A Stroll Down CrossFit Memory Lane in Europe

I’ve never been identified as a fancy guy.

Sure I’ve tried many times and in many ways; but at the end of the day I’d choose bar food and a stout over a fancy Italian dish any day. I love wearing a suit, but have you spent a day in sweatpants? I think Teslas are cool, but my truck can move gym equipment with ease. Naturally, my tendency toward rust and no-nonsense function has drawn me to certain things in my life, CrossFit being one of those things.

When I joined my first gym and I tore my hands, as a prank they put rubbing alcohol on the tear instead of peroxide. I was hooked. Sounds dumb and, well, it kind of is, but I love getting beat up and earning your stripes. I loved CrossFit slapped the mainstream supplement industry across the face and brought back the paleo lifestyle. I love as a fitness movement CrossFit kicked the globo gym out of the temple and left it empty for actual functional movements. CrossFit began as a true teenage rebel, ignoring the naysayers and saying over its shoulder, “Just watch and learn.” Not to say this culture has changed drastically, but a few things have been left behind, and for good reason. It is no longer considered to be hardcore if a gym has dried blood on the barbells – I think we can all get behind that shift. It’s not considered grassroots to have dirty floors and walls – again we are all onboard. However, as a now “old school” CrossFitter I kind of miss that nostalgia for some strange reason, and I say with total sincerity going to CrossFit gyms in Europe brought that old feeling back.

Six European Affiliate Experiences

Corina and I had the pleasure of dropping into six Boxes around Europe: Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Dublin and Glasgow. Going to the Boxes was like stepping into a time capsule, and I loved it. Each owner stood with pride at their facility as they welcomed us to their Box. They showed us the main workout floor, emphasized to us that we are not allowed to drop weights ever due to either neighbors or weak floors. Each owner then proceeded to show us the – on average – four other rooms where portions of the WOD would have to be completed due to lack of space.

Vienna’s Box required their athletes to begin their 400-meter run by running out the front door, down a flight of stairs, up a ramp into the main lobby, out the main building door and down a flight of stairs out onto the street. To return, you would have to hit a button to be buzzed back into the main lobby.

Prague had GHDs in an attic-type room that you could only access via a fire escape on the backside of the building.

Berlin’s gym had taken over the inside courtyard of the building complex – I guess it was a small playground before – and decided to attach a homemade pullup rig to the building wall – no permit in sight.

Amsterdam had a storage room for all extra weights – dumbbells, sandbags, etc. – that their members would have to navigate through to find the correct weights. Oh, and their gym also owned a motor boat in the canal next to their Box because why not?

Every gym had inappropriate jokes or phrases on their plyo boxes and a high number of wallballs had encouraging phrases written in sharpie, like “Don’t be a b*tch” or “Don’t suck.” I loved seeing what funny phrase or concepts the next gym would have; it was like walking into a Trader Joe’s to see what cool things they had that nobody else did.

Why Miss It?

So you may be asking, “Why would you miss these setups? Why would you miss having to go down stairs and through hallways during your 400-meter run? Who on earth would miss rolling out on dirty duct-taped tennis balls and doing HSPU on dented walls?” The answer is simple, because that’s what I fell in love with nine years ago. The personality, that no-nonsense “just do it” that used to be CrossFit, is alive and well across the Atlantic Ocean. Corina thought it was quirky and unique; I thought it was amazing.

Another thing to consider is the type of athlete these facilities produce. If you are doing a push up with a person’s feet right next to your head because there isn’t enough room, you get comfortable with most anything. If you are not allowed to drop the barbell ever, you get a very specific kind of stronger – and your hamstrings get swole.

The Catch

Now here comes the catch: This is not me saying I want those days back. One of the Box owners asked me what gyms were like back home. my reply was, “We have gone much more corporate, and so will you in about six to 10 years.” The market is not decided by an individual but rather a population, and the preferences of a population do not necessarily display their maturity level; but I do think there is a natural progression to preference in CrossFit. This sadly means that soon enough, the old rough and tumble culture that began CrossFit will be replaced with a shadow of it.

People used to post hand tears on social media like badges of honor; now it’s frowned upon and called foolish to let your hands tear. Pukie the clown – look him up – used to be the sole mascot of CrossFit; you couldn’t find a gym without him on a wall. Now he is deemed intimidating. The trip to CrossFit gyms around Europe for me was a pleasant walk down memory lane. I kept finding myself explaining to Corina, “Oh yeah I remember this is how we all would set-up the rings…” or “Yeah I’ve built one of these before…”

I know the market shifts, I know times change; I respect a changing market and respond to it as any business should. But to get a chance to meet some grassroots owners, see a few Pukie the Clowns and to step into that culture again was an aspect to the trip I wasn’t anticipating, and I’m glad I got to take that stroll in Europe.

Gabriel Perez
Gabriel Perez the owner of CrossFit North Pasadena and part owner of CrossFit Altadena, both located in Pasadena, California. He has his L2 and his MBA from Azusa Pacific University. He has competed as an individual at the 2012 and 2013 CrossFit SoCal Regionals. Contact him at gabrielcruzperez@gmail.com.