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How to Bring CrossFit to Work, Literally
By Kate Reece
For CrossFitters with 9-5 office jobs, the list of reasons why sitting all day is bad for you is just as long as the list of ways to creatively incorporate movement in an otherwise inactive day. Business Insider interviewed coach Chris Fox about a four-minute workout you can do in the office, involving squats and push-ups. You can bring a lacrosse ball to tack-and-stretch your muscles against a wall. You can build or buy a standing desk. Or you can Google “workouts you can do at your desk” and a glut of articles with catchy titles will flood your browser.
Todd Cavallo was in college when he got his first job in NYU’s computer lab. As a college student, he was mostly into Star Trek and Cheetos, and golf was the extent of his forays into athletic activity. After graduating, he worked in IT—meaning he’s been sitting in front of a computer for work more-or-less since 1998. He says he took the mostly sedentary lifestyle of programmers and the IT world as a given, until he found CrossFit in 2011. Todd now co-owns a tech company, and over the last year, he’s found ways to shake up the familiar scenery of sitting, all day, every day, with shitty posture in front of a screen. He’s extended that change of scenery to his employees, by literally bringing CrossFit into his company’s offices in both Manhattan and Manila.
When Todd wasn’t traveling to the Philippines or some other far-flung locale, we chatted with him about that process. When we read his well-received post on the CrossFit Message Boards last year, we decided his story was cool enough that we needed to share it with everyone at CFSBK. Enjoy, and feel free to ask any follow up questions in the comments, as Todd has agreed to follow along and answer them.
CFSBK: Tell us about your company. How did you get started? What do you do?
TC: We are CLINIC, a technology services company with specialties in Infrastructure Management and Web Development. We started out as an IT services company about eight years ago, and I have been managing the development arm of the company for the past five years.
CFSBK: When did you get into CrossFit? What compelled you about it?
TC: I have been doing CrossFit for almost three years now. I had been lifting and running on my own and a friend told me I had to check it out. I started doing some of the workouts on my own before first training at CFMNL (CrossFit Manila Philippines) while working out of our Manila offices. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for Foundations at CFSBK when I was back in the States. It's the same story you've heard a million times: I thought I was in shape until my first real WODs left me in a sweaty sobbing heap on the floor, and after I could stand up again I wanted more.
CFSBK: What does your training look like now?
TC: Over the last year or so I have been focused primarily on weightlifting and my training centers around the lifts with squats and auxiliary work. I do try to get some conditioning in occasionally, usually when David makes me, but it's hard for me to stay at a competitive weight if I "move around" too much. This isn't the best example for my team but some of them are also getting into weightlifting so its another thing besides "the WOD" that we can geek out about in the office, which I feel is great for team building.
CFSBK: How did you decide to bring CrossFit into CLINIC?
TC: We were looking for a way to combat the sedentary lifestyle that accompanies most tech work, and because I was into CrossFit, I thought, Hey, let’s bring that into the office. We want to support a lifestyle that we believe is healthy. My business partner, Karl, had brought an old shitty bench press setup into our office after moving apartments, and I noticed the guys starting to use it. I said, "Let's do this right," and a few large (and heavy) orders from Rogue later, we basically had a fully outfitted CrossFit box in the corner of our office. On my next trip to our Manila office, I found some local equipment manufacturers to outfit the office there with most of the same equipment. Things started off with me doing some Foundations-style classes for the teams and putting together some basic strength and conditioning workouts that could be done within the confines of the office environment and with the shared equipment.
CFSBK: Describe the logistics of what you offer your employees in terms of membership reimbursements and what's available in your offices.
TC: We eventually decided that the employees were better off getting some regular coaching, so we now offer full reimbursement for any box memberships in New York as long as the employee goes at least three times a week. I obviously find CrossFit valuable because of everything that goes along with it—it’s not only a better workout than if you went to some random exercise class or globo-gym, but if you go to a good box, it’s safer and the overall lifestyle is healthier. Yes, it’s more expensive but the results that you get from it are well worth that expense.
The economics and available space in the Manila office actually allows us to bring in a coach from the local affiliate twice a week to lead a coached class right in the office gym. There's usually one or two strength movements followed by a varied conditioning piece. They all sweat together and lay on the floor after the WOD, and then talk about it for the next few days until the next session. So they’re really into it. They also have strength work they do on their own for the rest of the week.
In the New York office, at first, I programmed some WODs that we did as a group. Now most people go to various boxes in the city, but Kenny and I sometimes still lift together in the office, and some of the other guys do too—squatting, benching, deadlifting. It’s worth mentioning that everyone has a convertible standing desk in the offices, too.
CFSBK: What kinds of benefits have you seen from implementing this program and bringing all that gear into your offices?
TC: We’re a small company, so I’m not really looking at how this impacts our bottom line. Given our size, we don’t have the capabilities to process the data on the effect of the initiative on sick days or general health, but the fact that so many of the team members are taking advantage of the program and really getting into the training is all the feedback I need to know that we made the right call. The team building is the most obvious benefit, but the employee wellness factor was what really drove the process from the beginning.
A great example is CFSBKer Roosevelt, one of my employees who works in our New York office. He started going to CFSBK, and he took it further and went Paleo and did last year’s LFPB Challenge. Since he began CrossFit, he’s lost 73 pounds. He still makes and brings his own lunches, usually steamed vegetables and grilled chicken.
We’re willing to go the extra mile and pay $100 to $200/month in reimbursements, instead of $15/month for a membership at a place like Planet Fitness, because we reap the benefits of better health and wellness in our employees. But—we also have a ping-pong table in both offices, just because it’s fun, and we go out drinking, too. Those things are also important.
CFSBK: What advice would you offer to someone who wants to do the same thing with their company or in their workplace?
TC: Just do it. If you are in a position where you can afford to invest in employee wellness, do it a bit at a time until the program can grow into itself. Listen to your employees, and find out what would help them achieve their fitness goals. We now offer reimbursements for martial arts classes and globo-gym memberships as well for employees that haven't fully embraced the CrossFit lifestyle. We do have some "fully committed" CrossFitters too—one of our office managers in Manila is gung ho about joining the local box there so he can start competing, and he has plans to get his Level 1 Certification as soon as there's another one in the area.