The women of CrossFit

One of the things I love about CrossFit is its emphasis on strength, especially for women.

You also know, if you’ve been a reader of this blog that I love its account of fitness (see Fitness, yes but fit for what?) and that there are some aspects of CrossFit life with which I’m less comfortable (see Six Things I Love about CrossFit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About.)

But here I want to venture into murkier territory, the issue of the CrossFit women, advertising, and community aesthetics.

Let me begin by stating my own preferences up front. I love muscles, on me and on other women. Frail people have always made me a bit nervous. And for a long time, I associated skinny with frail.  And yes, I know there are people who are naturally very thin, just like there are people who are naturally very large. And I know we can be beautiful and healthy at every size, but here I’m just stating a purely aesthetic preference. Make of it what you will.

So when I see the quote below from strength training coach Mark Rippetoe, I’m not offended. It makes me smile. Sorry if that puts me in the Bad Feminist corner but there it is. I’ll see you when my detention is over.

Rip: “You would look better if you gained about 10 lbs of muscle” Woman responds with look of utter horror.

Rip: “Trust me, I’ve been looking at women a long time, and I’m really good at it.”

– Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe,

I know a lot of women interested in improving their fat-lean ratio who think the best and only approach is to diet. But since almost all weight loss is an equal mix of fat and muscle, that’s tricky. Losing just fat without losing muscle is hard, especially for women since our bodies set out to preserve fat (for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with hormones and reproduction.)

For most women in the normal weight/BMI categories the best way to improve your fat-lean ratio is by building muscle. And you do that best by moving heavy things around repeatedly.

So it’s nice to hear women being told to gain weight, get bigger, get stronger.

So far so good. But here’s my worry.

I worry that images of women who represent CrossFit in advertising and in CrossFit community publications don’t match the diversity of women I’ve met who actually do CrossFit. Tracy has written about how pictures of impossibly fit people aren’t really inspirational and about the need for more diverse images of what fitness looks like.

That’s definitely true in the case of CrossFit.

I like that there are people out there who admire women with muscles. There are lots and lots of Tumblrs filled with pictures of the women of CrossFit. Here’s some:, A collection of awesome girls who live the motto “Strong Is The New Skinny”., CrossFit Women | Fit and Sexy (NSFW, depending on your definition of “safe,” “work” etc)

And I’ve met lots of amazing looking women at CrossFit, it’s true. But these images do not do justice in anyway to the range of women who actually do this activity. The images are almost all young and lean, able bodied and white. Now I’ve only been to two CrossFit locations and I’ve been doing it for less than a year but what I’ve seen so far is a lot more diversity than I see in the images about CrossFit.

These images aren’t advertising, of course. Instead, they are the collections of photos from CrossFit community members and fans. But insofar as they do perform some work as promotional material for one of my favourite physical activities, I worry they are doing that activity a disservice.

If you’ve been thinking of giving CrossFit a try and find the super fit, super lean images off putting rather than inspirational, set the images aside and come see the reality. It’s a very supportive community of real people, in a range of shapes, sizes, and ages, all aiming to get stronger, faster, fitter, and more powerful.

Among the women, there are teachers, nurses, professors, students, derby girls, runners, rugby players, and triathletes. There are some very fit people who’ve been doing it for years, some brand new people, some new to regular exercise even, and loads of us in the middle.

My favorite ‘woman of CrossFit’ is Jean Stewart, the dead lifting grandma. If I made a tumblr of CrossFit women, she’d be my first entry.

You can read more about her here,

17 thoughts on “The women of CrossFit

  1. Great post. All the tumblrs you linked to look like fitspo to me! Sigh! And I love that you end with (and would begin your own tumblr) with Jean Stewart. Why? Not just because she is atypical, but because seeing her deadlifting all that weight is *truly* inspiring and in all the right ways. There has always been some debate that if we posted pictures of ordinary people who look average, that wouldn’t be very inspiring as far as advertising for gyms, fitness products and programs, etc. go. But Jean Stewart is pretty inspiring. I want to do more work on media representation and inspiration.

  2. The deadlifting grandma is the kind of fitspo I’d love to see more of. Like Tracy, I find her so much more inspiring than I do a fitness model with glistening abs, because while I’ll never have glistening abs (and am not even sure I want them), I really, really hope to be deadlifting when I’m 83 years old.

  3. I agree with you on almost all points! However, the very nature of advertising, especially that which is fitness related, is to sell. Sex sells. I’ve never seen a gym, supplement company, apparel outfitter or event promotionals exemplify an “average” or a “diverse” array athletes, competitors or consumer, they wan’t to put their fittest foot forward, unfortunate as it may be, it’s just the way it is. Those tumblr blogs are collections, in my opinion, of women who are the epitome of “their fitness”, not just crossfit and their priorities are probably a lot different than a large majority of crossfitters, or anyone at any gym for that matter… At least 10 of those images are very popular on the internet and have zero relation to crossfit, this doesn’t negate the fact that they are inspirational to someone, namely, the owners/posters of those blogs. Like you said, crossfit is family to a very eclectic, enthusiastic and welcoming group of people, with many different backgrounds, goals and commitment levels and I encourage any and everyone to give it a try and see what an amazing program it is. Whether your goal is to look like those girls or to be a dead-lifting granny take all the images and advertising with a grain of salt, and keep in mind, Victoria’s Secret angels aren’t the only ones wearing their lingerie.

  4. You’re meant to want to be these women is the idea. Lets be honest they pick the same type of man you don’t see non ripped males all over the crossfit site. It’s all about posting about the best athletes.

    1. Sure. I get that. But my worry is that they put off more women than they inspire. And since they’re not official Crossfit images individual box owners might have reason to be concerned whether their interests are well served by this association. I know lots of people like the images but lots of people don’t too. A variety of images might be a better choice. More grandmas, fewer visible abs! 🙂

  5. Great post. I’m an over-50 CrossFit female gym owner. I love the diversity of body types in my gym SO much. It makes me so happy. I share photos of these vibrant, active adults on my gym’s Instagram @crossfit.206 (CrossFit 206 in Seattle) if anybody would find this inspiring! In general, over-50 or even over-40 is seen by the bigger world as very unsexy, so a trainer like me does not get a lot of online followers… but I’m inspired every day by my middle-aged clientele.

  6. Great article! I have just joined Crossfit Toa in Wellington NZ at 76 and am loving it. Trainers expert as you say and welcoming of older people. It’s a revelation after more conventional gyms. I started because it’s close to home and had strength classes at 7am. I will continue because of all the reasons you list and more.

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