“Crossfit is a cult” : the European perspective?

Crossfit has witnessed a huge boom in Europe over the past few years with boxes popping up in a constantly growing number of cities and countries, according to Reebok Crossfit Games online. CrossFit branches now span 100 countries, and are being added at a rapid but remarkably steady pace.

Leo Marose from boxrox.com, a Europe-focused magazine for competitive fitness, says, “When we started we had 13 boxes in Germany, now we have over 150. The UK was already a bit further ahead with just over a hundred, and is now going strongly in the direction of 500. Overall there should be about 1500 boxes in Europe and it’s growing every month.”

Crossfit's popularity has started to expand across Europe.

The number of blackboxes has started to expand across Europe. Source: map.crossfit.com

But how does the European Crossfit mentality differ from the original American one?

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation based in Brussels, Belgium, offers employees the opportunity to train in Crossfit at the Staff Centre. Their blackbox has existed since 2011.
Interestingly, NATO’s Crossfit coach Konstantinos Sinapis, also known as Kosty, believes Crossfit has lent itself to “cultish” ways. He says, “You have these habits, the little details, the things you have to preach. it makes it a cult.”
Kosty’s brother, Christos Sinapis, is also a Crossfit coach at NATO. However, he doesn’t agree with his brother’s viewpoint. “Crossfit is something new and people are afraid of new things. Crossfit works, so a lot of people will start looking for ways to criticise it and will try to protect the economy based on fitness and diets. The WODs are for free, you don’t need to buy any equipment, you can easily do it at home. It’s a threat for fitness, personal coaching etc.” Perhaps the only similarity to a cult, Christos adds, is that there’s a need for social connection and when they go through something hard together, there is a bond.

A poster on the wall at NATO's Blackbox

A poster on the wall at NATO’s Blackbox

Leo Marose has noticed a big difference between the American and European practice of Crossfit. “From our perspective the US is still focusing a lot on military content, which we try to avoid,” he adds, “Another difference is that people in America receive content a lot easier and like to discuss a lot. Europeans tend to be more reserved and don’t share that much CF content compared to American readers. We also have so many different languages in Europe, so not all information finds the people who are searching for it.”

“Every country I go to for work, I always go to a box. I see that it’s getting huge, it’s becoming a massive success. For example in Athens in Greece two years ago they had 4 boxes now they have about 15,” Kosty says, “If they open that many boxes and it’s getting so popular there’s got to be a reason behind it. And I believe that’s the results people see. The more time passes, the more popular it is getting and I think eventually normal gyms will disappear.”

Christos agrees that Crossfit is becoming more and more popular. “There’s no limit to Crossfit. It started in the States but there’s a box opening every month now around the world. It’s really famous in Europe, especially Scandinavian countries. Italy is now one of the countries with the most Crossfit Level 1 trainers.”

Crossfit NATO's official website with photos of coaches Kosty and Christos. Source: http://www.natostaffcentrecrossfit.com/#!welcome-to-xfit/c69b

Crossfit NATO’s official website with photos of coaches Kosty and Christos. Source: http://www.natostaffcentrecrossfit.com/#!welcome-to-xfit/c69b

The popularity of Crossfit in Europe is becoming evident in the amount of different nationalities turning up at Christos and Kosty’s classes. Christos picks up on a particular advantage for having Crossfit at NATO: the influence all the different cultures and languages can have on Crossfit. “Different cultures and different backgrounds in fitness is a good thing, it’s a melting pot of knowledge. All these people travel so can bring us different information from boxes all around the world so its like being in the centre.”

Despite NATO being situated in Brussels, the Belgian blackboxes are completely different to that of NATO. Kosty explains, “In Brussels its a bit strange because you have a few boxes but they belong to the same guys. So there’s one style, you either like it or you don’t so the popularity is quite low. In NATO it’s different. We want to stick closely to the principles. We said we were going to follow Crossfit from A to B, thats why I think it’s successful here.”

Click and listen to the full interview with Kosty

NATO’s Crossfit classes are popular with a range of employees. Kosty and Christos have trained with ambassadors of several countries amongst other VIPs. But there’s no such thing as special treatment when it comes to Crossfit.
“We don’t treat ambassadors or high-ranking people differently. If they’re late, they still have to do 50 burpees. When I say faster, it’s faster. Theres no exceptions,” says Kosty.
Christos agrees, “A Crossfit member is a Crossfit member no matter who they are. Everybody is treated the same.”

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