Grass Roots!!

My buddy Shahan and I working out at the rec center shortly after it all began in 2007.  No where to go but hang your rings on the punching bag rig.  So much for hanging with your arms straight and feet not touching the ground!

Grass Roots!

Call me old school but I’m one of the guys that sticks to the way it all began.  Things are different these days. I started CrossFit in 2006 and there wasn’t an affiliate in site. Not one in the state, now Utah is full of them and it’s only growing more by the month.  I got in trouble for dropping weights, taking too many bars for workouts, and doing pull ups on the cable crossover machine when there was nowhere else to go.  People made medicine balls out of deflated basketballs, sand, and glue, the occasional duct tape helped as well. I know my fair share of people that made rings in their ovens at home because you couldn’t buy them online. Bumper plates were a rarity and when we got to use them it was a treat. We used sprinkler boxes for box jumps and built pull up bars out of plumbing pipe. The first time I walked into an actual CrossFit box it was like a playground that I couldn’t get enough of.

My buddy Eric and I wore our running shoes for every single workout and even thinking of an olympic lifting or minimalist shoe was unheard of. Compression gear didn’t exist, wrist wraps… what are those. Knee wraps, weight belts, colored tape, and tricked out headbands with your gym logo didn’t exist. There wasn’t some fancy variation of CrossFit programming and people claiming they are elite coaches or athletes. We followed everyday for years and found huge gains. We were a community of people at the beginning of a movement that supported one another and competed with each other by looking at the times we posted on under the comments section on .com. Garage gyms were the coolest thing you could ever create and your buddies came to throw down with you.

The advantage of an affiliate is tremendous. It’s invaluable the education you can get from a good “box” in getting started, learning the movements, nutritional advice, programming, scaling… the list goes on and on. As CrossFit grows boxes will get more elaborate and offer more options, but when it boils down to it it’s a community of people working out together, supporting one another. You just have all the fun toys, the trainers to help guide you along the way… and maybe even rocks in your sink to get a “spa” feel. If you ever lose the community, the accessibility that CrossFit offers to everyone that walks through the doors regardless of their fitness level, and just throwing down with your friends, you may have lost CrossFit. I will be keeping it grass roots… if everything went under at the box, we would have a lot of stuff for one smokin garage gym to workout with and support one another. It’s why we do it everyday anyway.


  1. Nicole Mundell says:

    I love this! Thanks for sharing your perspective and the great reminder. There are so many things that make CrossFit amazing but, by far, community is what keeps me coming back for more! Just wish I could have experienced it when it all began…

  2. Brian H says:

    Hell yes!
    I found CrossFit in 2006 as well. It was well into 2007 before I walked into an affiliate and yes, their pullup rig was made of plumbing pipes. I bought a set of rings from Tyler Haas in WA, and I still have them. I hung them from squat rack in my globo gym to bizarre looks from the gym, tan laundry crowd in Brooklyn, NY. I did pullups on the able crossover bar, too. When I did “Helen”, I would leave a 55# DB at the base of my treadmill, which I left running. I learned how to do CrossFit watching videos of Greg, Annie and Nicole, but mostly of Sage B getting coached by her dad in the garage. I followed for 2 years straight and I posted my scores in the comments section. I would wait till around 11pm at night for the WOD to post. Following changed my fitnesss then my life. I remember a flame war when you posted a huge number on a double under WOD until someone posted a link to a video of you doing a chipper in Santa Cruz.
    My wife and I own an affiliate in Oakdale, CA now. I try to tell people what it was like in the “old days,” how lonely it felt. Nasty stares at the gym, people moving your bars, telling not to box jump on benches. But there was a growing, supportive community online that has grown into a phenomenon. People like yourself are responsible for that.
    Thank you for writing this!

    • chris says:

      Yeah Brian!! I remember keeping the treadmill running as well in a 1 degree incline to make it like I was running for “real”. Someone called me out on .com so I started doing it. “Helen”, “Nancy”, “Michael”… what a treat in the globo gym!

