CrossFit in Toronto. It's a beautiful thing.
For those familiar with the CrossFit concept, it doesn't get much better than this. This place is fully decked out with everything a functional fitness guru could ask for. Enough said.
But for many, the idea of going to a gym where you never know what to expect can seem intimidating. Extreme even. What, no Oprah or Dr. Phil to go along with my elliptical?
What is CrossFit anyway?
CrossFit is a fitness program that uses more basic movements- like pull-ups and lifting things over your head- to create workouts that vary randomly each time. It started in the US as a spinoff of training programs used by the military and police forces. The concept has evolved over the years into an actual movement with CrossFit labeled facilities across mostly the US (a few in Canada) where people get together to collectively kick their butts in to outstanding physical shape.
The "affiliates" take their lead from the main CrossFit organization which provides certification and generally keeps the movement organized. They provide tons of resources on this style of training and even post regular workouts that you can do on your own.
The idea here is basically that most gyms and personal trainers are lame, and if you want a good workout you have to do real movements with little in the way of machines but lots of sweat. When you go to a CrossFit affiliate gym, it's to workout as a group, with set class times. You might be able to find out beforehand what they plan on doing, but for the most part the workouts feel completely random (although I'm told they are planned out in advance). Some incorporate some basic equipment like rings or rowing machines, some nothing but boxes to jump on and skipping rope.
Ok so how does CrossFit Toronto stack up?
Having recently moved in to the Toronto area, I was stoked to find out their was a CrossFit gym in the city. I've been interested in the concept for a few years now and have checked out Steel City CrossFit (in Hamilton) a few times.
Barely visible if you weren't looking for the sign by their window on Carlaw Avenue, the place has an industrial feel that adds to their anti-establishment approach to fitness.
My first impression- wow, this place has everything. Much more than the Hamilton gym. We're talking weighted vests, huge truck tires, glute-ham machines, kettlebells, elastic bands, plyo boxes, full sets of olympic barbell weights and dumbbells, and on and on. If randomness is part of the game here, that should never be a problem.
There are 8 classes per day- in the mornings, mid-day, and afternoon-evening. You can pay per class, for a bunch of classes at once, or for "unlimited training". I think they are pretty flexible here which is a refreshing change from the conventional gym approach of having you sign your life away.
It's a bit difficult to describe a class but basically there is a "workout of the day" that is made up on the spot and varies along a spectrum of intensity from stuff like five minute intervals on a rowing machine (longer duration, lower intensity) to single repetitions with a heavy barbell (shorter duration, higher intensity).
You might be surprised to see a totally mixed bunch at the classes. At the noon hour class I checked out, there were both younger and older, guys and girls, some in good shape but some more "getting there". They tailor what each person is lifting or doing to what is appropriate. So it's not just for fitness freaks, and they even have classes for kids.
I was totally satisfied with the workout I had when I dropped in. The people seemed really nice and were encouraging each other as we slogged through an intense workout. There were only 6-7 people there for the class so it was pretty close to getting personal coaching as the trainer there would constantly move around giving you pointers on how to improve your lifts. It impressed me to see that they knew their "olympic lifts" (ie. snatches, cleans) and how to teach them, something that's hard to find outside a college athletic program.
Here is an example of a Crossfit workout in full effect.Last photo courtesy of CrossFit Toronto.
Do I have anything bad to say about the place? Not really, other than the fact that it's out of the way for someone like me who lives in the West end. But honestly, if you want to really push yourself and you thrive in group workout environments, you have to at least try this place out. The owner is really personable and offers two free trial classes. You might want to bring a friend if you think you might be intimidated by being a the new person joining in on a group class.