How to get your friends to do CrossFit


I seriously cannot believe I just wrote that and am about to write this blog. Don’t worry, this comes from a place of complete earnestness. This is not “how to get your friends to join your cult and drink your kool-aid,” it’s not “how to make everyone feel everyone feel as cool as you feel” or how to break your friends will and force them to try something. Funny thing is, I believe that this advice could be applied just about any endeavor for which you have enthusiasm, your friends are nauseated by your participation but you still want them to give it a shot. I heard crocheting has a competitive, cult like culture associated with it as well…

The situation I am discussing is basically the following: you know someone and, hey, this is a program that you feel someone could get some distinct benefit from. Maybe they are stuck in a rut or they have plateaued or what they are doing isn’t working or whatever.

I also have to imagine that this needs to be written for the obvious backlash out there against CrossFit. One-too-many overzealous friends have badgered and pleaded with some other friend to give it all up and praise the glory of Glassman. And when they resist, “suffer the wrath of my endless Facebook posts!” Let’s be real, no one needs coaching on how to tactfully approach their friends about Jai alai, because no one gives a shit about Jai alai – despite it looking tremendously badass.

There is a barrier to overcome for these types of progressions in all dimensions. Exercise used to be jumping jacks, “pushups” and smoking a doctor recommended brand of cigarette. A guy like Jack Lalane really pioneered the idea of lifting weights and the concept that fitness actually mattered where there were tons of detractors who thought it would be bad for you and so on. As well, in parts of Asia (witnessed first-hand) there are loads of these devices that I thought all but died in the 60’s. Fitness is evolving, that’s a fact, and I believe that a sensible (more on that later) CrossFit regimen, and other HIIT variants, is an excellent use of time to develop a high level of fitness.

So, how to get your friend to do CrossFit without being a tool about it.

There are some interesting dynamics going on here. First of all, it is not 2006 anymore, you can’t just say to your friend, “I heard about this thing and I want you to try it” and that’s enough. Because at that point, it was a secret, it was still pretty much totally underground. You were doing them a solid by exposing them to something new – letting them in on the secret. Well, the secrets out, it’s not new, it’s a cult and it’s all over the place and sponsored by goddamn Reebok.

Very few fitness minded people have not heard of CrossFit at this point. You are dealing with over exposure at this point, and a lot of it is bad exposure.

If they have had enough good exposure, chances are they will have already tried it on their own. The point of all of this is to simply get them to try it and let them decide for themselves. I will be the first person to admit that CrossFit is not for everyone, we have had a number of people come through our gym with fitness problems to which CrossFit was simply not the answer. I used to be fairly naïve and gregarious about this and assumed that CrossFit was magic and designed with blessed favor to cultivate fitness awesomeness in every mortal creature.

As the glitter wears off and you see it for what it is: a reconfiguration of common and well understood movements with some additions of their own creation organized into a fun, interesting and effective (hopefully) program. With that, you realize it isn’t necessarily for everyone.

But, if you have someone who is reasonably young, reasonably fit and of at least a mildly competitive nature (likely having played competitive sports growing up) getting them to try it is about equivalent to “DUDE, you HAVE to try sushi at least ONCE! I know you don’t like fish. If you hate it, we never go back, swear.” Strangely, I have encountered a large number of people who both “hate” sushi and have never tried it…curious.

But I digress – If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. If you want to run, body build, do yoga – that’s fine. But, I maintain that everyone owes it to themselves to dip a toe in the water just one time to make sure you aren’t missing out.

If they do like it and it does impact their life the way it has impacted so many other lives, it is almost that quasi-religious experience, “have you heard the good news?” knocking on doors kind of thing because you are so excited about something that you want to share it with everyone. Crossfit does this to people, not all people, but Facebook should be evidence enough that CrossFit is something that people actively talk about.

And, there is a very practical outcome to all of this, the potential for improved fitness.

But, this has to come as a sensible CrossFit program. What do I mean by a sensible CrossFit program? First it has to have a structured and organized strength component, it can’t just be wacky, random, 2 sets of 50 at whatever weight or just jumbling 25 strength movements into a 4 week program. Or the misconception that strength gains are realized through WODs (they aren’t).

