The CrossFit-ification of Christianity

CrossfitThe following comes from an Apr. 27 story in The Daily Beast.

CrossFit is a workout philosophy, a brand, and a network of affiliated gyms. It’s also a subculture that, with its manic friendliness and clan-like vibe, carries a whiff of cultishness.

Browse the digital pages of our nation’s finest periodicals, and you can read about the cult (or is it more like a church?) of Crossfit, that attracts “Painiacs” who have either joined an ordinary conditioning program or a bona-fide cult that feeds you Kool-Aid.

These critics do have a point: CrossFit gyms—called boxes—tend to nurture the kind of close-knit communities more commonly associated with desert-bound Mormon sects. CrossFitters work out in groups, moving to the demands of a benevolent taskmaster. They pepper their conversations with a strange, clubby lingo—the Yiddish of fitness—and they undertake special workouts to honor comrades who have fallen in combat (CrossFit is especially popular among military personnel).

CrossFitters can buy apparel that plays on this reputation: “Like a Cult, Without the Creepy Leader” reads one t-shirt. There’s even a gym in Connecticut that’s called CrossFit Religion. The name, they assured me, is tongue-in-cheek; their motto, a play on the acronym for CrossFit’s Workout of the Day, is “In WOD We Trust.”

Since 2000, CrossFit has grown from a single gym in Santa Cruz to around 10,000 worldwide. According to Jimi Letchford of CrossFit, Inc., the brand adds 10 to 15 boxes per day. Like Orthodox synagogues or third century churches, CrossFit spreads without any centralized orchestration; boxes are independent affiliates, not franchises.

Actual religious groups, one imagines, watch CrossFit’s growth with envy. Church membership is declining, millennials are disaffiliating, and, as Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam famously bemoaned at the beginning of the last decade, in-the-flesh communal life in the United States may have reached a nadir. Meanwhile, CrossFit has taken the relatively solitary world of weightlifting and calisthenics and spun a communitarian dreamland.

Still, religious groups may be catching up. The fascinating thing about CrossFit is not that it looks vaguely religious. It’s that religion in the United States—in particular, certain strains of Protestant Christianity—is starting to look a lot like CrossFit. “Across the country, congregations are whipping members into shape with highly marketed, faith-based health programs,” wrote Leslie Leyland Fields in a Christianity Today feature last year. Churches are adding weight rooms and launching weight-loss programs. There’s even a consulting firm that specializes in helping churches open gyms.

When megachurch pastor Rick Warren launched a dieting initiative in 2011, more than 12,000 people signed up on the first day. The Daniel Plan, as Warren named the program, offers a kind of Bible-inflected Weight Watchers in which participants often join together in small support groups. Citing research into human social networks, the Daniel Plan website explains, “Community has the power to change our overall health more than any doctor or clinic.”

Elsewhere, as Jesse James DeConto wrote in Christian Century in December, many Christian groups and churches, with names like Team Sweaty Sheep, are combining worship with a Sunday morning jog. These mobile worshippers, DeConto writes, are joining “a wave of churches that are embracing physical exercise in their ministries.”

Some Christians are directly applying CrossFit’s workouts and strategies to their faith. There are Christian-oriented CrossFit gyms, such as CrossFit 27:17, named after a verse from Proverbs (“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”), and CrossFit For My Savior (“Because My Savior Was Fit for the Cross”).

On Easter, some CrossFitters participated in a special Easter Workout of the Day, an especially grueling session that, wrote one gym leader in Texas, “is brutal, but not nearly as brutal as what Jesus endured for each of us….”

To read the entire story, click here.



  1. A well rounded person tries to stay physically fit whenever possible, but does not give up his/her religion. Adherence to the Ten Commandments helps keep one healthy and disease free, and reduces stress. I have often said the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer Rope, chotki, while walking on a treadmill or around a beautiful park. It is calming while helping keep one physically fit and in tune with the Lord.

  2. Father Karl says:

    What Anne T wrote is right on the money. Our bodies were made in the image and likeness of God, and when we are without mortal sin, they are temples of the Holy Ghost. Now, we should not try and become basilicas, by being huge, so we should respect and take care of ourselves. Exercise is beneficial, and one feels great after exercising. By keeping fit, we are healthy, and we feel better. Eating too many sweets, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is bad for us., so we must be careful. By being healthy, we can serve God better. But, if we cannot be fit, we still must honor God and serve Him no matter what our physical condition is. But to equate going to the gym and health club as a church is ridiculous. Yes, you can pray while exercising, but these modern temples to mankind are no way a spiritual experience. For New Agers it as a religious experience since they worship themselves as well as nature, and being more pagan than Christian, they idolize their own bodies, and make them into gods.

