Why we are afraid to tick the CrossFit box

According to research carried out at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, there is still a vast amount of misunderstanding as to what CrossFit actually means.

Faris Al Hammadi co-wrote a paper on the as-yet nascent CrossFit culture in the UAE, which found that the sport intimidates many because of its perceived cliquey aspect and high cost. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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While there are now at least 25 CrossFit gyms – or boxes, as they are called – across the UAE, a student survey has found many people do not know much about the notoriously tough workout.

According to research carried out at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, there are at least 17 such facilities in Dubai alone, with at least four more each in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

The research paper Adoption of CrossFit in the UAE was produced this month by two students – the Emirati Faris Al Hammadi, 32, and the Indian Merwyn Saviopaul, 29, as part of earning a ­master's degree in strategic ­marketing.

The duo surveyed 104 people between the ages of 18 and 34 via online questionnaires. Of the respondents, 70 per cent were male and 30 per cent female.

Al Hammadi, who took up CrossFit a year ago, says: “The main challenge for CrossFit is that people are unaware of it. People still think of it as just losing weight. It’s not associated with something to gain muscle, which CrossFit is.”

People also feel the sport, an extreme mix of strength and conditioning training developed by the former United States gymnast Greg Glassman, is an expensive way to train.

On average, two classes a week cost about Dh600 per month, which is significantly higher than other programmes.

“People are willing to pay for things when they understand it, but they did say CrossFit seemed expensive,” says Saviopaul. “However, when we explained how they can get the same efforts from a half-hour workout in CrossFit to what they do for an hour in the gym, they said they would be more likely to pay for it.”

The research also found that one of the major components of CrossFit culture, the “community” aspect, could be interpreted as “cliquey” and intimidate would-be joiners.

Candice Ford, the co-owner of Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai, the first CrossFit facility in the UAE, said her staff do their best to make everyone feel welcome.

“I have long tried to understand and reduce this, certainly in our facility, but I have come to the conclusion that in many ways the clique is a part of human nature,” she says.

“The more close-knit a community becomes, the more daunting it can initially seem to the outsider.”