Upgraid interviewed Men’s Health Fittest Trainer and owner of 150 BayFit, André Crews, to learn more about the man who is the new face for Upgraid’s Perform: Daily Inflammation as part of our "Inspired" series. This is a two-part profile, with Part II being published next week.
Part 1: The Sculptor
André Crews is working out for the second time today. It’s not uncommon for the 34 year-old personal trainer and gym owner to be pushing his body to the limit multiples times in a 24-hour period. He’s a professional at staying fit and his health and wellness routine isn’t just dictated by exercise. He eats immaculately, gets proper sleep, all while maintaining an infectiously positive attitude that is driven by passion and an immense commitment to health-related education. But André isn’t just doing sculpting his body for himself—he’s sculpting his followers’ bodies, too.
Beyond his duties as a business owner for his gym, 150 Bay Fitness in Jersey City, NJ, Crews spends most of his day training fitness techniques to clients in-person, as well as through the Ladder app where he is an online instructor, too. While some fitness pros show off their skills to journal their own personal growth, André Crews is sculpting his body and providing a step-by-step outline of how you can do it, too. While the Covid-19 pandemic has forced some gyms to close and fitness pros to go dark, André has adapted, just like he has done from the beginning of his fitness career. He knows how to grind and his business acumen as led him to where he is now. “I got my degree from the University of Pittsburgh in finance and then I worked in corporate banking. When I meet a new client, I tell them my story about how I was an unhappy, unhealthy corporate banker until I left and transformed myself into Men's Health Magazine Fitness Trainer of the Year.” The road wasn’t easy, however.
“I got into personal training in 2012 and I didn’t think I would like it. When I started working at an L.A Fitness, making nine dollars per half hour session, I fell in love with it immediately. When I worked in banking, it was a struggle for me to get up just to get to work at 8:30 [in the morning]. As a personal trainer, I was going to the gym anywhere between 5 and and 5:30AM, but I was having a great time doing it. I worked my butt off because that's the only way that you can survive making that little money--you're gonna have to just work from five in the morning until noon. I’d go home, take a nap, come back, and then do the same thing at night.”
André’s reputation didn’t go unnoticed, however, and he soon moved on to Equinox, with more clients. As André remembers, “I learned just a lot more about coaching and about movement patterning and about this getting overall better at functional fitness.” By 2017, André was ready to take his lessons in a career in finance and apply them to starting a business that culminated in the development and implementation of his own gym.
A Social Justice Warrior
Originally, André’s gym was affiliated with the CrossFit network, but while he stands by much of the fitness techniques utilized by CrossFit, his affiliation with the brand ended in June of 2020, due in large part to CrossFit founder Greg Glassman’s racist comments in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Following Glassman's remarks that mocked both George Floyd and Covid-19 on his own Twitter account and in a conference call, André made a conscientious effort to research exactly what had happened before he made any judgment. Said Crews, “I thought, let me find out some more information so that I can make a very intelligent decision about it and not just a gut reaction.” After investigating and doing some soul searching, André felt he no longer could be associated with the brand. In an impassioned video message shared on his Instagram account, Crews explained that he would no longer be affiliated with CrossFit. The message resonated not just on his social media account, but went viral on Instagram.
André was asked to write an op-ed piece for Men’s Health that explained his decision and how being an African American man in America made this issue so personal.
André Crews is now in a unique position to bring to light the importance of black owned businesses, particularly in the fitness community. As Crews noted, “A lot of organizations are now actually trying to spotlight black owned businesses and black owned gyms. Proceeds of fundraisers are going to Black Lives Matter and local organizations that feed hungry children in my community. I think that there definitely has been a catalyst not just in the fitness industry, but overall in the world. Right now, we're at a turning point where you have to acknowledge whether you're about inclusion, social justice, and equality or not at all.”
Adapting to a Pandemic
Just like the changing landscape of social justice, André was forced to make major adjustments to his career once Covid hit, as gyms across New Jersey were forced to close their doors. As André recalls, “I went into the gym on Sunday, March 15 and I loaded up my wife's SUV with a barbells, 400 pounds worth of bumper plates, a squat rack, and a couple of dumbbells because I thought we might be in a situation where they're going to close us.”
His intuition was correct, but he knew he had to have a plan and adjust to the new regulations. “I'm like, ‘What can I do to create value for my members and keep them engaged assuming that this will probably last two months or the longer. So, I immediately started doing classes online remotely and then I started doing so an entire year before that I had an entire series that was literally just dedicated to giving people access to doing workouts at home--whether you have a dumbbell, a kettlebell, a backpack, or a jug of water. But the whole idea was I created workouts that are modifiable based on whatever equipment that you might have.”
