Box Review: Endorphin

OK – so this isn’t a review of a CrossFit “box”, but I have a category that I use for reviews like this, so I am going with it.

This past weekend a friend of mine celebrated his 40th birthday by inviting folks to come workout with him at one of his favorite places to workout. Endorphin is a “cycle/row” facility. It is NOT CrossFit. Let me preface the rest of this blog entry by saying I LOVE CrossFit (if this site isn’t evidence enough). I haven’t done any sort of group, instructor led class other than CrossFit for at least two or two and a half years. Prior to that I did do some boot camp classes at 24 Hour Fitness. I love lifting heavy. I love Olympic lifting. I love CrossFit. With that being said, take that into consideration for my review of Endorphin.

Endorphin is selling sweat. Long, sweaty classes. I think they have three or five locations around the Denver metro area and the one I went to was on Broadway and Yale. The space wasn’t all that big. They had about 20 stationary bikes and 20 Concept 2 rowers and there wasn’t much room for anything else. The rowers were close enough that when we got off the rowers to do pushups there wasn’t enough room between the rowers for two people to do pushups, barely enough room for one person to do them. And the bikes were so tightly packed that while I was warming up on my bike I started to do some arm swings and could touch the bikes behind me. It was cramped. And it was full. Half of the class started on the bikes while the other half started on the rowers. About 40 people in a small space and when we swapped bikes/rowers it was a traffic jam.

When I was talking to my friend last week prior to the class he stated that there were some “beasts” that would be attending. He said this because I said I was hoping to compete in some form with folks in the class to see where my CrossFit training stacked up against a group like this. Before the class started I didn’t see any beasts. Lots of skinny people. Very little muscle definition in any of them. What you would expect to see in a class that stresses long aerobic activity with little to no resistance training.

The class was 15 minutes on the bike (think cycle classes) with a brief transition to the rowers for about 15 minutes – times 2. So the class was just over an hour and it was basically constant aerobic movement. Here are my observations:

  • There was no introduction from the instructors. In fact, I wasn’t even sure who was going to be leading the class until after the class already started. No joke. The class just sort of started without warning and one of the two ladies (two instructors) started yelling to go from behind me (I was on a bike to start) and then the other eventually got on the bike to lead the cycle part. Quite different from CrossFit. I always introduce myself to new members and ask about athletic background, injury history, CrossFit experience, etc. I want to know who I am coaching and any limitations they might have. I never met the instructors throughout the entire class – never. They never introduced themselves or cared to know anything about me. Then again, it didn’t matter. There wasn’t really any activity that required any sort of skill or real sold physical exertion that could lead to pain or injury. If you got tired, you slowed down. Or in some cases, students just did whatever they felt like (or so it appeared). There were times on the rowers when everyone was doing pushups, but one guy had found a kettlebell and was swinging it or another lady was doing dips on the rower instead of pushups. Everyone did whatever they felt like. Most of the students followed the instructors direction, but maybe 25% of the class did whatever they wanted.
  • The heat. The goal of Endorphin is to clearly make people sweat. Whether or not they actually make progress or get healthier, that didn’t matter. They wanted sweat. And to most of the world looking to “get in shape” sweating is all that matters. Endorphin caters to that crowd. And to that end one of the first things I noticed early in the class was that I felt warm. It was early and it wasn’t intense and I was feeling warm. I later checked the thermostat during a transition from bike to rower and the heat was cranked up to 75 degrees. In that tiny space with all those bodies moving it was a sauna. All doors were closed and even the instructors who were telling us what to do on the rowers were sweating – and they weren’t doing anything! If you want to sell sweat you should definitely crank up the heat, and they did.
  • The one bug that gets me most about this place is the complete lack of instruction. I mean, they didn’t even TRY to correct any sense of error in human movement. The most complicated movements we did were jumping squats and pushups, far from muscle ups or a snatch, but even then the movement in that place was HORRID. I’m talking absolutely horrible. While rowing we would occasionally get off the rower and do some Tabata work with various movements, including mountain climbers, squats, pushups, flutter kicks, etc. And the instructors didn’t care one way or another. The jumping squats were pathetic. While I was going deep in the squat portion of the jump squat NONE of the other 20 or so people on the rower were even getting close to parallel. That is one issue, but the biggest was that even though no one was getting deep enough, most of them had caving knees and rolling onto their toes while they were only doing quarter squats. Since the squats weren’t deep I suppose caving knees and rolling onto toes isn’t THAT big of a deal, but when you do both of those while jumping – it could lead to nastiness as you land and your knees cave violently. The pushup is another story. I read one time that you could easily see how good the coaching was in a CrossFit gym by watching a class do pushups. If people had their hands wide and shoulders in a really bad position, then the coaches didn’t care about the little things and the little things are what keeps people safe. After all, if you do a pushup with bad form what happens when you drop in a burpee? You default to bad form and possibly tweak a shoulder. Well, no one in this class was doing a good pushup. Not a shock.
  • Finally, the class was sweaty, real sweaty, but it wasn’t hard. Even after an hour of solid movement, what felt like dancing on a bike, curling the paddle on the rowers for some reason and being yelled at by a Jillian Michael’s wannabe I wasn’t exhausted. I wasn’t feeling depleted. After I got some fluids in me and had breakfast I was ready for a real workout. If I do a solid hour of CrossFit you can bet I am DONE for the day. With that being said, it was a nice change of pace. It has been a long time since I did an hour of sweat.

One more point on the bullet point above regarding form. One of the major criticisms of CrossFit is that anyone “who takes a two day class can open their own gym”. Well, what sort of qualifications does it take to open an Endorphin or similar studio? I looked up the profile of the instructor who led the class I attended – the one who really channeled her inner Jillian Michael. This is her profile on the Endorphin website:

Meant to move, Anna has been in many sports throughout her life. She has competed in multiple triathlons, is an avid runner, yogi, and endorphin-ite. Anna is honored to share her passion for fitness and promises to always teach the class that she would want to take. She will push you to exceed your expectations to keep you feeling good on the inside and out.

So, while many CrossFit trainers “only” have their Level 1 certificate course, at least it is SOME formal training. She has none. She just loves yelling and sweating and aerobic activity. Yet, I suppose she is viewed as being more capable to teach a class than a CrossFit coach?

Growing up I played baseball, basketball, soccer, football and golf competitively. I took tennis and swimming lessons, too. I guess I could teach golf? I have ran at least 15 or 20 5k races or longer, maybe I can teach running? I have been doing CrossFit for about five years and doing it four or more days a week for at least two and ahalf years and  I do have my CrossFit Level 1 certificate and have my USAW Level 1 Coach certificate, but that isn’t enough to teach CrossFit? Haters gonna hate.

In the end, if you are looking for long aerobic activity with little to no weight involved, Endorphin is right up your alley. You will definitely sweat and lose a few pounds….until you drink some water. You will definitely be surrounded by some really skinny people, but I wonder what happens if you ask them to do a pullup? Or squat their body weight, or deadlift anything close to twice their body weight, or jump onto a 24 inch box? I bet most of them couldn’t do any of that. Ask if they can run a triathlon, sure, long steady movement is one thing, incorporating the rest of fitness is another.

Sorry this review is horribly biased, but what would happen if you ask a Hot Rod magazine to review the new Chevy Volt?

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