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Nothing Wrong With a Shoebox

“I heard that place is a shoebox.”

A friend said this to me recently in reference to a new affiliate I was planning to visit. She meant no harm or insult, just an expression of the small size of the place. Still, it struck me as to how things have changed so much in the CrossFit world since 2007.

Today, 10,000-square-foot CrossFit gyms are becoming common, and it’s not unheard of to find an affiliate in 15,000 SF with 15 platforms and enough pull-up bars to host a small army of athletes. So a place that is only 3,000 SF? That’s considered a shoebox now. But long ago when there were only 500 or so affiliates and CrossFit dinosaurs roamed the earth (you know, way back, like 7 years past) it was common to start out in 2,000 square feet.

For years, recommended: “Start small and get kicked out– Start in the smallest cheapest space available and move when you outgrow the space. Start in your garage and work out there until the neighbors either all join you or band together to complain about the ruckus. Running out of room means you can afford more space.”

I started my affiliate in late 2007 in my garage. Technically, in half of my garage, because my elderly mother parked her new Honda in the garage too. We had enough room for one person to do pull-ups, one person to row, one person to do wallball, and one person to use the one squat rack. Everything else had to be accomplished outside. We then moved on up to the “big time” — 896 square feet in an old office building, with an unheated Depression-era walk-in bank safe where we could drop weights. You could see your breath in the safe, but it was still better than being outside in the 10-degree Connecticut winter.

Eventually we made our way into 3,600 SF but despite all the fun we had in our new place, I’m still not sure it was ever better than that first year in 896 SF. Sure, the old spot was crowded and conditions were far from ideal, but there was something about that space, something about that time, something about that experience. There’s an old country song with the lyric “Love grows best in little houses, with fewer walls to separate” — and I tend to think that’s true in many spaces of our lives, including CrossFit gyms. We just kind of forget, as we pursue our dreams, that bigger is not what makes something better. People and effort make something better.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in our rush for bigger, newer, better, don’t dismiss the little guy and the small gems among us. A restaurant doesn’t have to hold thirty tables to be excellent, and a book doesn’t have to be 2,000 pages to be great. What matters is the quality of the experience. Always the quality. Focus on that, whether you’re the member or the trainer, and things will turn out okay.

You don’t have to be big to be a success. Great shoes come out of shoeboxes, don’t they?


“We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness.” — Tom Waits

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