"It’s more than a gym, it’s a sanctuary for people": Meeting the passionate trainers out to keep Leyland CrossFit

Despite its global and ever-growing popularity, CrossFit can trace its roots back to a small gym in Santa Cruz, California, where it was born just 21 years ago.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Thursday, 30th September 2021, 4:55 am
CrossFit Leyland (Gina Yates and Gary Stephenson front)
CrossFit Leyland (Gina Yates and Gary Stephenson front)

Trainers Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai came up with the idea of combining aerobic exercise, calisthenics (bodyweight exercises), and Olympic weightlifting and, since then, CrossFit has exploded.

Today, there are over 15,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms globally, more than 500 of which are located in the UK. The marriage of communal exercise, high-intensity training, and the constantly varied workouts inspires devotees the world over.

And Leyland is no exception.

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Gary Stephenson

CrossFit Leyland was opened nine years ago by Gina Yates, Greg Yates, and Gary Stephenson, providing programmed workouts, bespoke instruction, nutritional guidance, and one-to-one coaching to its 250 members.

With scalable workouts able to be adapted for all abilities and ages, it caters to one and all.

“Before I started doing CrossFit about 10 years ago, I was a gym bunny who overtrained and had a really unhealthy attitude towards health and fitness,” says Gina, 35. “I was borderline anorexic and I trained to be a size zero before I came across CrossFit Tyneside up in the north east and fell in love with it.

“Since then, I’ve never looked back. I’m addicted. We set up the gym because me and Gary moved back to the north west and there were no CrossFit gyms in the area,” she adds. “At the time, I was competing so needed to train; we even toyed with the idea of moving to Widnes just because there was one there, but that wasn’t viable.

Gina Yates

“So we opened this place so Gary would have somewhere to work and I could train.”

“I was sceptical about CrossFit at first but I went along and this young 16-year-old coach started climbing ropes and moving crazy weights around and I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” explains Gary, 50. “He was like Yoda when he took off his robe and started jumping about with his lightsaber and I was just like ‘wow, I want to do that’.

“To find something you almost don’t class as a job because you love doing it so much is unique and we’re all so fortunate,” Gary adds. “Teaching a class gives you such a buzz - I can’t put it into words.

“I feel blessed that my hobby is also my job. It’s been life-changing.”

CrossFit Leyland

Coach Will McCann came to CrossFit about eight years ago after being left uninspired by regular gyms. “I did a taster CrossFit session and thought ‘this is great’,” he says. “I signed up that night and never looked back. I started coaching 18 months later and that’s been my life since. The community makes it.

“We’re here to make the gym an environment where people want to come together,” says Will, 34. “Fitness is only one part of it because of how many lifelong friends and people you meet - I even met my future wife through CrossFit!

“Lockdown made me realise just how much the gym means to me. I feel re-energised now to be the best coach I can be.”

Covid was indeed a unique test for gyms.

“It was really tough - when the last class before lockdown finished, I burst into tears,” says Gina. “It was the first time the gym had shut and you could see on people’s faces how much of an impact it would have.

“It’s more than a gym, it’s a sanctuary and therapy for people,” she adds. “We only got through it because of the support from the government and from our amazing members.”

Gary agrees. “I struggled massively during Covid,” he says. “The rug got pulled out from under us and there was no blueprint on how to cope. But the members kept this gym alive so now it’s about giving back because lockdown reinforced how important the gym is for people’s mental and physical health.”