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Fitness Clubs

Academy of Lions

Posted by Staff / Posted on February 15, 2012

Academy of LionsAcademy of Lions is one of a few options for west ender's looking for a CrossFit-affiliated work out space. Newly settled into its third location near Ossington and Dundas, the gym hopes to bring the "old-school" back to working out.

For the uninitiated, CrossFit is a workout movement featuring intense conditioning and very few machines. Often used by police and elite athletes, it combines strength training with things like sprinting, gymnastics, and plyometrics. If you're looking to revive your childhood playground prowess or if you just can't stand lifting weights, this is probably the way to go for your conditioning needs.

Academy of LionsDhani Oks, who created the Academy with his best friend Sohail Bastani, walks me through the new location at 64 Ossington, and explains the gym's cardinal rule: no douches.

How, I wonder, is that enforced?

"We like to focus on athleticism here, not fitness," he tells me. "We want to go back to the primary, traditional physical things people used to do before commercial gyms became popular."

Academy of LionsIn a typical workout session, members run through custom workout programs featuring activities like hitting tires with hammers, climbing ropes, and lifting kegs. Sessions are designed to emulate sporting events and games, and feature simple movements like squats, pushups, and gymnastics. The focus is not on calories but on athletic challenges using minimal equipment.

Academy of LionsTo train, you usually have to come during a scheduled workout time when group classes are held. Academy of Lions doesn't have a well-stocked open-gym, and all workouts are coached.

Academy of LionsOks tells me about one of the gym's coaches, Olympic bronze medalist and three-time world champion weightlifter Alexander Varbanov. Noticing the traumatic gym class memories spreading across my face, he assures me that even grandmothers manage to survive their intense workouts.

Academy of LionsThe location itself looks nothing like a typical gym; there are no televisions of treadmills in the non-descript building. The minimalist decor and bare walls create a "Rocky meets Fight Club" aesthetic, and a giant tire sits right in the main entrance. Just a month ago, the building was an industrial complex, and you can tell.

Academy of LionsOver the next couple of months, the Academy plans to make a number of renovations. Oks says he wants to build a rooftop garden and a café dedicated to the "paleo-lifestyle." In addition to serving espresso, Academy of Lions will serve local, organic, locally-raised food that's sustainable and appropriate for a caveman diet.

The studio also offers nutritional training, and runs a non-profit foundation for at-risk youth. The Foundation assists with skill training, lifestyle coaching, and job placements for members of the community. "We don't build muscles, we build people," Oks says proudly.

Academy of LionsA full membership to the Academy of Lions costs $175 per month, which includes an assessment, some private coaching, and unlimited training in group classes. Drop-ins are not allowed, but interested parties are invited to meet with one of their trainers.



fcj / February 16, 2012 at 10:36 am
Big fan of these guys. Alex (Oly coach) is a great wealth of knowledge, and Dhani is always ready to customize programming if it's needed for a client. The space is supportiveto strict power/oly lifting as well.

No distractions. DYEL?
FranktheTank / February 16, 2012 at 11:10 am
Crossfit is a joke.
$175 a month for what!? A concrete bunker with used kettlebells?

I'll stick with compound lifts (like squats, dead-lifts etc.) with PROPER form and not the BS kipping-pull ups, intelligent programming, $55 / month commercial gym that allows me to work out safely and properly.

