10 ways CrossFit can get your company in shape—without working out

I stumbled upon CrossFit 10 years ago. It’s had a huge impact on my life, but not necessarily in the way you think. Sure, I’ve gotten in better shape, but I keep coming back to feed an addiction to an endorphin rush—the kind of high I haven’t experienced since high school football.

While the crazy workouts—from box jumps to pull ups to 400 meter runs—are certainly not for everyone, I would argue that the principles of CrossFit are actually highly applicable to business and can improve executive performance and that of your entire company.

I admit that sometimes, CrossFit feels a little cult-like, and the macho spirit can get over the top, yet at its core (more on that in a moment) is more than just exercise; it’s a philosophy you can use to fuel your business. Here are my favorite takeaways:

1. Core strength. No “beach muscles,” as my old football coach use to say. Instead, you focus on the core, the big and central muscle groups that affect all the others.

The lesson: Are you focusing on the core of your business these days or the appendages that don’t really matter?

2. The right technique. At CrossFit Great Barrington (appropriately dubbed BizFit), there’s a certain motto that adorns the T-shirts: “Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is Fast.” In other words, first master proper technique at a doable pace, and then the results will follow.

The lesson: Is your technique at work smooth and sound, or is it frenetic and unsustainable? 

3. Setting new PRs. Not public relations, but personal records. That means going all out, and on occasion, utilizing every bit of your fast-twitch muscle fiber.

The lesson: Have you set personal and quantifiable professional goals for yourself that take your achievement to the max?

4. No cheating. While I’ve come across a couple isolated incidents of CrossFitters who are flakes, virtually every CrossFitter I’ve met is brutally honest about their times and numbers of reps.

The lesson: Do you know companies who inflate their number of customers, annual revenue, or the uniqueness of their product?

5. Scale it. For most startups, scaling equals expanding. In CrossFit, it’s actually the exact opposite, meaning you make adjustments so that the workout is manageable for you. If need be, lighten your load. In business parlance, it’s like a page out of the book Do Less, Achieve More.

The lesson: Are their challenges at work that you might want to back off from, or chip away at, rather than solving all at once?

6. No navel-gazing. There are no mirrors in CrossFit gyms. It’s about doing the workout, rather than checking out your reflection or resting on your laurels.

The lesson: How much idle time, or worse yet, analysis paralysis, exists at your organization?

7. Routine is the enemy. Constant variation is a big theme in CrossFit. One day, it’s heavy weights, and the next day, it might be a five-mile run

The lesson: Do you shake it up at work, or do you find yourself doing the same old grind?

8. Word of mouth. CrossFit is the ultimate referral machine, a complete 180 from the cheesy advertising at other gyms. Yes, they have active blogs and post countless videos online, but it is about the action and not the promotion.

The lesson: How much of your marketing is pushy and salesy, rather than having real people demonstrate their attraction to your product in action? 

9. Rest days. The routines acknowledge that we need time off to reach peak performance, and the workout of the day is replaced with a rest day.

The lesson: When have you taken a real rest day lately at work? 

10. Social contact. Crossfit is truly a social network. I didn’t sign up to meet people, yet so many of those I’ve met have been genuinely encouraging of each other both in and out of the gym. It’s unlike other gyms, where everyone wears headphones and few people talk to each other.

The lesson: Are you a social animal that feels isolated at the office and craves more real human contact?

Even so, sometimes I want a break from the high-intensity workouts. And CrossFit actually encourages you to do new sports. I’ll do a yoga class, go for a run, take a boxing lesson, or hit the slopes in the winter, but I find myself coming back to CrossFit.

A big reason why is that camaraderie. How much real camaraderie do you feel with your colleagues at work?

Hopefully, it’s one of the reasons you keep showing up every day. If not, it might be time to find the next gig.

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