CrossFit: A Path to True Fitness For Rebels At Heart

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“CrossFit is very primal. It stimulates the central nervous system.” Photo by Lisa Haefner

Maria has been doing epic profiles for us of places like George’s Diner, JoMart Chocolates, Leo Lee, and The Moshmans. This time she interviews her brother, Robey Newsom, about CrossFit. Robey is a coach – owner of CrossFit Red Hook, located at 209 Van Brunt Street. Sometimes in Brooklyn, it is all in the family, and we hope you will learn something new. 

How did you get into this?

“I’ve always been athletic,” Robey starts,” but less so in traditional sports, and more so in skateboarding, climbing buildings, riding my bicycle in traffic in Brooklyn…” which may explain why mom started dying her hair at 30.

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Robey on a skateboard. Photographer unknown.

Robey was the kind of kid who popped wheelies on ramps made of boards and bricks, å la Evel Knievel. Always on his skateboard as a teen, he made handstands look easy as handshakes, and he even once sailed under a moving 18-wheeler on Atlantic Avenue.

“As I got older I found martial arts, karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. What I liked about it was the gravitas of grappling. In the mid 2000s CrossFit was coming onto the scene and it appealed to me ‘cause it was controversial. It wasn’t like going to Equinox and working your biceps to get a beach body.”

“This was more rugged, a path to true fitness. Here were people doing pull-ups and jumping on boxes and lifting heavy weights and sprinting and throwing up. And they were having a good time doing all this together. In CrossFit you work out with other people in a supportive way, but it’s also mildly competitive. While private sessions are available, they’re expensive and discouraged, because the whole point of CrossFit is to be working out together.

Runners are frequently considered the fittest athletes but running doesn’t make you strong. It doesn’t help you lift heavy things or climb stairs. Running is an important part of a fitness program, but if it’s all you’re doing you’re selling yourself short.”

CrossFit gyms, called boxes, are usually housed in garages or warehouses. Photo by Lisa Haefner

“CrossFit is a very efficient way to work out. It builds endurance, strength, speed, agility, accuracy, mobility, flexibility, and it’s fun. It focuses on compound movements. Bicep curls might use 7% of the muscles in your body. We focus on the Olympic weight lift. So by contrast, a clean and jerk probably uses 95% of the muscles in your body. ”

The Clientele

Photo by Lisa Haefner

Is this for women, too?

“Absolutely. At least half of our clientele are women. What’s really neat about CrossFit Red Hook is that at the moment we have fourteen couples. Some of them work out together, and some of them never work out together. They use it as a way to get away from their partner.”

What ages do CrossFit?

“Our oldest member just turned sixty and we have two high school students. A quarter of our clientele is 45 and up. We love the young people and we love older people.”

Photo by Lisa Haefner

Tell me about the format of the average workout?

“There is no average CrossFit workout. It’s constantly varied and uses high-intensity moves based on sound scientific principles. One day you’ll be doing back squats to build strength, followed by some metabolic conditioning like running around the block, then doing box jumps and pull-ups. The next day you might be doing medicine ball throws followed by jump roping, followed by bench press. We use kettlebells and dumbbells. We use Olympic barbells. We don’t use machines per se, we’re the machines.

Our head trainer, Kyle Otto, programs all of our one-hour sessions. At the start of every class at CrossFit Red Hook, we get together and look at the workout. So while they’re constantly varied, workouts are not random. If you come to CrossFit for a month, you’ll have worked every body part multiple times.

You’re not gonna know how to do a clean and jerk at first, or a snatch, or some of the other movements that we do, so we offer a free introductory class Saturday morning at 11, followed by two private foundations classes. Then you go whenever you want.

We start each class with a question of the day while we’re warming up, which allows everyone a chance to get to know each other’s’ names, and helps create a bond. So we might ask a question about food or working out, but never about politics.”

Robie and Maria last summer. Photographer unknown.

I remember the question at my own trial class this past summer:

“Name a band that everyone likes, but you never really liked yourself,” Robey asked.

I was in a circle with 5 hard bodies and we went round-robin, with Robey starting:

“The Clash,” he said, “I never really liked the Clash.”

I love the Clash.

A dude with a torso tight as a turducken said “Meat Loaf,” then I was next:

“Sonic Youth?” I offered.

“Maria, Sonic Youth is a very cool band,” Robey said, a little dismissively, with a touch of big brother ‘I know better.’ He does. When it comes to indie rock, my bro knows a lot more than me, and actually, he knows more about all music, and about the culture of cool, in general. That’s probably why he got into CrossFit in the first place.

So what is the best music suited to CrossFit?

“I sometimes listen to Jazz. I was listening to the Messiah Christmas morning while I was doing weighted box step-ups, but I think the consensus is that hip-hop has the seriousness and motivational factor that most people like.”

Safety

Photo by Lisa Haefner

“Even though I’m a coach myself, another coach guides me through the workouts. Left to my own devices my workouts would be haphazard at best, or dangerous at worst.”

Sounds about right. I suspect that leaving CrossFitters unsupervised—a group arguably more extreme than other athletes— is probably not a good move.

“We focus on proper form and staying safe. One of the tenets of CrossFit is that everyone can do it. I might clean and jerk 155 lbs and another person might clean and jerk 15 lbs. And that’s fine. Not everyone can do pull-ups, so we have multiple ways of scaling every movement. You might not be able to do a pull-up today, but you’ll be progressing towards being able to do a pull-up.

The Community

We get together a few times a year at a local pub, but this is New York, people have busy lives, we mostly see each other in the box. I’ve made some great friends and we’re connected to this worldwide community of half a million CrossFitters. We participate in the CrossFit open every year which is an online competition. We watch the CrossFit games together on ESPN, and being in Brooklyn, the people are from all over the country and all over the world.

We’re open seven days, typically have 10-12 in our 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM classes, and twelve at lunchtime. Our evening classes are more lightly attended.

We love Red Hook and we reflect the neighborhood. We’re a motley bunch; we’re not like a fancy Brooklyn Heights gym. We have professionals and people who work at Stumptown, and other local businesses, and Tesla.

Photo by Lisa Haefner

Beyond a Workout

Robey’s right. CrossFit is fun, even for the barbell-intimidated like me. You feel like you’re in parallel play in the sandbox, only rowing instead of digging, until you team up for a hilarious tic-tac-toe relay race. That feels like day camp! By the end of just one class, I sensed this bond that Robey spoke of. But this bond, for my brother, is like Super Poligrip.

“Crossfit changed my life,” Robey acknowledges. “When my marriage was ending, it was the intense training and the great community of the people of CrossFit Red Hook that were invaluable in helping me get through that rocky time. I could go six days a week, throw myself into the workout, see my friends, and walk out of a session dead tired, but filled with pride and confidence.”

In addition to CrossFit Red Hook, there are close to 30 CrossFit Gyms in Brooklyn, according to Google, and while most are concentrated North of Prospect Park, we hope you find one that fits your personality and keeps you in tip-top shape in the new year.

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