This last part killed me: "café dedicated to the "paleo-lifestyle."
Here's a better idea. Buy your own meats/vegetables and learn to cook.
FranktheTank replying to a comment from FranktheTank / February 16, 2012 at 11:27 am
I'll amend my previous comment. IF these guys teach proper form for whatever "crossfit" variation they teach and people are seeing tangible results from it all, good for them. Hopefully their gym will succeed.
Al / February 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm
I know a few people who do Cross-Fit, and every single one of them is condescending and defensive about it. It seems like a little cult. It's ironic that a Cross-Fit gym would have a 'no douches' policy.
lol / February 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm
pretty sure u can stay in amazing shape just using your own body weight via push ups, tabletops, squats and maybe going for a run/walking a bunch....
Rob / February 16, 2012 at 01:12 pm
Love the concept, and have already been to one "assessment" session at another location, but the prices are just ludicrous. 175 a month? Not a chance. But if they're surviving, I guess people are willing to pay
Tommy / February 16, 2012 at 02:18 pm
Academy of Lions is CRAP!!! Workouts aren't worth even a $55 membership rate and the no drop-in fee is a CASH GRAB. All successful crossFit affiliates permit a drop-in -- who in their right mind would commit to $174/month if your coaches don't know how to teach or can't try out a class first? is the REAL DEAL.
Pete / February 16, 2012 at 02:39 pm
This article is inaccurate on all levels, starting with the definition about understanding what crossfit is and promotes along with information about the gym itself. Alex Varbanov does not coach crossfit and check the Academy of Lions website for their pricing.
misguided review needs correcting / February 16, 2012 at 02:46 pm
misguided review reason #1: "Academy of Lions is pretty much the west ender's only choice for a CrossFit-affiliated work out space."

Reebok crossFit Liberty Village recently open, and truth be told, this IS WORTHY OF THE MONTHLY FEE. The owner/coach actually knows what's he's talking about, pays attention to minor details in form, instructs each exercise safety and programs the wods intelligently.

misguided review reason #2: "Often used by police and elite athletes"

What is really becoming a new wave physical fitness isn't just restricted to elite athletes and military personnel. CrossFit is for anyone and everyone.

misguided review reason #3: "A full membership to the Academy of Lions costs $175 per month"

It actually costs much, much more. The $175 is a pre-membership fee. ANOTHER CASH GRAB!

Advice to all the haters out there: once you find a cross fit gym with experience coaches and well-programmed workouts, you'll defend the highly monthly membership fees you'll fork out. Please don't let a poorly fun business like Academy of Lions turn you off from cross fit.
I have been to many cf affiliates in the city, across Canada and abroad. Not that many cf gyms offer an inclusive, competitive, safe, and supportive environment but Liberty Village and the long-time original crossFit in the city CrossFit Toronto seems to be doing something right.

Ryan / February 16, 2012 at 02:47 pm
The owner who came up with this and decided to charge 175$ is the biggest douche of them all.
Anthony / February 16, 2012 at 02:48 pm
Really want to join these guys.. I recently discovered that weights isn't for me, and I've been looking into substituting my gym membership to a circuit training place, closer to home (vaughan).. This is one to pricey for me, though
Andrew / February 16, 2012 at 02:51 pm
$175 a month to workout in what looks like somebody's garage? Sign me up.
Save your money...go elsewhere / February 16, 2012 at 02:58 pm
'Ryan' and 'misguided review needs correcting' are 100% right! Owner is a douche, Academy of Lions is crap, CrossFit is great.

If you want a fun environment, with great coaching, no douches, and healthy competition, try Auxiliary CrossFit and Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village. Both are in the west end, and are much better and cheaper.
jdl / February 16, 2012 at 03:01 pm
There is a Cross fit gym in the westend; it's located in Liberty village, not sure about prices. Let's see if they can both stay around.
In addition to the website, they have all the other social media handles.
Andre / February 16, 2012 at 03:03 pm
ACADEMY OF LIONS isn't a crossFit gym, it's a money-sucking pass-off of what a real cross fit gym should be. Sorry, but any gym that doesn't allow drop-ins shouldn't be a gym in the first place!!! I used to train there but went over to CrossFit Toronto, the original cf in Toronto. Much better coaching and workouts without attitude.
Go here... / February 16, 2012 at 03:04 pm

BP / February 16, 2012 at 03:08 pm
There are some pretty gross inaccuracies in these comments as well as the article.

1) There may be a "no drop in" policy but there certainly is a free weekly class to check out.

2) The rates are generally in the $175 or so range, not "much higher" as someone above claimed.

Crossfit Toronto's membership rates are roughly the same as AOL if not more expensive depending on your packaage...personally, travelling out to Logan doesn't work for me.

