KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper

KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper ORDER NOW FOR CUSTOMIZED AND ORIGINAL NURSING PAPERS Unformatted Attachment Preview 591793 research-article2015 IRS0010.1177/1012690215591793International Review for the Sociology of SportDawson Research Article CrossFit: Fitness cult or reinventive institution? International Review for the Sociology of Sport 1­–19 © The Author(s) 2015 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/1012690215591793 Marcelle C Dawson University of Otago, New Zealand; University of Johannesburg, South Africa Abstract Branded as ‘the sport of fitness’, CrossFit is a burgeoning exercise regime that has surpassed the growth of well-known fitness franchises. In addition to its comprehensive fitness regime, it claims to offer a supportive community, which aims to ensure that people do not exercise ‘together alone’. The tight-knit – almost insular – nature of this community, as well as some of its more extreme practices, have led followers and detractors alike to characterise CrossFit as a cult. This article argues that the ‘cult’ label is too parochial and, instead, applies Susie Scott’s notion of ‘reinventive institutions’ to explain why CrossFit is so polarising. With its emphasis on voluntarism, performative regulation and mutual surveillance, the concept of the ‘reinventive institution’ offers a more useful and expansive theoretical tool that allows us to understand how power, identity construction and self-transformation operate in CrossFit. Keywords CrossFit, cult, interaction context, mutual surveillance, performative regulation, reinventive institution, self-transformation Introduction The exercise regime known as CrossFit appears to have sparked one of the biggest fitness trends of the twenty-first century. Designed initially as an exercise programme to promote functional fitness, CrossFit has undergone a rather rapid metamorphosis into a global, multi-dimensional, multi-million-dollar industry, branding itself as the ‘sport of fitness’. Officially established in 2000, CrossFit now boasts more than 6,500 affiliates in the US alone: ‘While it took five years to grow to 500 affiliates, CrossFit Inc. added about 1,000 every three months in 2013. And on June 20, 2014, CrossFit hit 10,000 affiliates worldwide’ (Beers, 2014: 3). In contrast, well-known fitness franchise Planet Fitness, which has been around since 1992 and which began franchising in 2003, had about 827 locations in Corresponding author: Marcelle C Dawson, Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. Email: [email protected] Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on May 17, 2016 2 International Review for the Sociology of Sport the US in 2014 (Kulikowski, 2012; Taylor, 2014). Even the world’s largest fitness franchise, Anytime Fitness, cannot compare with CrossFit’s growth rate. As of 2014, Anytime Fitness, which was founded in 2001 and began franchising in 2002, had about 2,700 locations around the world (Daley, 2013, 2014). Although there has been considerable sociological analysis of contemporary fitness culture, some of which is explored below, scholarly contributions within the social sciences have lagged in trying to capture the CrossFit maelstrom. Given that it is the fastest growing fitness phenomenon in the world, the dearth of scholarly research into its history, development, promotional culture and social aspects is striking. The impetus for this article came from my own short-lived and negative experience of CrossFit. KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper The camaraderie aspect of CrossFit that has captivated hundreds of thousands of people was the very thing that I (and several others) find abhorrent; ridiculous, even. My knee-jerk reaction was that CrossFit is, in many ways, akin to a cult, and I became interested in finding some answers to why this exercise regime is so polarising. At the time, I was teaching a course on symbolic interaction and came across the work of Susie Scott (2010, 2011) on reinventive institutions, which offers a refreshing juxtaposition to Goffman’s (1961) ‘total institutions’. Scott’s conception of reinventive institutions offers valuable insights into voluntary self-transformation and identity reconstruction, which provides a useful, multi-dimensional analytical tool for understanding CrossFit from a sociological perspective. Taking the form of a critical theoretical essay, this article examines CrossFit as a reinventive institution. The work presented here draws on a range of sources, including the personal testimonies of avid CrossFitters, with the aim of gaining insights into their lived experiences of the transformative power of this exercise regime. The principal texts that I consulted include The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection By Allison Belger (2012); Inside the Box: How CrossFit® Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym and