Fitness For All


STORY BY Amanda Loudin      PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mary C. Gardella

Last April, Nanette Schryer became a grandmother for the first time. In June, she turned 60. With two major milestones in the same year, she figured it was time to be proactive and get healthy. A colleague told her about the CrossFit facility that had recently opened nearby and she found herself intrigued.

Still, CrossFit. The name alone is enough to intimidate, as most people envision ripped, muscular athletes doing crazy stunts and pushing around massive weights. Some fear serious injury; for example, an uptick in rhabdo—the condition of torn muscle fibers poisoning the bloodstream and causing kidney failure—has been linked to extreme workouts like CrossFit.

At its core, CrossFit is a workout revolving around constantly varied movement at a high intensity. Initially Schryer wasn’t sure the workout was right for her. “I ruptured my Achilles playing basketball a decade ago, and I was fearful of getting hurt all over again,” she says. Moreover, she recalls, “I thought I’d get into the gym and feel intimidated by the athletes and coaches.”

Nevertheless, she persisted, and several months later Schryer is still at it, hitting classes four or five times per week at Recharge in Ellicott City. “I always thought CrossFit was one way or no way,” she explains. However Ryan Smith, co-owner and coach at Recharge, tailored classes to her level, she says. “He gave me the confidence I needed to continue.”

Schryer’s experience is becoming more the norm than the exception in CrossFit these days, as the sport evolves from one aimed at the already fit to one welcoming all ages, shapes and fitness levels. “Many women are intimidated to come in the door,” says Bronson Dant, owner and coach at Ellicott City Health and Fitness. “But once they start, they learn that this is more about finding solutions to what they need for health than intense workouts.”


Still, there are differences from one CrossFit gym, or “box,” to the next, and it’s important that women considering joining look for the right fit. Most facilities offer a wide variety of services these days that go well beyond basic CrossFit. That’s certainly the case in Howard County, where each box has its own flavor.

Recharge, the new kid on the block, sets itself apart with its roots in physical therapy. Both owners, Ryan Smith and Gene Shirokobrod, are doctors of PT, and bring that background to such class offerings as post-partum fitness. “We educate and train our members on movement, helping them develop the skills to move properly and with ease,” says Smith.

The facility’s menu also includes youth strength training and mindset sessions, in addition to physiotherapy services. On the other end of the spectrum is 12 Labours CrossFit in Columbia, which bills itself as the Baltimore area’s original CrossFit box and the state’s first and only Cross- Fit Games team. Here members compete against one another in the box’s Resolution Games each January, and attend weekend athlete camps that serve as a measuring stick for member fitness levels.

Ellicott City Health and Fitness has changed its services in the years since it first opened its doors, says Dant. “We actually changed our name from CrossFit PCR to our current name to represent this shift in focus,” he says. “Rather than just CrossFit, we offer nutrition, boot camps without barbells for all levels of fitness, and functional movement screening.”


CrossFit definitely fights against the perception of a sport highly prone to causing injury. Dant says that taking steps to ensure clients are using correct techniques has reduced injuries. “Technique and safety always come first here,” he says.

Smith says that when you compare the rate of injury in CrossFit to that of running, for instance, CrossFit comes out far ahead. “Stats show that injury rates are around two to four per 1,000 hours of training,” he says. “With running, the rates are around 75 percent in the first year.”

That doesn’t mean injuries don’t happen in CrossFit, but both coaches say that when they do, there are “work arounds” to keep members active.

Schryer, who was worried she would get injured before she got into the CrossFit groove, says she now feels at home in the classes. “I love the variety of the exercises and the progress I’ve achieved,” she says. “It baffles my mind how different I feel in just three months.”

So different, in fact, that she signed on for a full year membership at Recharge. “Ryan told me at the beginning that inactivity would lead me down a path of more harm than any injury I could experience at CrossFit, and he’s right,” she says. “Now I can play with my grandson and it won’t wear me out like it did before I started.”

How do you determine which CrossFit gym is for you? Recharge co-owner Ryan Smith suggests women use several yardsticks:

– Check for an “onboarding” process. This is generally a cost-effective couple of weeks of one-on-one sessions with a CrossFit coach to learn technique and become accustomed with the workout formats. “If the facility doesn’t offer this, that should send up a big red flag,” Smith says.

– Observe some classes. During and just after your onboarding, taking in a few classes from the sidelines will further help you determine if the gym is the right fit. “We tell everyone that this is a chance to get a feel for what we have to offer,” explains Smith.

– Get to know the owners and coaches. This is where the tone is set, says Dant. “Make sure you are comfortable with what they say and do,” he explains.


TOP TIER CROSSFIT Services offered: CrossFit; CrossFit Kids; boot camp; personal or group training; yoga; massage and physical therapy. Columbia.

CROSSFIT COVE SERVICES offered: CrossFit; CrossFit 101; personal training; women’s and men’s challenges; CrossFit Kids; CrossFit Family; nutrition. Columbia.

RECHARGE Services offered: physiotherapy; CrossFit; postpartum health and fitness; mindset sessions; personal training; yoga; youth strength and conditioning. Ellicott City.

12 LABOURS CROSSFIT Services offered: CrossFit; barbell and weightlifting classes; personal training; HIIT classes; competitor training; CrossFit Kids; specialty seminars. Columbia.

ELLICOTT CITY HEALTH AND FITNESS Services offered: boot camp; CrossFit; nutrition; personal training; functional movement screening; three-month combined exercise and nutrition program. Ellicott City.

CROSSFIT CRITICAL MASS Services offered: CrossFit; foundations class; women’s classes; fit kids; Pilates for CrossFit. Maple Lawn.

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