Following craft beer and big tattoos, CrossFit is the latest trend from the United States to gain a foothold in Taiwan.
CrossFit is the wildly popular fitness program that has everyone in the United States from elite athletes to middle-aged businesswomen and grandparents doing Olympic lifts, burpees, and pullups in its famous “Workouts of the Day,” generally referred to as WODs. It’s also controversial, however, with a reputation for lack of standards and quality control across the official CrossFit network of 13,000 affiliated gyms, each of which pays a licensing fee of several thousand US dollars annually to CrossFit Inc.
Mainly, however, the grueling “WODs” have enabled legions of passionate CrossFitters to achieve fitness goals and realize athletic performance that they never dreamed possible. “It’s changed my life,” says Olivia Park, a New Zealand native who now works as a personal trainer at Taipei’s American Club in China and joins CrossFit WODs at Ba Ke Si CrossFit in Taipei. Park switched to CrossFit after competing as a bodybuilder, and feels she made the healthier choice. “(CrossFit) helps me personally to focus on strength and fitness rather than what I look like,” she notes. “Bodybuilding is all about aesthetics, but CrossFit is about doing awesome things.”
CrossFit WODs consist of “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity,” according to the official website, Crossfit.com. They combine a variety of disciplines, including gymnastics, Olympic lifting, Strongman competitions, powerlifting, aerobics, and more. The goal of doing CrossFit is to improve fitness, which is defined by the company as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”
CrossFit falls under the general “functional fitness” category of exercise methods that contrasts with workout styles such as bodybuilding by incorporating movements emulating real world activity, but with added intensity. CrossFit was trademarked in 2000 and has grown rapidly throughout the United States and abroad – but has only recently come to Taiwan.
Travis Hong, from Hawaii, says that when he founded Ba Ke Si CrossFit in 2013, hardly anyone knew what the term meant, and none of his original 10 students – all expats – had any experience. The following year, New Jersey native Edmund Chu opened Feng CrossFit. “If I had run the numbers, it would have realized that this was a bad idea,” he says. “I kind of started it on faith.”
Nevertheless, with the ground already laid by other expat-owned gyms – such as O3 and Formosa Fitness – that offered similar “functional fitness,” Ba Ke Si and Feng CrossFit slowly developed into sustainable businesses. Today there are some nine Cross-Fit affiliates around the island.
While CrossFit might seem hyper-macho, in the United States more women participate than men, and that phenomenon seems to be replicating in Taiwan. At LOGAS CrossFit, for example, the proportion of female members exceeds 60%.
Joy Keith, a recent transplant from the United States who teaches at the Taipei European School, feels that CrossFit has particular resonance for women. “In general, women have a lot more scrutiny on our bodies,” she says. “When you do CrossFit, you feel so strong, so powerful. Going in everyday and being able to lift a bit more, you see results immediately.”
Cultural differences may have slowed the uptake of CrossFit in Taiwan, as nearly all CrossFit information is in English. Consequently, the sport remains largely the province of expats and Taiwanese-Americans returning to the island.
LOGAS CrossFit is the newest entrant into the market and will perhaps serve as a litmus for whether Taiwan is ready for CrossFit. Owner Jason Lai, also the founder of the Light Fitness chain of female-oriented fitness centers, saw the potential for CrossFit on a visit to China, where CrossFit has become a hit among the foreign population. “In Taiwan, we’ve had CrossFit boxes (the CrossFit term for gyms), but only for people who speak English,” he says. “If Taiwanese people want to do CrossFit, right now they wouldn’t know how to do it or even how to start.”
Opened for only a few months, LOGAS CrossFit draws on its affiliation with Light Fitness and already has over 200 members paying some NT$6,000 per month.
Looking at the growing impact of CrossFit on the island, Feng CrossFit’s Chu concludes: “CrossFit is here to stay.”