CrossFit Does Not Mirror American Militarism

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Salon.com is at a new low. After a variety of libertarian hit pieces, it seems as though the supposed “provocative” news site has moved on to nit-picking anything remotely right-wing or counterculture. Their latest target has been CrossFit.

In an article entitled, “CrossFit Mirrors American Militarism,” author Eric Lemay calls the workout strategy a “cult” and insists that it “makes you want to vomit.” The article, in its rambling prose, goes through Lemay’s experience with CrossFit, the lifestyle, and militarization.

While the article reads more like a long diary entry and hardly gets to the headline’s point, there are some golden nuggets that beg to be corrected in Lemay’s article.

In spite of trying the sport himself, Lemay writes,

It’s not lost on me that the rise of CrossFit coincides with the War on Terror, and that neither of them have a foreseeable end.  Almost twelve years of war can’t help but transform us as a people… who among us, we obsessively ask, will survive?

Alright cowboy, let’s back it up for one hot second.

Militarism is “the tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military.” If nothing else, I would argue that the United States is more critical of the military and national security since 9/11. Americans are not using CrossFit to secretly train for the military. They are using it to lose weight and get in shape.

America is facing an obesity crisis. People are working longer hours than ever before. CrossFit’s short workouts and phenomenal results are becoming more suited to the American lifestyle than ever before. I highly doubt that CrossFit is a sign of “American militarism” rather than “tight schedules” and “tight waistlines.” The War on Terror is little more than a coincidence; in fact, CrossFit Affiliate Annual Growth did not even start to blossom until 2006—five years after September 11th.

So what about the “Hero” Workouts of the Day (WOD)? A Hero WOD recognizes a fallen soldier, and has a specific workout created in their memory. Lemay writes,

When I started CrossFit, I was troubled by the hero wods.  The prospect of doing pull-ups and push-ups to honor a dead American soldier struck me as suspect, if not morally bizarre.  I got the idea: the intensity of the workout is meant as a sign of respect, and the small sacrifice you undergo in the workout is meant to venerate the ultimate sacrifice paid by the honoree.  As our coach once put it, “During this workout, think about the fact that you’re not dead.”

Alright, here, Lemay has a point. CrossFit does idolize dead soldiers, and that can be a little creepy. But, does that mean that America is moving toward militarization? If anything, I would argue that the Hero WODs celebrate the individual accomplishments of selflessness—of heroic deeds performed by the physical elite. I fail to see the ties between Hero WODS and the “rise of gated communities, gun sales, and ‘survivor’ narratives” that are becoming ever more popular.

CrossFit is not about the state or the military, it’s about fitness. To assert that the CrossFit family has a culture of violence is a massive mischaracterization. I believe that instead of attesting to the rugged “survival of the fittest” or militarization that Lemay assigns to CrossFit, I think that CrossFit emphasizes physical capabilities to perform acts of heroism and live life to your body’s potential. It’s about pushing your body to the limit, it’s about personal development. The only thing CrossFitters are worried about surviving is that day’s WOD.