André maintained his schedule of waking up before the sun rose to workout in his garage and film these new style of classes for his gym members to watch. Not only did Crews show how they could utilize exercise techniques using household objects like brooms and PVC pipes, but also started doing daily 30 minute power lunch classes consisting of bodyweight exercises.
As Crews found, “The business pivot that I had to make, we pretty much did in one week. We also we also decreased all of our members prices to half of what it was before but I didn't feel right about charging people full price with them not being able to physically come into the gym. We’d offer 15 unique workouts for people every week as well as offering equipment rental. I can just wanted to keep everyone happy so that it would at least help us to keep the lights on.” Despite the financial strains, Crews also continued to pay his coaches, as well. Fortunately, Crews has been able to re-open his gym, abiding by the guidelines set forth by the state of New Jersey.
An Education in Functional Exercise
At the end of the day, no matter the difficulties he’s had to overcome and barriers he has needed to break, André Crews is an exceptional fitness trainer with immense knowledge of health and nutrition to back it up. But André isn’t just a trainer or business owner—he’s also an educator.
When someone walks into his gym for the first time, André is already prepared to guide them every step of the way on their fitness journey. He fondly recalled to us a recent event that speaks to his practice and promotion of functional training, which involves training the body to perform activities we experience in our daily life.
Said Crews, “We had two folks come in who hadn’t exercised in a year to take part in our Foundations class--our introductory course for someone who's never done functional fitness or lifting before. Step number one is to make sure that they can squat. The ability to sit down and stand up is a squat. And as soon as you lose the ability to sit down and stand up on your own power, you're going into a retirement home. And that's not something that a lot of people who are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s think about. But you know if someone who's in their 50s or 60s, that’s a reality.”
“I show them the technique for squatting make them squat and then kind of just go through all of our very basic fundamental movements that you kind of need in everyday life," said Crews. "So everyone needs to learn how to deadlift it doesn't need to be you know five hundred pounds like I might be doing. But everyone needs to be able to functionally deadlift. If you know that you have a 30-pound dog that you have to pick up from time to time, then you should probably be able to deadlift 50 pounds.”
He's right. Exercise isn’t just about getting in shape and reaching the perfect physique. Andre’s commitment to functional training is a testament to the reality that we need exercise to live comfortable lives without concern that we’ll throw our back out getting up from bed too quickly or changing a lightbulb. “You train hard in the gym so that life becomes a little bit easier if you know that you have to physically pick up that bag of dog food and put it all to a shelf somewhere. You should be able to physically overhead press a little bit more than that weight. So the whole idea is to do functional compound movements that aren't big scary movements. Not everyone necessarily needs to be snatching, doing muscle ups, or handstand walking, but all of us need to squat. We need to push. We need to pull. We need to pull a lot more than we push because most of us spend our time on the computer or on the phone. Once I see that clients can get to those successfully, then we can start to talk about incorporating more advanced movements as they as they mature as athletes.”
André added, “If you’re a senior citizen, you should not have to be stressed out about playing with your granddaughter. That's not a good life for anybody. So the whole idea [of functional training] is you should be able to get to your grandkid’s level and play with her. If you need to be able to physically pick her up, then you should probably be able to have the ability to squat with a 50 pound kettlebell or a 50 pound dumbbell. Functional fitness is all about making your daily life a little bit easier.”
Getting Over Yourself
André is familiar with the very real concerns that people who want to get in shape but are too intimidated to do so. That’s why his advice is so helpful. “In the very beginning, it’s real tough. Working out is work. And it takes time. I think people [just starting out] are intimidated because there are people who might be in better shape than them. There's an old adage that, 'When you're doing it right it doesn't get easier. You just get better.' The whole idea is to push yourself to your personal level. Intensity is completely up to you. And I think everyone should work up to a level of intensity that they are personally comfortable with. And that's the only way that we can really kind of force our bodies to adapt and get better."
André’s empathy shines through in his work. He reminds clients and his followers that we all have a different pace to which we reach our fitness goals. “Don't compare your chapter one to someone else's Chapter 20 or someone else's Chapter 100,” said Crews. “Focus on yourself. Try to find a group of people that can rally behind you...that can support you. Find a good coach or trainer or group of friends that can coach you in the proper technique.”
Read Part II of this profile of André Crews learn about André’s philosophy on training, weight loss, diet, and his vision of fitness in the future. To learn more about how you can train with André in person, please visit http://www.150bay.fit/ or visit his Instagram page @andrecrews to see his daily workouts and how you can workout with André virtually via the Ladder app.