Class members do squats in the parking lot of Burbank Park by Onota Lake during the first day of a 6 a.m. class offered by Crossfit Pittsfield. (Jenn Smith
Class members do squats in the parking lot of Burbank Park by Onota Lake during the first day of a 6 a.m. class offered by Crossfit Pittsfield. (Jenn Smith / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- The CrossFit trend is taking root in Pittsfield with the opening of a new studio space and headquarters on East Street.

The new operation is co-owned by husband and wife Jamie and Erica Law of Sheffield, and Susan Rathbun of Stockbridge, Erica's mother.

The Laws and Rathbun all began CrossFit training at Berkshire County's first studio, CrossFit Great Barrington.

Once set on opening their own studio, the three business partners began seeking spaces last December. They looked at places from Williamstown to Torrington, Conn., before signing a five-year lease in Pittsfield back in May.

The space, in the lower level of 505 East St., the St. Luke's Square plaza, combines approximately 6,200 square feet previously inhabited by KB Toys offices and Dalton Judo Club.

"The box," as the owners call it, is almost exactly that -- four walls to offer ample space to move and lift in.

It will have locker areas, changing rooms, handicap-accessible bathrooms and showers. They will install new rubber floor mats to lessen the impact of heavy weights and cushion patrons as they squat, jump and rope-climb their way to fitness.

Though the physical studio is still under construction, Erica Law and her assisting certified CrossFit trainers held their first class at 6 a.m. on Tuesday in the parking lot of Burbank Park by Onota Lake. About a dozen people of varying ages and levels of fitness participated in the hourlong sunrise workout.

So what exactly does CrossFit entail?

If you do an online search for the term, you'll likely come across the international fitness program's brand tagline, "Forging Elite Fitness." The program is somewhat elite, with a membership investment ranging from $60 to $170 per month for unlimited classes, based on rates posted in and near the Berkshires.

The concept was founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman. By 2005, there were 13 CrossFit gyms in the country, and now there are more than 5,000 worldwide.

An image search for CrossFit will often yield photos of the rippling muscles of well-toned men and women lifting giant discs on weight bars, hefting kettlebells and performing other Herculean feats like moving tractor tires. But not all CrossFit clients start that way.

"Whenever people tell me they think they can't do CrossFit, I tell them my story," said Jason Ostrander of Great Barrington.

He said he weighed 336 pounds when he graduated high school. A year after graduation, he slimmed down by an amazing 120 pounds. But when he went back to college and into a graduate program, the weight began coming back.

"It was terrible," Ostrander said. "I'd worked out in gyms but I didn't feel physically fitter.

So I called a friend who was going to BCC (Berkshire Community College) at the time and was training in this new thing called CrossFit. I started my first workout and didn't stop after that. I didn't feel judged, just supported."

On Tuesday morning, the man who seven years ago could not do a sit-up was coaching class members through a sit-up interval routine.

"That's the mentality of CrossFit. You're all in this class together," said Rathbun, whose day job as a police officer in Sheffield motivates her to keep fit.

As for Jamie and Erica Law -- alumni of Mount Everett Regional High School and Miss Hall's School, respectively -- they got into CrossFit as a way to see each other and work out together. Jamie has early hours as a woodworker, and Erica spent 10 years in a frame shop before going back to school to become a personal trainer. Over the past five years, each of them has earned various levels of CrossFit affiliate certification.

"When you start CrossFit, there are no tires, no ropes and hardly any weights. You learn the fundamentals of all the movements and then move up. And everything is scalable too," said Erica.

By design, CrossFit helps each individual track individual goals or personal records, "PRs" for short, while working out in a group, which can go up to about 25 people. The idea is for the group to hold each member accountable to their goals.

"There's no mirrors, no machines, just fitness," Jamie said.

Classes will be conducted by groups' needs, but will typically be offered in the morning, afternoon and evening.

"When we set out to do this, we wanted to create a sense of community for the community," said Rathbun. She noted that Erica worked with local designers -- including Studio Route 7, Housatonic Creative and Blue Point Design -- to create a custom website, logo, and stencil design for CrossFit Pittsfield T-shirts, tank tops and stickers.

In November, Erica Law said the studio will also begin working to train the Pittsfield High School ski team.

For people like Nicholas DelGrande of Lee, CrossFit can also become a way of life. He was introduced to the program as an intern at CrossFit Great Barrington through a program at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

"I was a junior and I was kind of heading down a bad road. I started doing workouts and saw that people 30 years older than me were lifting more and moving faster than I was, and I was only 17. After that, I got involved in competing," DelGrande said.

CrossFit competitions are held on local, regional, national and international levels, based on individuals' best times, weight lifted, repetitions, etc. The first year he competed, out of about 9,000 candidates in New England, 48 people were selected for the regional competition.

DelGrande came in 23rd his first time. This past year, he climbed to 13th place. Next year, he's aiming for a Top 3 regional spot to qualify him for a national competition in California.

"Yes, CrossFit is intense, but you can't get up on the website and be intimidated by images of the most intense workouts. Your biggest accomplishment for yourself will be walking through the door," he said.