I have gotteen lots out of the programming and trainers and since i train roughly 4 times a week feel I get my moneys worth. If there is another option more convenient to you or conducive to the kind of training you want then go there.

People working hard and eating well = awesome.
The "my gyms better then yours" schoolyard douchebaggery is hands down my least favorite part of the crossfit/fitness "scene"...
Derek / February 16, 2012 at 03:10 pm
The reference to Academy of Lions being the only CrossFit Gym in the west end has been altered to reflect the other options out there.
Save your money...go elsewhere replying to a comment from BP / February 16, 2012 at 03:18 pm
To be clear, I have been to many CrossFit gyms across North America and Europe, and my intention was not to come off as "my gym is better than yours". I've had a great time at virtually all the other gyms...this one just sucks!
jameson / February 16, 2012 at 03:42 pm
crossfit still uses exercise still lift weights pretty much every time.
Alex replying to a comment from lol / February 16, 2012 at 03:44 pm
Sure anyone can "stay in shape" but crossFit makes you FUNCTIONALLY STRONGER.
Unfortunately, this review is poorly researched. If you've been to Academy of Lions, try another affiliate. You'll be pleasantly surprised :) You'll see gains in all fronts - from power and speed, to reaction times and coordination and even confidence!

I highly recommend you check out Run by the only level 2's in the city!
misguided review needs correcting replying to a comment from BP / February 16, 2012 at 03:59 pm
Hi BP,
Guess I was wrong on the fees. Here's the fee breakdown, taken exactly from AOL website.

If anyone wants to "drop-in", they first have to pay the $175 orientation fee. No cash grab here.....

This isn't directed to you BP but come on, is an "orientation" really necessary for someone who actually knows more than what the coaches are teaching?

One-time $175 package. 3 Training sessions dedicated to assessing your needs and getting you started the right way. This is a pre-requisite for all the “Program Options” below.

Program Options:
Best deal for the serious.
Unlimited Training: 12-Month Enrolment. $175/month (auto-pay)
1 Month Pass. $225/month
10-session pack. $199.
single drop-in $25

Trial Option:
Get started. Includes 3 session “Orientation” and 5 CrossFit single drop-in classes. $199
soah / February 16, 2012 at 05:17 pm

I noticed that all of these comments are very aggressive and wonder how many are coming from competitors?

I'd like to mention that the gym is actually helping out in the community and that is great accomplishment and vital to our city.

I think a Kodus should go out to them.
brian / February 16, 2012 at 05:36 pm
I went to Academy of Lions for 3 months last Aug/Sept/Oct and saw amazing results. $225 was steep, but is in the realm of the unlimited yoga I'm taking now (tore my abductor as a goalie in hockey in December).

I really enjoyed the Dundas location and assume the new ossington place looks the same, just bigger. Trained mostly with Erin and Sohail and really enjoyed pushing myself in a group setting and realizing how much harder others are working than me = helped me push harder etc.

+1 for my experience, will go back once my groin is solid.
the lion tamer / February 16, 2012 at 07:06 pm
In all honesty this gym is a far cry from what it used to be. The sense of camaraderie vanished all because of the owner (good peeps otherwise). Also, there's no thought put behind the "intelligent programming". There are great options throughout the city and the GTA; ones that will listen to your specific goals and needs and not feed you meaningless pipedream bullshit! Go elsewhere if you want real and measurable gains, please for the love of God, go elsewhere
Tommy replying to a comment from soah / February 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm
Hey Soah,

I'm a competitor and must say my comments were pretty harsh. You made a good point about the foundation they support. They really extend their support to organizations on a continued basis. And they've got a good thing going with the primal cafe. Huge success and Kudos for that.

My comments are based on their "teachability" and " daily WODS". Their workouts don't really make sense and their level of teaching is satisfactory, at best. With that said, maybe the instructor was having a bad day(or week)...everyone deserves a second chance!
John / February 17, 2012 at 12:21 am
Is the guy in the interview trying to be ironic? The way he describes the gym seems to be the definition of a "gym for douches". Not to mention "we don't do yoga or whatever is popular right now" yet he builds a gym for Crossfit which has one of the biggest hype machines going.

