Originally from Scarsdale, New York, Allison Belger has started a CrossFit gym mini-empire in Marin with her husband TJ. The Larkspur resident explains what makes CrossFit distinct and how she balances work, play and passion.
Mill Valley Patch: What prompted you to switch coasts and come to the Bay Area?
Allison Belger: I went to college at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where there was a huge contingent of students from the Bay Area. My college boyfriend grew up in the East Bay, and when I graduated, I figured I'd like to give California a try. I'm not much of a city person, so San Francisco seemed more up my alley than New York City, where most of my friends from high school were going. I landed a job as an intern teacher at the Town School for Boys in San Francisco, and, other than a couple of years away for one of my graduate school ventures, I've lived in the Bay Area ever since.
MVP: Why did you decide on Mill Valley as a location for the gym?
AB: My husband TJ and I own four in Marin. Our first location is our flagship San Rafael spot. We chose it at the time we opened, because we lived in San Rafael and I was pregnant with our first child. We wanted something near home and within our new community. Next we opened in Corte Madera, a few minutes away from our home in Larkspur, where we had moved by then. Again, we liked the idea of opening a family business near our home and, this time, in our kids' school community. Our third spot was up in Novato, where our partners at that location are rooted (Karen and Andy Boone). It was a natural progression of our growth to a new Marin community.
We chose Mill Valley for our most recent opening partly because it did not already have a CrossFit gym, and we knew the population would love it. We were also partnering with , and it made sense for us foster connections within his home town. We are all about community, and our locations and outreach reflect that.
MVP: Has the community of Mill Valley met your exceptions or surprised you in any way?
AB: So far (just over a year in), we have been extremely happy with how we have fit in with the active Mill Valley community and the types of people who have come through our doors. Mill Valley residents seem to mesh easily with our ideas on how to optimize health through sound lifestyle choices and connections with good people. We have been thrilled so far, and we anticipate many more connections and success stories over time.
MVP: What makes your gym different?
AB: First off, we are a gym. CrossFit is a fitness program based on functional movements that our bodies were designed to do. The program combines cardiovascular training (running, rowing, biking, jumping rope), gymnastics work (pullups, pushups, ring work, etc), Olympic weightlifting (snatch, clean and jerk), and powerlifting (deadlifting, pressing, squatting).
There is an emphasis on variety (we rarely perform the same workout twice), intensity (challenging our bodies safely and according to each of our levels, but pushing hard nonetheless), and observability (timing workouts, recording weights used, tracking progress methodically). That's the description in a nutshell, but there is much more to it.
MVP: Can you talk a little about CrossFit culture?
AB: At TJ's Gyms, , we have a unique community, probably the largest CrossFit community in the world. The culture of CrossFit emphasizes community and philanthropy, and we take those things very seriously. We, as owners, and our members, give back to the community regularly, and there is an incredible level of support within our group for each other. This phenomenon is so powerful and inspiring that I actually wrote a book about it, which was released on March 20. It's called The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection.
MVP: What is the easiest and hardest CrossFit movement for you?
AB: I like to run and do pullups. I am not a natural weightlifter, so barbell work is a constant struggle for me.
MVP: What are you up to when you're not running the gym?
AB: I still maintain a limited private practice in psychology. My specialty is assessments of young people, mostly adolescents but also kids and young adults. I'm also a mother of two girls, ages 7 and 9, and I am always trying to balance my interests, passions and work with the most important and fulfilling role of all--that of being a mom. When we have a sitter, TJ and I enjoy going to movies and finding ways to spend time with friends and not talk about work!
MVP: Do you ever use your background in psychology in the gym setting?
AB: Yes, mostly in subtle ways in interactions with gym members. The mind-body connection is quite powerful, and our psychology is absolutely involved when we push our bodies during intense workouts and endeavor to make changes in our lives. I love that it's all part of the human experience! I also run a casual "Ladies of TJ's" discussion group every month, and we talk about all sorts of things related to life as a woman getting fit and juggling roles.
MVP: Do your kids do CrossFit?
AB: Yes they do, and they mostly love it. One of them is a freakish athlete and can do things I only wish I could do, especially when it comes to gymnastics movements. The other is an excellent squatter and is quite strong. It's nice that they have different strengths. They complain about having to workout sometimes, but that's mostly because their parents own the gyms!
MVP: What's in your iPod?
AB: Eminem, Bruce and then lots of music my girls like.
MVP: Bruce as in the Boss?
AB: Yes, Bruce, as in the Boss. Remember, I grew up on the East Coast. TJ is from Jersey. It's in our DNA.