**CRAG hosted me at their studio. While my services were comped, all opinions expressed are my own. Thank you so much for having me in! **
I found Crag Fitness when I kept on seeing their sponsored ads on facebook (for anyone doubting fb ads, they work). They were giving trial classes to the entire community so naturally, I signed up and went to experience what was a very serious workout. After the class, I spoke to the owner Malvika Harsh at length and we determined I needed to come back to try Michael-Christpher Warren’s Class, he is the co-owner and fitness expert. After getting the post workout soreness 24 hours later while still having more energy, I was hooked.
What is CRAG Fitness? It takes a machine (the VersaClimber) shunned and put in the corner of gyms and turns it into a variable intensity workout class designed for the everyday person based on an athletes workout. To quote Michael-Christopher, “Each session is a ‘Climb’ - onward and upward, challenging, intense, efficient yet oh so satisfying!”
There are 2 types of classes to choose from:
BOHICA – this is straight versaclimbing
Free Base – a circuit class using both the Versaclimber and body weights (this is the class I took)
Let me describe the class for you:
You set the machine to on and make sure the handles are at the right height for you.
Then you “warm up” – this could be isometric exercises off the machine or a few minutes of continually climbing.
Next comes different workouts – just legs, sprints by seconds, sprints by feet climbed, making the machine as tight as possible and working it, make it as loose as possible.
Next in the Free Base class you do a series of muscle building exercises – in the 1st class we did reverse planks and mountain climbers and in Michael’s class we did weights for chest and back.
At the end of the class it is a race to the finish or more of a steady as she goes until you finish.
What really set this class apart was Michael getting on the machine next to me when I had 60 feet more to go and climbing with me. This kept me on a steady pace and I finished without a break. He also checks in on everyone during the class as I do take a lot of breaks, so it is nice that even though he says “go, go, go” he is really saying “go, go, go at your own pace, this is your class.”
I sat down with Malvika and Michael-Christopher to learn about their passion for fitness and how they joined forces.
Please tell us a little about yourself?
Malvika Harsh: I was born in India, but grew up in Massachusetts. Currently, I live in Edgewater. Professionally, I am dentist who loves to create, especially from grassroots up. I have two boisterous boys who keep me very active.
Michael-Christopher Warren: I’m from West Philadelphia born and raised (and the playground is actually where I spent most of my days). I left home at 17 for college and since graduating have lived in NYC, Venice Beach California, Washington DC, Atlanta and now back to the NYC Metro area. Professionally, I own a personal training studio and now I’m a co-founder of CRAG in Jersey City, the east coast’s first and only Versaclimber based boutique fitness studio.
How did you two become business partners as you have such different backgrounds?
MH: After training with Michael for a few years, I saw great results and was sold on his style of training.
MCW: I’m all about effectiveness and forward thinking. I wanted to create an effective small group class centered on the Versaclimber since it’s the best conditioning machine in my opinion. I want to bring this concept to the masses, where you train for 30 minutes to achieve the desired result, which is what we have here. Malvika had mentioned she was looking to invest in a new business idea and I just so happen to have one. We got to talking and thus CRAG was born
What does CRAG stand for?
MCW: When Malvika and I were coming up with names we looked for every climbing reference that we could think of. CRAG really stood out to us. In the rock climbing space, CRAG refers to a group of rocks suitable for climbing. So we thought AWESOME! This is a group fitness studio where people meet to climb. Perfect!
How did the idea come about to open a studio dedicated to Versaclimbers?
CW: When I would train my clients at my personal training studio, I would put them on the Versaclimber. Whether they were physique competitors looking to cut, athletes looking to improve their conditioning, or your average Joe just simply looking to “lose weight”, I would make them get on the Versaclimber at some point during their workout. It’s the ultimate tool. I thought it would be cool to have a studio full of these. That way people can get an actual workout and not the illusion of a workout in a supportive group environment. You can’t find another class dedicated just to the Versaclimber workout. And we are ahead of the game; we are not adding another rowing studio or H.I.I.T. studio in an already saturated market.
What makes a CRAG workout session different from any other high intensity interval training?
MCW : First, a correction: CRAG is not high intensity interval training. In the fitness industry people tend to jump onto trends regardless of effectiveness. A university paper came out a while ago talking about high intensity and everyone sort of ran with it; again, people following and not leading the pack.
CRAG is a variable intensity training class. A CRAG class is very similar to what professional athletes experience - They go hard for a very short amount of time and then most of their time is spent jogging and moving at a much lower intensity (nowhere near their maximum heart rate); sort of the opposite of HIIT. Another big distinction is CRAG classes are only 30 minutes long. Normally, when I tell that to someone who has never taken a class before, they will give us the dazed and confused look, “Oh that’s it? It’s only 30 minutes?” Working out effectively for 30 minutes at CRAG is equivalent to an hour anywhere else. The purpose of CRAG is to make you better, not to kill you.
Why did you choose Jersey City to open your studio?
MH: We looked for a studio in NYC for many months and finding a plain open rectangle with good visibility is next to impossible. Every space had some weird quirk that would have cost us a ton in renovation costs. We were extremely frustrated with searching in the city, but we decided to look for the next best thing and what we found was nothing short of awesome. Jersey City is a no brainer – it’s a vibrant, up and coming community. We love the downtown area with its artsy edgy feel. We especially love our street with the cobblestones! And it is a socially conscious community.
What has the reception been for the studio?
MH: Zealots love us! Most people that come in claiming they do SoulCycle and other workouts 4 and 5 times a week usually are ready to pass out during our warm-up. So, we do turn off a fair share of people because they are into the illusion of fitness and not doing actual work. But that’s okay; we aren’t here for them. We’re here for people that want an actual workout. We’re here for any who wants to improve. No matter your weight or size or current fitness level, we’re strictly here for those that can push mentally. And we’re starting to see more and more of these people.
What are some challenges you have faced as a new business in Jersey City?
MH: As for any business, spreading the word, we want everyone to do this. This is for anyone; anyone who has an open mind who can push their limit physically & mentally. We have to educate the community about this quest and that’s probably our biggest challenge. The machine has been around for decades but nobody knows about it. Unlike an elliptical, spin bike or stepper etc, there’s is no momentum. The only way the Versaclimber moves is if you move it. Once you stop moving, the machine stops moving.
Since they are right across the street, any events with CKO Jersey City?
MCW: None planned yet but we would love to work with them and design a program that works mutually (eehhhchmmm Joe!!). Joe, the owner of CKO, is a really nice guy. And despite what people may think, we are not in competition with one another. CRAG is actually very complimentary to CKO and vice versa. If you look at actual kick boxers and boxers training for a “real” fight, you will see they use the Versaclimber to get their conditioning on point.
What do we have to look forward to?
MH: You can look forward to more and more people feeling super sore after their first class and realizing how out of shape they really are. And then coming back for class number two and really starting to shape and mold themselves into their ideal self. You can look forward to CRAG taking everyone in Jersey City to the next level.
For anyone that is interested in trying Crag Fitness please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention Growing in Jersey City to get 3 classes for $20.