Fundamentally Speaking…

You can’t spell fundamental without mental…

Disappointed, but not surprised. That is the feeling I got last week when the emails started to trickle in. That they showed up at all verifies something I have felt for a long time, though I have chosen to swallow those feelings rather than broadcast them. To have expressed them would have been to pick an argument not worth arguing, resulting in no conclusion. In politics, religion, or social subcultures I rarely criticize – not even those things I may disagree with. I believe the world works better in nonzero terms. Shut up. Coexist. Move on.

We’re all familiar with the idea of fundamentalism. In this era we often associate fundamentalism with religion, though there are other forms. At its base level, fundamentalism is the belief in, and the strict adherence to a cause or ideal. I think we can add to that cursory definition, the disapproval of any ideal counter to or not consistent with the core ideal. And by “disapproval” I mean, disrespect.

Disagreements between fundamentalists of a particular group, and those outside that group often evoke passion, raised voices, and increased friction. Fundamentalists often get defensive with regard to their core values, and ideals. Occasionally defense turns to offense, and the result can be violence, death, and even war. This week I was reminded that that the ideal of fundamentalism isn’t exclusive to religion; it even exists the community of fitness. And though I hope it does not result in war, I’m sure a few grenades will be launched my way for writing this.

Satire night live…

It was a simple action; I posted something to my Facebook page last week, and in doing so invited a new genre of fundamentalists into my life, opening the gates to fractured friendships, aggressive rhetoric, and outright hate mail lobbed my way. Here’s the back story:

The Duffle Blog is an online satirical publication similar to The Onion. The Duffle Blog focuses exclusively on the US Military, and the Department of Defense. I have regularly posted articles from the Duffle Blog to my Facebook page. These articles are usually irreverent, often crude, and always funny. In three years of posting them I have not experienced one person taking offense – not one. And then, with the posting of this Duffle Blog article last week, the subculture of CrossFit set in…

Here’s a quote from one email I received just minutes after posting the article: “I don’t get you Roy. You criticize CrossFit yet you don’t even do it. CrossFit has changed my life. Maybe saved my life. I’m disappointed in you as a trainer.”

An excerpt from another email:

“Those who can do. Those who can’t teach. You’re jealously is obvious. You wish you could.”

Those are just samples of how some people responded to my CrossFit bashing. Okay, this is a good place to interject this thought; I DID NO CROSSFIT BASHING! I simply posted a satirical article poking fun at the US military – not CrossFit. And that underscores my point; that the very nature of CrossFit has become a fundamentalist cause, to the point where people involved with it feel they are above satire or criticism, and seem to be too often on the defensive – or offensive.


 You can’t spell warrior without war…

In recent years I have seen many diehard CrossFit warriors take their subculture too seriously, in a fundamentalist kind of way. In doing so, they often disrespect, and under appreciate the fitness values of nonparticipants. Anyone who exists in the immediate periphery of CrossFit has likely seen evidence of this in social media.

That’s where CrossFit ultimately breaks down in my opinion; not in the ABCs of the workouts so much, but in its own projection of itself. There seems to be an almost universal smugness, and lack of social decorum throughout the subculture. Often it seems practitioners talk about CrossFit as if it is the end-all for all things fitness, and that no fitness genre, fitness ideal, or practitioner outside of CrossFit are valid, or have anything to offer – unless of course they involve the Spartan Race or Paleo eating.

What resonates for me deepest though, is that those who often tout it the most, are relatively new to the subculture, and to the ideal of exercise itself. These are people in the group who could not explain the cross bridging principle of muscular action any more than they could explain protein synthesis, or even tell me what the eccentric phase of an exercise is. Sadly, there are many newbie CrossFit coaches who could not explain those things.

I see a haunting similarity between the religious fundamentalism of the Abrahamic traditions, and the exercise fundamentalism of the CrossFit subculture in the way it is both excessively proselytized, and defended. Or more succinctly, as religious fundamentalists each believe their tradition has the exclusive rights to being right, it now seems CrossFit thinks it resides highest in the pantheon above all things fitness.

 I’ll state clearly that I see value in all forms exercise being practiced safely, and mindfully. I also see utility in the communities like-minded exercise enthusiasts create. I have no doubt that thousands of CrossFit practitioners benefit from, appreciate, and respect their endeavor. As a collective though, it seems they have some growing up to do. Be well… rc


Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this trippy little nugget from Bad Liquor Pond.  Enjoy!

9 responses

  1. I love this post, not because it is about crossfit BUT because it is about talking once again about people that think their way is the only way. I have never done Crossfit. I might have tried it when I was younger but I did not know about it. Now, my goal is to age safely & without injury & some of the crossfit scares me in that regard. I know people love it but I agree with you Roy, too many get all defensive about it. As I always say, to each their own & a high % of this group needs to learn that…. I think it is great they love & do it but don’t bash others for not liking it or not doing it or not eating their way…

  2. For many years I thought attaining the “Prime Gilbert Position” was the only method to enlightenment but I’ve now realized the error of my ways…. 🙂

    Love your column – you’ll get a kick out of this but I forwarded “What Suffering Does” by David Brooks of the NYT to Mo last week in a plain text format with no credit. She replied that she enjoyed it and thought it was one of your best columns.

    As Jeff would say, “Be well my friend!”

    • Long live The PGP; so long as I never assume it again. I’ve got Brooks bookmarked for tonight, so I will check it out. People get he and I confused all the time. Same problem with Kristof…

  3. Very well written! I am skeptical of fundamentalism in all its forms, simply because I believe in relativism, grey areas and flexibility. To be too rigid about anything, denotes a form of insecurity, in my humble opinion.

  4. I did amateur crossfit (meaning a core group of us busted our backsides for a year or more at work) and it was great. I have done very little physical activity this past year other than chasing my kids around and it’s been great. My point is…life can be great whether or not you maintain a certain body fat percentage. If exercise is what gives you your HIGH, I totally get it. I just won’t ever bash one person’s passion over another. Some of the most fit people in the world are gods amongst their social circles, yet 80% of the world could pass them on the street and have no idea who they are. Be well! 🙂

    • Thanks, Heidi. As far as gods go, I would rather be a god of being a mindful dad, than one of the squat rack. I learned that one too late, I’ve probably got 30 years of fathering left. Plenty of time.

      Chasing kids is the most noble of exercise genres. Especially if there are ice cream stops 😉

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