has met the requirements of becoming a CrossFit L1 Trainer or successfully passing the affiliate application process. There is that pesky quality control again.
Now before you go off on a tangent in the comments on how, in your opinion, the CrossFit L1 Trainer course isn’t good enough, remember the point of this post. This is to show exactly why some expressions of CVFMHI are CrossFit and some are not. Just because the trainer you work with is calling what he or she teaches “CrossFit” doesn’t mean it is. Just because you wish the CrossFit brand was generic so that you could profit from the term doesn’t mean it is. Who gets to decide what the term CrossFit means? CrossFit Inc. does.
So what about fitness competitions calling themselves “CrossFit” competitions? Some, like the OC Throwdown, are owned and operated by individuals and companies that are not affiliates. In this case, as explained above, what they are doing is clearly not CrossFit.
Some confusion arises on this point from those who fail to recognize that CrossFit is not a sport. Just like CrossFit doesn’t own movements and rep-schemes, we don’t own the concept of competing to see who has the most work capacity. Referring generically to any form of competitive fitness as “CrossFit” is therefore a mistake.
CrossFit is the organizer of the world’s premier fitness competition, the CrossFit Games. As such, the CrossFit Games, and events like the Regionals, the Open, etc. are the only “CrossFit” competitions that exist. This is comparable to the NFL, an entity that organizes large football games, but clearly doesn’t own the sport of football.
But what happens when one of these fitness competitions is being run by a licensed CrossFit affiliate? Does that make it a “CrossFit” competition? No. Because CrossFit is a brand, we retain the right to license the use of the term not just to who we choose, but how we choose. Affiliates are licensed to teach CrossFit in a gym environment, not to host local “CrossFit” competitions.
Just because we don’t recognize affiliate competitions as a licensed use of the term CrossFit doesn’t mean we are opposed to them. CrossFit affiliates can do something other gyms can’t do – brand local competitions using their unique affiliate name (for example: “CrossFit Russell Annual Throwdown”). These types of local competitions can be great for affiliate communities, but the job of organizing, hosting, and executing a fitness competition surpasses the scope of everything taught and tested for in the L1 Trainer course, and everything the affiliate model was designed to allow for. Extending the CrossFit trademark to these events in a way that made them representative of CrossFit as a whole simply wouldn’t make sense. Similarly, we could offer Yoga classes at my hypothetical affiliate, but I can’t start selling something called “CrossFit Yoga.”
These restrictions are the logical result of wanting to offer CrossFit freely to the masses, yet wanting to control and screen for who we allow to become CrossFit trainers and represent our brand.
These two examples of injury (Hawley and Ogar) aren’t enough to condemn CrossFit imitators as reckless or risky any more than they would condemn CrossFit if they had happened in licensed affiliates. Injuries can and do occur with any type of physical training, including within licensed CrossFit affiliates. The confusion of what constitutes an injury from CrossFit and what doesn’t, however, is an inexcusable error for an investigative reporter.