When asking what CrossFit is exactly, expect a complicated answer. BJ Monger, owner of Zia CrossFit, admits the fitness craze is difficult to explain but that seeing is believing.

“I can tell you CrossFit is ‘constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity’ and you can say: ‘I don’t really know what that means, and I don’t really care,’” says Monger. “But more and more people see their friends doing it, and more and more people see the results.”   Surrounding Monger on a Friday afternoon is a small class of men and women dripping sweat as they hoist Olympic-style barbells above their heads. Monger explains how CrossFit molds powerlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics, running, rowing and nutrition into a single fitness model, while the group switches over to slamming kettlebells against the walls.  It is an exercise that hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the world might be doing at the same exact time. Since 2000, what began as a small community of trainers in Santa Cruz and a website posting eccentric daily workouts has blossomed into a $100 million company with over 10,000 gyms spread worldwide.

Monger, who opened Zia CrossFit back in 2011, credits such explosive growth to the CrossFit Games, the search to find the “Fittest on Earth.” Like CrossFit itself, the games were built from humble beginnings. Seven years ago, anyone could sign up to compete on founder Greg Glassman’s small ranch in northern California. In 2013, the games were televised on ESPN for the first time.

“You can be sitting at the bar, eating ribs now and watch this on TV and say, ‘Wow, I want to do that,’ says Monger. 

For Mark Martinez, an instructor at Zia CrossFit (1311 Siler Road, 699-8856) watching elite athletes climb, lift, hurdle and jump at breakneck speed can be intimidating. He describes the competitors on ESPN as CrossFit’s “1 percent” (only 50 men and women qualify every year). Before he even attempted CrossFit himself, he was overwhelmed.

“I Googled it and thought, ‘There’s no way I can do one of those workouts,” says Martinez. “If you’re a good trainer, though, any exercise can be modified, and anything you do can be scaled. A grandma should be able to do this.”

Indeed, members at Zia CrossFit range in age from their early 20s to their late 60s. It’s this come-one, come-all approach that supporters consistently cite as a secret to CrossFit’s success. For Monger’s part, he instituted a simple rule: If a newcomer steps into the gym, members have to introduce themselves. He knows how uncomfortable traditional gyms can feel where “everyone is looking at you.”

“Nobody likes that feeling.”

“You’re always welcome. The door is always open.”

“We’re social beings,” says Heather McKearnan, an instructor at Undisputed Fitness (915 W Alameda, 992-2677), which also teaches CrossFit in Santa Fe. “And you get a very different result when you’re working out in group full of people who are all trying really hard as opposed to working out doing your own thing.”

Mark Martinez sums it up this way for the uninitiated: “You’re always welcome. The door is always open.”