Fitness buffs bring scaled exercise and customized workout options to the southside

By Alisa Advani | Photography by Josh Marshall

In 1995, the Santa Cruz, California, police department hired coach Greg Glassman as its head trainer to beef up the city’s cops and enhance their cardiac conditioning. Bad guys run fast, they reasoned. Its police force needed to keep up.

The coach’s training worked, and it worked well. Based on his success with the officers, Glassman decided to open his first CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz soon after. Today, more than 9,000 CrossFit Inc. affiliates are operating worldwide, and the reach of this gritty, addictive workout regimen has found its way to Indy’s southside. Multiple CrossFit gyms (referred to as boxes) are overseen by dedicated teams of trainers and dot the commercial exercise landscape of Greenwood, Center Grove and Franklin.

CrossFit involves performing strength and conditioning into its core with the aim of improving muscular strength, cardio-respiratory endurance and flexibility. It advocates a perpetually varied mix of aerobic exercise, body weight exercises and Olympic weight lifting. Hour-long classes at affiliated boxes typically include a warmup, a skill development segment, the high-intensity “workout of the day” (WOD) and a period of individual or group stretching. 

Proponents of the system all agree that the results of CrossFit blast past other workout programs. Done consistently, it changes the body quickly. “Initially, you might not see rapid weight loss because you are developing muscle,” says Kevin Jones, who shares ownership of Indy South CrossFit with four other partners. “Then your metabolism revs.” 

Jones started doing CrossFit in 2012 and quickly became a believer as he watched his body change. “My body fat dropped from 26 percent to under 10 percent,” he explains. 

CrossFit also works because of its community aspect. “As members of the class finish, they cheer on the rest of the group,” Jones says. “You develop friendships, and you stick with it.” 

As an enthusiastic devotee, Jones runs his gym with an eye on safety, community and technique, and says he felt compelled to open the southside space to fill a need in Johnson County. 

Currently, about 50 people of all ages and abilities belong to Indy South CrossFit. “Our average class size is seven to 12 (people),” said Jones. “We have at least two trainers working each class. They teach correct technique during every session, and they customize the WOD for each student. We accommodate for everyone. Every workout can be scaled and modified.” 

Mike Hart grew up playing soccer as a child and continued at IUPUI. During high school, his conditioning coach, Mr. Tomey at Perry Meridian, left a lasting impression that inspired Hart to study exercise science in college. 

Armed with his undergrad degree, an M.B.A. from Indiana Wesleyan University and too-numerous-to-list exercise certifications, Hart became the kind of entrepreneur who loves every aspect of his job when he opened JoCo CrossFit in 2010. “I get to do something that feels like a hobby,” he said, “and determining the favorite part is nearly impossible.”

One of Hart’s clients, Asha Roesener, has attended JoCo for just over three years. She says the environment attracts people from all walks, “yet we are all like-minded,” she explains. “I have truly enjoyed working out with so many people that I would not have had the opportunity to know outside of JoCo.”

Roesener, a Franklin resident, wife and mother of two, has found mental and physical strength from doing Hart’s WODs. She says that she can compete against others or just herself, but that the sense of pride she experiences when she accomplishes a new skill or improves her workout time has helped her to feel better.

“I am so much stronger than I was three years ago,” she explains. “The drive to perform better in the gym has motivated me to clean up my diet and lose weight.”

Paul and Tina Spall say the idea to open their CrossFit gym originated one night by a campfire with friends. The Spalls, along with two other couples, opened Greenwood’s CrossFit Sworn in April 2013. “We each play an integral part to the gym,” Tina says. “The process of putting the idea on paper and then making it a reality has really been an experience like no other.”

The expertise offered at Sworn mirrors that of Glassman’s original Santa Cruz location. Five of the CrossFit Sworn owners (who also train clients) are police officers. The sixth is a critical care nurse who served in the Navy. The Spalls, Ryan Clark and Greg Stewart currently serve as officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Michele Stewart, Greg’s wife, serves on the police department in Lawrence. She began doing CrossFit in 2010, and Donya Clark, Ryan’s wife and a nurse for 19 years, assists in running the gym.

Jess Tomlinson, a Sworn client, stays motivated by these coaches and says she would tell people who are afraid to try CrossFit to not hesitate. 

CrossFit has completely changed the way I view health, beauty and fitness,” Tomlinson says. “It has taught me to stop analyzing my body for what it isn’t and to be excited about what it can do. Don’t be scared and give it a shot. You’ll have a great time, make amazing friends and get a killer workout.”