CrossFit popularity spreads across Rock County

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Gina Duwe
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

JANESVILLE--Personal trainer Katie Staab and her bodybuilder fiancé, Eric Stockman, were working out at a Milton gym when they saw a guy doing an “intense, crazy workout, drenched in sweat.”

It piqued their curiosity, so they introduced themselves, Stockman said.

They learned he'd been doing CrossFit.

“We tried a few workouts. We actually loved it,” Stockman said.

Word of mouth is how many area CrossFit enthusiasts say they've joined the popular competitive workout trend sweeping the globe. While CrossFit started in 2000 in California, it has taken hold across Rock County in recent months.

The brand, which primarily is a fitness regiment developed by coach Greg Glassman, has three affiliated gyms in Janesville, two in Milton and one in Beloit.

No two workouts are alike, but they center around functional exercises to mimic movements in real life, Stockman said. Workouts can include rowing machines, Olympic rings, barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, pull-up rings, medicine balls, climbing rope, kettlebells, plyometric boxes and jump ropes.

“It was fun, it was competitive, it was new, it was different, and it was challenging, and every day is something different,” Stockman said. “In your workout, you get a little bit of everything.”

People also can do CrossFit workouts in their garage with a few pieces of equipment using CrossFit's daily WOD, or “Workout of the Day,” posted online.

While impressions of the intense workout might intimidate newbies, trainers stress the workout is for anyone because the level of intensity and equipment can be scaled up or down to match the individual.

“I think it's popular because it actually works,” said Rocky Cola, who started CrossFit with a friend.

Three months ago, he opened his own gym, CrossFit Rendered in Janesville, which has about 50 members.

“I see it in my clients, I see it in myself,” he said of the workout's results.

CrossFit doesn't really advertise, he said, and its popularity has increased through word of mouth. To train at a CrossFit gym—or a “box” as members say—is to become part of a community of new friends, trainers say.

Stockman, Staab and a friend opened a gym in Milton in late 2009 using CrossFit training methods.

“It was going over so great, we said, 'Janesville needs one of these,'” Stockman said.

A flood of clients soon filled CrossFit 608 in Janesville, which is marking one year in business this month with about 85 members.

“We opened, and it was so huge, and went over so well, so quickly,” he said. Suddenly, they had an “instant community in a number of weeks.”

Staab and Stockman saw the impact the CrossFit name had when they paid the $3,000 annual CrossFit affiliation fee to change the name of their Milton gym to CrossFit 868.

“With that, we've gotten a large number of new people just because of the name,” he said.

Most gyms offer free classes to give a taste of the workouts. Use of the gyms typically is only during the designated class times.

Rates in the area range from about $60 to $110 per person for a monthly membership. Staab said that's cheap compared to places such as Chicago and New York, where some gyms charge $200 to $350. 

People pay because it works, Stockman said.

Members get structured classes led by certified trainers guiding them through the workout and nutrition, he said. For the price, Staab said, members are getting a gym unlike any other. Stockman points to the 24-foot whiteboard in his 608 gym, which has every workout and every athlete's workout results scribbled in marker. They call it the “brag wall.”

For all its popularity, CrossFit still has critics who say the workouts push the body to the extreme and who point to the number of injuries in the sport.

“Ninety percent of our injuries are all related to egos,” Cola said, many of them being men who want to do what someone else is doing. “The other 10 percent are poor stretching and warming up.”

Staab said the sport has more injuries because more people are doing it.

“I think a lot of people are afraid of it,” she said, “so the next best thing is to knock it so they can justify (it).”

Many of the members of local boxes compete in CrossFit competitions that lead to the CrossFit Games, which bills itself as “the world's premier test to find the Fittest on Earth.” The games started in 2007 and have quickly grown.

“I believe it will be a high school sport in the next 10 years,” Cola said.

Dan Dodd of Janesville was looking for a full-body workout that combined cardio and weightlifting when he stumbled across CrossFit 608 on Facebook.

“Once I started, I was just hooked on it,” he said.

He enjoys the teamwork and camaraderie as well as coming to the class because the workout is planned. When he started, he couldn't do half of what he does now, such as handstand pushups and pull-ups.

“I truly love it,” he said.

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