      If you’ve never done it, just try it to see what it’s like. Quite the trip!

  3. Pat says:

    Thank you Mr. Spealler!

    I started a year after you, 2007.
    Fortunately for me and my wife, we were able to affiliate in 2008 and build a garage gym, then move into some retail space… and now we are moving into a nice warehouse. But all the time, we have remained grass-roots, and I preach that to my coaches and my athletes.

    It is so refreshing to hear it come from you!

    Thank You!!

  4. Scott Serene says:

    Reading this makes me want to go home to my garage and work that much harder. I am one of those that can’t afford to join a box. I wish I could so I could get that added coaching on movements but I have stuff and I am adding a little here and there as I go. I will get better, faster and strong and reading what you wrote Chris makes me believe in that just that much more. Thanks. Stay safe in your travels, wods and hope you the wife and your son take care as well.

  5. Noelani G says:

    Grass roots, indeed!
    My husband and I started following in our garage in 2006. The first time I did a deadlift in a wod I used a metal 45# plate. We boxjumped onto our cooler (with the other person sitting on the other side so it wouldn’t tip over). We also ordered our first set of rings from Tyler Haas- it took several months to receive them in the mail. We drove 60 miles on a Saturday to join a new crossfit gym in the park for a wod. We didn’t have an affiliate nearby to join until 2008.
    We remember seeing your posts in those early days. We remember seeing the announcement about the first CrossFit games in Aromas. We couldn’t make it, but measured our Total results against the competitors. It is amazing how far it has grown, but it still remains all about the community for us.
    Thanks for the post, chris!

  6. chris says:

    Absolutely love the stories. Keep sharing and keep them coming! Funny how it’s all so similar for us with those first time experiences back then.

  7. Anton Gross says:

    I still do a lot of my WODs in my local regualr gym down the block… it fits my schedule. I put my kids to bed and then go to the gym and do my thing. I occasionally will do some WODs like Karen outdoors, as I have bought a 20 lb ball, a 1.5 KB, obviously a jumprope or two, rings, etc. I can put some nice little WODs outdoors and that the most fun for me. I still do running on the treadmill with workouts like Helen since I can’t bring a pullup bar outdoors… it’s o.k. Running on the treadmill is NOT the same as running free outdoors.. in some ways it’s harder and in some ways it’s actually easier.. if you want a pace, just set it and forget it… just stay on and keep at it… it’s harder to do that on the track sometimes. I have always felt pretty comfortable in my own skin and doing my own thing. I workout for me and don’t care what the others in the gym think. I AM respectful but don’t need their approval. Funny thing is that there are a lot of people, including the trainers, asking me for advice, etc. I spread the word whenever it’s wanted but I don’t force it on anyone. One guy told me once that if he was half his age he could do the things I do too.. so I said I’m not half your age.. he thought I was about 25.. I told him I was 39 and he felt odd to say the least. I told him I had 2 really young kids and a busy job.. this is my time and this is my play/ wokr time for me. People make excuses. Just do it. Just put in the work and enjoy what you’re doing. Don’t overthink it.

  8. Dale Saran says:

    Chris – great, great article. One of my faves ever. I found CrossFit while I was in Afghanistan in 2005 and I can remember rapping a sandbag in duct tape to make a lopsided med ball. It made wallballs a much-hated workout for most of us. The crazy thing was that the main page comments and encouragement of people like Chris “Kempie” Kemp (now an aff owner in England), Dan Silver, Matt Gags, and many, many others made me keep coming back. Even virtually, it’s always been about the Community. Great people with a shared passion for excellence in human movement and commitment to each other’s personal journey in Fitness. And having fun, laughing at ourselves and each other, while doing it. Those who get wrapped up in who’s better than who, and all of the other trappings that have come with success, miss the essence of CrossFit. Thanks for the reminder. Honored to have ever competed on the same field as you.
    Always a fan,

