Confusing Greg Glassman with CrossFit

Posted: May 23, 2011 in CrossFit, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

On the backend of the blog, you can see what searches have led people to look at a particular page. One search I found interesting was “Greg Glassman hypocrite.” So I thought I’d take the bull by the horns and discuss the sometimes controversial founder of CrossFit.

First, as a general observation, the combination of competitive athlete and entrepreneur rarely affords a likable individual. Lots of people who knew Arnold Schwarzenegger (now in trouble again) on his way up to the top of the ladder seriously disliked him; if you have any doubts on the matter, watch the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” which helped propel Schwarzenegger into the international spotlight. Interestingly, he had control over the project and showed “warts and all.” But even his enemies will usually admit that  Shwarzenegger has made positive contributions to the state of California.

Lance Armstrong is also back in the news, once again facing accusations of blood-doping et al. I live pretty close to his stomping grounds, Austin, Texas, and I have yet to have met anyone who has had any dealings with Armstrong who likes him. Almost everyone uses the same word to describe him: Asshole. But Armstrong has done a lot of good as well, raising both awareness of and money for treatment of testicular cancer. He has a great resource website,, with articles on fitness, health and diet, as well as my favorite tool, the DailyPlate, a food logging application.

So just because someone isn’t likable doesn’t mean they’re not right or that what they have to say can’t be useful. Around my house, we call that the “Rodney McKay” principle.

Now we come to Greg Glassman. Chris Shugart writes, in an article called “The Truth About CrossFit,”

The Truth About Greg Glassman

Greg Glassman is the founder of CrossFit. A former gymnast, the 49-year-old Glassman is credited with “creating” CrossFit in the 1980s, though the mix-and-match training system wasn’t officially named until much later. The first CrossFit gym was opened by Glassman in 1995 and the website was launched in 2001.

Glassman is a controversial figure, quick to make enemies. While he’s revered by some in the CrossFit community (many of whom clamor to get their photos taken with him), he’s also been called a “lunatic” by at least one former CF coach. “The major problem with CrossFit is Glassman himself. His personality, his ego … he’s now doing CrossFit more harm than good,” said the former coach, who asked not to be identified by name because of ongoing friction.

That squares with the grapevine reports about Glassman. I’ve never met the man, probably never will, any more than I’m likely to meet Schwarzenegger, Armstrong or McKay. What you hear is that he cuts people off who cross him and that he’s got a huge ego. You can get that impression from some of the articles he writes for the CrossFit Journal: He’s more interested in showing off than in communicating the material clearly. On the other hand, it may be that he assumes a higher level of knowledge with physiology than most of his readers will actually have.

That’s a problem experts often have. When I was a litigator, finding an expert who could clearly explain things to a lay jury without sounding like they were talking down to the jurors and who also had impeccable credentials was a monumental task. It’s not so much that they mean to be haughty, but that they are so used to talking to people who speak in the same jargon that they forget that not everyone understands it.

Try talking to a military member, for a rather common example. They speak acronym. I have to stop my son every few sentences when he talks about work to get an explanation for ABC or DEF. Compound that with the fact that he’s a reservist and is also studying physics, I can’t talk to him about work or school without needing an encyclopedia, dictionary and several textbooks. But it’s interesting stuff and worth the effort.

So it is with Glassman, in my opinion. He’s not really a part of my CrossFit experience except to the extent I have to try to decipher articles he’s written. He may have started it, he may be earning the big bucks from branding it and spreading it, but it’s bigger than just him. The men and women who have taken the CrossFit concept and spread it to their communities have made it their own. It’s like saying the writer of a textbook is the same as your teacher; they are not. It’s the people teaching you, the people coaching you, the ones you personally interact with that are important.

It’s also like judging a product by the company’s owner. I’ve met a lot of jerks who own companies that make great products. So what if they’re obnoxious? (Except for Mark Cuban. I’m sorry, but I have trouble with the Mavericks because of their owner, even when they were coached by Avery Johnson, whom I deeply respect. So I’m inconsistent. Who isn’t?)

Don’t let the textbook writer/corporate owner get in the way of a good experience. If you’ve found a coach and CrossFit works for you, then don’t sweat Glassman. It’s just not worth it.

  1. Laura says:

    Ah, glad you posted this. I hadn’t heard of Glassman and also really hadn’t thought about the founder. Like you say, I like the product. I appreciate your overview, now I know =?)

