Nike, CrossFit and The Benefit of Forward Thinking

I was excited when I was asked to sit in at a meeting between the Head of New Product Development for Nike and the owner of the prestigious gym I had worked at for the previous five years.

What I didn’t realize at that time was just how dramatically that short meeting would change the trajectory of that gym and my career moving forward.

Nike was in the process of creating partnerships with existing gyms that had the aesthetic and athletic mindset that they were known for in an effort to gain even greater inroads into the training space. Rather than build new gyms from scratch, why not just take existing, high performing gyms and slap the Nike brand on them?

Besides, they tried to build their own facilities when they launched a project called SPARQ a few years prior and that never really took off.

Nike thought that this particular gym would be a good fit, hence the meeting.

Interestingly, the future of that gym and of my career had nothing to do with that project (it never materialized) but as a result of a side conversation that the two main players in the room were having.

That conversation revolved around a somewhat new but surging brand in the fitness space called CrossFit.

This was around 2010 and while CrossFit had existed for a half decade prior, it certainly wasn’t the top-of-mind fitness brand that it was soon to become. There were maybe two or three boxes in all five boroughs of New York City at the time. Rich Froning and a slew of remarkably strong Icelandic women were not in the public consciousness. There were no documentaries. There was no sneaker sponsorship. The annual CrossFit Open and its prize, entry into the CrossFit Games, was not yet an international event anticipated by a legion of exercise enthusiasts hoping to be named “The World’s Fittest” man or woman.

I had been aware of CrossFit for a number of years at that point. In fact, anyone who was passionate about barbell-based fitness was already witnessing their steady and exciting climb.

Back to that conversation.

Both my boss and the big muckety-muck from Nike were dismissing CrossFit out of hand. The Nike guy said it would never be a brand worthy of its own sneaker deal nor would the growth of the gyms be very prevalent. The owner of my facility believed that, even if CrossFit did see steady growth, it wouldn’t impact his business.

“It’s not my customer,” he said confidently.

Within four years of that meeting, a few interesting things happened. CrossFit partnered with Reebok as their main sponsor and created sneakers (the Nano) that revived that brand to the point that Reebok abandoned their own logo and put the CrossFit Nano mark on their entire line. And while it’s difficult to put exact data on it, CrossFit certainly made inroads by swooping up a lot of potential personal training clients.

They were my former boss’s customer after all.

Ultimately, Nike came around and released a full line of shoes directed at people who were increasingly taking to CrossFit-style training rather than running or other traditional gym activities. They even named the line “Met Cons” after the high intensity portion that had become the signature of CrossFit workouts. (That’s gotta be the nice thing about having the firepower of a brand like Nike. Even when you make the wrong calls, you’ve got enough clout and resources to get back in the game.)

By that time, that Head of New Product Development was no longer with Nike. And the facility that I had worked for had gone out of business.

Now, not all of these things are a direct result of each other, but I don’t think they are unrelated either.

If you are a child of the 80’s (and even the early 90’s) you undoubtedly remember BlockBuster Video stores. And if you aren’t quite that old, you certainly remember a time less than 10 years ago when a spinning studio seemed to pop up on every urban street corner.

So ubiquitous were these stores that when new companies with new ideas (in these particular cases, NetFlix and Peloton, respectively) emerged, they never saw the threat.

And just like my boss and the guy from Nike, they were unwilling to see that things can and do change. Often much faster than you think.

As always, you are probably wondering what this has to do with your fitness and I would argue absolutely everything.

It is very easy to get stuck in our ways. To believe that our meal plans and training programs and routines are completely bulletproof and serve us at the optimal levels.

But that is rarely fully true. You must be willing to take in new information. To reevaluate. To engage in a growth mindset that welcomes new ideas.

This is easier said than done. Particularly with the wealth of questionable information out there. But even if you are an experienced “pro”, constant evaluation of what constitutes best practices in light of new or new-to-you information is imperative.

It’s a large part of the reason we keep our training on four week cycles. It’s not that the programs wouldn’t continue to work if they were longer duration. Along with considering some other factors (psychological engagement, trying to develop various strength qualities and energy systems for our clients) it ensures that we are always sharpening our swords. It drives a constant practice of evaluation which ensures that we are always acting in our client’s best interests.

It’s a practice that will serve you well in your fitness and likely every other aspect of your life.

Evaluate. Reevaluate. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to be creative and try new ideas.

It’ll ensure you don’t have 11 miles to go but only 10 miles worth of road.