Free Minds & Free Markets

Government-Approved Workouts? The Fight Against Fitness Licensing.

Crossfit is fighting to keep the government from regulating how Americans are taught to exercise. The health of the nation may be at stake.

Almost everything the federal government has told the public about healthy diets over the past three decades may have been wrong. The U.S. Surgeon General suggested avoiding saturated fats and prioritizing grains and other carbohydrates. Low-fat products started filling the aisles at grocery stores, as families tried to follow the government's infamous food pyramid. Obesity rates continued to climb, and some dissenting scientists and started questioning the consensus. The U.S. government and major health organizations were slow to react, but in recent years have finally started updating the official recommendations.

Is the exact same scenario about to play out in the fitness industry?

"All of these government agencies, all of our universities, they've all sat silent through one of the worst declines in health the modern world has ever seen," says Greg Glassman, who's the founder of Crossfit, which runs more than 14,000 gyms around the world. "And their response is still exactly wrong." (Crossfit is a corporate donor to the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)

Crossfit's explosive growth was made possible in part by the lack of regulation in the fitness industry. While many states require licenses for occupations as innocuous as trimming trees, tending bar, braiding hair, or even arranging flowers, personal trainers can work without government oversight. Crossfit was free to run its own certification program, which flouts most of the conventional nutrition and exercise advice championed by government and academia.

The company regularly spars with fitness credentialing organizations with different exercise philosophies, like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Several of them have united under the banner of the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREPS), an industry group that regularly lobbies for regulation of the fitness industry. The fight is occuring largely behind-the-scenes at state legislatures across the country, where licensing laws have been introduced on 26 separate occasions since 2005. Crossfit supporters have pushed back just as hard, at times showing up in person to speak out against the bills.

The one place Crossfit lost is Washington, D.C., which passed the nation's first fitness trainer licensure law in 2014.

"It's an attempt to silence Crossfit on the subjects of nutrition and exercise," says Glassman.

Mark Rippetoe, a weightlifting coach and creator of the fitness program Starting Strength, has also been fighting licensure efforts. While Starting Strength differs from Crossfit in important ways, there are some commonalities, like promoting training with barbells and encouraging movements that aren't approved by establishment players in the fitness industry.

"The state legislature that would adopt a statewide licensure program for exercise is composed of people who do not understand anything about the squat," says Rippetoe, who advocates a "full squat" where participants dip below parallel as opposed to the less dramatic version promoted by ASCM.

Rippetoe and Glassman both believe that their unorthodox training methods would be imperiled by licensing regimes.

"The intersection of policy and politics is a very problematic one," says Holden MacRae, a professor of sports medicine at Pepperdine University and a Crossfit member.

In 1995, the U.S. Surgeon General shifted the emphasis from vigorous, high-intesity physical activity to moderate-to-low intensity activity in the early '90s based on shaky scientific evidence. In 1995, it issued a report that shifted the recommendations away from vigorous activity towards low-to-moderate intensity and de-emphasized certain fitness markers like strength, agility, speed, power and coordination while emphasizing cardiorespiratory fitness.

The guidelines were adopted by the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American College of Sports Medicine. The current version of the National Physical Activity Guidelines, published by the Department of Health and Human Services, recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.

"[The activity guidelines] were an experiment run on the U.S. population with very little evidence to support it, similar to what we had with the dietary guidelines," says Macrae. "And I don't think there's enough transparency with conflicts of interest, the involvement of big soda for example."

Recent work out of the University of California San Francisco has uncovered evidence that the sugar lobby paid off researchers to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease, with the author of the very first paper that placed the blame on saturated fat having clear ties to the sugar industry.

There's some evidence that the same special interests that used the government and universities to influence nutrition science for the past several decades is employing similar tactics in the fitness industry to promote the message that it's lack of physical activity, rather than sugar consumption, causing obesity and other chronic health problems. Once such example is the now-defunct Global Energy Balance Network, which shut down under public pressure after revelations that it was largely funded by Tthe Coca-Cola Company.

The American College of Sports Medicine's newest venture, Exercise is Medicine, is an attempt to create a credentialing system to have doctors "prescribe" fitness trainers to patients and was underwritten by the Coca-Cola.

The company didn't reply to requests for comment, and the American College of Sports Medicine declined to participate in this story. But ASCM's website does say that it only advocates licensure for trainers working with clients with "medical conditions that require minimal to advanced clinical support."

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    "...started questioning the consensus."

    Its not settled science?

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    You should be forced to get a Questioner's License before being allowed to question the consensus. Unlicensed questioning could be dangerous.

  • Flinch||

    That's the fun part isn't it? Science is rarely settled. Many things are commonly accepted, even for centuries - then some bloke comes along and puts a pin in the balloon. Consensus is for politicians. Trying new things and testing theories is for science. The two shall rarely meet.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    do you even license bro?