Crossfit is for people who think more money = better than. There's plenty of wys to get fit and stay in shape and get functionally stronger without having to shell out cash for the word Crossfit.
lol replying to a comment from Alex / February 17, 2012 at 02:32 am
lol sorry alex but a quick google search can find 99% of what you need, crossfit is the new tyboo.... and high intensity interval training is not anything new to the training world hate to break it to you... but if u enjoy being brainwashed in ur little cult so be it
Alex replying to a comment from lol / February 17, 2012 at 10:19 am
Your ignorance may be getting the best of you. There's more to crosFit style workouts than "high intensity interval training". In fact, crossFit isn't about "interval training". CrossFit isn't the new taboo either, it's been the choice in training military and fire personnel and is rising in popularity to the average individual.

I hear you on the inflated monthly fees, but crossFit achieves what some personal trainers and fitness clubs can't. You may think it's a cult and if it is, I don't associate getting brainwashed in it. I do the workouts because it's the most efficient way to workout.

But hey, if you're content paying $60 in membership fees (or paying $0 and working out on your own) then that's you're prerogative. I'm just speaking from my experience and I'm sure there are many out there so may not have had the same positive results as I'm experiencing. To each his/her own :)
BB Mc / February 23, 2012 at 10:51 am
What a bunch of bitchy comments from people who are obviously from other Crossfit gyms. I can't decide whether that's hilarious or depressing.
Jackie replying to a comment from BB Mc / February 23, 2012 at 06:06 pm
Haha agreed. Now I'm just too afraid to go to any CrossFit gym here or anywhere!! Might get chased with a big ass tire!!! I think I'll just stick to meditating
really now replying to a comment from BB Mc / February 25, 2012 at 09:17 am
Your right. It looks like a lot of people are on here who used to go to this place. It seems though something about this place here is way off. No other fitness review on this blogto site has this much resentment towards a place. That should be clue number one that something smells a little off about this gym. Another one is the no douche comment - is this guy serious? I took some classes at the academy for a while and got a good chuckle out of how superior some of the trainers thought their method was - they dont preach CF at this gym - its more Crossfit style workouts. I have been to Crossfit gyms across this city and around Canada and the US - most are pretty great. No other gym in TO has this elitist attitude about their athletes but then again they have athletes that are training at high levels of competition. I think they call that irony.
Audra replying to a comment from really now / February 25, 2012 at 08:03 pm
After all the news that crossFit has garnered, I'm dying to try it out. Do you have a suggestion on where I can go in the city? I don't want to die of a heart attack, but I also want a good, safe workout
crossfit replying to a comment from Audra / February 25, 2012 at 10:25 pm
go to look on the left hand side ti find Affiliates and take it from there. There are a few in Toronto and more each year.
OKS is a douche / February 27, 2012 at 11:20 pm
All these reviews about how shitty this place is are true.... go to CF Liberty Village, or Auxillary Crossfit at Dupont and Ossington.....unless you are a drugged out hipster don't go to Academy of lions, its so gay
appleseed replying to a comment from Audra / February 27, 2012 at 11:29 pm
Depends where you live... if you live in the west end of toronto, go to Auxillary Crossfit, or Crossfit Liberty Village. If you live close to Etobicoke, go to Crossfit Colliseum...East end go to Crossfit Toronto, if you are central downtown go to crossfit 416.....
Heavy D replying to a comment from Audra / March 8, 2012 at 04:10 pm
Audra - When looking for a gym make sure you do a bit of research and ask questions. How they treat newcomers (what kind of work will they have you do; a free workout means nothing really other than a couple saved bucks) how long have they been training and most importantly what certifications they have. For the most part the trainers will be certified by a few different associations but make sure they are at minimum Crossfit certified. There are trainers out there at one local gym in particular that have never been to a Crossfit certification - and they are breaking the rules if they are teaching Crossfit and are not certified. Trainer certification is a requirement to be an affiliate.
certification / March 16, 2012 at 08:35 pm
Certification is required? someone should call CrossfitHQ and report the Academy as the majority of the trainers are not certified.... they even have some ex homeless kids and drug users teaching classes.
David / April 6, 2012 at 02:06 pm
Not sure where all this negativity is coming from. The Academy is a wonderful place and I have trained there regularly for a while.

