Just a couple years ago, terms like WOD, Fran or bar-facing burpee were unfamiliar to most South Floridians. That’s ditto for Pukey the Mascot and Greg Glassman, the former gymnast who founded the intense, grueling fitness craze called CrossFit.
Today, the strength and conditioning program that began in California — and was designed for police academies, commandos, Olympic medalists, pro athletes and martial artists — is a hit with teachers, stay-at home moms, and even kids in Miami and seniors in Hollywood.
Since Marcio Pizanelli opened the first CrossFit gym in South Florida in 2006, about 70 more “boxes” have popped up from Homestead to Fort Lauderdale, most within the past two years. The gyms, which CrossFitters call boxes because most are located in no-frills warehouses, have names that include CrossFit Fever, CrossFit Kingdom and CrossFit Fully Involved. They are independently owned and operated.
“I started it because I believe in it,” said Pizanelli, owner and operator of CrossFit Miami, a 2,000-square-foot space in Doral.
Powered by muscle
Nobody walks on a treadmill and reads Vogue at a CrossFit class. The only machines are rowers powered by muscles. But there are plenty of barbells, kettle bells, climbing ropes, medicine balls and PVC pipes.
The format is simple: a warm-up and a “workout of the day” known as a WOD. They usually are 20 minutes or less, but so draining they exhaust even buff, super trainer Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser TV hit.
“Everyone leaves sweat angels on the floor,” said James Piccolino, a sports chiropractor and avid CrossFitter in Miami.
Except for a few benchmark WODs such as Fran, and “hero” WODs named after fallen soldiers, the workout of the day is never the same. The challenge and variety are part of the appeal.
Glassman developed his ideas on fitness back in the early 1970s, when he was a high school gymnast who wanted to get stronger. His father pulled the family station wagon out of the garage so he could have a space to lift weights. He started with a 110-pound “Ted Williams” weight set bought at Sears. But the traditional weight exercises were not creating the feeling of strength and cardio fatigue that emulated what he went through with his grueling still-ring routines. So he created “Fran.”
It’s 21 thrusters (front squat with a follow-up push press of weight over the head) and 21 pull-ups, followed by sets of 15 and sets of nine, for a total of 45 each. The goal: Complete it as fast as you can.
On a YouTube video, Glassman told a group: “The first time I did it I unceremoniously threw up all over the floor.”
Glassman was so excited, he went across the street to get a fellow gymnast. “Never mind what’s on my shirt, come with me,” he said he told his friend. “A workout was born.”
But it was not until 2000 that he started CrossFit as a company. It had been a cult program, followed by sweat-soaked disciples who were bored by swanky, machine-infested gyms. They were willing to work hard for results.
Pizanelli had learned about the intense program from a friend who had been a firefighter. At the time, the nearest CrossFit gym was in Jupiter and CrossFit was just beginning to evolve into the mainstream.
Pizanelli took the leap and at age 23 debuted CrossFit Miami. “I was No. 175 on the affiliate list,” he said.