  9. matt price says:

    Found crossfit in 2007. did all my workouts in either the local Y or my firehouse. Plyo boxes ha we used tire,s bumper of fire truck, flat bench whatever we could find. Med ball nope basketball filled with sand wrapped in duct tape. We used a set of rings made from pvc in the oven. Wish i would have gotten my level 1 way back then when Coach Glassman was doing the classes along with Annie, Nicole, etc. Speal you’ve always been one of my favorite crossfitters to cheer on keep up the hard work.

  10. Luke says:

    Summer 2006. We had a 50 lb sand bag we would carry or use for make shift thrusters. We had rock climbing grips hanging from beams we used for pull ups. We had a 20 lb boat anchor we used as a kettlebell. We had PVC pipe through a rope loop for the closest thing to ring dips we could muster. Reverse bear crawls up hill. We would check everyday and sub the best we could. The best was coming back to school in the fall and doing 3 bars of death in the fitness center since we finally had access to barbells. Sometimes the only time we could workout would be late at night after Young Life club, and we would do a Murph at a playground and run around the neighborhood since it was so nice at night.

    The good ole days…

  11. Mark Lee says:

    This really strikes a cord with me. I love the way we started and how much raw enthusiasm we had to just go through these early wods alone or with whoever we could drag along with us! I started in 2007 and got affiliated at the old HQ in Santa Cruz. Everyone was there from the old days except Coach G and I guess that was actually the last cert ever held there. I was enthusiastic to say the least and probably freaked out Nicole, Annie, and Eva T with my excitement to meet them!
    My homemade med ball would get sand in my face and I remember box jumping on everything from stairs, to a fireplace at a ritzy health club that I worked at. I eventually stopped working out there and move to my far less luxurious basement where I made a pull up bar out of plumbing pipe. I watched KStar do sandbag Grace and the next day made one and tried it myself. I could go on for hours trading stories but I will just say thanks for everything Speal. This was a great reminder of what makes CrossFit so amazing. I hope to carry this with me as we build our new facility and try to stay true to this grass roots excellence!

  12. David G says:

    Our fat faced glober warmer weirdo VP Al Gore invented the internet AND I DAVID G invented CROSSFIT before there was crossfit. Former wrestler here who was very good but not great and it bugged me, so deep into my 30′s I was still entering Open wrestling tournaments with DESIRE to take first because I was a wanna-be BACK when it would have counted in HS or college. So to get in shape, I’d jog up hills with dumbells, NOT put them down, and walk back downhill jerk curling and push pressing the dumbells. My body screaming at me to “put ‘em down” but not allowing myself to put ‘em down. I never did gymnastics but put up rings in garage for strict M’ups & multi sets of no rest 10 rep power cleans, NO one ever showed me technique for either, I just instinctively knew that the really DIFFICULT excercises made me beast strong and stronger than anyone I had to wrestle. Also did hanging upside down situps, 10 yard walks on hands, rode bicycle hard as possible without allowing myself to SIT down on bike seat, followed by immediant jump into lake Michigan for push lungs to be on fire fast swims, did workouts with dozens of pullups including one arm only pullups, etc etc etc.

    • David G says:

      One thing about ‘crossfit’ type of working out, you will get ‘looks’ from people if you excercise in an outdoor public place. If your jogging up a hill with a sandbag or dumbells, if your doing burpee’s in a park or box jumps in a regular gym, you’ll be regared as a weirdo. Americans are for the most part pre’programmed robots that strive to ‘fit’ in with what everyone else does. So doing a set of bench press in LA fitness and then looking at yourself in the mirror for 10 minutes is respected as ‘excercise’ . Jogging at a worthless plodding pace on those ridiculous treadmills while watching TV along with other going nowhere excercise drones and YOU’LL FIT IN. But go do some HSPU or walk on your hands as an adult in a public park and they’ll be ready to call the mental health dept to check up on you. Or do some snatches or OH Squats at the globo gym, and it just blows all the circuits of social acceptibility within the ranks of the UNFIT drones. IDEA > get a large chunk of tree or log that weighs 80 lbs, wrap under an arm and jog around the block; POST COMMENTS of the reactions of passerby, neighbors, etc.