Very supportive and knowledgeable coaches. I'm pretty sure everyone there is certified and very equipped to coach. In this last two months I've seen about 5 certification courses and workshops held there, where coaches from other gyms were getting certified, so I'm sure they're legit.

I've been really happy there and the other members I talk too really love it. The community is fantastic. I especially love that they have a Foundation that offers free programming for local street kids. These kids are great and the gym is really supportive of this initiative. And over Christmas they sold t-shirts that helped fund the building of 6 new schools in Kenya.

So, it kinda bugs me when I see people posting that the Academy hires drug addicts to coach. That statement speaks for itself and It's not worth debating.

I would take all these comments you see in this thread with a grain of salt. The CrossFit world is becoming very competitive and the mud-slinging is a shame. I love CrossFit and the community it helps build.

If you're interested in CrossFit and would like to try a gym, I have some suggestions for you.

First, I would encourage anyone who wants to explore CrossFit training to research the topic a bit. There are a lot of gyms that are affiliated out there and some very good gyms that do CrossFit style training that are not affiliated. The truth is, CrossFit has been around for a long time...even before it was called CrossFit.

Olympic Lifting, Gymnastics, Kettlebells, Running are the foundation of CrossFit. So, you want a place that is really solid in every aspect of those things. I have friends who go to other local CrossFit gyms like CrossFit Toronto, Quantum and Tidal and they are all great gyms, and they all are very unique. There's a great gym out in the East End called Strength Box that is run by a very experienced and CrossFit certified coach, but it is not an official affiliated CrossFit, but I can tell you that gym is one of the best out there. So, you really have to do your research.

A couple of new CrossFits opened up like Auxiliary CrossFit and Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village. I don't know too much about them, but I would certainly check them out in the process.

For me, finding a good gym is like finding a second home. CrossFit training really is something unique and special. It's fun and motivating to be with people who care about the same things and challenge themselves to such a high degree.

CrossFit programming does cost more than the average commercial gym. But, the programming is much more envolved and even though it can range from $150 to $200/month I think the value is still great. Some gyms do free trials. Some will let you drop-in whenever you want. Some gyms have a very thorough and comprehensive intake process where personal training is generally involved. In my opinion, all are good, and it depends on how big the CrossFit gym is. I'm pretty happy at the Academy, because I had to start with some one-one-one coaching and feel it really helped my improve my technique and understanding of the movements.

I've got lot's of friends who do CrossFit at other gyms so we are constantly comparing notes and talking about it. All in all, it's like anything else out there, just make sure you do your homework and pick the best place for you.

Reggie / April 11, 2012 at 05:17 pm
Ex-homeless and drug users? I've yet to see one shady person there in my two months of crossfit training, and everyone who works and trains there has been extremely nice and very knowledgeable.

Unlike some of the people above, I don't have anything to complain about. My experience at the Academy has been pretty awesome. Have any of the complainers above even stepped foot in there before?
Just sayin replying to a comment from David / April 15, 2012 at 09:12 pm
David, ask to see your trainers certification. It is your right as a consumer and their responsibility as a Crossfit facility to provide tangible proof that they are certified. Fact: 3 trainers out of that gym are not CF certified though they will skirt the issue on how it is not important.
CrossfitHQ replying to a comment from Just sayin / May 11, 2012 at 08:11 am
Yep, this is true. I don't think any sessions are coached by certified trainers. Oks may be the only one there but he is usually busy making shirts and videos to train you. And they DO sweep this under and away. Drugs.....would explain quite a bit!!!
catherine / May 21, 2012 at 01:17 pm
People certainly are passionate about their Cross Fit Gyms. I'll take a pass on it all together, it clearly makes people aggressive. If that's the kind of people they build I'll have no part in it.
Hope you all find some peace.
haters / June 21, 2012 at 03:55 pm
what else can you expect with anonymous comments. If you're reading this, you've already lost.

