Is Crossfit WEIRD ?

There are plenty in the world that would call Crossfit a little weird, but could it be argued that Crossfit is too WEIRD.  This isn’t weird in the sense that Crossfit and the folks that have drank the Crossfit Kool-Aid are bizarre and strange, but more in the sense of Joseph Heinrich’s concept of W.E.I.R.D.

WEIRD is a psychology/sociology concept that was introduced by Joseph Heinrich.  His concept proposed that a disproportionate amount of behavioral science theory was being based on the American population. In this case, A recent survey of the top journals in  psychology revealed that 68% of subjects were from the US and fully 96% from ‘Western’ industrialized nations (European, North American, Australian or Israeli). That would mean that the studies on human behavior had a 96% concentration on only 12% of the world’s population. Or, to put it another way, you’re 4000 times more likely to be studied by a psychologist if you’re a university undergraduate at a Western university than a randomly selected individual.  In this way he supposed that much of research was being based off a biased sample of the population.

But what does that have to do with Crossfit and fitness? Is there a similar pattern reflected in the people who Crossfit?  Is there a sociological between these factors and the masses that Crossfit?  Joseph Heinrich coined the concept of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) to define the distinctiveness of those identified in these studies, but can the same imbalance be found in Crossfit? Is Crossfit participation or biased towards a more WEIRD population?

W – Western

There are two ways that I have found this to be a distinguishing feature.   The first is through simple geography. Below was the listed allocations for Crossfit Games Regionals Qualifiers.

10 men and 10 women from Asia, Africa,  Latin America.

20 men and 20 women from Canada West,  Canada East and all U.S. Open Regions

30 men and 30 women from Australia and Europe

To put this in perspective, there are more than 7 Billion people in the world and of that three of the top five are from Asia (China, India, Indonesia), with that region representing just under 60% of the world population. However from this region there are only 10 Men and 10 Women invited to Crossfit Regionals.

1 Asia                          4,478,315,164      59.6 %
2 Africa                       1,246,504,865      16.6 %
3 Europe                     739,207,742           9.8 %
4 Latin America        647,565,336           8.6 %
5 Northern America 363,224,006          4.8 %
6 Oceania                      40,467,040          0.5 %

Based off the selection ratios this will bring about a higher “western” or primarily American or European representation despite the higher “eastern” population.  Some of this is by design in that the methods used by Crossfit to determine these allocations are to support the the relative competitiveness and spectator ship anticipated.

For a better breakdown of the Crossfit regions. Crossfit Games Regional Breakdown

I also like to take this a little bit deeper. Even in the break out of the higher percentage of “Western”  athletes, there is another “W” to be aware of.  Much of Crossfitters tend to be “White collar” workers. Business men and women of different levels,  teachers, nurses, etc. These is not a high showing of construction workers, plumbers, and other specific trade skills.  The exception here is military, Law Enforcement and Firefighters. This may because of the need for physical ability in the performance of their jobs.  “Blue Collar” workers may have physically demanding jobs, but most are not working all day and then coming into the gym.  Next time you are working around look around and see how many grease stained, dirty or calloused hands before working out.  These is nothing against Blue’collar workers but the reality is that if you spend your day outside working with your hands or in the environment and weather, then you tend to be less likely to come to into your local box before or after work.

E – Educated

This doesn’t mean that everyone who Crossfits has a degree or even a diploma, but when we talked previously about the preponderance of “White Collar” athletes, that is because most of them have received some form of Western education, regardless of level or institution. High School, Associates, Vocational, Bachelors, Graduate;

I – Industrialized

There are plenty of people that have had to do some workouts in some austere conditions. Military serving overseas in remote areas tend to be the bulk population for this. Most of us attend our local box down the street. They may not always have the latest and greatest equipment from Rogue, but generally they have some decent equipment in the form of barbells and plates, kettlebells, rowers, and a collection other implements. Some places will also have tires and sandbags, but these tend to get used less frequently.   Our equipment is steel bars, formed rubber places, forged cannonballs with handles.  Far and few are the people routinely lifting logs and rocks and other improvised items to work out.

R – Rich

Lets be honest Crossfit is not cheap. It’s not. I have seen a variety of different pricing options for memberships. Most places tend to do a monthly membership, but i have seen places that have punch card options.  With the monthly memberships I have seen some places charge on the low end of $100 a month and to the high end $325 a month.  Compared to the $19.95 memberships that are available at some non-crossfit facilities, a three digit Crossfit membership is an investment.  I believe receiving quality coaching is a much higher need for most of the population than just having access to equipment and a facility, but the reality is that we all do not have the time or the funds to justify having a Crossfit membership.  This is another reason that much of the crossfit population tends to be white collar workers with more disposable income.

D -Democratic

Democratic society may not be the biggest factor so much as being a capitalist society. It is no secret that Crossfit founder Greg Glassman is an Libertarian and it is reflected in the way that he manages his corporation and affiliates.  Each affiliate is essentially its own independent small business and is “allowed” to succeed or fail based on its own merits. This format has allowed Crossfit affiliates to flourish in countries / regions that are more small business friendly. This has not prevented affiliates from opening up in countries that are traditionally communist, or have increased government restrictions.

 

In the end, Crossfit is at its heart an “American-made” product.  Its draw has allowed it to become popular throughout the international community.  Despite the the spread of its popularity, there is a strong argument that Crossfit participants are strongly biased towards a WEIRD demographic.  Even though there is a stronger opportunity for Crossfit to be more popular and accessible in more Western or Democratic cultures, it has started to see growth all across the world. The question remains whether Crossfit will maintain this degree of bias but across higher participation numbers or will this bias begin to “even” out as the more people across the globe begin taking sips of the “Kool-Aid”

 

For Further Reading

World Population

The Weirdest People in the World