What CrossFit Culture Can Teach Businesses

Rachel Service
6 min readAug 15, 2014


Collingwood Crossfit lifter and Head Coach Renee Purbrick by FLM Photography.

This piece was originally published on Freja Daily.

When you buy into CrossFit, you buy into the culture. The CrossFit brand has built an exceptionally highly engaged, loyal and passionate community, with affiliates across the globe. The appeal of the fast growing sport is partly contributed to its scalability and flexibility (the workout is different each day).

While the business model is relatively malleable and open for hire, CrossFit’s most valuable assets are its brand values which are fiercely guarded. Its values are embedded into the culture of the sport from HQ through to its affiliates of which there are over 10,000 worldwide.

A major contribution to the success of CrossFit can largely be attributed to its strongly guarded culture which has less to do physical transformation and more to do encouraging participation, community, and personal growth. CrossFitters, often viewed to non CrossFitters as ‘cult like’ believers of the sport are the brand ambassadors, providing the strongest, most compelling and passionate stories of transformation, personal development and positive change.

For a sport that started just a few years ago, it provides a compelling case study for engagement, beyond a trend, fad or tipping point. The ‘cult’ of CrossFit provides some rich lessons which can be applied to business.

Support potential failure — not just calculated risk.

There’s a saying in CrossFit that if you aren’t failing, you’re not stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Go to any CrossFit box, follow the Instagram accounts of any CrossFit athlete and they’ll tell you the same thing: ego has no place in the sport. The sport is programmed on a scalable model, meaning each movement can be altered to suit the fitness level of the participant. Athletes have been banned from boxes for attempting to lift heavier than their body are capable; trainers routinely drill in the importance of focusing on your own progress — not anyone else’s — and at every WOD, athletes are cheered on by their fellow team mates.

In business, while failure is talked about, in theory … it’s a little counter intuitive where avoiding risk is a top priority. Encouraging your team to make calculated decisions to push themselves and their skills by collaborating with other team members who can support them if they fall will contribute to:

  • eliminating fear of failure syndrome
  • increased innovation
  • an ideas and improvement driven culture

Do you foster and encourage calculated risk in your business? Are your team, colleagues and leaders encouraged to step outside their comfort zone — and be supported by their team if they fail?

Eliminate barriers to connection, inclusion and participation.

CrossFit has been criticised as a ‘cult’ fad as the brands’ evangelists rave about the sport. But Scientology CrossFit is not. What CrossFit really provides, outside of the physical benefits, is a lesson in the power of understanding the human need to connect, be heard and feel, well, included.

The contribution CrossFit has made to the fitness industry perhaps can be best measured by the culture of participation it systematically encourages in every affiliate. By tapping into the emotional needs of acceptance, inclusion and connection, the wider lessons the sport preaches has nothing to do with fitness.

“Mental barriers are the number one reason people don’t renew their gym memberships; not a lack of wanting to develop lifelong health benefits. They are the same reason people drop off the wagon after joining a gym in their first six weeks. In a CrossFit setting — there’s nowhere to hide from yourself.”

CrossFit’s understands universal motivational drivers and systematically identifies and goes about debunking the biggest barriers to participation in exercise (self doubt). Every touchpoint addresses mental barriers to participation (‘I’m not strong enough … I can’t … I’ve never… I could never …’), motivating the individual by empowering them to discover, embrace and ‘own’ their weaknesses. Yes, even the coaches and top athletes have weaknesses.

By identifying where traditional gyms often lose customers (maintaining momentum, demanding ownership of participants and individual accountability; providing ongoing encouragement and new physical challenges), and instead encouraging a culture that is inclusive, supportive, devoid of ego and ultimately about personal success — the sport has spawned legions of brand ambassadors.

Be clear on the barriers your employees, colleagues, suppliers or clients face to succeed to be heard. By understanding the challenges they face, you can then go about making their lives easier. And that’s what good collaborators and businesses deliver — solutions that make life easier for their clients and customers.

Understand what motivates your team and customers.

The word community gets bandied around a lot in the CrossFit scene. (Marketers this doesn’t mean a curated social media following). Like curating or joining any new organisation or business, you’re going to be engaged, highly motivated and loyal if the environment supports, inspires and a motivates you.

In any CrossFit gym, you’ll find individuals who haven’t moved since their school soccer team and fathers who want to be able to keep up with their kids, to competitive athletes and triathletes looking for a new challenge. So what motivates them to keep returning, WOD after WOD?

While traditional gym models provide initial consultation, the format and layout largely stays the same, and after the initial six week sign up, and sign up of membership fees, there are additional costs to engaging a personal trainer to lead and develop your fitness.

The sport promotes a culture of autonomy and accountability. CrossFit workouts vary every day; are infinitely scalable; enable athletes of any fitness level to compete collaboratively in real time and encourage healthy competition. No one celebrates until everyone has completed — the last to finish are supported by team mates.

Consider the wider influences that are at play in their lives of your clients, employees and colleagues. Understand you are just one part of their daily lives and set about getting to know the person’s individual drivers, what motivates them and what stands in their way (it could be you) from succeeding.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link.

The success of a CrossFit athlete depends on their ability to be consistently good across strength, flexibility, fitness and gymnastic based exercises. The most successful CrossFit athletes embrace their weaknesses, dedicate a training programme to improving their weaknesses and collaborate with other athletes who are better than them to improve their overall performance.

CrossFit Games take place over a number of days, testing athletes fitness, mobility, strength and endurance across workouts designed to test every element of fitness. Athletes strong in one area will take the lead in the early days; only to drop to the bottom of the leaderboard when their weakness is put to the test. CrossFit Games 2013 champion Samantha Briggs fell short of qualifying for the 2014 games due to a handstand walking event (yes, it’s a real thing.)

Successful CrossFitters collaborate with athletes they can learn from. (CrossFit Games 2013 champion Samantha Briggs trained with Lindsey Valenzuela to improve one anothers strength / gymnastics / speed.)

Consider the cost of an employee who isn’t supported to grow and develop. Are you clear on your strategy to support, develop and up skill under performing team members?

Success is personal.

The most successful CrossFit athletes are some of the most humble, down to earth people you’ll ever have the pleasure of watching compete. These athletes are driven by a force bigger than their importance in the world. They’re driven to push themselves as mentally and physically possible. In interviews, they’ll routinely rave about how their success contributes to the wider popularity of the sport and encourages participation.

A good culture provides opportunities for the growth of the individual. A great culture celebrates the success of the group, is clear on the bigger goal, actively seeks out risk to aid personal growth, and as a whole, respects the individuals unique value they have to bring to the table. Whichever way they define it.

These images were sourced from FLM Photography. Feature image Crossfit Collingwood Head Coach and lifter Renee Purbrick.

This article has also appeared on Freja Daily.

See also:

Why people don’t use Gym memberships

Do Not Cross CrossFit

Most innovative companies in fitness

What CrossFit taught me about leadership

Perfectionism is holding you back