By COURTNEY RUBINAUG New York Times
On a recent Saturday night at the Promenade Bar and Grill in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, the gym buddies Festa Radoni, 26, and Ellen Gerlach, 29, flexed their biceps, comparing muscles as a male friend snapped photos.
“She’s much better at pull-ups,” Ms. Gerlach said, laughing as she elbowed Ms. Radoni.
Over in the corner, Caley Crawford, 25, in five-inch green heels and polka-dot shorts, hung out in a squat position while sipping her drink and chatting. Nearby, two women in strappy dresses discussed how much weight they could snatch — move quickly from ground to overhead — with two men who, like everyone else at the evening’s event, do CrossFit, a popular high-intensity strength and conditioning program that involves lifting very heavy weights.
“Her grip strength is unreal,” one of the men said later of one of the women. He sounded awed.
It was a fairly tame evening out with Team Dangerous, a kind of interfraternity council for CrossFit gyms in the five boroughs, whose other events — among them a prom (dress code: “gym flair”) — have been known to devolve into tequila-fueled handstand push-ups in the street or a penalty of 10 burpees (an explosive squat-push-up-leap combination) for whoever stopped drinking beer. The two-year-old group’s stated mission is to combine fitness and social activities with charity, but it mostly functions to widen the dating pool for CrossFitters. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but that’s very true,” admitted a co-founder, Jason Lucking, 27, who is British, tall and flirtatious (he was, by several accounts, a credible copy of the Australian actor Chris Hemsworth at a CrossFit Halloween party).
After all, at any one box — that’s CrossFit-speak for gym — there is a finite number of datable options and a point at which it gets embarrassing. Exactly how large a percentage of people in one class do you want wishing they could accidentally-on-purpose drop a stack of 25-pound plates on your foot?
Joshua Newman, until last month a co-owner of CrossFit NYC, which says it is the world’s largest box, recalled a member in the gym’s early days who was nicknamed “Welcoming Committee.”
“He’d put the moves on every single attractive female who walked through the door,” Mr. Newman said. “He basically got drummed out after the point where the first dozen women he dated would warn off the next bunch of ar*****s.” He added: “I think probably the birth of Team Dangerous at some core level does come from this idea of not dating people you’re going to have to see all the time — like not dating someone in your apartment building. Every New Yorker knows not to do that.”
Perhaps more than disciples of any other type of exercise, people who participate in CrossFit can’t help being drawn to people who do the same. This is partly because the exercise regimen inspires near-religious devotion, along with in-jokes (Q: How do CrossFitters do aerobics? A: They lift weights faster.); partly because the program has so many types of moves and workouts that it can be discussed for hours (“You need someone who understands the pain,” said Sharifa Dunn, 26, a Reebok CrossFit Fifth Avenue member who was at the bar night); and partly because so many adherents follow the Paleo diet, which forbids grains and dairy.
At a beach share last summer, “two guys went to Costco and bought the equivalent of a cow, a pig, 50 fish and a lot of tequila, and we knew everybody would be happy with that,” said Julie Clow, 39, who frequently attends Team Dangerous events. (Tequila is considered the most Paleo-friendly of all alcohol.) Then there’s aesthetics.
Ms. Radoni explained: “I go out, and regular guys will be like, ‘You’re big.’ They think I look muscular next to them. But CrossFit guys enjoy that.” As a photographer took a group picture after a special July 4 Team Dangerous workout, a petite CrossFitter named Stacey Pearson, 34, called out, “Are my traps in the picture?” She jokingly adjusted her tank top to show the muscles, and the group laughed.
Kasey Heil, 26, a coach at CrossFit NYC whose boyfriend is another CrossFitter, added: “We look good from the outside, but then you have to touch our callused and ripped hands, look at our constantly bruised collarbones, and deal with the ab mat butt raspberry.” The aforementioned raspberry is from where the tailbone hits the mat during situps. As for the calluses, some CrossFitters discreetly check for those (earned by gripping pull-up bars, barbells and kettlebells) the way other single people may look for wedding rings.
Being social is in CrossFit’s DNA. Classes begin with introductions and sometimes include goofy icebreaker questions and exercises that require partners. In timed workouts, of which there are many, an unwritten rule is that those who have finished encourage those who are still sweating.
At the bar night, Carolyn Rebeck, 31, told of a particularly grueling workout CrossFitters usually do on Memorial Day for charity: a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats (no typos on the numbers here), followed by another mile run. This year, Ms. Rebeck finished dead last.
“The entire gym came out and cheered for me when I was running,” she said, getting a little choked up. “Why wouldn’t I want to hang out with these people?”
At the July 4 workout, participants were randomly assigned to groups of four: two men, two women. “For single guys, it’s great,” said Steve Mosier, 35, who is dating someone who works at his gym. “If you can sweat around someone, and they’ve got chalk all over their clothes” — chalk helps when gripping the bar — “and still think that they’re attractive, when they clean up, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ ” The event was sold out, so people elbowed one another for space during the warm-up: high knees, push-ups, planks, squats. (A popular CrossFit T-shirt slogan: “Our warm-up is other people’s workout.”)
James Quigley, head coach of EVF Performance, an Upper East Side gym that offers CrossFit, yelled, “If you’re sweating on a stranger today, that’s how we get comfortable and we make friends!”
Team Dangerous has no membership fee, but a co-founder, David Blair, 41, who works in finance, said that may change with plans — still sketchy — to expand beyond New York. “We have a goal and a belief that people who do fitness are very likely to be like-minded,” he said. “Why wouldn’t they fit in with us?”
The group is popular enough that it now has a competitor, the two-month-old Barbells & Boroughs. And with the success of Team Dangerous, in exercise and matchmaking, comes with new challenges.
“A lot of these guys are young, and so they break up and then you have to deal with that,” Mr. Blair said. “We’re bringing people together, so obviously relationships are going to happen.”