Rebuilt my Body by TJ Murphy (2012); and Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness by JC Herz (2014). While these writings are not representative of the CrossFit experience, they do address the socio-cultural aspects that are of concern in this article, namely identity reconstruction, interaction and community. The article begins with a brief overview of CrossFit in relation to existing literature on fitness culture. It then describes and explains the key features and mechanisms of reinventive institutions. Against this backdrop, CrossFit is considered through the theoretical lens of reinventive institutions, paying particular attention to three dimensions – namely, voluntarism, performative regulation and greed. By applying these concepts to CrossFit, I argue that we can begin to understand why this exercise regime has gained such enormous popularity and has such a powerful hold over its adherents. CrossFit and fitness culture As a corporate entity, CrossFit was officially established in 2000 by former gymnast Greg Glassman and his then wife, Lauren Jenai, although Glassman had been using the term and working on the fitness programme for several years prior to this.KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper Fuelled by the belief that his regular training schedule was not challenging enough, and in his quest to Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on May 17, 2016 3 Dawson find a workout routine that would give him a performance advantage, Glassman began experimenting with new ways of pushing his body to the limit (Herz, 2014: 20). To this end, he developed a range of workout routines that entail ‘constantly varied functional movement, executed at high intensity, across broad time and modal domains’ (Herz, 2014: 31). While some modes of elite physical training prioritise speed over endurance or strength, for example, CrossFit – whose slogan is ‘forging elite fitness’ – aims to produce and improve human physical power and fitness by mastering the following 10 skills: ‘cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy’ Glassman (2002: 1). As such, CrossFit’s definition of fitness encompasses aspects of both ‘health-related fitness’ and ‘skill-related fitness’, the latter being associated with the motor skills needed to participate in competitive sport (Markula and Pringle, 2006: 57). This expansive definition of fitness partly explains why CrossFit has such wide appeal among ‘“average” or “normal” individual[s] who would not participate in high performance sports’ (Markula and Pringle, 2006: 57), as well as those who wish to excel in competitive, elite sports. Another source of its appeal is that CrossFit claims to provide functional training for everyday activities (Glassman cited in Dube, 2008). Several authors in the field have explored the idea of functional fitness and its relationship to the idealised female body. For instance, Markula (1995: 438) – with specific reference to women – noted that her respondents were not only engaging in aerobics to make their bodies conform to a socially constructed, ‘sleek’ and ‘toned’ ideal, but were also interested in boosting their strength so that they did not need to ask for help when performing everyday functional tasks, like opening bottles or taking out the trash. Sassatelli (2010: 165) supported this depiction of the contemporary fit woman, and extended the logic to men in her claim that the twenty-first century fitness ideal for women is ‘muscular femininity, while for men it is agile masculinity’ (emphasis in original). Given its extensive definition of fitness, CrossFit certainly seems to endorse these archetypes. It could, perhaps, be argued that – with specific reference to women’s bodies – CrossFit seeks to push the boundaries even further by encouraging visible muscularity. KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution Paper This point underscores the reinventive nature of CrossFit, and I will return to it later in the discussion. However, it is worth acknowledging that the representation of gender and body ideals within and beyond the CrossFit community is fraught with contradictions.1 The final aspect that I explore here is CrossFit’s self-proclaimed status as ‘the sport of fitness’. CrossFit is not unique in its efforts to turn fitness training into a competitive sport – sportaerobics (or aerobic gymnastics) is a case in point. However, as Sibley (2012: 42) argues, ‘fitness as a competitive “sport” is still a relatively novel concept’. Based on a study with middle and high-school students, Sibley (2012) contends that incorporating a competitive dimension to sport education is likely to increase interest in fitness programmes. It is worth considering Sassatelli’s (2010: 98–100) distinction between sport and fitness in relation to CrossFit. For her, fitness training, unlike sport, ‘is not geared to a specific performance to be achieved or reproduced to the maximum on a special sporting occasion’ (Sassatelli, 