It’s got to be 5-3-1, Starting Strength, Smolov (ok…probably not Smolov) or some organization of your own creation that makes sense, is progressive and yields long term strength gains. That is what a strength program is about.

And then there is the conditioning component, namely, the WOD. That is the visible, salient, glamorous fun portion. But, let’s be clear here, the WOD is not where you get stronger. It’s where you apply your learned skills to a unique conditioning environment and achieve that unique HIIT response.

To be absolutely clear, you do not get better at cleans by doing them in a WOD. You get better at cleans by doing cleans. You get a very high impact conditioning response by doing cleans in a WOD. First and foremost, this is something that everyone needs to understand. The WOD is often unfairly attributed to be the “totality of a CrossFit program” and what and where the gains come from. No. Not even close.

It’s that high energy component that makes it accessible, interesting and sustainable (i.e. not boring) in the long run. And, by virtue of the likelihood that someone will stick with it, the place where appreciable fat loss and cardiovascular/muscular endurance can be obtained.

Next, what is a sensible conditioning program?

Taking in the limitations and abilities of the person participating is essential. One can’t just throw someone a barbell and say “30 snatches for time,” that is completely reckless and irresponsible. It also cannot be “long for the sake of long”, “varied for the sake of varied” or “complex for the sake of complex.” Everything should have a purpose, complement the other aspects and be designed in a way that it is performed with intensity, technique and power. Absent that, it is just sustained movement that “gets you tired and shit.” And plenty of CrossFit gyms do that, I totally concede that.

So, we have gotten that out of the way, and you know I am a reasonable person who doesn’t believe in CrossFit witchcraft and bullshit. My passion for strength, conditioning and fitness takes the form of participation in CrossFit. Nothing more, nothing less.

The conversations that take place are really the critical portion to get someone to CrossFit (or anything for that matter) and have it actually mean something. This isn’t just trying to get someone to participate in your faddish interest or force someone to participate because their resistance to your enthusiasm subconsciously implies that there is something imperfect with your obsession. This is not unique to CrossFit. Try and badger someone into do ANYTTHING and you will be met with the same human forces – “fuck you; I’m not going to just do something because you like it so much.”

Chances are, asking them to do a class with you is a best first approach. But, if at THE VERY FIRST MENTION that doesn’t work, you have to try another route. Don’t just hound someone, people hate being hounded.

If you get the sense that they are not into this from the get-go, I wouldn’t even bother asking. Here’s why. People are stubborn. This has nothing to do with, “oh, I know what’s best for you, just do this for your own damn good” kind of mindset – if you are trying to show someone something new, they are generally reluctant, ESPECIALLY if it has the mixed reputation that CrossFit has. If you find your friend has never had fish before in their life, pestering them to have a bite of your fish at dinner “because it’s so good dude, you don’t know what you are missing!” is a surefire way to ensure they will NOT try your fish.

I would say, the best first thing would be to go work out with them. Ask them to go work out with them on their terms. Then they say, “Oh you want to do that CrossFit stuff?”

And you say, “No, let’s just work out, lift some weights, do some squats, have some fun and do whatever.” It doesn’t need to be super structured. Just spend some time with your friend, as you should…as friend.

But, it’s a moment to find out what they are after. If you can tell right off the bat that what drives them is having sick, monster, gun show arms, then CrossFit is a disservice to their goal. Or if they want to be skinny and model thin, you are barking up the smith machine.

So why try and bend them in that direction? Logically telling them that it “isn’t functional” or “strong is the new skinny” or whatever trope you happen to have on hand, isn’t a way to convince them to abandon what they are after. In this case, you would be a shitty friend to try and force them into the mold you have chosen for yourself.

Hopefully, if you are in a position where you are saying CrossFit changed me and I am so much better for it, you had better either have some performance outcomes or weight loss outcomes that are READILY available to display. That is, if your friend handily out-lifts you or you look just the same as when you started CrossFit, maybe YOU should check out THEIR routine and catch up with them first.

Just because you DO CrossFit, is not a reason to brag. It should be accompanied by some appreciable demonstration of that benefit.

