Fitness, fun or friendship: A qualitative approach to understanding motivations to participate in CrossFit


CrossFit is a community-oriented exercise program significantly growing in popularity (Wang, 2016). CrossFit consists of constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity, and it is generally performed in a class-structured community environment (Glassman, 2007). Given its growing popularity and community-based structure, CrossFit is an important context for understanding the impact of community on an individual's motivation to participate in a unique form of exercise. This study explored individual experiences in participating in CrossFit, along with their perceptions of the community within their gym. 217 (85 male, 132 female) current CrossFit participants (Mage = 34.49, SD = 9.83 years) responded to a series of open-ended questions relating to motivations and experiences with community at their CrossFit gym. Individual responses were thematically coded using Braun and Clarke's (2006) six-stage coding process for thematic analysis. Five distinct themes were identified to describe participants' motivations for choosing CrossFit as their form of exercise: (1) active living (health and fitness as a motivator), (2) mental health (reducing anxiety or stress), (3) personal fulfillment (intrinsic enjoyment), (4) social connections (social and community motivators) and (5) convenience and quality (services provided at the facility). In terms of the social community surrounding participation in CrossFit, three themes were identified: (1) belonging (membership and identity within the group), (2) mutual support (shared experiences offering emotional support), and (3) extending 'outside' the box (Community extending outside the gym). Overall, findings contribute to understanding how community can impact an individual's motivations to participate, adhere and enjoy exercise programs.