y u so mad bro
Salvador / July 8, 2012 at 06:52 pm
I think Academy of Lions rocks! I did their Thursday Adventure WODs to train for the Spartan Sprint - it's an atmosphere of real camaraderie and I met really nice, cool people. And Mikey, the instructor, is great - hardcore! They really care about their members and I'll tell you why. At the last minute, my Spartan team had to back out and I had no ride and there was no way I was going to miss that race. I contacted Academy of Lions to ask them to reach out to the members I had trained with to see if I could hitch a ride with any of them. Sohail replied right away and passed my note on and one of the members got back to me. I got a ride to the race and ran with her team and it was a kick-ass time!! Thank you again, Academy of Lions!
Lee replying to a comment from OKS is a douche / August 1, 2012 at 05:13 pm
I totally agree with you. Dhani is a skinny douche that doesn't respect his clients and mocks them while they're trying to learn something new. Go to a real CrossFit gym that actually cares about your training and encourages you to do better.
Paul replying to a comment from David / December 11, 2012 at 10:27 am
This comment is obviously written by Oks under a pseudonym like most of the comments on here.

CASH / March 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm
Drug users? WHAT THE HELL?!!
I've been going to AoL for over a year, and have seen some amazing results and met some really great people.
I've yet to meet any drug users.

Perhaps you were confused and wandered into the rehab down the street?
Benjamin Charbonneau / May 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm
Anyone who says crossfit is BS because it encourages improper form and that "kipping is cheating" is an idiot. If you actually want to know why they kip then read about it. Most who are doing crossfit at very high levels put up BIG weight in the Clean/Jerk, Snatch, Back Squat, and can do over 30 dead hang chin ups at full extension. Just because you see someone doing something you're not familiar with doesn't mean its ridiculous, don't be so quick to judge.
Warhol corniche / June 6, 2013 at 11:00 am
Last time I checked, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson doesn't do crossfit and he could whoop any of these punks. Can you smell what the rock is cooking. Also, juicing is looked down upon here and if I can't do vitamin s in my own locker room then go duck yourself
kt / August 31, 2013 at 07:38 am
Is the espresso that Academy of Lions serves local, organic, locally-raised and sustainable and appropriate for a caveman diet? Just askin'
hmmmmm / October 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm
1. Not a member/Crossfitter
2. Train more than one

Sounds like a bunch of cry babies from the suburbs moved to Toronto and cannot handle an 'urban' setting. So aside from anger what makes this place so 'crap' seems better than other rip off douche owned gyms and many cross-shit gyms. At least they try to have some community not just expensive (I drive a huge SUV in downtown core cause daddy bought me one)nonsense, all this negativity is pointless.

Did you go there , train hard?
Did you go somewhere else? What was the result?
As for price ALL GYMS in TORONTO are pricy compared to states.
So if your 'condo/home gym doesn't cut it and you want better you have to pay more.
if you respect genuine real lifting go to a POWER LIFTING GYM . if you like MMA go to one if you like YOGA etc.

As for crossFit I would say how long are they in the game, who is the coach/trainer, and the most important TRY IT FIRST.

But as for the Crossfit world everywhere is overpriced. How many actually get you results? How many actually have qualified personal coaches trainers, I don't know too many.

But what specifically is the reason to hate on one of them. Without stating what actual issue was.

If you have not been there you shouldn't say anything at all.
5minDiane / January 29, 2014 at 10:12 am
The weightlifting school at The Academy of Lions is great. I also loved the paleo coffee bar. However, I felt only one of the coaches was knowledgeable, and that coach was seldomly there. The community is great, however I felt that the owner was off-standish and not welcoming. I didn't feel like I could reach my full potential at this gym, so I moved on.

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