  • IceTrey||

    License? We don't need no stinking license!

  • ||

    Starting Strength is the best. Rippetoe's book can change your life.

  • Devastator||

    It's very hacking in my opinion. Hit the weights, get some cardio a few times during the week you'll be fine. Quit eating shit. It's not rocket science nor does it require a "formula" from some pseudo fitness expert.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    questioning the consensus.

    Consensus is science.

  • Devastator||


  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Greg Glassman, who's the founder of Crossfit

    I've seen those crossfit people. They freak me out.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREPS)

    You're kidding, right?

  • Pro Libertate||

    What's the "S" for?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm still trying to find another fitness word that begins in E that would tie the room together.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And why not CREPES? Irrational fear of carbs?

  • Devastator||

    It's perfectly rational to fear carbs, they're the primary reason for obesity in the USA.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Easy. Insert the word "Enraged" before "Exercise."

  • gah87||

    Coalition for the Registration of Athletic Professionals S.

  • Eman||

    exercise education professionals. duh.

  • Rhywun||


  • Pro Libertate||

    Silent? As in the "S" is silent?

  • Mark22||

    Surely you want your fitness professionals to be experienced. So I suggest a name change to better reflect what the organization is all about:

    "Coalition for the Registration of Experienced Exercise Professionals (CREEPS)"

  • Robert||

    CREPS is practically the Yiddishism for the sound of belching.

  • Robert||

    I love Cokes.

  • Johnny Hit n Run Paulene||

    If not for CrossFit, I would be in much worse shape than I am now. There are other great training programs, but this one has worked for me.

  • gah87||

    To add to the list of government-sponsored junk science:
    Evidence grows that normal childbirth takes longer than we thought
    So bad science leads to more C-sections being performed at greater cost and greater risk to women to avoid malpractice suits that would be supported by the bad government-sponsored policy.

  • gah87||

    Not to mention the "duh" factor. Every woman who has given "normal" childbirth knows it takes a hell of a lot longer than we thought!

  • Flinch||

    The trouble with averages is... there is almost nobody out there that is average.

  • Eman||

    yeah, if we're gonna act all sciency, we shouldn't leave out the standard deviation. im sure at least 70% of scientists agree.

  • Tionico||

    if non government private organisations are working toward not only licensing in any trade or discipline, but also wanting to set the "standards", that is proof positive that they are working to control that trade or discipline, promote THEIR OWN methods and get those of their competitors banned. It is one more wretched example of Good Ol Boy Protectionism. As ever, follow the money.

  • Flinch||

    Fitness... a deep well indeed, because there are so many things that intersect. I'm reminded of one thing most professionals must deal with in the medical community - their licensing requires being pressure cooked in CDC mantras and half truths. Where are we today? Well, we still have the lowered gradients to determine obesity [done during Bill Clinton's administration] that do a very poor job because methodology was dumbed down to height vs. weight with no other factors. To that end, a world class body builder of olympic caliber that is say... 5' 10" can expect to be told to "lose weight" by any doctor relying on CDC norms. Huh? And, why does the food pyramid still exist at all? This is a sacred cow from what...1930? I don't know, but I do know that advancement in the field of diabetes makes one thing clear: eat a balanced diet of carbs and protein. If you follow the food pyramid, it will kill you. Other follies of late involved the xika virus, and doing absolutely nothing for US citizens during the last ebola outbreak. Any law that lends power to [or imbues alleged wisdom on] the CDC is the kiss of death - they remain 20 years behind the curve on just about anything at all times. A quote from a former surgeon general [if I heard her committee testimony right]: "Every chow should be a planned and wanted chow". Isn't that mah jongg advice?

  • Ronald Hayden||

    This is an important story that I'd like to share, but could I request that a quick edit be done to fix the numerous copy/paste errors?

    At least one paragraph is entirely duplicated, and almost every reference to Coca-Cola has a problem, as well as a few other items.

    For such an in-depth story these things make it seem sloppy. (While I'm being pedantic, the login page says "Particpation"...)

  • Longtobefree||

    de-emphasized certain fitness markers like strength, agility, speed, power and coordination

    Because strength, agility, speed, power and coordination have nothing to do with fitness?
    I gave it up at that point. Was anything else said that actually made sense?

  • SQRLSY One||

    From the article...

    ...only advocates licensure for trainers working with clients with "medical conditions that require minimal to advanced clinical support."

    This is the nose of the camel, in our tent. Next thing you know, being a single pound overweight is a profoundly deep "medical problem". The camel will be sleeping in our bed, and we will have the fleas of a thousand camels, on our jock-strap!

  • MCX Crude Oil Tips||

  • ||

    While the government looks at the relationship between Coca-Cola and ACSM, they should also "follow the money" between unregulated CrossFit "certifications" and the Orthopedic Surgeons Association.


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