2010: 99). While sport necessitates the transformation or moulding of one’s body to improve ‘athletic performance’, fitness entails ‘embodied performance’, meaning that ‘the ultimate achievement goes beyond carrying out the exercise, and coincides with the opportunity for body transformation and improvement’ Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on May 17, 2016 4 International Review for the Sociology of Sport (Sassatelli, 2010: 99, emphasis in original). CrossFit, like sportaerobics, has successfully turned fitness training into a competitive sport, and with this shift, fitness fanatics are reinvented as athletes. The annual CrossFit Games, sponsored by Reebok, began in 2007, with about 70 registered athletes battling it out to be named the fittest on earth and for a chance to receive US $500 in prize money (Reebok CrossFit Games, n.d.). In 2013, 138,619 athletes registered to take part in the Open (which is the first stage of the CrossFit Games), and in 2014 this figure rose to 209,585 (Achauer, 2014). The series of events culminates in the CrossFit Games, in which 80 of the world’s fittest people (40 men and 40 women) compete in a series of workout routines – unknown to them until just before the Games begin – to determine who will be crowned fittest man and fittest woman on earth. In the 2014 Games, the fittest man and woman each received US $275,000. The total payout to the top 20 men and top 20 women in 2014 amounted to US $1.75 million, and it is reported that the competition winnings will increase to US$2 million in 2015 (CrossFit, 2014). For many, the idea of watching people work out may seem ridiculous, but positive ratings and the popularity of the competition have led ESPN to extend its contract with CrossFit Inc. to have exclusive rights to televise the Games. CrossFit is a relatively new player on the fitness scene, and it is too soon to tell whether this fitness regime will stand the test of time or whether it will run its course and die out like other fitness crazes. However, given its rampant growth over a relatively short period of time, it is worth exploring some of the reasons for its magnetism beyond the pursuit of fitness. KIN 470 CCSU Week 9 Cross Fit Fitness Cult or Reinventive Institution PaperThe cult(ure) of CrossFit CrossFit describes itself as a ‘fitness regimen’ in the first instance, but also as ‘the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together’ (CrossFit, n.d.-a). The physical space where CrossFitters train resembles a large shed-like container or warehouse, known as ‘the box’. Fitted with minimalist equipment, the box affords its occupants very little opportunity to be autonomous or anonymous. This is quite unlike traditional fitness gyms where the clientele are able to create virtual boundaries between themselves and others by listening to music, reading or watching television while working out on a piece of equipment. Of course, alongside circuit and weight training, many fitness gyms offer ‘group fitness’ classes, such as spinning, yoga, pilates, Zumba, step classes and so on, allowing gym-goers to choose between individual or collective modes of working out, or alternate between the two. Nonetheless, even within the context of group fitness it is still possible to claim one’s own space, such as a particular area in the class, or a yoga mat, or a specific bike in the spinning class. In other words, certain kinds of group fitness classes offer a ‘space where individuals come together to exercise alone in a group setting’ (Markula and Pringle, 2006: 76). The option of physically or mentally cutting oneself off is not available to CrossFitters. For them, group training requires active participation and interaction, which is integral to the creation of a CrossFit community. In Glassman’s (2011) words, ‘if [the coaches] get a sense that you’re a little bit keeping to yourself, they’re going to be in your face’. Being part of a gym community is certainly not unique to CrossFit. Commenting on fitness culture in the United States, McKenzie (2013: 168) notes that ‘[d]uring the late Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on May 17, 2016 5 Dawson 1970s and 1980s, the gym became a significant site of social exchange’. Borrowing the concept of ‘the third place’ from sociologist Ray Oldenburg, McKenzie suggests that the gym – much like the local pub or cafe – offers a place beyond ‘home’ and ‘work’, where people can interact regularly with others who share their interests and, in s o doing, enhance their sense of belonging (McKenzie, 2013: 168). While regular fitness gyms have expanded their floor space to accommodate additional spaces of interaction, such as smoothie bars, spas and restaurants (McKenzie, 2013: 169), CrossFit boxes remain small and minimalist, and interaction is an essential aspect of the workout itself. While the relatively low cost of setting up a box has arguably expedited the breakneck mushrooming of CrossFit boxes around the globe, economics alone cannot account for the rampant proliferation of the CrossFit phenomenon, and it certainly does not explain the grip that CrossFit has over its devotees. The CrossFit community is said to be ‘a key component of why it’s so effective’ (CrossFit, n.d.