CrossFit has a pretty great thing going on. Its no-frills, minimalist approach to fitness is refreshing and it focuses on the work that needs to be done in order to get in shape. (“Shut up and train” is one slogan that pops up frequently.) Unlike many traditional-style gyms, CrossFit does not attempt to turn a workout into a pampering session. There is no warmed towel service, no televisions to watch on the elliptical (because there is no elliptical), no vending machines full of sugary energy drinks. Many gyms, or “boxes” as they’re called in CrossFit lingo, don’t even have air conditioning. The result, whether by strategy or coincidence, is a style of gym that’s among the greenest options out there right now.
Quick disclaimer: I realize that gyms aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to get in shape. There are better, greener ways, but hopping on a bicycle, building a wall, or stacking firewood isn’t always possible or realistic. I believe it’s better for someone to be active than to do nothing, even if it means paying for a gym membership.
First of all, at CrossFit you won’t find a plethora of electricity-hogging exercise machines. This drastically reduces power consumption while freeing up precious square footage, which means a CrossFit gym can occupy a relatively small space. The equipment is usually limited to pull-up bars mounted along the walls and stacks of free weights, barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, ab mats, and wooden boxes. There is a handful of rowers at the gym I attend; besides the battery-powered digital screen, the machine is powered by human energy. One major supplier of CrossFit’s equipment is a company called Rogue Fitness that makes the majority of its products in the United States and guarantees everything for life, which is a sign of high quality. Without exercise machines, there are lower repair and replacement costs, since the above-mentioned equipment lasts for years with little wear and tear.
Secondly, because CrossFit gyms don’t rely on aesthetic curb appeal to attract clients, they are often set up in old, empty industrial buildings or abandoned garages. This can provide much-needed development and income for underprivileged urban areas. These industrial spaces are ideal for rope climbs, tossing around medicine balls and old tractor tires, and dropping heavy weights on the floors, which are sometimes made of recycled or reused rubber. Open garage doors replace air conditioning and let in plenty of fresh air and natural light, eliminating the need for electricity during daytime workouts.
Thirdly, CrossFit emphasizes the importance of a sustainable and healthy lifestyle outside the gym. I do not follow the popular Paleo diet that many CrossFitters swear by, but I can appreciate the value placed on eating high quality ‘real’ food, on getting back to basics, and opting for organic, heirloom, and locally-produced food whenever possible. Eating less sugar and fewer white processed carbohydrates is something we could all benefit from in North America.
While CrossFit’s intense brand of fitness isn’t for everyone, its progressive philosophy and approach to living the healthiest possible life does deserve respect. Whether you think it’s cultish or not, CrossFit is getting people in the best shape of their lives while using minimal gear and energy in the process.