  13. George says:

    Hi, I’m not as oldschool as you guys as I was introduced to CrossFit in 2011 but I’m from Slovakia in Europe and I think it was very similar to what Chris said in his article. In 2011 there were no affialiates in the whole country and just a few in Europe. Me and my two friends were the only people who attempted to CrossFit in our town and we got addicted. We had no idea how to do a kipping nor buttefly pull up etc. In our gym there was one proper 2nd hand barbell and some croocked goodfornothing pipes, but luckily nobody else was squating or deadlifting cause others were just those “bodybuilders” doing curls all day people who got mad just as Chris said when we jumped on the benchces or were runing around from station to station because we did a timed wod. I used an old cca 16kg boxing bag for wallballs and we had one pair of rings which we hung from a basketball construction and attempted to do muscle ups with no luck. First time I visited a proper box was in summer ’11 when I flew to London to Reebok CrossFit Thames and was handed a kettlebell for the first time by, to me unknown in that time, Jami Tikkanen. I was stunned by the community and simplicity of the box and went there everyday for the rest of my vacation. So even though I’m not an original firebreather I definitely know the feeling and will remember this with joy. In this way it was the same as described in the article but we had much more sources and rolemodels as Chris because CrossFit was already huge in the States and thank you all for that! Now, there are 3 affiliates in whole Slovakia (still not many for 6mil country) , one of them in my town owned by one of my two budies with whom I started CrossFiting and I am very proud of that. Thanks!!

  14. Ryan Fischer says:

    I was so there for all of this… I had no idea what you guys were doing for A WHILE, but I do now… Funny how things worked out :)

  15. Dusty Housel says:

    I love reading this! I live just east of Park City and there is no affiliate, so I love reading that you started doing this in your rec center. Currently, there are 5 of us doing CrossFit workouts at our rec center. We’ve gotten in trouble for using chalk. We have to adapt workouts constantly to fit with the equipment that’s available. I hope to take a class at your affiliate sometime in the future.

    • bill says:

      are u in Evanston ? if so come check us out at Red Desert Crossfit next time your in Rock Springs. we started out the same way with a small group working out at the rec. we kept getting in trouble and loosing our equipment in the middle of a WOD so two friends and I bought a few bars, a set of bumpers and some rings and turned my garage into a gym. as intrest grew my house was overrun with people working out. we eventually affiliated and turned into Red Desert.

      we would love meet other people who are going though the same things.

  16. Jeff Mundell says:

    I started in March of 2010. I had worked out my whole life, but was looking for something my wife and I could do together that would push us to that “next level”. We promised three months before we made up our minds. It took about 1 day for me to fall in love with CrossFit. I became a coach in 2011, we went (as spectators) to the games in 2012, and now we are addicted! Thanks for sharing this! The community is what MAKES CrossFit what it is. By the way, you need a couple more HQ WOD videos.. See you at the games my friend!

  17. Jordon says:

    I made rings in the oven, and a sand filled basketball, and a plumbing pipe pull-up rig, and used a picnic bench for box-jumps and…. I hear you Chris! :)

  18. Maddie says:

    I love reading this stiff it’s so encouraging.
    I have followed the main site for a few years now – can’t afford to work out at a box.
    My sister insists that you can’t progress unless you train at a box – was that a challenge?

