The State of College CrossFit

May 31, 2021 by
Credit: Courtesy of the Panther CrossFit Club
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When Gemma Morrison was making her college decision, she kept CrossFit in mind. “There had to be a gym within walking distance or something on campus,” she said.

Morrison, a rising sophomore, landed at Penn State University, one of the many colleges with a CrossFit club on campus; she is now on the leadership team of the Penn State CrossFit Club.

CrossFit in College: These clubs, though run by students, hold to the values of the sport. There’s an emphasis on healthier lifestyles and hitting a WOD hard, accompanied by the kindness and support that you’d expect of any CrossFit community. 

  • “I know for me, at least, CrossFit was kind of the one hour a day… we didn’t have to think about school or the stress that comes with school, we’re all just kind of there to hang out and get a good workout in,” says Haley Flambaum, Health and Wellness officer for the Penn State CrossFit Club. 

The Penn State CrossFit Club is one of many in their region — there at least six others in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Panther CrossFit at the University of Pittsburgh and CrossFit Gold and Blue at the United States Naval Academy. In 2019, 17 collegiate-level clubs competed in the Collegiate CrossFit Championship (including one in Korea). 

  • According to CrossFit, all university clubs are welcome to affiliate free of charge, as long as they meet the requirements

How they work: Each of these on-campus clubs runs like your typical affiliate, hosting free WODs multiple times a day for students (and faculty, in some cases) of all skill levels. Elections decide their leadership, with students taking on the roles of President, Vice President, Health & Wellness Officer, and so on. 

In Annapolis, Maryland, CrossFit Blue and Gold works out of two racquetball courts and their school’s public gym facility. For the past year or so, they have been following programming from CrossFit Mayhem.

  • The club, run by their competition team (crowned champions of the 2021 Collegiate CrossFit Championship), holds workouts for about 12 to 14 people in the morning and afternoon, with faculty classes at lunch. 
  • The classes garner a long waitlist; Katie Hofman, former Vice President for the club, says that pre-COVID, over 300 midshipmen were on their email blasts to sign up. 
  • At the Naval Academy, many use CrossFit as a way to stay on top of their fitness for the Personal Readiness Test — a one-mile run, max plank, and max push-ups — tested every semester. 
  • “We’ve gotten into a good rhythm,” says Ben Hilliard, President of CrossFit Blue and Gold, saying that as a coach, he gets to watch members of the club “grow and develop over the years and sometimes make it on the team.”

At the University of Pittsburgh, there’s no Crossfit-designated box for members of Panther CrossFit to work out; they use their college’s recreational center. Vice President Ryan Costenbader says this makes them “a bit limited in what they can do.” 

  • But, the collegiate club has formed a partnership with local gym Pittsburgh FIT; on Sundays, they’re able to hold longer workouts, focusing on things they miss during the week.

Jill Haffner, Head Trainer for the Penn State CrossFit club, says that they structure their workouts with a strength portion followed by a WOD and typically hold around four classes a day for upwards of 50 to 60 members. (Pre-COVID, their club had around 140 members.)

  • The Penn State CrossFit Club has a big garage to hold workouts in, with “a ton of space [and] lots of equipment.”
  • Joshua Southwick, the club’s treasurer, calls the atmosphere “second-to-none.”

These three clubs are also active in competitions, whether that be in-house, regional, or national.

  • Hilliard jokes that they’re a “pretty fit team for college-age kids.” CrossFit Blue and Gold has sent athletes to Regionals in the past, and next year, in addition to more funding and recognition from their school, they’re hoping to send a team to Semifinals. 

All skill levels: “[What] I really like about our club is that we’re open to everyone and anyone joining no matter your skill level or experience,” says Costenbader. The leadership teams at each club say their membership is a mixed bag of athletes: some members, like Morrison and Costenbader, made CrossFit a focus of their college search, others stumbled upon the club and never left. 

  • Anna Dow, President of the Penn State CrossFit club, discovered the sport during a club fair while looking for the swim club. “I never went to a swim club practice,” she laughs. 
  •  Hilliard came to the Naval Academy as a walk-on for wrestling, and after getting cut halfway through his first year, found CrossFit. “I wanted to be maybe a Seal and do all that stuff, so I needed an area to grow and train with people around me. I chose to try and do [CrossFit], it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.”

Community: While fitness is a main point of CrossFit clubs, many students value it more for the community. These clubs bring together students of all abilities, majors, and ages, forging a bond that many members believe can’t be replicated anywhere else. 

  • Our gym was turned into a classroom this year, which is why we didn’t have space on campus. Our equipment was just locked up… It would literally be like 10 of us pulling dumbbells, wall balls, and mats outside in the grass and on the concrete every day, just to hit a workout together. You just don’t see people trying that hard to spend time together anywhere else,” says Dow. 
  • “I’ve met my best friends and my roommates through CrossFit… I couldn’t imagine where I would be if it wasn’t for this club,” says Flambaum. 
  • “I think this is something really special,” adds Morrison. “So many people in my grade, coming in, struggled to find friends… because of COVID, and I can honestly say I have found easily the best group on campus.”
  • “Our club is about CrossFit, but it’s not about working out, it’s about the community,” says Lauren Charlton, an officer and coach for Panther CrossFit. “I think the great thing about CrossFit is that it’s so disciplinary and fun and it’s just a great support system to have in college… I don’t know if I’d still be at Pitt without it.”

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