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I'm not against hardcore workouts and I'm always up for a challenge, but the stereotypical idea of swinging kettlebells around and throwing heavy weights above my head seems ridiculous and dangerous. I've heard rumors from CrossFitters that participants are expected — pressured, even — to keep increasing the amount of weight they're lifting, regardless of safety. And while I have a ton of respect for strong female athletes, I have no desire to build bulky muscles. (Perhaps that's another stereotype, but depending on diet, hours of training and body type, this can definitely occur.)
But tucked away in Tribeca is ICE NYC, a new gym that wants to disprove these myths and fears. Owned and operated by Izzy Levy, a personal trainer with 20 years of fitness experience, and his wife Dyan, their main goal is to offer CrossFit to regulars, newbies, and especially the naysayers. Levy is doing this by creating what he believes is a less intimidating environment, focusing on safety by always having multiple coaches instructing each class — oh, and by hiring the Camille LeBlanc-Bazinet, "The Fittest Woman on Earth," as the studio's director of programming.
Does that mean the gym caters only to women? Nope. But it seems equally welcoming to both men and women of any and all age groups and fitness levels, especially given their programming spread — did I mention that this CrossFit gym has yoga?
ICE stands for "Infinite Cross-Training Experience," so the studio has three other classes besides CrossFit: yoga, rowing and HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, which Levy believes rounds out the CrossFit experience. Plus, they all have punny names related to the gym's chill-inducing acronym.
I took a week off from my normal workout routine to try them all and find out, when cushioned among more familiar-sounding classes, whether CrossFit was something that I could get addicted to.
It's Sunday morning, and I've arrived for my first class at ICE just after finishing a green juice and a bit hung over. I'm lying on the floor of what is clearly a CrossFit studio — except it's not. Yes, there are kettlebells lined up to my left, but a few steps away is a bench with motivational-slogan pillows, like you'd see in a spa. Hmmm.
The studio is dim and peaceful and there's no sight of dudes throwing weight around in the background, as I had imagined. My instructor, Gigi, is unpretentious, personable, and clearly a knowledgable yogi. There's plenty of space to spread out. and those participating range from experienced to "it's my second time ever doing yoga." I'm happy with the class — but yoga is one of my fortes, so I know I'm still in for it.
CrossFit Below Zero
I'll get right to the point — CrossFit is not as intimidating as it looks, at least not here. I've observed classes at other gyms and heard friends share stories of in-your-face coaches, cliques, and people lifting weight that they couldn't handle for all the wrong reasons. But this room just consists of a bunch of sweaty men and women of various ages and fitness levels competing with only themselves.
Liz, our instructor, is a former basketball player who appears to have zero percent body fat and is anything but pushy. She's laid back, even. She remembers each of our names, constantly helps us with technique, and motivates us throughout the class. Levy is also coaching us today, mostly by helping beginners like me learn how to correctly dead lift and perform a shoulder press and push press with minimal weight.
Levy explains that CrossFit is "functional fitness," meaning it's a series of movements similar to those in everyday life, like picking something up off the ground. Today's class consists mostly of push presses, lunges, and sit ups, with stretchy band-assisted pull-ups at the end. We are expected to perform a specific number of reps for each, and continue this cycle within a certain time frame. Everyone is going at his or her own pace and are more concerned with accomplishing their reps than competing with their neighbors.
My legs are getting tired from the lunges and my heart rate is up, but it's nothing I can't handle. And I feel comfortable sticking with light weight, especially in this type of environment, so goodbye to the bulking concern. CrossFit: Not that bad!
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is definitely scarier than CrossFit — who knew?
Perhaps it's because I walked in a few minutes late, or because Robert is not necessarily the newbie's go-to coach. It reminds me of those circuit station boot camp classes I would take as an undergrad only on Sundays so I could go home and pass out right after.
Expect kettlebell swings, squat jumps, wall ball tosses, sprints, burpees, plank work, sit-ups, and other potentially painful things, all performed at a fast pace. You will be sweating, your heart rate will be elevated, and your body will fatigue fast. I opted out of part of the class because I was unsure how to perform certain exercises, so I'd say that this is for those who have some experience with HIIT. Is it a cool goal to work up to? For sure. Will I be following through with that goal? Probably not.
For those that hate traditional cardio but need more of it in their repertoire (let me phrase that differently: I hate running), this is your class. Rowing is much more fun and easier on the joints, and ICE's class employs intervals so you will not be on the machine the entire time (let me phrase that differently: you will not be bored to tears). The rowing routine varies between a steady pace and sprints, with standing squats, sit-ups, squatting wall-ball tosses, and plank work.
It might sound similar to a boot camp, but it really doesn't feel like one — I was motivated to keep going, and never felt like I had to stop, and I'm far from a cardio master at the moment. I was also working my legs, arms, back, and core throughout the class, so it was a win-win all around.
Will ICE NYC be turning this naysayer into a CrossFitter? The jury is still out. But if I do ever decide to really get into it, ICE will become my studio mostly because the aspects that originally turned me off from the workout simply don't exist there. It has a community vibe with approachable coaches — and in a city like NYC, that holds some heavy weight.