When CrossFit exploded onto the fitness scene in 2000, there was nothing else like it. It featured short but grueling workouts done in stripped-down space. It required no fancy equipment. It had no set routines and didn’t require endless repetitions of the same activity. It did, however, push participants to the very edges of their endurance and beyond. And it quickly became the fastest-growing fitness trend in the country.

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of CrossFit gyms, or “boxes,” jumped from merely a handful to some 1,700, and as of last year there were upwards of 7,000 CrossFit boxes across the country. What made CrossFit so wildly popular? Some might argue that it’s the amazing results—and you do get results, fast. But what really made CrossFit the success it is today is the community that CrossFit gyms provide.

Physiology of Exercise and Community

To understand the power of the bonds between members of the CrossFit community, you need to understand the physiology of exercise. You’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high,” and know that during exercise your body produces chemicals called endorphins which make you feel good. However, there’s more to it than that.

Your body also recognizes exercise as a stressful situation, and shifts into “fight or flight” mode. The deep parts of your brain think that you’re about to either run from of defend yourself against a threat, and react accordingly. You’re flooded with stress hormones, including endorphins. The more intense the workout, the more intense the stress response. And while you’ve probably heard that chronic stress is bad for you, short-term, situational stress can actually be beneficial.

Exercise-induced stress releases not only endorphins, the “feel-good” chemical, but also endocannabinoids, which are also associated with runner’s high. Other aspects of working out, especially in a group situation, cause the release of a variety of other hormones. Setting a goal and then achieving it releases dopamine, which affects the same parts of the brain as cocaine. Achieving your goal also raises serotonin levels and elevates your mood. Close contact, like working with a partner, releases oxytocin, a hormone that’s directly linked to bonding between people.

All these hormones together are a potent recipe for close ties between you and the people you work out with, and working out with others increases the amount of hormones your body produces. It’s a self-powered positive cycle that helps bond CrossFitters together.

Psychology of Exercise and Community

Psychological factors also play a role. It’s a well-established fact that people who have experienced a stressful event together tend to form bonds, and the stress of a high-intensity workout regimen, even though it’s good stress, tends to have the same effect. You and the others in your CrossFit community have been through an experience together. You’ve pushed yourselves to the limits of your endurance and then beyond, encouraged each other, maybe even cried together, and triumphed in the end. That’s an incredibly powerful experience, and, combined with the chemical reactions going on in your body, creates a bond like no other.

CrossFit is unlike other exercise programs. When you go to a regular gym, you may not speak to another person except to ask, “Are you using that?” CrossFit requires you to be part of the group, a group of individuals who all have the same goal—to be the very best you can be. You support each other, encourage each other, and come to depend on each other; the CrossFit community is a single unit, made up of individuals. And the bonds are as intense as the workouts.

CrossFit open workouts are a great opportunity to try Back Alley CrossFit for free. So if you’re ready to push your boundaries and experience the power of the CrossFit community first-hand, now is the perfect time to stop by and see what it’s all about.