One could argue that much of CrossFit has been a natural progression. The evolution of the pull-up, for example, from seemingly momentumless pull-up to kipping to the most recent butterfly pull-up wasn’t forced or handed down but rather was a result of the demands of the task at hand in task-focused exposures like CrossFit. Carl Paoli has really formalized this idea with his concept of natural, formal and creative progressions in his latest book Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Live Performances With Four Basic Movements.
This pull-up example is just a microcosm of virtually everything we see in CrossFit. As an open-source, task-focused entity, its style will be forged as openly and freely as water flows. For example, my mentor, Andy Petranek, had an experience that many trainers (Greg Glassman included) can empathize with that looked like a natural progression from private training to group training.
Petranek, like any expert-level trainer, quickly learned that private training is hardly scalable and that he could get as much (or even more) improvement out of his athletes if he combined them together and trained them in small groups while earning a wage that more accurately reflected the value of his work. Glassman had the same experience, which later formed much of what we know as a nearly universal element of CrossFit — the group element. The natural progression was to combine private training clients into powerful groups to achieve the same goals they had with personal training in a more financially and time-efficient manner.
If you really look at it, group training can be a natural evolution of good coaching. Surely, as we’ve seen, being an excellent coach isn’t requisite to train people in groups, but few expert coaches, in my opinion, are able to remain personal trainers forever. Even if an expert coach charges an arm and a leg for private training, the math isn’t there to support his or her excellence. It’s the reason that famous coaches make fitness videos. It’s only natural for their worlds to affect more people.
Furthermore, it’s these coaches and trainers who have the best capacity to handle multiple athletes at one time. That, combined with the simple fact that we know that when executed well, training in a group can yield better results than when training alone with a trainer. It seems as if group training is a natural evolution in fitness regardless of whether CrossFit existed or not.
Private training with excellent coaches is costly. Because a person could easily pay more than $1,000 a month working three times per week with a trainer, the need for group training rates is almost critical for most of the population to make significant training progress. The advantages of personal training, of course, include but aren’t limited to control. Personal training can be tailored and amended to progress an individual more specifically than any other scenario. But is the value of this control worth more than the efficacy and affordability of group training costs?
Well-executed group strength-and-conditioning programs can corral many individual needs in the same direction as we’ve seen in the CrossFit community, specifically. Dare I say then that as coaches improve their craft, I think we’ll see a natural evolution in the fitness community away from personal training and toward very efficient, masterful group training sessions in even more abundance than we are seeing today.
Personal training, then, will be dominated by quality trainers coaching very wealthy people, students with very specific needs using personal trainers to gain capacity to bridge the gap to one day join a more financially sustainable quest into group training, and as an opportunity for budding coaches to inexpensively trade their time for one-on-one coaching experience early in their careers.
In that way, CrossFit and some of its popularity might be a simple natural progression from personal training to mastering fitness in the group element based on need. As coaches improve around the world, especially with the help of shared information and the incredible thought leaders that are emerging around the world, I believe we can look forward to a shift in perception that personal training is naturally higher quality than group training to an understanding that says a person can get what he or she needs cheaper and more efficiently with group training. Of course, time will tell.