The Catholic Church and ...Crossfit?
A while back, Fr. Mike Schmitz put out a video called "5 Things the Catholic Church Can Learn from Crossfit". It's a pretty good video and touches the major aspects that have led to Crossfit essentially becoming a type of religion for people. I also love that he brings out the commonalities between advancing in physical fitness and the spiritual life.
The video notes summarize Fr. Mike's points:
1. In Crossfit gyms, you’re seen, you’re known, and you’re missed when you’re not there. How often does someone stop coming to church without us even noticing?
2. Crossfit is functional fitness, exercises that help you live your life. If we can bridge the gap between what we do on Sunday and our lifestyle, we will see how church helps us be more virtuous in our everyday life.
3. Crossfit has scaled workouts. Crossfit trainers ask you what you can do. What if we made spiritual exercises tailored to each individual and what they can do?
4. Crossfit is challenging. Pursuing Jesus is a challenge. What if we challenged Catholics, calling them to something higher?
5. People doing Crossfit are willing to be led and to learn. What if pastors were more willing to be leaders, and parishioners more willing to be led?
These are fair points, and in particular, I found it interesting that he brought up scaling as one of the lessons. In my gym, we wouldn't necessarily call it scaling but either a regression or progression of some foundational. For instance, if someone couldn't do a push up they would do an incline pushup with an easy angle, and make that more challenging until they could do a pushup on the floor. Then if they get good with it they could do a decline pushup or a weighted one. Same thing goes for a pull-up: you could use a band for support if you can pull your bodyweight, then you'd move on to a regular pull-up, and then weighted pull-ups, and so forth. And of course, there are regressions and progressions for the big leg movements: squats and deadlifts.
What I learned from doing regressions and progressions was that there are just some exercises that all people should be able to do for some reason: they're the most "functional"; they involve many muscles and so you get a good payoff on your training time; they have an aesthetic payoff, etc. I suspect the same thing goes for the spiritual life: there are likely a few basic things that all of us should do, that are in a sense non-negotiable or at least give you the fullness of the spiritual life if you dedicate yourself to them; e.g., daily rosary, daily mental prayer, daily examen, etc.
Besides the good things the church can learn from Crossfit, I would also throw in some lessons that the Church should learn from CF's potential downsides.
If a Crossfit box doesn't have a good coach, its workouts can feel a little random (just substitute a not-so-great spiritual director or my brain's own temptation to constantly try new devotions, books, or practices). Crossfit can also leave people constantly spinning their fitness because there is often too much variation and not enough expectation that people will show up for workouts that are actually connected to each other. People can also skip workouts if they know it has exercises they don't like doing or find too difficult (I'm pointing the finger at myself for the one month I did Orangetheory before the lockdown). And most importantly, success in Crossfit often means just doing the most "work" in a timed competition; that is obviously not how it works in life, but sometimes we can forget when we're feeling overzealous.
(I mean, luckily I'm not subject to that since I barely break a sweat at my workouts. I also completely ignore pull-ups, which I'm sure I'll regret when the zombie apocalypse comes around.)
Fr. Mike ends his video by acknowledging that some may think his suggestions are a stretch but, indeed, Crossfit was counted along with Soulcycle as a church-gap filler for millennials in this 2015 academic paper, "How We Gather", by Harvard Divinity School students. Feel free to laugh at the subject matter of contemporary divinity school students, but what they found was telling.