    I practise pull ups and dips on the monkey bars at the park. I do 400 m reps around the oval. My mum’s garage is great for wall balls. I take barbells and weights into the group fitness room of my crummy gym and do box jumps on steps from step class. Like many others I use the cable machine for chins, knees to elbows and toes to bar. I beg help with my lifts from everyone: my husband, my sister, the trainers at my gym, piss people off dropping the bar on heavy deadlifts.
    It can be frustrating ( people always seem to take my rower I’M NOT FINISHED!)
    But I am getting better. It would be great to have rings and bumper plates and an olympic lifting coach, but it’s also great that the programming and general wealth of information on the main site is available to anyone and everyone !
    I really appreciate the accessability of CrossFit and I think the garage crossfitters are still out there!

  19. Kris Kepler says:

    A very much needed reminder Chris.. I have been there since the beginning when you could just sign up and compete at the Games. I have seen my wife’s gym go from working out at my house on a pullup bar I built out of pressure treated lumber and plumbers pipe, a C2 rower that was made of wood (still have the pullup bar, and rower!) a few kb’s,..etc.. to 1400+ clients and multiple facilities. But the ultimate goal/ mantra Central has always had since the beginning is “Building a Fit Community”. Chris keep doing what you do brotha, I have always admired your work ethic, as well as the fact you are an all around bad mofo. peace.

  20. Steve Cole says:

    Thank you Spealler! And all the commenters on your blog. I started on June 9, 2007 and you took me back. I have probably done all the things you and everybody else on here mentions, except that at my globo I didn’t get in trouble–they were very laid back and even supportive. It was a personal trainer there that got me into CF in the first place. For working out at home or on the road, I have done: pull-ups on a tree branch, hspu against my garage wall, wall balls with a sand-filled basketball (using eye protection to keep the sand out!), DLs with a duffle bag full of 50-lb sandbags (until it ripped all up, and after it ripped the skin off my knuckles), “kettlebell swings” with a cinder block, push press with a 50-lb sandbag, jump rope with an actual rope, back extensions on top of the monkey bars, pullups on the monkey bars (till I broke the monkey bars), pull-ups on a piece of rebar in a batting cage, box jumps on bleachers, muscle-ups with the oven-baked PVC rings, “ring dips” at the corner of a chain-link fence, a WOD I made-up with a wheel barrow full of dirt, and on and on. Whatever I could figure out to do the mainsite WOD.

    I will always be grateful to you, Rob Miller, Annie Sakamoto, Nicole, Adrian Bozman, Tony B., Coach, Mark Rippetoe, Mike and Sage Burgerner, and others for showing me how to do the movements through the mainsite videos. I mean, I learned to do a muscle-up on my own by taking notes from Rob Miller’s video. How cool is that? I’m fairly competent in all the basic movements and I’ve never even met a CF Level 1 trainer.

    When my 3-year contract ran out I built my garage gym and was never happier. That’s where I do my WODs and I still follow the mainsite. I miss reading mainsite comments by the likes of you, Kelly Moore, OPT, Boz, etc. As you implied, one can really get a sense of how CF has changed by reading the comments. And by looking at the WODs. It took a while to dawn on me that not every new hero WOD would become a benchmark. And I have finally accepted there are some hero WODs I just will NEVER be able to do RX’d.

    To those of you in CF boxes, I envy you. But if I ever join one, I hope I don’t look out of place in my old worn-out saddle oxfords (those are my weightlifing shoes!) with white ankle socks, old shorts and a stained t-shirt. They may laugh me out of the place. Question–are loud burping and snot rockets allowed in a CF box?

  21. JP says:

    Nice! Haha… reminded me of making rings out of bent PVC pipe and 1 inch tubular nylon! Great stuff Chris!

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  23. Jerred says:

    I am with you Chris!

    I haven’t been at it as long as you have, but long enough for most of that to ring a bell. I still workout in my garage gym, and now I am becoming the minority. New crossfitters telling me how dangerous it is to build my equipment or to workout alone in a garage, and I just say “This IS CrossFit”. Long live the grass roots mentality!


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