CrossFit, an intense, competitive workout, is booming
in South Florida
By Nick Sortal, Sun Sentinel
Drenched in sweat, but with a smile on his face, Angelo Brinson explains why he has turned to CrossFit for his workout routine. He’s a North Miami detective and SWAT team member.
“When I get a callout, I don’t know if I’m going to be climbing at tree, jumping a wall or sitting in a squat position for hours,” says Brinson, 37, of Davie. “This prepares me for all of those possibilities.”
He started just four weeks ago and is part of South Florida’s CrossFit boom. The number of CrossFit affiliates nationwide has doubled in the past year, to about 2,000. More than 30 CrossFit affiliates have opened in South Florida, about half of these in the past year, and most report a flood of clients.
“It’s taken over my gym, but in a good way,” says Juan Bacca, who bought into the 20-year-old US 1 Fitness in Dania Beach. Since starting CrossFit in the past year, he changed the gym’s name to CrossFit ATP, and his clientele has grown from 56 in February to about 150 now.
Each gym selects its name and sets up shop. In South Florida, it’s often at an industrial park bay. Word of mouth does the rest.
If you’re interested in trying it out, be warned: It is not for beginners. Workouts include power weight lifting, kettlebells, pull-ups and handstands, all with the goal of pushing yourself to near-exhaustion.
There are concerns from some doctors and fitness experts who oversee training for the military. They met last month to talk about high-intensity workout programs, including CrossFit and the home workout system P90X. They worry that athletes can push themselves too far and suffer anything from a short-term to a permanently disabling injury.
“While there’s nothing wrong with the exercise itself, there needs to be some research on these programs, and how the trainers implement them,” says William J. Kraemer, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, who attended the meeting.
Clients praise results
Those who try CrossFit usually have had prior sports or fitness backgrounds and are looking for variety.
Lisa Smalheiser, 24, says she’s “fallen in love” with CrossFit because workouts require total fitness, results get measured and she’s gotten in the best shape of her life.
“I’m the type that can’t just hit a treadmill every day,” she says. “I have to change it up.”
A former all-around athlete at University School in Davie, Smalheiser is training for the CrossFit Games, an annual summer gathering of CrossFit athletes across the country.
CrossFit trainers also are leading local high school sports teams in group workouts, including two in Pembroke Pines: the girls’ basketball team at West Broward High and the baseball team at Flanagan High, which won the Class 6A state championship last spring.
“The training we did with them was just ‘never say die,’ just push through everything,” says coach Ray Evans, whose team won eight games in its final at-bat. “They did a fantastic job.”
Vicente Arza signed up his son, Robert, 15, a soccer player, at CrossFit Endurance in Davie, where he often works out four nights a week.
“It’s improved him more than I can imagine,” Arza says. “He’s attacking more and more.”
Santa Cruz, Calif., trainer Greg Glassman started the initial version of CrossFit (a combination of the words cross-training and fitness) in 1995.
“No real dramatic story, just a trainer who just asked, ‘What is fitness?’ And he wasn’t satisfied with any of the answers,” says Tony Budding, director of media and Web content for CrossFit.
Ten years later, there were 13 CrossFit affiliates. That grew to 300 in 2008, then 1,000 in spring 2009. It has doubled in the past 18 months, according to Budding.
To be fit, people should be good at everything, Budding says, not just lifting weights or doing cardiovascular activities. Most CrossFit gyms have members log results after each workout on a dry-erase board, because measuring the workouts deters loafing.
Of course, workouts can be scaled down, such as letting those new to CrossFit use lighter weights.
The other unique element is “functional full range of motion” activity, Budding says. That means more squatting and lifting.
“Carrying groceries, being able to put a ladder over your head or a canoe over your head. That’s really what can improve your quality of life,” he says.
Overall, there are four CrossFit businesses, he said: training seminars, the affiliate program, an online journal and the CrossFit Games.
South Florida has gyms called CrossFit Affliction, CrossFit Militia and CrossFit Hardcore. Some blast the heavy metal music, and the men aren’t afraid to go shirtless.
“A younger affiliate guy might have a hard-core edge with loud music and everyone pushing really hard, but another affiliate might be run by a couple in their 40s in a more balanced, family-friendly environment,” he says.
Fear of overdoing it
Critics, and even some affiliate owners, say because CrossFit makes money via certifications and annual licensing, the rapid growth can let in less-qualified trainers. There’s also a fear that an affiliate will rush new clients into too much training, and they’ll get discouraged or injured.
“That’s how CrossFit gets a bad name,” says Bacca, of the Dania Beach affiliate. His remedy: He separates new clients, works with them individually and concentrates on technique rather than the numbers.