Can CrossFit Make You Better?

Raise your hand if you’d accept a time travel invitation to train with Arnold and company back at Gold’s Venice during bodybuilding’s golden era. Now keep your hand up if you feel the same way about CrossFit today. Not many hands left up, huh?

That’s too bad because I’m here to tell you that CrossFit has more in common with golden era Gold’s Venice than you might think. Let’s get one thing straight—I’m not here to espouse the righteousness of the sport of fitness or endorse any of CrossFit's training methodologies.

Truth be told, I think technically complex moves performed in a fatigued state is dangerous. I’m sure you’ll agree that power moves shouldn't be performed for high reps in endurance fashion. But I digress because this isn't an article about CrossFit’s programming. This is an article that will highlight some lessons we can all learn from CrossFit. It’s an article about following in the footsteps of the greats who have come before us. This, my fellow iron warrior, is an article about having an open mind and remembering that strength and iron forge a man and his mind as well as his body.

Forget the sport of fitness for a minute. Close your eyes and picture Arnold, Franco, the Pumping Iron film crew, and the rest of the supporting cast squatting to exhaustion or deadlifting bars loaded to the max. Or eating their post-workout meal together. Or posing, partying, playing football, or just hanging out together at the beach. Got the mental image? Good.

Now I want you think about a few key elements in place—community, brotherhood, camaraderie, competition, and support. Guess what you just described? Yep. CrossFit.


It’s human nature to want to be a part of something bigger than one’s self. Gold’s Venice provided that exact environment for the most motivated and dedicated lifters of that time. Each one of those guys could have easily been the biggest and baddest lifter at his own gym. But rather than ego build, they all gravitated to one place to be a part of something special. Arnold, Franco, and many others traveled from all over the world to train in the same, small, cramped little gym on the beach in California. The facility wasn’t state of the art. I doubt they had air conditioning. So what brought all those giant fish to that same pond?

The founders of CrossFit must have wondered a similar question when they set up this fitness trend that is sweeping across the world. Like it or not, CrossFit has found a way to bring fitness to the masses almost the way that Arnold brought bodybuilding out from the shadows. Using daily workouts and interactive challenges and by engaging the athletes, CrossFit has become something more than just exercise. It has created a brotherhood or fraternity to which its millions of rabid fans subscribe and follow. CrossFit has built a community and uses the same powers of attraction that helped Gold’s Venice create an experience that was more than simply exercising or getting healthy.


Ever notice that a group of guys will compete over anything? Who can spit the farthest, who can get the most phone numbers, who can hit a golf ball the furthest—it doesn’t matter. The human ego is a powerful thing. Using this to one’s advantage is even drug like in terms of producing rapid results. Friendly competition breeds success through beating others time, reps, or weight used. This taps into the age old battle for dominance that the male species of every organism fights. Learning to harness that power is like weight room alchemy—truly turning lead (or iron) into gold!

You think Arnold would stop at 20 dips if Franco did 20? Hell no! He’d get 21, 22, or even 25 to be sure that the next guy couldn’t top him. For iron warriors who lift consistently like clockwork, competition can elevate our performance and our results even further, just like it did for those in bodybuilding’s golden era. Do you really think the supporting cast at Gold’s Venice honestly felt they could beat Arnold? Of course not. But they also knew that competing against him day after day in the gym would bring better and faster progress than training alone. Sure, they would have been good on their own, but without the group, none would have reached the epic levels of size or strength that they each developed.

And for those people who just don’t seem to “get it” like you and I, CrossFit has tapped into the competitive streak inside us all. I know this is hard for us to fathom, but not everyone shares our passion to eat, sleep, and breathe strength. CrossFit has given the world "workouts of the day" and reawakened the competitive drive that lay dormant in so many desk jockeys and paper pushers. And this has added an element of fun that has brought outsiders in and hooked them for life. For many CrossFitters, it is less about the box jumps, snatches, and burpees and more about the competition, winning, and limit pushing.


Ever see a scene in Pumping Iron where a lifter was struggling by himself? Didn’t think so. There are countless examples of lifters sharing techniques, tips, and tricks. It may be repositioning the elbows in posing practice or it may be Arnold screaming at Eddie to finish his squats. The bottom line is this—even in the most individual pursuit in sports, these bodybuilders never tried to do it alone. Now we all regard that as the “golden era,” and very few of us would turn down an opportunity to train there if we could go back in time. Why not create something similar in the present?

CrossFit felt the same way, and they’ve succeeded in replicating that environment in today’s modern world. CrossFit athletes rarely, if ever, train solo. Most sessions are performed in groups ranging from five to 20 athletes. That’s a bit larger than the typical powerlifter or Strongman would prefer, but it gets the job done for their purpose. If an athlete happens to train alone, someone else has performed that workout previously. There is always a score or time to beat. Competition never leaves the scene. But that also means a friend, another athlete, or even some forum poster has been there. They have advice and experience on the best ways to deal with the obstacles, offering encouragement and solutions. CrossFit has found a way to make sure that even if the athlete is forced to train solo, he is never truly alone.


