Is CrossFit Still Popular?
While CrossFit has never been my cup of tea, the extremely popular workout style's meteoric rise over the last couple of decades has definitely hit some speed bumps due to controversy, lockdowns, and is now perhaps reaching a natural plateau in its popularity.
CrossFit, as a fitness system, was invented by Greg Glassman in 2000 as a way to combine strength and cardiovascular training. The first gym was located in Santa Cruz, California. By 2005 there were 13 gyms, with that number exploding to over 14,000 CrossFit-affiliated locations as of January 2021. But CrossFit isn't just a series of gyms based on a specific method of training. It has grown far beyond that. Since its inception over twenty years ago, CrossFit has become its own sport, hosting numerous pro and amateur competitions each year. The scheduling and organization of these events are very reminiscent of the professional and amateur bodybuilding circuit. The first CrossFit Games took place in 2007. Since then the event has become a juggernaut, garnering national prime time television deals as well as a documentary series covering the weekend's events.
The incredibly rapid growth of CrossFit made the brand a household name. People who had never stepped foot into a gym were signing up for the new fitness craze in record numbers. But it's more than just a workout program to some. So passionate are the practitioners of CrossFit, some have come to label its practices and lifestyle as "cult-like".
CrossFit's skyrocketing popularity has not been without controversy. In 2019, CrossFit left their followers, the fitness community, and the social media world stunned when they inexplicably deactivated their CrossFit and CrossFit Games Facebook and Instagram accounts. Before deactivation, the CrossFit Instagram accounts had amassed over 2.4 million followers. The sudden move was baffling to everyone- especially their athletes and affiliated gyms, which were left in the dark as to what was going on within the CrossFit organization. Many speculated that the bubble had burst and that the rapid growth had become too much and the company was going under. Luckily, that was not the case. Days after deactivation, then CEO and founder Greg Glassman opened up and let everyone know CrossFit was not going anywhere. However, this move left a lasting impact on the company's image and outreach. No longer viewed as a rock-hard pillar, uncertainty still seemed to loom and the follower count did not bounce back nearly as strong. As of this writing the CrossFit Instagram account has a mere 453,000 followers- just nineteen percent of their pre-shutdown following.
CrossFit once again saw its image take a hit when Glassman, who was still CEO at the time, made controversial statements regarding the social unrest following the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement. These statements led to major sponsors, including Reebok, pulling their funding and Glassman stepping down from his position at the head of the CrossFit table after twenty years. In the days after, longtime CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro was appointed to the position of CEO, leading to an optimistic feeling within the community that the brand was moving in the right direction.
This is where we currently stand on CrossFit right now. With events at a minimum, outside of the CrossFit Games in 2020, as well as gyms being forced to close during mandated lockdowns, not a lot of progress has been made in repairing CrossFit's brand image. More importantly is that since the regime change they have stayed out of the controversial spotlight.
So is CrossFit still popular? Yes, CrossFit is still very popular with approximately 13,000 affiliated gyms remaining worldwide. Only time will tell if the CrossFit movement can regain the image, status and funding it held prior to 2020.