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks for putting it in perspective. I have had these negative thoughts about “Coach” and from time to time it takes a little of the zeal out of me… but I am blessed to have an intelligent, mature and patient coach where I train. So I just get on with being fit and enjoying the company of the people I train with.

    • Glad it helped. It is indeed more difficult with the fitness or diet industry to see the head person not in the shape that their plan/product promises, but I’d still buy my Toyota Avalon knowing that the CEO drove a Rolls. Although I might find it alarming if he drove a Ford…

  3. myshadycorner says:

    Great article. Love the reference to a textbook writer and a teacher. Really puts it into prospective.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback. I appreciate finding out what people think regardless of whether they liked it or not, but it’s particularly satisfying when the message is received.

  4. 300poundsdown says:

    This is interesting. I’m sure you’re right that Crossfit is much bigger than the founder. I didn’t even know who that was until you mentioned it!! I never thought about where it originated. I am glad he did create it! But to me Crossfit is my own personal experience with the box I go to. It’s probably a lot like the church and its denominations. It may have started as one entity but clearly it broke off and evolved from there. I’m sure boxes are alike and different but really what makes it for me is the Coach and the people.

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  6. The problem in this case of comparison is that Glassman IS Crossfit, not merely a popular person involved in it. He invented it, he owns it, he runs it, he is the Alpha and Omega of its existence. You may not like him jumping the shark, making insane rants, spouting complete lies, BS, or simply exaggerating. But at the end of the day, if you are a Crossfitters, you are connected at the hip. So by all means, Crossfit… Or don’t. But don’t act like the two are separate entities.

    • Lance Armstrong *was* LiveStrong until he stepped down from the board of directors after the doping scandal broke (again). And Jeff Bezos is Amazon, Bill Gates was Microsoft, and Steve Jobs was Apple. If you evaluate the products by the people making them, then I would agree with you, but the person promoting and making the product is not the product itself. I think it’s harder, though, when the product is a service and when the promotion is like the Hair Club for Men. As I said, I’m not part of the inner sanctum of CrossFit, but to me, CrossFit is the application of the service by my local box, and I evaluate each box and coach on its own merit, not that of Glassman, even if he does have a concrete-shelled affiliate contract.

      • Crossfit is like the Holy Bible and/or religion. There are those who take the word literally and are purists. And there are those who create their own sect or denomination, that picks and chooses which parts they agree with, and which parts you ignore. For example, neither the “fittest man/woman on earth” strictly follow crossfit protocol via diet or exercise. When you aren’t doing either, at what point is it still crossfit? In short they do what athletes do, they train in specifictivity, for the big event. It’s been said plain as day in their interviews. That is exactly the opposite intention of the program, ironically enough.

        I don’t blame anyone for distancing themselves from his (Glassmans) lunacy (mirrored by HQ). On Monday he’ll say “science proves nothing”. On Tuesday he’ll say “we got the science” that proves our superiority. On Wednesday he’ll say that if you want to get good at something like bodybuilding, then you need to apply the law of specfictivity and bodybuild. But on Thursday he says that Crossfit will make you bigger than any non steroid taking bodybuilder on the planet. Jokes aside, the fore mentioned were all actual Glassman-isms. Non of which he takes back, or apologizes for.

        All that said I understand your point, but I don’t care if you are talking spiritually, literally, intellectually, proprietary, legally, etc. As of today, right this second, Greg Glassman and the name Crossfit are one and the same. I understand that with zero brand quality assurance or control, your box might very well simply pay for the name, yet teach Zumba and Body Pump at your box, and that’s a shame. It is what it is. But Crossfit and Glassman have very specific seminar vids up on the journal, in which he clearly says what is crossfit and what isn’t. I dare say most Crossfitters aren’t actually following the random protocol and diet (Zone, not Paleo), as envisioned.

        I can’t say it enough, the program does work. It’s just not as magic as its made out to be. You combine proper diet and exercise and you will se results. It’s science….even if Glassman doesn’t believe in it. 😉

      • All points are well-taken–I’m glad you followed up!

  7. Kaiser says:

    Glassman invites yet another comparison to an entrepreneur/athlete – Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga. Choudhury is an abrasive, egotistical, controlling and frankly disgusting person under investigation for a number of sexual assaults. Yet Bikram Yoga has proved enormously beneficial to millions, myself included, and every teacher I have met is a kind and considerate human being. To confuse the two would be a big mistake.

    Also, in today’s interconnected digital world, even the most authoritarian leader simply cannot maintain the kind of control they might want over their product, so their awfulness can only translate so far across their business empires.

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