In a standard CrossFit gym, exercise equipment is sparse. But there are two things one will always find: a whiteboard and a digital wall timer.
For Matt Ringstad, who opened CrossFit Chuckanut in August, his first glimpse of a space used for the high-intensity workout program—CrossFit devotees refer to their facilities as “boxes”—left a lasting impression.
“Once I walked into my first class of CrossFit, I knew instantly that this was where I needed to be, and this was going to take me to where I needed to go,” Ringstad said.
The high-intensity workout program, which was developed by Greg Glassman in 2000, has grown in popularity over the past decade. Crossfit Inc. counts more than 4,000 affiliated gyms in its ranks today.
Apart from warm-up, stretching and skill-training routines, an actual CrossFit workout—known as the “workout of the day,” or WOD—typically lasts less than 20 minutes. Ringstad’s workouts usually go for 12 minutes, with his trainees attempting to complete a pre-set series of exercises as many times as possible before the clock runs out.
CrossFit trainers follow an open-source format to develop their routines, helped by a devoted online following.
Gyms post their exercises online, and trainers build off one another to develop their programs.
“Nobody has the same program, but it’s all open-sourced, so everyone shares their programming,” Ringstad said.
The routines emphasize “functional” movement, according the the CrossFit website. They usually mix various exercise elements, including weightlifting, box jumps, medicine balls and pull-ups.
Exercises are meant to mimic similar movements one would use in everyday life, Ringstad said.
A road to recovery
For Ringstad, his initiation into CrossFit came after he sustained a spiral fracture on the tibia and fibula of his right leg while snowboarding in Oregon with his two young sons.
The injury required metal plates to be surgically installed in his leg.
Doctors told him he would likely never be able to run again, or at least not with the same mobility as before.
“It was like I had been in a car crash—that’s the way it was described to me,” he said. “When they said that to me, I had to find something that would push me to be better than I was before the accident.”
He registered for the Portland Marathon and began learning CrossFit endurance techniques to prepare. After competing in the marathon, he stuck with the regimen, training at the CrossFitX gym in Bellingham’s Barkley Village.
In a desire to help others reach fitness goals, Ringstad decided to certify himself as a CrossFit coach and open his own gym.
The CrossFit system certifies coaches after they complete a weekend training session. Ringstad said the training covers the movements used in CrossFit routines, nutrition, safety, as well as the importance of knowing how to scale workouts to fit each trainees’ abilities.
After completing the session, Ringstad was certified as a level one CrossFit coach.
He obtained official certification for CrossFit Chuckanut in May before opening the facility in August.
Intensive regimen causes some safety concerns
The “all-out” nature of the CrossFit system has led to some claims that such high-intensity exercise programs can lead to adverse health effects, including a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which causes muscle tissue to break down and be absorbed into the bloodstream, eventually leading to kidney failure.
No conclusive evidence has yet been found showing direct links between CrossFit and the condition.
Critics have also said the open-source nature of CrossFit, with its lack of standardization and development through its online community, might encourage beginners to attempt routines without training.
Ringstad said he’s aware of the controversy surrounding CrossFit. But he said safety is an essential element of the exercise programs at CrossFit Chuckanut. He makes extra effort to ensure his clients don’t push themselves too far, he said.
He also tells new clients to talk with their doctors before starting the program.
“People need to learn their own limits,” Ringstad said. “It’s scaling it down and being smart about it, and it’s an individual thing. We try to get our athletes to be as safe as they can.”
Classes at CrossFit Chuckanut
Ringstad runs classes Monday through Sunday at the CrossFit Chuckanut facility, located in the Haskell Business Center in Bellingham at 1304 Meador Ave., Suite B3.
Clients at the gym pay a monthly fee of $120. Ringstad schedules daily routines in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Each workout is the same, so members pick which ones they want to attend knowing nothing will change from class to class, he said.
Right now, the gym has six clients. Classes have trainees with a wide range of ages and fitness levels—from 20-year-olds to people in their 60s and 70s.
While Ringstad hopes CrossFit Chuckanut will be a financial success, he said his real goal is to help his clients improve their fitness.
“I’m starting a new business, but the reality is it’s about helping people,” Ringstad said. “I just want the people here to be healthy and to stay healthy.”
Contact Evan Marczynski at email@example.com or call 360-647-8805.
Evan Marczynski photos | Bellingham Business Journal