Backstory: Free workouts lead to weightlifting, conditioning, teamwork

vbridges@newsobserver.comJanuary 6, 2014 

David Rubin, owner of CrossFit Durham, a gym that offers crossfit, bootcamp classes and weight lifting. Rubin plans to open a second gym next month.


  • Advice from David Rubin

    • Know your numbers.

    • Use social media to promote your business and interact with clients.

    • Cater to your clients.

— Every Saturday, CrossFit Durham hosts a free 11 a.m. workout program.

On warm days, participants jog up the sidewalk along Geer Street, sometimes carrying big tires. On cold days, the group does pushups and air squats on the dance floor in the adjacent Trotter Building.

CrossFit Durham owner David Rubin said the free classes offer an introduction to a different type of gym environment that mixes weight lifting, conditioning and teamwork.

“It’s very important to us that folks know exactly what they are getting into when they commit to training with us,” Rubin said. “This is a very personal thing. The workouts are difficult.”

The gym employs 18 “coaches,” or instructors, and has about 325 clients.

CrossFit Durham has three main offerings. The most popular is the CrossFit strength and conditioning program, which borrows from a number of disciplines to create constantly varied movements performed at high intensity. Every day, the gym offers a different CrossFit “WOD” or workout of the day that can be scaled depending on the client’s fitness levels.

Bootcamp classes are an extension of the CrossFit program but with less weight lifting, Rubin said. In both classes, coaches oversee and guide participants through the workouts.

The Bull City Barbell Club is for clients who are more interested in the weight lifting under a coach who sets their progression, Rubin said.

CrossFit licenses the use of its brand to gym owners for an annual fee, currently set at $3,000. The licensees can use the CrossFit name and promotional materials and have access to other support but don’t have to follow a defined business plan like many franchisees, Rubin said.

Greg Ryan opened CrossFit Durham in a small space off Main Street in the Brightleaf Square area in August 2008. Rubin, who worked for Gold’s Gyms in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and New York City for 12 years, moved to Durham in July 2008 after his wife started working for the Duke University School of Medicine. Rubin planned to open his own CrossFit but instead became Ryan’s business partner in April 2009.

Rubin’s investment allowed the pair to move the gym to a larger space on Durham’s Geer Street, months before future neighbors Fullsteam Brewery and Motorco Music Hall opened.

Rubin said he bought out Ryan’s part in 2010, when Ryan, a U.S. Marine, was called back to active duty.

The shift of carrying the entire weight of the business was invigorating, Rubin said.

“It created an urgency to make sure that I did everything possible every single day to make the place successful and to take care of people that were here,” he said. About two years ago Rubin expanded his gym’s footprint from 3,200 to 5,400 square feet.

Next month, he plans to open a second location, Bull City CrossFit, with business partner Jack Wiggen at 4300 Garret Road. The space is about half the size of CrossFit Durham.

“We’ll be starting from zero,” Rubin said. “But we will run a CrossFit program. We hope to build a bootcamp program and hopefully a barbell club to mirror this place here.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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