THE HUB: Following The Leaders

A chat with Champlain Vally CrossFit head trainer Jade Jenny

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Another day at the ‘office’ with Jenny and his dog Hawks. (Observer photo by Angela Gage)

What does it mean to be in shape?

It’s a question posed by 26-year-old Jade Jenny, head trainer and co-owner of Champlain Valley CrossFit in Williston.

“Is a body builder a fit person? Is an ultramarathoner a fit person? We would say no,” said Jenny. “Yeah, they have really good endurance and lungs, but top level marathoners look like someone who came out of a World War II internment camp. Pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food and they might be in trouble.”

CrossFit is an exercise discipline, founded by Californian Greg Glassman in 2000, that uses a combination of Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, plyometrics, running, rowing, sled dragging, tire flipping and other workout regimens in varied permutations and levels of intensity.

“The definition that CrossFit gives is ‘constantly varied, functional movement performed at a high intensity,’” said Jenny.  “The way I see it, it’s an athletic strength and conditioning program. We train the way athletes do. If you walked into the U.S. Ski Team, or an NFL room … this is the stuff they do.”

Unlike Tony Horton’s television infomercial phenomenon P90X, which touts the benefits of “muscle confusion” to avoid workout plateaus, Jenny said CrossFit is a constantly evolving program.

“Besides a handful of benchmark workouts that we do, you’ll probably never do what we put up on the board that day again,” he said. “P90X would definitely be a big jump up from what most people do in the gym, but P90X is still primarily built around bodybuilding-based movements … and in the end, it’s still a routine.”

Because of its protean versatility, CrossFit has gained considerable traction in the military and among public safety personnel.

“One of the main staple ideas behind CrossFit is that it’s supposed to prepare you for the unknown and the unknowable. That’s why everything’s different all the time,” Jenny said. “If you’re a cop, you don’t know what the hell’s going to happen in your day-to-day job. Maybe you just drive around, maybe you chase someone down, maybe you get in a gunfight. Who knows?”

A former downhill mountain bike racer, Jenny founded Champlain Valley CrossFit in Sept. 2010 after researching the business concept for his senior year internship at Champlain College.

“It was something I enjoyed and was passionate about—and I needed a job,” Jenny said. “I was coming out of college, so I opened this three months after I graduated college.”

CrossFit is not for the couch potato looking to shed a few pounds before a high school reunion. As The New York Times reported in 2005, when carried to an extreme it has been known to cause rhabdomyolysis—a kidney condition that results when muscle fiber breaks down and is released into the bloodstream.

To avoid injury, Jenny said he puts all CrossFit newcomers through a nine-class introductory process.

“We make all new athletes—unless they’ve come from a CrossFit affiliate or if they have some sort of extensive weight training background—they go through an introductory program called ‘On-Ramp,’” he said. “We don’t want to just throw them in a class.”

Champlain Valley CrossFit began with 10 clients at a small location on Adams Drive in Williston. Today its 9,000-square-foot complex on South Brownell Road boasts 160 clients—some of whom are world class athletes.

In May, the top three male and female athletes from Champlain Valley CrossFit placed third in the team competition at the Northeast regional competition of the CrossFit Games in Canton, Mass. In July, they will be one of 43 teams in competition at the 2012 CrossFit Games in Los Angeles.

Jenny, who called the CrossFit Games qualification “a pretty big deal for us,” also stressed the non-competitive camaraderie of the Champlain Valley CrossFit family.

“Community is really big here,” he said. “It’s not your normal gym that you go to and the headphones are on and you don’t talk to anyone. We have tons of people here who never knew each other before coming here and they hang out and go out and do things together.”