Wait! A Chicago Gym to Get Ripped and Chow Gourmet Paleo?

Yep. Down in Printers Row on Clark Street, entrepreneur and ex-athlete Justin Quandt rigged up The Foundry, a CrossFit gym with a primal bite.

Two Women Climbing Ropes at Foundry Crossfit Gym

Photo by: The Foundry CrossFit is based on moves we use every day — squatting, pulling weight from the floor, pushing a weight away — and includes the elements of sports, for example, beating the clock or competing as a team. Hundreds of CrossFit gyms have sprung up around the country in recent years. 

Esquire magazine ran a story in its August issue trying to sort through seven fitness crazes. (Sorry, people, "Shake Weight" didn't make the cut.) At the top of the bone-crushers was CrossFit, which they recommended if: "You're into old-school workouts minus the 'roid rage." We'd add that if you're accustomed to those big fitness chains with blasting TVs, iPhone docks, the ubiquitous treadmills, StairMasters, people texting and yakking on their cell between sets, and machines, machines, machines everywhere, your inner gym rat may feel disoriented in The Foundry's alien camp.  

This gym doesn't mess around. The 4,000-square-foot storefront is stripped to the bare necessities: muscle-up rings (the kind you've probably seen in gymnastics), those long, heavy ropes on the floor, kettle bells and barbells. No "meat heads," it says on the website. 

"We try to do something different here, not only from the general gym population, but also the CrossFit population," explains founder Justin Quandt. "When I started working at a desk job, I found it increasingly more difficult to maintain the level of fitness I was accustomed to [while playing sports]," says the 6'5" former tennis player and coach. Living in modern times, trapped inside the office cubicle — the "Zoo Human" — contributes to this deterioration. And for Quandt, the traditional way of working out (some aerobics, some weightlifting) wasn't, well, any fun. He changed that with The Foundry.

Founder Justin Quandt of The Foundry Gym Doing a Muscle Up

Photo by: The Foundry Founder Justin Quandt, a former tennis player, was in phenomenal shape when he tried a CrossFit routine. "It kicked my butt," he said. He opened the business a little over a year ago. It's the only CrossFit gym in the South Loop. 

The CrossFit protocol is described as “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.” (There's even CrossFit games.) Here's how it works in this very social gym: You sign up for a series of 12 classes (cost: $225). The small class, usually with an 8-to-1 student-coach ratio, is led by a coach who guides the group through a routine based on "real world activities and real world performance," the everyday movements and muscles you use to move a couch across the room, hoist a toddler into a car seat or sprint to catch a bus. To maintain quality and a high level of value, they limit membership to 200 people. No question about it, this is a very challenging workout, but even the once-overweight and sedentary succeed here. 

Noah LaPorte was an obese 300-pounder with health issues when he started. It took him over a year to do just one pull up. "I was crying during workouts," he remembers. But he stuck with it, took on the grueling trainer certification series, and is now one of their prized employees and an inspiring example. "CrossFit literally saved my life," he told us. Then there's Stephanie P!, winner of the Whole30 Nutrition Challenge. She didn't have the athletic gene, never played a sport in her life, couldn't cook, but she tells the story of how she dug deep, got disciplined and transformed herself.  

But what really makes this gym stand apart? They get you fit and they feed you. "A friend of mine introduced me to a different way of eating," says Quandt, who has adopted the primal diet, also known as Paleo, Caveman or Warrior, which concentrates on meats and veggies to mimic our hunter-gathering ancestors. It has its share of advocates and loud critics and has become intertwined with the CrossFit community. Quandt realized that a large percentage of his clients were very busy professionals that didn't have 10 hours a week to prepare meals. He saw a market and joined forces with the gluten-free Lakeview restaurant Cassava to offer a unique service: Gourmet Paleo meals made with grass-fed beef and organically raised chicken that members can preorder online and pick up a week's worth every Monday. That's ingenious.

The Foundry is already expanding and has a new 5,000-square-foot facility scheduled to open in the West Loop next year. And they've brainstormed about a Paleo-based cafe or putting a Foundry line of ready-made primal meals in retail stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. This Chicago business is a comer.

The Foundry, located at 730 S. Clark St. Telephone: (312) 566-7201. Ask about the free consultation.

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