When a newbie walks into what is usually an industrial-looking CrossFit facility, she or he will likely notice some things that are very different from the stainless steel and glass, big box “retail” gyms. First, the traditional health clubs are packed during January and February with well-meaning, overweight but unfocused participants and then ghost towns for the rest of the year. While the CrossFit box is buzzing with the about the same number of participants year-around and they are laser-focused on achieving fitness goals.
There is another big difference between CrossFit and traditional gyms which the fitness industry has started to notice. For several decades, the traditional facilities have featured row after row of cardio and weight machines. There have never been any cardio or weight machines in CrossFit gyms. In fact, the functional training (free weights, rope climbing, intense HIIT training, etc.) done in a group setting and led by an experienced fitness expert is EXACTLY what sets CrossFit apart from traditional health clubs.
Don’t look now, but the shiny retail facilities are wising up to the popularity of CrossFit training. They are replacing those cardio and weight machines with free weights and group training.
Rage Against the Machine
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Charles Huff, the vice-president of facilities for 24-Hour Fitness noted that the 420-location chain has scaled back cardio and weight machines to 50 percent of floor space from about 66 percent it had allocated previously. The traditional health club “now devotes the other half of floor space to free weights and functional training, which includes things like kettlebell swings and body-weight exercises with TRX suspension straps. It has also expanded its studio group exercise classes.”
The article continued by noting that “stair-steppers” and some elliptical machines in particular are waning, but stepmills continue to enjoy some popularity. Leg and shoulder presses remain popular in these traditional gyms, while narrow-focus ones such as inner/outer thigh machines “gather dust.”
The piece pointed to several trends driving this shift away from machines. “Boutique fitness is booming and many of those studios focus on guided workouts with few or no machines. Some members of CrossFit gyms, meanwhile, are migrating to less expensive health clubs with newly added or expanded barbell weightlifting facilities.”
A primary driver of this trend on the part of big box health clubs has nothing to do with machine/anti-machine client preferences. It is the oldest business motivation there is: MONEY. “Trainer-led sessions generate extra revenue where a treadmill or weight machine can’t.”
CrossFit: Boring it’s Not
The popularity of CrossFit training has forced many heretofore successful traditional clubs to “up their bars” for club members in order to remain profitable. The days when participants would arrive at the gym and immediately jump on a treadmill or elliptical and stay there for a half-hour are over.
Why? It’s BORING and anything boring starts to feel a LOT like work.
The group exercises and more intense training pioneered by CrossFit challenge (some would say “beat down”) participants and successfully completing this often grueling training brings about an esprit de corps among the class member. This leads to a greater wiliness to push one’s comfort boundaries and results in better results.
CrossFit training may be hard, but it is seldom boring. Boredom is the bane of most fitness programs and it is the reason that come March, that traditional health club, with its row after row of machines, will once again be a ghost town. While over at the CrossFit box, the participants will be gasping for air, struggling with kettlebells, free weights and tire flips, screaming encouragement to their new friends in the class and kicking butt.