-a). Indeed, according to keen CrossFitter Allison Belger (2012: 24), ‘community and social connectedness [are] arguably as essential to CrossFit’s efficacy and popularity as are the fitness tenets and methodologies to which it adheres’. Belger goes so far as to admit that if she were faced with a tragedy she ‘would want to be surrounded by the warmth and camaraderie of [her] gym community’ (Belger, 2012: 10–11). Social and psychological explanations are beginning to gain more prominence in scholarly contributions. For example, research by Partridge et al. (2014) considers the relationship between gender, membership duration and the goal-orientation (either mastery or performance) of CrossFitters. CrossFit’s own literature emphasises concepts such as affect, enjoyment and ‘CrossFit transference’, which refers to the process that enables CrossFitters to channel their drive and motivation to get through a ‘workout of the day’ (WOD), into their lives outside the box (Cavellerano, 2012: 2). As a source of support that has supposedly helped people to overcome adversity, it is unsurprising that CrossFit has been compared to a church. In his monograph, Inside the Box, Murphy (2012: 90) makes reference to CrossFit’s close-knit nature and the levels of trust that permeate the CrossFit community, and claims that ‘[t]he social structures typical at CrossFit gyms resemble in some ways those of another, more well-established institution in society’. His conclusion is that CrossFit is indeed a church, ‘if you subtract the religious dimension’ (Murphy, 2012: 91). Belger (2012: 116) also alludes to similarities between the allure of the church and CrossFit, but, like Ornella (2014, 2015), who is particularly interested in Christian CrossFitters and the relationship between physical suffering and religion within the CrossFit community, she argues that religiosity and participation in faith-based communities precede involvement in CrossFit. Combining physical training with ‘spiritual fitness’ programmes is not unique to CrossFit. This idea is central to the nineteenth-century notion of ‘muscular Christianity’ (Ladd and Mathisen, 1999; Putney, 2001), and many CrossFit affiliates have adopted a Christian orientation. For example, CrossFit Faith offers ‘faith WODs’ and has established Faith Rx’d, a nonprofit organisation that carries out the affiliate’s ministry efforts (CrossFit Faith, n.d.). CrossFit Religion’s slogan reads: ‘In WOD we trust’, and the motto of CrossFit FMS (For My Savior) is ‘I CrossFit for my savior, because my savior was fit for the cross’. Beyond religion, another aspect of identity that is apparent in CrossFit is language. Many of Belger’s respondents spoke about having a shared language that they have in Downloaded from at PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIV on May 17, 2016 6 International Review for the Sociology of Sport common with other CrossFitters: ‘It’s a language that only we speak’, said Brad Ludden, a CrossFitting kayaker who runs recreational camps for young adult cancer patients (cited in Belger, 2012: 104). Indeed, every WOD has a name and is associated with a specific combination of exercises. Knowledge of the names and contents of the innumerable WODs certainly distinguishes CrossFitters from non-CrossFitters. However, speaking the same language extends beyond the literal interpretation, and has more to do with the nature of the shared experience that CrossFitters go through during their workouts. Here, Ludden’s words are instructive: ‘I believe that through challenge, we grow closer. Any time you challenge yourself in a group, you bond strongly with the others. … [W]e put a group of strangers through a legitimate challenge, and they immediately bond’ (cited in Belger, 2012: 104–105). The obvious parallel that springs to mind is the military, and it is unsurprising that so many army personnel are drawn to CrossFit. The promise of supreme physical fitness combined with the intense camaraderie that CrossFit generates is a powerful magnet for military men and women. Indeed, several boxes around the world identify as ‘military affiliates’ and there are numerous WODs named after fallen soliders. Mutual connection and identification derived from shared (sometimes gruelling) experience, as well as being motivated by guilt and piety, are recurrent themes in CrossFit, religion and the military. As such, CrossFit represents what I call an exercise– military–religion (EMR) nexus. Considering the intersection of these phenomena in the CrossFit context, it is hardly su … Purchase answer to see full attachment Get a 10 % discount on an order above $ 100 Use the following coupon code : NURSING10

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