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The Reshaping Scene of Fitness in Jakarta

Until about 15 years ago, fitness options in Jakarta were largely limited to exclusive membership clubs like the American Club and the Mercantile Athletic Club. In the early 2000s that began to change. 

Recognizing the market potential for the massive economy, international gyms like Gold’s Gym and Fitness First began to open in Indonesia and were joined along with locally-founded ventures like Celebrity Fitness, which was formed in 2003 and opened the doors to its first club in 2004. These clubs expanded rapidly through the remainder of the decade, proliferating across Jakarta and spreading to bigger cities around the country.

In 2011, another type of fitness club emerged in Jakarta. Smaller, independent gyms began to spring up, often in converted homes or small-scale commercial properties; a contrast to the mega-malls that served as home to most of the larger gyms, keen to capitalize on the foot traffic for marketing exposure. While bigger gyms’ centrepiece was training on user-friendly strength and cardio machines patterned after the pioneering Gold’s Gym model dating back to Venice Beach in 1965, these smaller gyms focused on more targeted and technical offerings like Muay Thai, yoga, or CrossFit. Each of these disciplines has seen rapid growth in recent years, but perhaps none more than CrossFit.

An upstart in the fitness industry, CrossFit incorporates a mix of different exercise disciplines in short, intense workouts at gyms called ‘affiliates’, which pay an annual fee for the right to use the name.

Founder of CrossFit Greg Glassman

Founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman

Like Gold’s Gym, CrossFit’s roots also trace back to California. In fact, the founder, Greg Glassman, started out as a trainer at Gold’s Gym before being thrown out for his unconventional training methods and deciding to start his own gym, which was the embryo for what later became CrossFit. In early years, growth was slow. In 2005, there were only 13 CrossFit affiliates. However, just as large commercial gyms began to experience explosive growth in emerging markets like Jakarta, CrossFit began to see exponential growth in the United States and other advanced economies.

Today there are 13,000 CrossFit affiliates across the world, while the largest commercial gym chain Planet Fitness has just 1,124 locations, Gold’s Gym reporting 700 locations and Fitness First with 370 clubs. And the space for further growth remains massive. Asia is home to 60 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2 percent of CrossFit affiliates.

In 2011, CrossFit added an online format for the qualification process open to anyone worldwide for its annual ‘CrossFit Games’ that started in 2007. Reflective of this growing international presence, the first CrossFit affiliate opened in Jakarta in 2011. Brian Pandji opened CrossFit Equator in the garage of his parents’ house, but what started as a small group of friends from the neighbourhood expanded so fast that he had to knock out the back wall of the garage and take over much of the back yard as well. By 2013, two more affiliates opened in Jakarta, CrossFit Senayan and Bengkel CrossFit, and the growth continued to accelerate. In 2015, the number of CrossFit locations doubled in Jakarta, including new affiliates Garuda and 6221 opening their doors.

What has caused this growth? The overall interest and participation in fitness as a whole has increased.  For example, running races and fun runs have grown exponentially in size and number in the past several years. However, there are specific factors that participants often point to when talking about the allure of CrossFit.

Founder of the first affiliate, Pandji says, “People choose CrossFit instead of a globogym (large, commercial gyms) because they can make new friends, and get support and work out together. Usually after this first step, they will then realize how exciting and effective the movements and the workout actually is.”

CrossFits training

A CrossFit workout at Bengkel Crossfit, Jakarta.

 

The most consistent answer you get about CrossFit is that critical component in its success is the community it builds around exercise.

Bringing social aspects to fitness seems a perfect fit in a country that leads the world in nearly every statistical measure of social media participation.

Robin Wirajendi found CrossFit five years ago and it helped him to overcome a metabolic condition and live a healthier life. Passionate about heavy lifts and gymnastics movements, Wirajendi’s enthusiasm as both coach and athlete is contagious. What make it so exciting for him? He says, “CrossFit is doable for everyone; you don’t have to be in perfect shape to do it. Whether male or female, young or old, beginner or experienced, anyone can join in the sport where the real competition is against yourself – to see what you can achieve. The idea is to make small improvements every day and also help others to get better.”

The supportive atmosphere and instruction of the group-based class format for weightlifting has also broadened the base of interest from what was traditionally a male-dominated activity. In addition to the general health benefits of weightlifting, there has been specific evidence to point to decreased occurrence of osteoporosis in women who perform resistance training through increasing and promoting bone density.

CrossFit Level Two Certified Coach and Founder of Master Bootcamp, Carlo Tamba explains:

“Back then in commercial gyms, the weights area used to be male-dominated with mostly isolation movements that very few females are interested in. CrossFit offers a different approach in lifting weights, mainly with barbells. Actually, thanks to CrossFit, not only females, but a far wider section of the population has become much more familiar with barbells in the past five years. Yes, women can do heavy deadlifts. Yes, women can do snatches. Yes, women can do what men do.”

Tiara Soemakno started the first women’s only CrossFit programme in Indonesia in 2013. She says, “I started strength training at the gym when I was a teenager. At one point the workouts became monotonous. In 2012 I discovered CrossFit and I fell in love with the sport. As a coach I feel that training others goes beyond the physical aspect of what they are doing. It’s connection, it’s a relationship, and it’s helping people believe in themselves.”

For Ride Jakarta spin instructor and rising young entrepreneur, Vanessa Budihardja, “CrossFit is the only time when I can truly connect with myself. When you live in a hectic urban sprawl such as Jakarta and when you have responsibilities that require your constant attention, there’s nothing like walking into a box and just letting everything go. You will witness and do things that seem impossible – but then you realize at the end of the day that our bodies are really designed to run, jump, and lift.”

As CrossFit emerges as a popular recreation in Jakarta, the competitive element of the sport is growing too.  Nazharia Lomboan has just returned home following completion of her studies at the University of London, during which she competed as several international CrossFit and weightlifting competitions. Next month, she will travel to Bangkok to represent Indonesia in the annual Asia Championships event.

Lomboan says of Crossfit, “As fitness is becoming huge in Jakarta, everyone’s seeking something new, something fresh, something different. And I feel like Crossfit is it.”

 

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Scott Hanna has lived and worked in Indonesia since 2006. A mining professional by day, he spends his evenings slinging barbells at Bengkel CrossFit and cooking up ideas for Bad Idea Jones, a charitable movement turning wild antics into good deeds. He's a Basset Hound-loving father of two based in Jakarta.


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