Everyone needs a coach. The guys at Gold’s Venice coached each other and they were all eager to learn as much as possible. There weren't any dogmas in that day. Lifters simply wanted to know how to get big and strong, and they all helped each other learn as well. Arnold gave “advices” to the other lifters, and Joe Weider helped guide Arnold up through the ranks, creating a marketing and business wizard. CrossFit has “Weider like coaches,” too. I use the term loosely because the bad ones always ruin the perception of any organization, but the fact remains—those with more knowledge and experience are leading and sharing that wisdom with others.

Look at today’s top athlete in any sport. They all have nutritionists, personal trainers, life coaches, and therapists outside of the team coaches. No one is a one man mountain. Even the best ask for and receive help from trusted sources. You aren't any different. Find a mentor and ask for help. Chances are if that person really has reached success, he's had some help along the way. And unless he's lost his soul, I’m sure he’d be willing to offer guidance.

Take home message

CrossFit may be a “product” or a fitness trend with controversial programming, but it’s far from the only successful movement to capitalize on the ideals of community, competition, support, and coaching. Many of the most successful gyms, coaches, trainers, and companies have benefited and built greatness using those intangibles as a foundation. Dave Tate has written at length about the competition and coaching that he found when he first started lifting. He's parlayed much of his experience from his lifting career into building a successful community here at elitefts™, complete with support, coaching, and competition. T-NATION is a prime example of a brotherhood or community of like-minded individuals who get support, coaching, and competition from each other. Joe DeFranco, Zach Even-Esh, John Berardi, and many other successful coaches have used competition, community, coaching, and support to successfully create an environment with a cult like following in which their athletes thrive.

Whether you like the training methodologies or not, CrossFit has successfully packaged fitness into an attractive bundle that continues to flourish because the founders followed the path that was blazed by the pioneers who came before them. They saw the footprints of success staring them right in the face, took what was useful, discarded the rest, and created a monster.

My advice to you is to learn to do the same in your own lifting and in your life as a whole. Stop the “criticize first” mentality. Stop being negative. Don’t be the person who we're all trying to cut out of our lives. Don’t dwell on “what’s wrong.” There is always something to learn from every person and every situation. We were given two ears and two eyes but only one mouth for a reason. Talk less and observe more. Adapt a mindset that seeks out the value in every opportunity and capitalize.

Here are some way to incorporate community, competition, support, and coaching into your own life and training:

  • Weekly group lifts:This is probably the most effective way to start a community and develop a special brotherhood while still allowing individuals to train the way they wish. At House of Strength we have Strongman Saturdays. Powerlifters, Strongmen, wrestlers, and just about all our athletes meet up each Saturday morning to drag our Strongman equipment outside. There is rarely a plan, but what ensues is nothing short of magic. One upping and competition fuel the fun, and nobody leaves unsatisfied. Blood, sweat, and chalk cover asphalt, and the faces show nothing but smiles and exhaustion.In the past when I worked at Globo Gym, we held similar competitions for the members. The "Fittest Person" challenge was a huge success because it incorporated the community, competition, support, and coaching aspects. Even guys who “didn’t need” personal trainers competed, learned, and improved. You could do the same at your gym or copy the Dan John "lift and grill" template. Dan has written about lifting and grilling fests that he has with friends and fellow lifters at his home. Simply gather a group of lifters, some meat, and some heavy objects and see what happens.
  • Join a lifting group: It doesn’t matter if they’re all stronger than you. In fact, that is preferred. When you see young athletes, always tell them to play with older and better kids so that they can improve. The same thing goes with lifting. Drop the ego and start lifting with stronger, more experienced lifters. Again, progress will come quicker than ever before. You’ll also instantly have a community, competition, support, and coaching. Funny how those things always seem to lead to success.
  • Find a mentor/coach: Ask the strongest dude at your gym. See if you can train with him, bounce ideas back and forth, or just set up some time to chat after a lift. If that doesn’t work, find a coach you respect and email him. If you go this route, be careful. Be polite and respect their time. Understand that they get paid to do what you’re asking.
  • Beat your log (book): If you aren't keeping a training log, you should be. I won’t elaborate on why you need to do this here, but if you have a log book, even if you train alone, you have a way to compete against yourself. Take fewer rests, lift more weight, do more reps, or cover more distance. Challenge yourself to get better!
  • Use forums: Elitefts™ has a huge catalog of training logs, Q&As, and other resources to help you become a better lifter. Start a training log and get feedback, support, and advice from seasoned lifters and coaches.

Even Alan from The Hangover realized his one-man wolf pack needed more wolves. Throw your hat in the ring and start competing. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you progress with training and life.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect in any way those of elitefts™,, Inc., Dave Tate, the staff at elitefts™, the athletes sponsored by elitefts™, the contributors to our site, suppliers, distribution network, business consultants, our bank, cleaning staff, postal carrier, delivery driver, cleaning lady, family members of the owners or staff, ancestors or descendants of the owners or staff, friends of the owners or staff, our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, our sandwich artist at Subway, our pets, the raccoon in our warehouse, our neighbors or anyone directly or loosely affiliated with us in any way.