    • Anonymous says:

      I made the mistake of thinking that doing anything for oneself was wrong, that everything one did had to serve someone else. Now, to regain my health, I have to spend lots of money and lots of time doing things for myself. But it still bothers me because Jesus said “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.”

      • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

        Since we really don’t know which “Anonymous” you are, it is difficult to reply to your above comments, but your mis application of what Jesus said is very evident!

        May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
        Viva Cristo Rey!
        Yours in Their Hearts,
        Kenneth M. Fisher, Founding Director
        Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Well on this topic, there is not a need to know which anonymous we are addressing but its a good opportunity to reply with the truth as has Father Karl did.

      Good comments Anne T and Father Karl. I enjoyed them.

  3. Laurette Elsberry says:

    I think we can safely apply the concept “Salvation through fitness” to Crossfit as well as to other “fitness centers” which provide a humanistic goal to their adherents.

  4. Thank you, Father Karl.

  5. I would also like to say to all the pregnant ladies out there, or those who are considering having a child please listen and act upon what your doctor tells you about diet and exercise. I had an extremely easy time delivering my children, the natural way without a caudal, because I walked a lot, did the exercises my physician recommended for pregnant women and kept my weight right. I was also athletic in high school which researchers have found out helps one the rest of ones life, as long as it is not overdone. Laurette Elsberry’s post is certainly right about overdoing anything.

    • Fr. Karl made some excellent points about carrying exercise to the extreme, too. As St. Paul said, “Moderation in all things.”

      • Abeca Christian says:

        In the USA some people are just married to their jobs and it seems like the American Life is all about living to work not work to make a living. I don’t think we have moderation as a rule in the USA. People want super size stuff, couch potatoes are what many Americans love to indulge in. Depression, emotional eating etc

        So a good prayerful life would help with healthy moderate exercising. Not becoming a slave to our jobs and materialistic things.

  6. Father Karl says:

    Anonymous, the monks and the cloistered nuns have a very practical lifestyle. They pray, they sleep, they eat, they work, they read and they study. All of this in moderation. They are usually in fairly good health because they live a well balanced life. We can learn a lot from them. By not over indulging in any thing (except to pray constantly) they are healthy, and wise. We all cannot live in a monastery or a convent, but we can regulate our lives so we will have extra time on our hands for hobbies or relaxation. Eating natural food (I do not mean eating tree bark or weeds) which is not processed, doing some manual labor, like mowing the lawn or sweeping or mopping the floor (work that causes us to sweat a bit, and to increase our heart rate) is more beneficial than jogging, (and using exercise machines at the gym), and it is FREE! Some say our bodies are like a machine. Machines need water (oil) to function, as well as fuel. We need water and good food as well to function. By using our knowledge wisely, we can serve God, keep fit, and try to do His daily will in our lives.

    • Your Fellow Catholic says:

      Finally, something I agree with from Fr Karl!

      • Abeca Christian says:

        YFC glad you agree. Hey there are sufficient graces still, so I am not surprised that something has got to give.

        Father Karl has always given good guidance on many topics, its what the church teaches, he may have his own personal views but he unites them with what the church teaches and hey with that said, I can discern that its leading souls to the truth, (of course the obedient ones) bringing Jesus to us all in His most holy Catholic church. Even with all the issues we may have in this Catholic (Universal) church, the truth is still here. Jesus is the way, the only way.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you, Father Karl. I really appreciate your wise answer.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Anony I agree Father gave us good guidance here as usual. God bless you Father Karl

  7. Abeca Christian says:

    People have always wondered how the people back then, built those pyramids? Well it took a lot of hard work and I bet they had a lot of muscles. I remember when I use to be more in fit, surfing, walking always kept me in shape and it also lead to a healthy mind too leading toward a more prayerful life for me.

    But being a busy mom, doesn’t leave me much free time to work out as much but its nice to take brisk walks with my kids and my hubby love. Playing tennis is what helps me too, I enjoy playing with my kidletts and my hubby. I like shooting hoops too when I join them for a basketball game. You don’t have to be good at it, just get out there and get some exorcise. Sports are big in my kids life because they enjoy them but my younger one, isn’t as sporty as my other kids but he is trying it still, it helps him get more exercise and its good for him too.

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