Inside a warehouse-style gym in Sacramento, a mid-20s woman of pure muscle hoists more than 100 pounds above her head and then sprints to the horizontal bars for pull-ups. Nearby, a newcomer does a tamer version of the same workout, relying on a thick elastic band to help him raise his chin above the bar.
This is CrossFit, a style of working out that has swept the nation and Sacramento in the past few years. The number of CrossFit gyms in the Sacramento region now stands at more than 25, up from one in 2006.
Bleeding hands and sore muscles are the norm -- but CrossFit, launched from Santa Cruz a dozen years ago, is being sold to the masses on the notion that they, too, can do things they never dreamed possible. Each day, participants perform an ever-changing but always grueling sequence of exercises dubbed the Workout of the Day, or WOD.
The intensity of their effort is offset by the fact that the WOD is short -- generally less than 20 minutes. Trainers offer modifications for those who are injured or not yet strong enough to complete the workout as prescribed.
"You will do things here that you never thought you could do, and people are cheering you on to reach your goal," said Christian Norgaard, owner of the American River CrossFit. "You're going to hurt, but it's fun when you're done."
Since founder Greg Glassman posted the first workout of the day (WOD) online for his Santa Cruz gym in 2000, the business has expanded to more than 3,600 global affiliates. Each affiliate pays licensing fees to the parent, CrossFit Inc.
CrossFit has also become a presence on sports television. Top athletes who qualified, including a team of six from Sacramento, are competing this weekend in a battle televised live on ESPN3 for the title "Fittest on Earth."
Norgaard and and his wife, Kathleen, have watched the continued development of the industry since they opened a "box," as CrossFit gyms are called, in their garage in April of 2008. The Norgaards have gone from business rookies to successful entrepreneurs in just four years.
"We never could have expected this," said Kathleen Norgaard, a mother of two and substitute teacher, who looked on as members overcame shaking arms on Tuesday to complete the WOD's 45 pull-ups.
In 2008, the Norgaards paid a couple thousand dollars for the required affiliate license and a Level One coaching certification. They bought liability insurance and created a website for their home-based gym.
They started out by selling $75 memberships to six soccer moms and fire cadets. Their client roster has since grown to 145 people between the ages of 21 and 63, who work out in a warehouse space off Arden Way that the Norgaards opened in March. Memberships now cost $140 a month.
"Everything we made, we reinvested to buy equipment," Kathleen Norgaard said, adding that they never took on debt. Like many CrossFit owners, the Norgaards did not have an extensive background in business or fitness, and relied on articles by Glassman and online CrossFit forums for guidance.
Each CrossFit gym has considerable autonomy. As an affiliate, the Norgaards pay $1,000 to Washington, D.C.-based CrossFit Inc. each year. They set their own membership prices, create their own workouts and decide on their own what equipment to buy.
Typically, a CrossFit gym includes rowing machines, lots of weights, bars for pull-ups, wooden boxes to jump on, balls to throw, sandbags to carry and maybe some sleds to pull.
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