CrossFit movement gains strength at the Beaches

By on October 8, 2015

A mix of physical training, competitive fitness, and a lifestyle when taken to its fullest, CrossFit has grown in acceptance and popularity since the concept originated in 2000.

In Jacksonville, its popularity is especially strong in the Beaches communities, which boast five of the eight listed CrossFit gyms on the First Coast.

“I chose to start my CrossFit gym here because the Beaches area has a bit of a better network, the community tends to stay at the beach and the people here tend to be more fit and are interested in finding new ways to stay that way,” said Brent Parrish, the owner of CrossFit Pablo Beach, a Jacksonville Beach facility that opened last year.

In launching CrossFit Inc. on the West Coast in 2000, founders Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai incorporated elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, power lifting, calisthenics, strongman and other exercises. Unlike the traditional gym, CrossFit training is a varied mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics through body weight exercises and weight lifting provided under the guidance of trainers, with workouts of the day — called WODs — often scored or ranked to encourage competition among the CrossFit members and exercise groups.

“CrossFit comes up with the daily workouts for you, typically programmed on a 90-day to 120-day cycle geared toward fitness for life,” Parrish said. “We want to keep people fit for their daily activities … lifting, moving, jumping, biking, running … anything they do in their daily life. I think that’s what really separates CrossFit from the typical gym workout. You don’t have to have whole lot of thought, and you don’t have a whole lot of knowledge. You have a coach to make sure you’re going through the movements appropriately and correctly, and we make sure you’re doing things faithfully to get fit rather than just get bigger or just try to gain muscle mass.”

At Pablo Beach CrossFit, Parrish says they hold six 60-minute classes each day. Each includes a warm-up, stretching (called mobility) so no injuries occur during the workout, followed by the WOD. He says his gym has about 125 members and is picking up about three to five new members every week.

While he did see a slight influx of potential members in January, perhaps driven by a new year’s resolution, Parrish said he tries to educate people before they attempt the workout.

“I want to make sure people don’t come in thinking it’s a gimmick where they’re going to lose 50 pounds in 30 days,” he said. “This is a complete lifestyle. We work through their nutrition, what they’re eating, what times of day they’re eating, and what else they’re doing outside the gym. We try to create a lifestyle for people, rather than just train them for an hour and send them on their way. Members always have access to their coach, so they can share their goals with a coach who can help them reach them.”

Although most might think CrossFit is geared toward the young, the clientele at CrossFit Ponte Vedra, located on Palm Valley Road, skews slightly older, according to owner Andy White.

“We have an average age of 40, with most members around 43,” said Kris Amatuli, the assistant head coach. “Compared to what you see on television at CrossFit Competitions, it’s a little bit older crowd. They’re still very dedicated, but just not what you would think of as the typical CrossFitter.”

Amatuli says many of its members are people who used to play sports or were athletes when they were younger.

“Now they’ve got jobs, they’ve got kids, they’ve got families and they just don’t have the time to dedicate to exercise like they did before,” Amatuli said. “When they do, they want to be efficient with that time. So when they come to us, they’re looking for someone who can think for them for an hour. They just want to turn their brain off and have someone guide them through the next hour, get their exercise in and just want to be efficient with their workout and get back home to their family.”

Amatuli, who was in a car accident 10 years ago that led to spinal damage and subsequent surgeries, said she became interested in CrossFit when she joined a friend who came to town for a competition about four years ago.

“Because of my injuries, it wasn’t anything my friends thought I should do,” she said. “I didn’t actually tell anyone at the time, but I saw Andy’s van at the competition and called and met him one-on-one and we walked through it for about two hours. I told him about my spinal injuries, but he wasn’t scared off by them. He said he could modify things in the workout and didn’t discourage me. I think he was just impressed I even wanted to give it a shot.”

Amatuli says she, and perhaps many CrossFitters, like the ever-changing nature of the exercise.

“This is something that changes every single day, so it’s always fun and it’s not going to get boring,” she said. “And if you’re doing it in the right place with the right people, this can and should be a long-term exercise program. It’s going to change you if you let it.”

CrossFit Ponte Vedra runs a set class schedule, with costs ranging from $120 to $180 a month depending on how often the member works out at the gym.

Greg and Ali Cosentino, who opened the Third Street CrossFit Gym in Jacksonville Beach in 2010, were led into cross-functional fitness when they operated their previous gym in 2000.

“We’ve always liked to work out hard,” Ali Cosentino said. “We didn’t want the average workout where you go and you barely sweat like it was when I first started. In those days, women would wear make-up to the gym like it was a fashion show more than it was an actual workout.”

When the couple opened their first studio in 2000, they built an indoor-obstacle course because they wanted people to learn to move beyond just the fixated positions of the exercise machines.

“CrossFit didn’t invent functional fitness,” she said. “What the founders did do was invent a great way to present it and create a community of people who wanted to do it together and compete against each other. They definitely branded it.”

Today, there are about 5,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms in America, and 10,000 worldwide.

CrossFit coaches agree that those attracted to this particular exercise regiment are generally strong-willed and have a competitive nature — whether they’re competing against other people or against the clock.

“There’s energy about CrossFit,” Cosentino said. “If you have that energy, you enjoy it. If you don’t, you jump out of CrossFit pretty quick.”


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Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska -- Airmen, soldiers and civilians participate in a Crossfit fitness program at Hangar 5 on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson after duty hours, Wednesday, July 13, 2011.  (U.S. Air Force/Justin Connaher)

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