Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy New Year: A taste of Bay Area Crossfit gyms

I met the New Year in San Francisco, and, along with walking the crooked streets and tasting the local fair-trade, all-organic fair, I could not pass up this opportunity to visit some of the Crossfit gyms in the area. This trip was the first time I have had a chance to see how gyms other than my own box operate, and I really enjoyed the experience.

The first gym I visited is Crossfit Santa Cruz. For Crossfit aficionados, this place holds some mystical significance: this is the "original" Crossfit, the place where Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and where the original disciples received the gospel of Greg Glassman. True to form, CF Santa Cruz sits inconspicuously in a row of the uniform garages that, for some reason, seem to house in equal proportion vintage clothes shops, industrial paint dealers, and chain-smoking Eastern European mechanics who specialize in oil changes and tint jobs.

You know you have found a true Crossfit box if you can get 20" rims next door while you work out.

The gym is small, about half the size of my home gym. Despite the fact that it was 9am on New Year's Eve, there were about fifteen people already warming up, dispelling my fear about possibly being the only people to show up. People consistently came up to us (my friend Maximus* and I) to introduce themselves, and that was before we officially went around in a circle to introduce us to start the class. When I joked about the West Coast friendliness, a guy later confessed that the owner makes the regulars do burpees if the gym members do not introduce themselves to visitors. From this, I formed several conclusions:
1. No one likes burpees.
2. The gym must get a lot of visitors.
3. West Coasters are still way friendlier than us (it took six months for our Navy jock-nerds to acknowledge my presence when I first joined).

I was surprised to find no overt indication of the gym's legacy as the original gym. Only a careful scan of the records on the wall, where "Back Squat - 450" was scribbled along with the name "P. Barber", betrayed the rich history of this unassuming place. I felt like an archeologist examining the ruins of the Jerusalem Old Town. Danielle, the owner and coach, was tireless in her coaching, and I learned a lot during the class.

This is what Pat Barber does when he is NOT working out. Imagine what he does at the gym!

The next day I went to check out San Francisco Crossfit. This place has apparently gained some fame in the Crossfit community. It is an outdoor facility in full view of the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, and coached by mobility expert Kelly Starrett and gymnastics guru Carl Paoli. I was amused to note that quite a few of our ladies who mentioned these guys and their gym to me assumed the same "he-is-so-dreamy" tone that they use when talking about Hugh Jackman or Patrick Dempsey. Guys, take note: mobility is sexy. And while I, regrettably, did not get a chance to meet the dreamboats themselves, I can certainly attest to the gym's emphasis on mobility. We did enough one-armed overhead squats to last me a lifetime, and my shoulders are still sore even as I write these words.

San Francisco crossfit has a lot of space, and there were a lot of people at the class (to be fair, this was the only class offered on New Year's Day). The coaches told everyone to turn to their neighbors and introduce each other, and I understood that there were a lot of drop ins in the class. That, plus the sheer number of people in the class made the experience feel quite impersonal even though I chatted with my neighbors, and the coaches were helpful and friendly. I am glad I dragged myself to experience a workout at San Francisco Crossfit - they are soon leaving their open-air spot with a grand view of the Golden Gate bridge for a state-of-the-art facility somewhere else in the city.

Incredible picture of the Golden Gate bridge courtesy of Maximus.

My biggest takeaway from my trip is that size matters. A small gym fosters relationships and translates into results. The coaches know their flock and understand their particular needs, strengths, and weaknesses. In the small confines of Crossfit Santa Cruz, Danielle (the coach) wasted no time critiquing my overhead squat even though I had known her for all of fifteen minutes. We get this level of coaching at my home gym. The gym members get to know each other, and this familiarity is a powerful motivator. Everyone wants to be fit and strong and to have the ability to do splits like Van Damme (when did the sun set on that career? And why did I not get a say in that decision?), but that abstract desire dissipates when you first open your eyes on a Monday morning or start shutting down your workspace after a tiring work day. Knowing that people you know are waiting at the gym to go through the class with you and push you along is the most effective way to bring you closer to the results you desire.

JCVD would probably like San Francisco Crossfit.
*Maximus is not his real name (yes, I also kind of wish it were).
I do not own all of the images used in this post, and I am grateful for the implicit permission of the owners as to their use.  


  1. Did you call ahead at these places and see if you could drop-in, etc? I am a little curious how it works for when I travel (if I can get motivated to try another gym - it took me years just to come to CFDR).

  2. Alex, I did not email ahead for either gym, but I think every gym is different. Most gyms do (or should) post their drop-in policy on their websites. If in doubt, you should send an email.

    San Francisco CF is so big and popular that they spell out the policy - basically, don't even worry about emailing, just fill out the form (online) and pay the drop-in fee ($20, online). They clearly get a lot of visitors.

    CF Santa Cruz resembles our gym - it is probably common courtesy to send an email ahead of time, but they will welcome you either way (the drop-in fee is $20 as well).

    You should most definitely visit a gym when you are traveling! Besides getting a good workout, the visit is a great way to get a different perspective on Crossfit coaching as well as to socialize with the locals of the place you are visiting. I learned a lot just from the one class I did at both the gyms I visited. Also, it is just so nice to chat with new people - something that happens rarer and rarer as you get older. When I was younger, staying in hostels during my travels was one of the best parts of the travel experience because I would get to meet so many interesting people. Dropping in on a Crossfit gym creates an opportunity to have a similar experience.

  3. Misha,

    I have to bring attention to your apparent disregard to journalistic integrity. Not only are you drawing conclusions based upon a single sampling of the experiences and training at those locations, you are publishing those to a broader audience as though it was fact. I am flummoxed with your obviously degrading sentiments towards our members. If this was a peer-reviewed publication, you would be shunned. And in my eyes, you will be.

    Love, Snyder

    On a serious note, from my experience of hitting up other gyms while traveling, emailing the gym first is really the way to go. It is a courteous way to introduce yourself to the staff and get information about their drop-in policies. This is also especially important if you hit up gyms while traveling overseas. Coaches/owners will also often be willing to work with you if you are going to a place for a longer period than a single day and may waive some of the drop-in fees. It is a lot of fun to get out to other gyms and see how they coach, program and correct movements. Enjoy.

    1. Hi Mike,

      I don't know who this Misha character is, but he sounds like a real scoundrel. Also, I don't know what "flummoxed" means, so I am going to take it as a sign of disrespect.

      On the topic of journalistic integrity, I do want to provide some information about the origins of Crossfit because there have been some questions about the topic, and the information is not necessarily readily available. Here are my sources:

      If you scroll down all the way to the end of this page, you will see a link to Crossfit Santa Cruz as the "original" Crossfit box:

      Also, this excerpt from Crossfit Amundson tells the story:

      "In 2007, Greg was gifted ownership of the original CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz directly from “Coach” Glassman. Due to Greg’s work demands as an Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and his relocation from Santa Cruz to the Southwest Border of Imperial Valley, in 2009 Greg and his former wife Mallee Sato transferred ownership of CrossFit Santa Cruz into the capable hands of current owners Hollis and Daniele Malloy."



  4. Next time you go out there, check out Fred's Cafe in Sausalito. You have to try their deep fried french toast! The greatest!