Crossfit and Startups Are The Same Thing



“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary, because health is worth more than learning.” — Thomas Jefferson

I was recently at a startup event here in NYC and was having a great conversation with a random set of folks. We all started shaking hands in preparation of splitting up, ready to charge forward and continue networking with other people. I extend my hand to one of the woman to shake goodbye and instead she says, “Sorry, I can’t shake hands right now. I hurt mine this morning.” She turns her hand over and reveals a set of Band-Aids over the top part of her palm. I smile and ask, “What was the workout?,” while quickly turning over my hands to show my chewed up palms and the scars of a few old but nasty tears.

We both laughed and spent a few more minutes talking about Crossfit; what our boxes (home gyms) were like, the communities there, and which movements we hated the most (her = burpees, me = rowing). It’s not the first time I’ve met a fellow Crossfitter at a startup event, and it made me reflect on the similarities between Crossfit and the actual experience of being in a startup.

Some context: I do love me some Crossfit. I can talk for hours about it, because it’s something I’m passionate about and it makes me happy. I’ve been doing it for almost six years now, having worked out with Eric and Nadia at the awesome CrossfitBelltown in Seattle for many moons, then joining the very hip Crossfit South Brooklyn when we moved back to New York last year. I’ve always been an athlete through soccer, swimming, and generally being a gym rat for as long as I can remember. I love it so much, I even became a personal trainer and group exercise instructor at Boston Sports Club while I was in college (I taught a pretty mean cardio kickboxing class).

So what, then, does the Venn diagram of Crossfit and a startup look like from my perspective? Here we go.

  1. Efficiency and productivity

Crossfit is intentionally intense. It’s based on the premise of high-intensity work done over short periods of time (“intervals”), meant to maximize the benefit of the exercise. I go for one hour a day, five days a week, and always feel great because I know I was as effective as possible in getting my workout in. The same set of folks go to my 6am class almost every morning and many of them are now good friends of mine. We cheer each other on while pushing each other to work as hard as possible. The unique “Workout of the Day” is always different than the prior day and never lets you feel like you’re being repetitive.

To me, it feels exactly like working in a startup: every day at work is different than the last, I often work super hard for intense sprints of time, and I could never get anything done without the support of my team.

  1. The right kind of competition

My friends Peter, Brad, and I are always racing against each other in our 6am workouts. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so when we’re planning out how to approach a workout, we share tips and then a few taunts to push each other. The coolest part? You’re never really competing with your friends (unless you’re doing a competition): you’re pushing and competing with yourself. Whoa, #meta. Your community at Crossfit, like your team at work, are your support systems for setting personal goals and working super friggin’ hard (see point 4) to achieve them.

  1. It’s all in the data

We use a dizzying array of technology at Klink to monitor our products and users, making sure we know everything about their experience, via the telemetry that gets reported to us. Combined with the fact that we are a big data company building customer intelligence solutions, and you would be correct in saying that my work is full of data. The goal is to always make measurable progress with our products and our customers.

We similarly track everything at Crossfit: how long it took to do a workout or how many reps you got, how much weight you squatted or how many pull-ups you did. There’s an important belief in the Crossfit system that you can’t improve if you don’t keep track of how you’re doing, so I use an app called MyWOD to monitor my progress and refer back to it each week as I’m planning my strategy for the different workouts.

  1. It’s friggin hard

I like to do things to the max. Crossfit workouts typically have a concept of a ‘prescribed weight,’ meaning the maximum recommended weight to use. I almost always use that weight and almost always finish the workout in time (or with high reps, etc.). Yet every couple of workouts, like the 4x4x4 one from mid-January, I get completely crushed. For that one, I had to lower the weight from the prescribed amount and still finished over 2min past the 10min time cap – it was one of the hardest workouts I’ve done in months. The thing that got me through it? My entire 6am class surrounded me as I pushed through the last set and cheered me when I finished (and promptly collapsed onto the floor).

Super-hard challenges requiring a ton of personal effort and the support of a team to finish. See “Working at the office until 2am on a financial model due the next morning,”or the always fun “Dogfooding a hotfix allday on a Sunday so that you can fix an urgent customer bug.”  Every week at work, there’s always a day or two that feels like that 4x4x4 workout: it requires an all-out effort from everyone on the team, everyone works past the clock, and no one does it alone.

Are you a Crossfitter? What’s your favorite workout?


Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by CrossFit Fever

About the author: Michael Affronti

Michael is a product guy based in NYC who loves design and code almost as much as he does bacon. He runs product at ThinkingPhones and formerly was at Klink and Microsoft. He advises and mentors several startups in product design and process, and is an avid Crossfit’er and soccer player.

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