CrossFit has caught on

Maureen Becker and Dan Dougherty both of Natick, jump high as they do burpees during a warm up in a class at Crossfit New England.
Joanne Rathe/Globe staff
Maureen Becker and Dan Dougherty both of Natick, jump high as they do burpees during a warm up in a class at Crossfit New England.

On any given day in an unexceptional Natick office park, scores of people pass through the doors of CrossFit New England to train with fellow moms, dads, students, professionals, competitive athletes, and anyone else looking for the endorphin buzz that results from the gym’s insanely intense “workout of the day,” or “WOD” as it is known here.

CrossFit’s popularity has exploded in recent years — there were 18 gyms in 2005 and there are now more than 8,000 — and if the dedication inspired in members of Ben Bergeron’s facility in Natick are any indication, it is easy to see why.

“When you put your heart into a workout . . . you push your limits on what you thought you could do,” said Michelle Lowe Marshall, a 47-year-old mom of four from Needham who has been working out with Bergeron since 2007, the beginning of the CrossFit growth surge. All of her kids go now, too.


“Sometimes you want to stop or quit, but the coaches and the other members encourage you to keep going . . . Ben and the other coaches have taught us to use those feelings and attitude toward all aspects of life,” she said

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For the uninitiated, CrossFit is a fitness movement that started at the grass-roots level in home garages and online forums.

As the movement grew, people started opening their own gyms, often in large commercial spaces outfitted with rubber floors and minimal equipment.

Every day, there is a different workout routine — CrossFit headquarters posts one on its website, www.crossfit.com, and each gym typically comes up with its own — that is designed to push people to their limits.

Joanne Rathe/Globe staff
Sonia Montvitt of Ashland along with other class members practice using a bar before adding weights during a class.

After warming up, members launch into the workout of the day — sometimes only a few minutes long, sometimes a half-hour — at maximum intensity, but scaled to the strength and conditioning of each individual. Workouts combine barbells and other weights with gymnastic movements, body-weight exercises, and intense cardio intervals. Regular CrossFitters say the result is not only a killer bod, but drastically improved health.


Jonathan Kaplan, 42, of Natick said he was “terrified” before going to his first CrossFit class. “I was pretty out of shape and was looking for something. I was getting older, had put on a few pounds,” he said.

Kaplan said it took about a month before he felt comfortable with all the movements and exercises he learned.

“The coaches were excellent and made me feel comfortable,” Kaplan said. “They’re all very good at the sport of CrossFit but they understand that the people are going there to get a good workout. They make it a goal to keep it light and fun and encouraging.”

Kaplan lost 30 pounds in three months, and now, a year and a half later, he has ditched the cholesterol medication he needed for 15 years, and is a committed convert who gets into the gym four to five days a week. He said the community is what keeps him coming back.

“You’re beating yourself up but enjoying yourself the whole time,” said Kaplan. “Some mornings I get out of bed and my legs are so sore, but I can’t wait to go back.”


Bergeron, 36, lives in Natick and co-owns CrossFit New England with his wife, Heather Bergeron. He has been coaching since he was in his early 20s, and, like other early adopters of CrossFit, started following the program after finding it online. CrossFit was like nothing he had ever encountered.

“It was definitely a ‘wow’ factor with the results. The way it brought people together is so different than anything,” said Bergeron.

In 2007, he started running CrossFit classes for parents of the students he coached at Dedham’s Noble & Greenough School, used the school’s gym. In 2009, he opened his Natick facility with 35 members.

There are now 430 members, with 220 people coming through the door every day, he said.

Membership in this community is not cheap. Unlimited classes cost $219 per month, while a membership offering three classes per week is $189 monthly. Bergeron notes that he posts his gym’s daily workout on the website for free, and gives significant discounts to students, first responders, military personnel, and multiple members of a family.

Bergeron strongly believes CrossFit is suitable for anyone willing to work hard, whether young or old, fit or fat. He cites his father, who just turned 70 and took his first CrossFit class the day after his birthday.

And then there is his wife, Heather, now four months pregnant with the couple’s second child together. In addition to being a nationally recognized top athlete in CrossFit’s competitions, she coached and worked out throughout her previous pregnancy, and is on track to follow the same routine this time around.

“Ben really thinks about each individual’s capabilities and goals before advising them what to do next,” said Marshall, the mom of four. “Ben programs training for elite athletes and grandmothers, and he treats each with the same level of interest and care.”

Bergeron said being successful at CrossFit is a matter of walking through the door.

“If you’re willing to be coachable and try new ideas, then this program is for sure going to work for you, and you for sure will see results,” he said.

For more information on the Bergerons’ gym, go to www.crossfitnewengland.com.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.