Lift, Squat, Repeat: Inside the Crossfit Cult

Devotees love the exercise's max out and do it again training regimen. Its critics are getting a workout, too

Finlay MacKay for TIME

CrossFitters work out in a New York City box. CrossFit preaches “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.”

Outside, it's a few degrees south of zero. But inside this CrossFit gym in Grand Forks, N.D., a half-dozen fitness nuts — three men, three women — are just warming up. Tom Harmon, a former Army reservist who runs this 5,300-sq.-ft. space in a mall, is about to put his troops through the workout of the day: five dead lifts, raising a barbell from the floor to hip level; then seven burpees, a CrossFit favorite in which you hit the floor from a standing position, do a push-up, then jump in the air, repeat and rinse; then nine wall ball shots, tossing a medicine ball above a marked spot on the wall. The goal: repeat this exercise cycle as many times as possible in 12 minutes.

CrossFit is what happens when our need to exercise slams into our need for instant gratification. Marathons, triathlons and Tough Mudder events deliver the requisite torture but require lots of training time. Particularly after the holidays, we want chiseled abs and sculpted triceps and a clearer head right now. We're too busy to futz around at the dumbbell rack or run 80 lonely miles a week. And after spending all day tethered to our devices, we're itching to talk to other humans at the gym. Shared suffering, it turns out, is a powerful urge.

People are flocking to CrossFit and other extreme exercise programs; the potential physical and social benefits are undeniable. But as hyperintensive exercise programs increase their reach, more health professionals are raising serious concerns.

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