How CrossFit has changed from 2009-present: Shoes to food to the muscle-up

When I watch gymnastics on TV today, I often feel nostalgic as I reminisce about my time as a gymnast in the late 1980s and 1990s. 25 years later, so much is still the same in that sport.

Gymnastics leotards haven’t evolved since the 1980s, and neither have gymnasts’ hairstyles—tied back tightly, wrapped in a scrunchie, and finished off with head full of metal “gymnastics clips.”

The same cannot be said of CrossFit: Our culture, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and our proficiency of the movements, have been in a rapid and constant evolution since the inception of our sport. What was cool last week is no longer cool today. And what was seen to help performance last year is now a total joke.

CrossFit in 2009: “What’s a double under?”

Toronto, Ontario: Two months into CrossFit, I show up to my first throwdown wearing Asics running shoes. A rookie of the sport, a quick scan of the venue helps me deduce the other three footwear options available are: Old-school Converse flats, inevitably smelly Vibram five-fingers, or bare feet.

It doesn’t occur to me to pack food that day; I assumed we’d go to Subway between events. I ask one of the more experienced CrossFit athletes from my gym if I can have a couple of his almonds, and he explains he can’t spare a single nut because he has 21 almonds with him—exactly seven Zone blocks of fat. I feel like Elaine on Seinfeld when she was rejected by the woman in the stall next to her—the woman who couldn’t spare a square of toilet paper.

The first workout of the day is 3 treacherous rounds for time of:

400 meter run

5 squat clean (at 105 lb. for girls)

10 pull-ups

Athletes complain about the unnecessarily heavy squat cleans in this alleged “big-man” event, which force many girls to opt into the scaled division at the last minute. Meanwhile, the final workout of the three-event competition is a 1,000 m row followed by 50 box jumps and 50 double-unders.

“What’s a double under?” I ask someone from my gym when the final event is announced.

CrossFit in 2010: Unbroken!

Okotoks, Alberta: I arrive at the Canada Regional with my Buddy Lee skipping rope and my foam roller and am quickly surrounded by men wearing t-shirts with the words “Unbroken” across the front. I, too, believe that the ultimate goal of CrossFit is to complete every event unbroken.

CrossFit in 2011: Short Shorts, High socks and a Sports bra

Carson, California: A sea of Inov-8s, knee-high “Bacon” socks and Skins fill the Home Depot Centre at the CrossFit Games. Each athlete is obsessively more Paleo than the next—everyone is trying to find a way to make Paleo taste a little sweeter via their dark chocolate coconut balls or their gluten-free pumpkin pancakes sweetened with agave. If you don’t follow this trend, you feel like a sinner, an outcast, like you don’t belong in Carson.

The test to decipher whether someone is legit or not is if they answer yes to the question, “Can you do all the movements?” Similarly, my team is stoked when muscle-ups show up in the team competition because we are proud to boast an entire roster of six athletes who have mastered the muscle-up. By this, I mean our men can string together a handful each, while our women can usually hit one, or even two, on a good day.

bacon socks

CrossFit in 2012: Shirts with Dumb Sayings

CrossFit Community, Everywhere: 2012 is a time of Nanos. The Outlaw Way. K-Starr. And ROCK tape. So much ROCK tape. Muscle-ups aren’t impressive anymore. You can’t workout without your knee sleeves. And if you’re not hitting EMOMs, you’ll never make it to the Games.

“Snatch is Paleo,” “Clean Before you Jerk” and “Strong is the New Sexy,” dominate our t-shirts. Approximately 60 percent of CrossFit athletes own an apparel company, each of them producing t-shirts that glorify pain and discomfort, belittle other programs because their workout is our warm-up, and, of course, tell snatch jokes. (Yes, snatch also means vagina. We get it).


Also in 2012: Not Yet as Mainstream as we Thought

B.C.-Washington Border:

Border guard: What are you headed to Bellevue for?

Tom (my boyfriend): A CrossFit competition.

Border guard: CrossWhat?

Tom: CrossFit. A fitness competition.

Border guard: What kind of competition?

Tom: A CrossFit competition.

Border guard: Sir, I don’t know what this CrossFit thing is. You’re going to have to explain to me if you want me to let you into my country. Where is the competition being held? What are the events?

Tom: It’s at a CrossFit gym in Bellevue. We don’t know what the events are yet. We find out when we get there.

Border guard: (Raises eyebrow in suspicion).

Tom: We’ll lift weights, and do pull-ups and run and row.

Border guard: You’re going to row inside a building?

Tom: Yes.

CrossFit in 2013-2014: Don’t these athletes have jobs?

CrossFit Community, Everywhere: CrossFit is finally undoubtedly mainstream. Our top athletes are now making a professional wage, while a handful of others are able to make an acceptable living through sponsorships and prize money. Others athletes still, namely semi-decent regional-level female athletes, appear to be making a living as Instagram celebrities. To make it to the Games now, you need to be a full-time athlete. Work has become an obstacle preventing Games qualification. 60 to 70 percent of aspiring Games athletes quit their jobs and abandon careers to focus on training.

CrossFit in the Present Day: Ben and Jerry’s, White rice and Muscle-ups

B.C-Washington border: Crossing the border, the guard asks me: “Do I know you? Did you compete at Regionals? Last year was the first year they combined the regions, right?”

“Yep,” I reply.

“Good luck at the Cascade Classic,” he says as he waves us into the US. 

Arriving at the venue at the Kill Cliff Cascade Classic, it is a toss up between the Nanos 4s, Nano 5s and Nike Metcons, although it feels as though most athletes would rather be wearing Metcons, but since Reebok has given them a dozen free Nanos in the last year, it’s hard to justify making the switch.

Walking on your hands is no longer impressive, and Paleo is dead to competitive CrossFit athletes. This has been confirmed over and over by Rich Froning’s pizza habit and Matt Fraser’s nightly Ben and Jerry’s in a bowl with homogenized milk. After the first event, one of my teammates pulls out a giant Tupperware of what I estimate to be three cups of cooked white rice, and at least 24-oz. of chicken. Simply concerned with getting calories in his system—after each event—he hits the trough and pounds some more rice.

The fourth workout of the day ends with 50 muscle-ups as a team. Men and women alike are figuring out the best way to get through the 50 reps in the least amount of sets as possible. Nobody is worried about failing an attempt; athletes swing with ease and are more concerned about speed than anything. “This will largely come down to transitions,” they strategize.

My team is so good, the men get through 30 before either women even touch the rings. Before I know it, in exactly two minutes, we’re done all 50 and I didn’t even have to touch the rings once.

How things have changed.

Although there’s one thing that has never changed since 2009: We’re still boring the world with handstand pictures.