Culture / Sporting Life

Unique New Fitness Craze Moves Into The Heights, Taking Over Two Historic Bungalows

Rowing Your Way to a New You?

BY // 01.26.18

Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series on Houston’s burgeoning exercise scene — and the fitness boutique trend.

Marcia and Dan Strange want you to join their crew. Crew Fitness, a new rowing studio, is opening in The Heights at the Bungalows on 22nd Street this spring. The gym’s Houston debut marks the Mobile, Alabama-based rowing mecca’s first expansion. The new studio will be at 715 West 22nd Street.

They’re serious about the notion of a “crew.” The goal is fitness within a community.

“It’s just like a boat, when you’re on a crew team,” co-owner Marcia Strange tells PaperCity. “It’s like a big community. They do everything together, they have to be in sync.”

The high-energy, 45-minute classes are based around cardio intervals with the indoor Concept 2 Rower, a rowing machine with a fan to provide resistance, and strength training intervals. The motto: low impact, high intensity, real results.

Marcia and her husband Dan Strange will own and operate the facility. The Stranges got their foothold in Crew Fitness back at the start, in Mobile. The duo is from Texas originally — Marcia from Richmond, Dan from New Braunfels — but they most recently lived in Alabama. Dan Strange was a rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard in Mobile.

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“Mobile is a not a big town, and we didn’t have a lot of fitness,” Marcia Strange says. She came upon Crew Fitness by chance, seeing their booth at Mobile’s version of the Nutcracker Market, called Christmas Jubilee.

Mobile has a lot of “globo gyms,” like Omni and Planet Fitness, but the city is scant on spin studios. When Marcia started chatting with the gym members, “I was like ‘Oh, this is my booth!’ ”

A big fan of “group exercise, that studio feel,” Marcia attended the very first Crew Fitness class. Dan soon became a fan, too.

The Rowing Workout

Marcia Strange describes Crew Fitness workouts as “similar to spin class,” with the light show, programmed workout, and choreography set to the music. Crew Fitness is meant to pump you up on the Concept 2 Rower, which provides a full-body cardio workout.

The rower and the entire class are “100 percent low impact. We don’t jump, hop, skip, anything,” Marcia Strange says.

Off the rower, the exercises put little stress on the joints — squats, lunges, wall sits, planks, situps, etc. Classes are interspersed with periods of strength training with dumbbells. They range from light to heavy, up to 35 pounds.

The philosophy is indoor rowing, re-imagined. The class promotes rowing for health, building strength, endurance, agility — and even happiness, from longevity, vitality, and energy.

Marcia and Dan became part of the Mobile Crew Fitness community. When it came time for Dan to transfer, he and Marcia had their fingers crossed they could return to their home state.

The owners of Crew Fitness in Mobile were already considering a Houston expansion. “It was like, ‘We want to move to Houston, you want to do a Crew in Houston, let’s make it happen,’ ” Marcia Strange says. “Now, we’re making it happen.”

Crew Fitness mobile
Crew Fitness can become your primary gym, or you can use its workouts to complement your regular fitness regimen.

Marcia grew up around Houston in the late ’90s, when there wasn’t much of a fitness scene.

“We were kind of labeled as The Fat City,” she says. But Marcia’s been gone for 12 years. Now that she’s back, “we slowly see all these new gyms. I think people are really into fitness and see the importance of it.”

She and Dan knew from the start that they didn’t want a location in the suburbs. At least, not yet. “We wanted to be down in the city, with the young professionals, a lot going on, new restaurants. We wanted to be where all the action was,” Marcia Strange notes.

Marcia and Dan went on a driving tour, going through Montrose, Midtown, and more to stake out possible locations. Driving around The Heights, they “felt like it was our vibe,” Marcia says.

The community struck them with its combination of neighborhoods and restaurants. The couple lives in Cottage Grove, close enough for them hop on their bikes and head over to their new gym.

It’s close to home in more ways than one. Marcia looks forward to creating a community at Crew Fitness, including diehard fans and people who “are into fitness on their own” and use the rowing class as a complement.

“I expect a 50/50 mix of people who crew like ‘this is what I do’ and people who like other fitness as well,” she says. Marcia does Crossfit and finds that Crew Fitness is a great complement.

“I would love to get my Crossfit community and get them in,” she says.

She suggests taking classes two times a week if you plan to mix in other fitness routines, and three to four times a week if it’s going to be your primary gym.

A Historic Setting

Crew Fitness will offer monthly memberships and class packages. Classes will start at 15 rowers for 15 people, gradually ramping up to 24 as needed. The schedule is still being refined, but it should look something like this — Monday through Friday: a 5 am class to start, then a mid-morning one around 9:30, a lunch class around noon, and probably three more in the evening, like 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 pm.

The classes will be in a unique gym setting at Bungalows at 22nd Street. The area is a retail development by Randy Wile of Wile Interests and Capital Retail Properties. The specific Crew Fitness property will be two 1930s-era California bungalows.

“’We’ll have a nice, inviting front porch for people. We like people to stay after class, come early, hang out,” Marcia Strange says. The design also includes the exercise space, and a shop with Crew Fitness brand pants, shirts, sports bras, mats, and more.

“It’s homey in front but then business in the back,” Marcia says. That combo is key to community. “Our main focus is on a community of fit, happy people.”

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