At lunchtime on a Thursday, two shirtless men emerged amid thumping music from a warehouse in the Mission District, panting profusely – their bodies glistening with sweat from an Olympic-style workout.
One of the men, Dylan Enright, walked halfway down the block to take a breather, then returned with an invigorated smile.
“Why do I do CrossFit? Because I’ve never had a better workout in a shorter amount of time in my life,” said Enright who has a physique to prove it. And, fast and intense is kind of the point.
He fist-bumped the other CrossFitter who just suffered through the last hour with him and was resting against the scissor gate of the warehouse at 674 South Van Ness Ave., which serves as the CrossFit Alinea gym – or “box,” as it is referred to by its members.
Competitive, punishing and highly addictive, CrossFit is an exercise regime that combines gymnastics, conditioning and weightlifting in hour-long classes designed to challenge the physical and psychological limits of its practitioners. Promising efficiency through optimized workouts, it is a recipe that has gained popularity among young professionals and members of the tech community who see cross over benefits.
“CrossFit is no limitation, and what you put in is what you get back,” said 27-year-old CrossFitter Kevin Ngyuen. “You are pushing yourself inside of the “box” by continually accepting challenges – and these victories translate into other areas of your life.”
“It’s a different kind of deadline because you’re striving to meet your goals but it’s not for a paycheck, it’s for you.”
CrossFit offers a diversity in challenges, group motivation and “stat” collection for individual progress – its aspect of self-competition coupled with social opportunities speak to “type A” personalities and data-driven techies.
“I did grad school with physiology and biomechanics,” said Pat Savage, who is a coach at CrossFit Alinea. “I was studying movement – physics, angles and levers. So when I started doing CrossFit, I fell in love with it.”
According to Savage, a lot of Alinea’s clientele fits the profile of the Mission’s newer community. “We have a good concentration of techies here, because the Mission is becoming very tech oriented.”
At Alinea, organized group outings such as happy hour, flag football and river rafting help forge friendships outside of the gym.
“For newcomers who don’t have a community yet, it is a great way to meet people,” the 26-year-old said.
CrossFit’s emphasis on community building while pushing members out of their comfort zones has fared well in Silicon Valley, where some companies incorporated it into their wellness programs.
“The new trend for tech companies is to create an innovative work culture, so providing something like CrossFit adds to that,” said Janet Huynh, of NorCal CrossFit – the affiliate has worked in partnership with the hard-drive manufacturer HGST and Sugar CRM, a smaller software company, to train its employees at Bay Area CrossFit locations.
“What we do in our classes is we break the hierarchal barriers that you find in a corporate setting. In one class you may have some executives, some admin, some manufacturing workers, and their titles mean nothing when they are sweating together,” said Huynh. “This creates bonds that you wouldn’t be able to do jogging on a treadmill by yourself.”
Crossfit and the Tech Bro
With more than 10,000 boxes worldwide and a $4 Billion brand behind it, CrossFit promises efficiency by optimizing fitness with a focus on functional movements and superior workout plans.
But with a slogan that reads ‘Forging elite fitness,’ members lament that its tight-knit community has been labeled a “cult” and is oftentimes misunderstood.
“Crossfit is polarizing. You either love it or you don’t,” said Jenn Hamdani, who is one of Alinea’s three owners. “I am totally ok with that as a business owner. What you do at a dance studio is also working out – and if that is your interest you will most likely surround yourself with people who are also dancers.”
At Alinea, monthly membership packages range from $215 to $275. Marvin Lam, who is a coach and owner at Alinea, agrees that this is not cheap.
“Anyone who has stuck with CrossFit believes that what they are paying for is high value,” said Lam. “Some work long hours and their extracurricular is going out to drink. Others do CrossFit and while they’re paying $250 per month, they are now more health oriented and go out drinking less – but that social aspect is still there.”
Although other specialized fitness studios in the Mission also come with hefty price tags compared to traditional gyms – Pop Physique on 23rd and Mission streets charges upwards of $150 per month for the ballet-based “barre” method, while a monthly membership at 24 Hour Fitness starts at $35 – CrossFit’s pricing is on the higher end.
“It’s definitely the most expensive workout I’ve ever done,” said Enright, who works in tech. “I spend this much money to exercise because it’s part motivation – it gets me going to the gym – and part the learning how to lift weights properly. Their Olympian setup is pretty unique, you can’t find that at a normal gym.”
At Mission Cliffs, an indoor rock climbing gym on 19th and Harrison streets, software developer Marek Janicki attempts to explain the hype surrounding CrossFit.
“Crossfit has an air of superiority about it that may attract a certain type of person. ‘Our warm up is your workout’ – I’ve seen them wearing that phrase on their shirts,” he said. “CrossFit sort of makes you pretty good at most things compared to just training in one sport, which appeals to techies because they’re doing the best current thing most efficiently, and it’s also kind of non-committal.”
At Alinea, Savage acknowledges that the cost may deter some of the Mission’s longtime residents from joining the box – put explains that the price-point is determined by San Francisco’s market.
“I don’t think that the word ‘elite’ in the slogan is perceived how it was meant. Everyone is welcome,” he said. “The idea is that we do elite – or high quality – movements and get people in the best shape of their lives. We are not an elitist society that only accepts people who are rich and wear Lulu Lemon all day. We believe in what we do, and we do it to make people feel better.”