Community We See Right Here in CFF

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21-15-9 Rep Rounds For Time:

  • Bodyweight Back Squats
  • Pullups

Back Squat Geometry, Mark Rippetoe [wmv][mov]
Introduction to the Low Bar Back Squat, Mark Rippetoe [wmv][mov]

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Why CrossFit Will Save America

by Brandon Busteed

A decade ago, Robert Putnam’s groundbreaking book “Bowling Alone” presented Americans with a serious challenge to our sense of community and connectedness, arguing with vast data that we have suffered a precipitous decline in the time we spend engaged with family, friends, neighbors and our democracy.  He dubbed this fabric of connections “social capital” and suggested that our very society would eventually crumble if we didn’t work to reverse the trend.

Contributing factors to this decline in social capital over recent years include long work commutes, television, computers, and changes in the family structure.  In addition to this recent loss of social capital, Putnam also noted that we suffered a similar decline about 100 years ago as well – noting contributing factors such as rapid industrialization and urbanization. Though different forms of “industrialization” and “urbanization” from 100 years ago, one could essentially argue that our most recent decline in social capital is driven by the same trends – major shifts in technology and, therefore, how we live.  Each of these changes, albeit with many new advantages, have brought unintended consequences that unravel the fabric of our connectedness to one another and to institutions, whether they be churches or bowling leagues.  (For example, Putnam notes that Americans are still bowling at high rates but not as part of leagues.  In other words, they are bowling alone…not together!)

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In my experience as an avid CrossFitter and follower of The Paleo Diet, I see a fascinating similarity among the trends driving our loss of social capital and those that have caused us to lose our healthy ways of eating and exercising. We all know too well the rapid rises in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease over the past several decades. When I first read “Bowling Alone,” it was through the lens of public policy – long before I came to CrossFit and The Paleo Diet.  In reading more about “paleo” eating and the guiding principles behind it, I was stunned by the similarities between “how we have forgotten how to eat” and “how we have forgotten how to be social, connected…human beings.”

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I've seen testimonial after testimonial about the fitness benefits of CrossFit and the accompanying benefits of eating paleo.  Most of these are posts about weight loss, drops in cholesterol and blood pressure, and incredible gains in fitness standards.  Sprinkled throughout these testimonials, however, are comments about the incredible “community” of CrossFit too.  We don’t necessarily measure the community benefits as clearly as we do our WOD performances, but if we did I argue we might reveal – what would be considered by far – the most powerful aspect of CrossFit.

It’s hard to deny the superior individual fitness results that we all achieve through CrossFit, but the bigger-picture game-changer may be CrossFit’s effect on social capital. In fact, I’m not sure I know of an institution or organization anywhere in America that has stronger social capital than does CrossFit.  We all experience it every day – whether we are physically in the box, travelling, WODing from home, or just browsing a post.  We relate, we engage, we cheer, we encourage, we care, we support.  I travel frequently for work and visit boxes in each city – and unfailingly am welcomed by each and every box and their members with the friendliest hospitality and

All of my newest and closest friends are CrossFitters.  In addition, I now do business exclusively with businesses owned by other CrossFitters (house cleaning, car detailing, fence installation, massage therapist, chiropractor, restaurants, shoes…all vendors of choice for me simply because they are part of the CrossFit community).  I lost power in my home this week and cannot count how many members of my CrossFit New England community offered to house my family, give us bottled water, firewood, a place to shower, in addition to genuine empathy.

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The attributes of CrossFit and paleo are at once revolutionary and archaic, sophisticated and simple.  There’s nothing high-tech about it, yet it forces us to change the way we’ve always thought about nutrition and fitness.  Ironically, the revolution has nothing to do with technological and industrial breakthroughs and everything to do with going back to the basics…way back to the Stone Age basics in fact.  CrossFit exercise is revolutionary in its design but it requires no cutting-edge equipment…just simple “old-school,” Rocky-Balboa-style exercise with body-weight movements, kettle bells, ropes, boxes, bars, etc.

And the real strength of CrossFit lies in the “group nature” of it.  I do a WOD on my own and it’s a great workout.  I do one at CrossFit New England (insert Flagstaff) and it’s a whole different ball game. People cheer each other on with the same ferocious intensity that they compete against each other.  Everyone is welcome and the only thing asked in return is for you to give 100% every day.  In no small way, the expectations we set for each other and the standards we expect of one another in CrossFit are what drive the tight bonds in this community.  Give it your all and you’re loved indefinitely and indiscriminately.  Where else can you find that these days?

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Just like the trend of more Americans bowling alone, I’m sure there has been a similar increase in Americans exercising alone.  That’s what takes place every day at the Globo Gym – do your thing on your own and get out.  No meaningful conversation – perhaps a “hey dude, can you spot me” here or there.  No real friendships.  No real commitment.  I did that for a while and
felt lost.  I’m convinced that no matter how many CrossFit WODs I would do at a Globo Gym by myself I would never be as fit as I am doing the same WODs at CrossFit New England.  The “x-factor” is social capital.  One place has it; the other does not.

As the CrossFit community grows exponentially in the years to come, it will be interesting to see whether it might gather enough momentum to help us reach a critical tipping point in the repair of social capital in America.  Can its attributes spill over into the broader fabric of American culture – whether you are a CrossFitter or not?  Work ethic, getting back to basics, caring about one another while we push each other to higher standards….  We could fix a lot of problems in America today if this takes off. It certainly has this potential. We all know it and we all work to share it with others every day.  Keep up the great work!  We’re on the verge of much more than elite fitness.  We are America’s social capital!

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