There are plenty of people who are emphatically not good at CrossFit and just love the environment and to be a part of it and the workouts they get are great for them, and that is fine. But, if you are trying to convince someone of the efficacy of CrossFit and you haven’t yet realized the benefits of the efficacy of CrossFit…then you aren’t going to be a very good selling point.

But, on the other hand, if you go and your squats look great and, “holy shit, have you really lost 20 pounds?” And you break the bad information and violations of CrossFit by simple demonstration of good movement, then you are a living breathing testament to it, without vocalizing a word about it.

Maybe it’s not squats, you are on the peck deck or the shrug machine, but those muscles are popping and showing your sweet gains and you are having fun working out – because fitness is fitness, and working out is working out, no matter what you do.

Then you are building a bond, you are meeting them half way. “We are friends, I want to work out, lets workout.”

Let it come up. If someone asks you about CrossFit, tell them your story. You don’t have to tell them about Fran and your clean total and how kickass thrusters are and how it’s functional and, “by the way” in the most condescending way possible, “the workout YOU are doing isn’t functional, FYI Bro DiMaggio.”

Just tell them your story.

“The thing I really love about it all is that when I went in, the people are super nice and the coaches are helpful. And, I just fell in love with fitness again.”

Now the message is key, if you aren’t in love with fitness, don’t say that. But, if you are in love with fitness, that is something to envy. It’s a primal cue that everyone can resonate with. Everyone wants to be passionate, love what they do, feel excited and interested about the time they spend.

“You remember when we swam together? The training, the competitive elements, that camaraderie, the drive. I get that with CrossFit. It fills that hole in my life, I fucking love it.”

What’s so bad about that? It’s authentic, it’s what you are after; it’s the basic mechanism that drives people to make decisions. Did you have to mention Rich Froning or the Games Open and how you narrowly edged out “some jerkoff from Ohio for 24,000th place” ? No, that’s crazy stuff. That is wacky kool aid talk for people IN THE CIRCLE.

Likewise, if you get all defensive when people talk about fish flopping pullups and all the usual attacks against CrossFit, you look like an immature idiot who can’t accept valid criticism. Not to mention, the peculiarity of people leaping to the defense of strangers online. If someone gives you shit, personally, about your workout styles, simply state why you do what you do. Keyboard warriors are annoying from all fronts.

No, you just roll with the punches and own what you do, tell you story and be earnest about it.

Next, invite them to do something else besides CrossFit. You are a multi-dimensional person (hopefully!). If every time you meet them, you are hounding them about CrossFit, you are effectively wrecking your relationship.

Bike ride, hike, surf, paint, whatever. Again, this is a friend, just hang out with them. Doin’ stuff.

It becomes an adventure; you are going back forth “who gets the best wave” you know, “bet you can’t jump that gulley.” You know, immature, risk seeking bullshit. Chances are, if they aren’t into that anyway, then CrossFit might just be too weird and reckless to begin with.

And, once again, it is just you living life, having fun and not everything being about CrossFit.

By this point, what you are trying to build up is that it’s just another fitness thing that people like and you don’t have to talk about all the time. But, if you’re down, it can be a lot of fun. It doesn’t work itself into every facet of your life or change you (well it might, but you are communicating with a new entrant, not a die-hard kool-aid buddy).

The whole goal to get them to want to try it for themselves. “Hey what’s up with that CrossFit thing?” They say after several weeks of you never mentioning it at all. “Yea, it’s pretty cool,” you nonchalantly mutter over your shoulder. “If you want to try, I think you can do a free class” you indifferently suggest. “I think I can bring a friend to class if you want.” And that’s it, the seed is planted, let it grow or let it die – let them come to the conclusion themselves. This isn’t to be manipulative. It’s just to be a good human and let people find roads for themselves. Help them along the way as that is how decisions get made; people want to figure it out for themselves. You figured it out for yourself, you didn’t get dragged into a class and forced to indulge someone else shoving shit down your throat.

You had a need, you found a solution and you are happy with it. You figured it out, you found it. Now you are possibly helping someone in the same way. It’s not going to be done by being an asshole and insisting that their workout is inferior or not functional or stupid shit like that.

It will never be accomplished by being a know-it-all, elitist asshole as many CrossFitters have, quite unfortunately, come to be known.


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