CrossFit is just the beginning of a new kind of fitness regimen, one built to go with you wherever you are in your life – and the world.
By: Eve Thomas
Illustration by: Harry Campbell
The first rule of CrossFit is: You must talk about CrossFit. A lot. Over the past year, reps and squats have been front and center on my social media feeds, along with kettlebells, kale smoothies and triumphant, sweat-drenched selfies taken in the changing room mirror.
Even the last Olympic Games didn’t have people this eager to get out there and exercise. While it’s tempting to call CrossFit a craze, some 20 years after it was first founded it has spread all over the world, with 10,000 affiliate gyms as well as fire departments and military units teaching its mix of strength and conditioning. So after yet another friend encouraged me to “just try one class,” I slipped on some sneakers, stretched my hammies and headed to Washington, D.C.
“People are really passionate about CrossFit, but then passion is what gets you going in the morning,” says Mark S. Andrew, CrossFit expert at Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown.
Three years ago Andrew moved to the American capital from Vancouver, Canada, where he helped orchestrate the city’s winning bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics. He even has the gleaming silver torch to prove it – it’s propped up in his office alongside his state-of-the-art exercise bike and photos of him with the last four presidents of the United States.
When he arrived in D.C., Andrew found a city buzzing with the ambition of politicians, diplomats, college students and eager interns. What he didn’t find was a hotel gym that suited their needs.
“When you come to town to meet with the President or lobby congress and you have a few hours off, you want your workout to give you the energy to do something you couldn’t do before,” he muses. (It’s worth noting that, during my visit, President Obama makes the front page for his lackluster hand-weight workout in a hotel gym in Poland.)
So out went the Fairmont’s rarely booked racquetball court and in came a “box” – that’s a CrossFit gym to those in the know – as well as new workout equipment, classes care of Balance Gym, a mezzanine-level fitness center open to hotel guests, and even a special paleo-friendly menu that members can order for takeout on their way out the door. (“It saved my marriage!” claims one member as I scan the menu, which includes pan-seared rockfish and grilled grass-fed strip steak.)
In many ways, D.C.’s population is reflective of a new reality, one where you never quite switch off. Whether you’re watching CNN over breakfast or checking your emails at the park, the line between work and play has never been blurrier. It's only logical that the same hotel that makes your dinner reservations or has your shoes shined overnight also ensures you don’t miss a beat in your fitness regimen, whether that means booking a massage therapist or a personal trainer.
At the same time, we are in the middle of a redefinition of what it means to be healthy – an acknowledgement that for diet or exercise to work effectively, it can’t simply be a chore penciled into your schedule (“Tuesday: Be healthy from 9–10 a.m.”). It has to become second nature. In that way, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is leading the charge with everything from hotel gyms to spa menus.
“Studies show people are more effective in their careers when they work out,” says Andrew. “Helping them do it makes sense.”
It turns out that just having a CrossFit gym in the hotel can make people healthier – even if they never take a class. “Your typical guests aren’t CrossFitters, but they’re not not CrossFitters,” says Andrew. “They might check it out and then take a different class or go on the machines.”
While CrossFit boxes are as varied as yoga studios when it comes to approach and design, the one at Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown, is clearly at the top of its game.
“Regular CrossFitters are just blown away when they come here,” says Jim Bathurst, CrossFit director at Balance Gym, as he passes a row of half a dozen students doing handstands along the wall. They all appear to be in their 20s and 30s, wearing alma mater t-shirts,
Day-Glo running shoes and, most importantly, wide grins. “We
always say that you may not be able to lift your arms at the end of a session, but at least someone from the hotel will hold the door open for you.”
A keen sense of humor is common – perhaps crucial – here. Despite the somewhat daunting ropes hanging from the ceiling, the vibe is more summer camp than high school gym class. Each task is scalable, meaning I can grab a PVC pipe and struggle alongside my neighbor and her Olympic-sized barbell and we’ll both work up a sweat. Members cheer each other on and scrawl their aspirations (“20 pull-ups,” “Squat 300 lbs”) across the chalkboard-paint walls. And later, when John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” comes on mid-workout, everybody groans audibly.
The gym also helps create an air of energy throughout the hotel, and it isn't limited to guests (though quite a few of the people stopping into the Gold Floor lounge for a bottle of water or handful of trail mix are wearing head-to-toe workout gear).
When I show up for a Body Balance Class – a fast-paced mix of weight lifting and cardio influenced by Japanese training – I find cleaning staff breaking a sweat next to off-duty CrossFit coaches, incognito D.C. residents and hotel guests, as well as Andrew himself. He isn’t just a fan of healthy living, he
also walks the walk (and runs the run, and bicycles the bicycle), attending classes as both a student and teacher. As he points out during a much-needed water break, “Exercise is a great leveler.”
“Wellness is no longer just a trend, it is a movement, and it is permeating every aspect of society,” states Andrew Gibson, Fairmont’s vice president of Spa and Wellness.
A 30-year veteran of the hotel industry, Gibson has watched the relationship between health and hotels evolve dramatically. In the late ’80s, the hotel industry took a cue from the boom in private fitness clubs, installing basic gym facilities to give them a competitive edge, putting in a few pieces of equipment, a pool, maybe even a sauna in the changing room.
Over the next two decades it became standard for hotels and resorts to not only have fitness facilities, but to explore health from every angle. That means cuisine that’s good for both the environment (for example, using seasonal, local ingredients) and diners (catering to special dietary requirements, from food allergies to diabetes), as well as full, luxurious spas that offer more than facials and manicures – what Gibson calls “a subtle shift in focus from pampering to therapeutic.” As with their workouts, guests want the impact of their spa treatments to last long after they’ve checked out.
The next step for hotels and health, in Gibson’s words: “A hotel will have a unique edge if it evolves to passive participation, where the simple act of staying at a Fairmont hotel will lead to a better and healthier stay.”
And how can you promise a healthy stay
without knowing whether someone will book a spa day or go to the gym? It’s in the little things: lighting design, air treatment, even the choice of materials used throughout the property. Imagine, says Gibson, “a hotel that helps you breathe more easily with filtered air, has hypoallergenic materials throughout, and freedom of choice in menu items for allergy sufferers.”
This vision doesn’t seem very far off. In fact, as I walk through the hotel garden and head out the door toward the Washington Monument, on foot, it all appears surprisingly close.