What Healthcare Can Learn From CrossFit

From humble roots in Santa Cruz, CA, CrossFit has become a national (and now international) phenomenon with not only a viral spread of some 13,000 CrossFit “boxes” across the country, but also dozens of blogs dedicated to the movement, an army of loyal fans, and even a televised international Olympics-style games.

At the same time, medicine is having to undergo a seismic shift from being solely focused on disease management to the completely new task of health creation and prevention. This new endeavor requires a different set of skills, and here are my top four things that medicine can learn from CrossFit about health creation.

Community is powerful – and scalable.

CrossFit is delivered in a group format that not only allows one instructor to train many people simultaneously, but also draws on the power of the group to provide peer to peer encouragement, support and accountability.

To access these three powerful forces in medicine, more and more doctors are using a group visit format for chronic diseases, especially those driven by unhealthy lifestyles. New models are needed to empower behavior change, and if done right they don’t need to be expensive to run.

Lean facilities can keep overhead low.

Why is it called a CrossFit “box” and not a CrossFit “gym?” The answer lies in the amount of overhead needed to run each type of facility. When you think about a “gym” you probably think of tons of equipment and services, classes, employees and a huge floor plan. Sounds like a hospital doesn’t it? In disease management, a lot of equipment, technology, and “stuff” is needed to keep sick people from dying.

A CrossFit “box” is typically just a warehouse with very little equipment. By keeping overhead low, it’s exponentially easier for new franchises to set up a facility and start training people. Health creation does not need a lot of “stuff” either. One trend we are seeing in the space is the concept of a “micropractice,” a low-overhead practice perhaps just run by one physician with a health coach or nurse, replacing the need for office staff with online booking technology and the need for a team needed to bill insurance with new models like Direct Primary Care or memberships.

Look at some of the most progressive clinics like Parsley Health in New York City. Set up in a WeWork co-working space, it combines low overhead, direct primary care, and human centered design technology for a completely new medical experience at low overhead.

Making systems easy to reproduce fuels the movement.

Within the CrossFit world there are WODs or “Workout of the Day”s where, potentially anyway, all classes across all the CrossFit boxes could be doing the same workout, guided by headquarters.

There has been a lot of interest in integrative medicine in health creation, including modalities like clinical nutrition and mindfulness meditation. However, one of the drawbacks of training masses of doctors or other providers in these techniques has been that it isn’t always clear which of these modalities should be used in which patient in which order.

One of the core benefits of functional medicine, as a subsection of integrative medicine, is that is does have a reproducible system that make it easier to replicate across clinics, with the “Functional Medicine Matrix” at the center of it, as a way to prioritize care in complex cases.

A culture of health must start from within.

Beyond the four walls of the CrossFit box is a culture of health. At the CrossFit I attended last summer there were “extracurricular activities,” like picnics and classes and the food was always much healthier than your average 4th of July get together. The CrossFit and paleo movements are tied at the hip, encouraging less inflammatory foods and more community support.

In order to become forces for health creation, clinics and hospitals are going to have to play a part in creating, or reinforcing, the culture of health – and this will have to start with the doctors themselves.

New centers of health creation are necessary places where the community can work together to achieve and maintain health. You may have in your mind that this looks like a hospital, but it might end up looking a lot more like a CrossFit box.