The fitness faithful gather early Saturday mornings at Bulldog Crossfit’s no-frills space in Forest Park leased from a carpentry company in an industrial complex tucked between cemeteries and railroad tracks.
“All right, guys, gather round real quick!” yells Gio Salazar, 47, this session’s trainer. He describes the workout, which includes team deadlifts, pull-ups, box jumps and wall pushups, ending with a 400 meter run with each team member toting a large, heavy weight. About one-third female, the group of 16 ranges in age from late teens to early 70s. A large whiteboard shows the day’s workout, slightly different for each team – pairs of Crossfitters teamed to to be “equally yoked” in terms of strength, agility and endurance, according Salazar, an Oak Parker. When the workout begins, Salazar – who is muscular, compact and very intense — starts a timer visible high on the wall, because the goal is to complete the tasks in the shortest possible time (but safely). Thumping, loud motivational music vibrates through the converted warehouse as the teams crank out their assigned tasks.
Just what is Crossfit? “Constantly varied functional movements done at high intensity” is the textbook answer, according to owner Greg Major. But beyond that, “Crossfit is sort of like open source software. It is not one thing, you learn, grow and incorporate new things. The idea is to create or achieve a more well balanced fitness — because fitness and health are interdependent. You can’t be healthy if you are not fit. You may not be sick, but you are not healthy. There is no reason to go through life not being able to do something. Here, we build balance, strength and endurance. Many classes incorporate running, for example, but in a balanced way, not tortuous long distances.” According to Major, “running ages people” and a strictly running-based program is not the well-balanced one for which Crossfit strives.
Oak Park resident Greg Major, 55, grew up in Hyde Park and Evanston. His father, now deceased, worked for a steel mill; his mom had various jobs including working at the University of Chicago’s geology department. Major, who says he has been “active all my life” played football, swam and did inline speedskating. For a time he was into bodybuilding, which helped his transition into the role of personal trainer at Gold’s Gym at Orleans & Chicago. Not satisfied with the gym atmosphere, Major started taking clients outdoors to work out. “I would ask them ‘What do you like to do?’ If it was bike, I’d put on my inline skates, they’d bring the bike, and I’d say ‘chase me’. The idea was to make it intense, efficient and fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you will not do it. Here we offer an effective, fun, nurturing environment – clients are not berated but encouraged.”
“We started a boot camp in 1999. I always liked team sports and the group camaraderie about them,” Major said.
Oak Park potter Nancy Gardner, 58, was exercising at Crossfit Saturday. After a period at the studio, she’s able to easily lift a heavy bar over her head – this after her strenuous workout . Gardner says in the past she’s done “step aerobics, Pilates, yoga – all that lady stuff” which she says are all “great, but they don’t change your body.” Crossfit, however, has accomplished that for her. Gardner says nothing else gave her definition in her legs before – or helped her lose the padding around her middle. “It’s awesome!” she says, “the most fun workout ever!”
“This is my second home,” Major said. “You know how some guys have a man cave in their basement? This is my man cave, my little home away from home.”
Major discovered the Crossfit concept while checking out competitor boot camps.
“I checked out Windy City Crossfit and got into it. I found my first space for the gym on South Boulevard in Oak Park (now home to Ahimsa Yoga). A couple of years ago, the Forest Park space became available, and after a Saturday class, my clients and I moved all our equipment from Oak Park to the new space and we opened the following Monday. Sort of the definition of functional fitness…”
Do his clients lose weight? “I don’t like to call this a weight loss program,” explains Major, “even though our clients can and do lose weight. If you are at your fittest and healthiest, you will look the way you should. We want you to be able to look at yourself naked and think, ‘That’s how I should look.’ So at that point, does it matter what you weigh? What size you wear? We want you to get rid of these irrational guidelines. There’s a term, “skinnyfat”… skinny does not look good. We’ve been brainwashed to view anorexic models as looking good.”
Why the name Bulldog? Major says “My wife Michelle found a picture of a tank called a Bulldog – it sounded good, and there was the Marine Corps connotation” – so Bulldog Bootcamp was born.
Fit healthiness is a society-wide struggle, says Major, who sees cutting fitness from schools as senseless since science shows kids learn better when they are active. “My mission is to educate people on what fitness is. Get them to see fitness has to be part of your daily life just like brushing your teeth. People will come to me and say ‘I want to get fit for a wedding, or the summer’ and I ask, “so what happens after that?’ Do you reach a point where your teeth are so clean you never have to brush them again? Of course not!”