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

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Finlay MacKay for TIME

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

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Berger won't apologize for CrossFit's tactics. Scientists like Robertson, who Berger feels are slandering CrossFit, may want to seek cover. "We're going to be direct, and we're going to carry a big stick," Berger says. "He should feel bullied." A few days later, Berger wants to amend his words. Bullied is too strong. "They should feel pressure," Berger says. "People who are unwilling to engage intellectually to try to figure out what the truth is, I think they are going to feel that pressure."

Exercise Evangelism

Of course, CrossFit isn't the only hyperintense exercise program out there. The Insanity workout, P90X and obstacle-course runs like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have devoted followings. And you can still look good--and feel good--while doing more traditional dieting and runs around the neighborhood. All these newer exercise routines share benefactors: Facebook, Twitter and other social-media sites. You know, the bragging machines. On a recent morning, a sarcastic tweet captured the oversharing habit: "I wish people who did CrossFit were more open about it."

Nat DeWolf, an actor from New York City, understands that sentiment. "I'm doing things I never thought I'd be able to do," DeWolf, 49, says. His arthritis has subsided. Mentally, he's in good shape. "I've posted about it twice on Facebook, and it's taken such restraint not to do it more," says DeWolf, who's been doing CrossFit for more than a year. He remembers irritant friends bugging him to do CrossFit. Now he's the irritant. "I'm them," DeWolf says. "It's horrifying."

CrossFitters admit they can get a little evangelical about their obsession. Says Joshua Newman, a co-owner of CrossFit NYC: "Are we the Jehovah's Witnesses of exercise? Sure, that's a fair tag. But there's a difference. Jehovah's Witnesses ring your doorbell and proclaim the good news. With CrossFit, it's more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 'You used to be my friend. Now all you want to do is talk about your dead lift. What has gotten into you?'"

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