The Real CrossFit Fight

The Battle With Big Soda, the ACSM and the NSCA

Lead Image Credit: Rogue Fitness

Editor's Note: T Nation and CrossFit were both born in the late 1990s. T Nation has grown into the world's largest hardcore training site. CrossFit has grown into a household-name fitness regimen and has become a sport unto itself with the introduction of the CrossFit Games in 2007.

CrossFit and a few of T Nation's contributors haven't always seen eye to eye. We've poked at one another over the years, mainly when it comes to the intricacies of training methodology. We'll probably continue to do it.

But the truth is, many T Nation coaches have been involved with CrossFit since its early days. And today, most of our coaches who do seminars conduct them in one of CrossFit's 14,000 facilities.

And while there will always be disagreements about the minutia of training and nutrition, T Nation and CrossFit are on the same side of a bigger battle. We both want more people to lift weights, get strong, build muscle, and not get fat.

Also, we both like to call people on their shit. We put the bad guys on notice, those people and organizations who work against our common goals. CrossFit doesn't mind tackling the biggest corporations in the world and will even take on the government when necessary. We at T Nation kinda like that scrappy attitude.

So when CrossFit's Russ Greene wanted to highlight some of the battles they're involved with, we told him to give 'em hell. – Chris Shugart

The Rise of CrossFit

In 1999 I started lifting weights. My YMCA trainer got me started on a standard Cybex circuit of leg extensions and lateral raises. Back then it was rare to find bumper plates, gymnastics rings, or even a straight pull-up bar in gyms.

Eighteen years later, even commercial facilities feature Rogue rigs and bumper plates. USA Weightlifting's membership has multiplied many times over. You can watch athletes compete with couplets of muscle-ups and snatches on CBS Sports.


What changed? Many things, but mostly one thing: CrossFit. The company's licensed affiliate gyms have grown from one location to over 14,000 locations. Even his detractors concede Greg Glassman has had massively positive effects on the industry through CrossFit.

As coach Charles Staley wrote on T Nation: "Has anything advanced the case of female super-fitness more than CrossFit? That's a rhetorical question. The answer is obviously 'no.'"

Lie, Lobby, Legislate

CrossFit was able to reach millions because the fitness industry is a level playing field. Fitness is free from barriers to entry that protect the status quo and keep out innovation.

But now, an unholy alliance of certification and soda companies threatens to pull fitness back into the dark ages. Their strategy is to lie, lobby and legislate the competition into submission. We at CrossFit will not stand for it.

Some critics of CrossFit HQ, such as Robb Wolf and Mark Rippetoe, have also opposed this agenda. I hope you will too. But what exactly is this unholy alliance aiming to achieve? And what parties exactly are involved?

Coca-Cola's "Exercise is Medicine" Shifts Blame to Inactivity

In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine and Coca-Cola co-founded Exercise is Medicine. ACSM claims the American Medical Association co-founded it, but this is a lie (1). It may surprise you to hear that Coca-Cola is a major player in fitness, but it uses exercise to "shift blame for obesity away from bad diets," per the New York Times.

Coke's Exercise is Medicine scheme aims to merge fitness with healthcare. The goal is to get doctors to refer patients to fitness trainers with particular credentials, and for insurance companies to reimburse this service. Exercise is Medicine trainers are not permitted, though, to give meaningful nutritional advice. (We know this because we asked them repeatedly and they told us so.)


Coke is desperate. Governments are passing laws about soda taxes and warning labels to protect their citizens from Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. Class-action lawsuits are surely coming, just like they happened to Big Tobacco. But ACSM and NSCA have their own reasons for wanting to merge fitness with healthcare.


Which trainers will be legally allowed to train most Americans? Will fitness remain a level playing field, or will some corporations get special treatment?

These questions involve layers of legislation and regulation we won't delve into here. The bottom line is, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, and their cronies at the American Council on Exercise have advocated for laws that exalt and insulate their trainers but exclude the competition.

They formed the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP) to do their bidding. Unlike CrossFit, CREP's credentials do not require any hands-on instruction or experience. You just have to pass a test. This "certification" process does not develop or assess trainers' ability to instruct clients in the basic movements of fitness.

So CREP's claim to promote public safety is absurd. This is obviously just about gaining political control over the fitness industry, and making money.

Graham Melstrand

Graham Melstrand, President of CREP and Vice President at the American Council on Exercise.

Take the regulations CREP attempted to pass in Washington, D.C. CrossFit stopped them from going into effect (2), but CREP lobbied to replace the D.C. government as the regulators of the fitness industry (3).

Imagine the implications: Program a workout CREP doesn't approve of, or tell your client to cut out soda, and CREP could remove your license to practice.

In Georgia, CREP got a state senator to propose a bill that would've made it punishable by up to a year in jail for a new trainer to pass a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar course and start training clients (4). The same would go for a non-CrossFit trainer who failed to acquire one of CREP's approved certifications.

Is locking up fitness trainers really the best use of a police department's time?

NSCA Published Fraudulent Claims About CrossFit Injuries

Of course, there's no better way to increase regulation than to gin up concerns about public safety. NSCA published false claims about CrossFit in their Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The NSCA study claimed that 16 percent of the subjects were injured by CrossFit. In reality, none were. But don't take my word for it. A federal judge ruled that the injury claims were false as a matter of law (5). And here's what that federal judge recently ruled when granting (in part) CrossFit's motion for sanctions against the NSCA for failing to produce documents (6):

"It is taken as established that the NSCA made the false statement in the Devor Study with the intention of disparaging CrossFit and thereby driving consumers to the NSCA... It is taken as established that the NSCA actively supported state legislation that would regulate personal trainers."

Let's Keep Fitness Legal

So far none of these lobbying efforts have borne fruit. And CrossFit has put the NSCA and ACSM on their toes. But we all must stay vigilant. The fitness industry's aspiring regulators have a long-term, multi-pronged strategy.

It includes bills like the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which empower D.C. bureaucrats to pick winners and losers in the fitness industry. ACE is also advocating for cities to require fees, permits, and particular certifications just to lead fitness classes in public parks.

The most important thing you can do is keep an eye out for any fitness regulation at the city, state, or federal levels. You can also track's media to stay current on the fight to keep the fitness industry a level playing field. Besides, isn't that something all fitness trainers should want?

Angelo Sisco

Angelo Sisco, O'Hare CrossFit

Let's keep these results legal.


  1. February 3, 2016 letter from AMA President Steven Stack to CrossFit Inc. Founder Greg Glassman
  2. Morath, Eric. "Anti-Licensing Movement Scores a Victory, CrossFit exercises lobbying clout in beating back District of Columbia bid to regulate trainers," Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2015.
  3. Document submitted by CREP to the DC Board of Physical Therapy
  4. CREP model bill, presented in the Georgia State Senate
  5. United States District Court, Southern District of California. "Order (1) Granting CrossFit, Inc's Partial MSJ and (2) Granting in Part and Denying in Part National Strength and Conditioning Association's MSJ"
  6. United States District Court, Southern District of California. "Order Granting in Part and denying in Part Motion for Sanctions"