Tens of thousands of pages have been written on improving an athlete’s performance
through Crossfit. We tweak our nutrition, work on recovery, mobilize religiously and consume an incredible amount of articles and media in the name of increased performance. But let’s face it, for many of us we equally strive to look good naked. At some point though we have to put on some clothes, and that’s where long-time Crossfitters and independent fashion designers Doug and Ben Burkman come in. Over the past decade they’ve progressed from standout mens designers at Gap Inc. to putting their own stamp on the fashion industry with their popular clothing company Burkman Bros.
Coach Greg Glassman preaches the concept of excellence when challenging the notion that Crossfit gyms need to mass-market themselves. It all comes down to being excellent at what you do, and as long as you focus on excellence, everything else falls into place. For the Burkman brothers, they’ve been excellent for so long that their clothes are now getting the international recognition that they deserve. And the more we talk to them, the more we realize how much Crossfit fits into their big picture of excellence. For over two years the Burkman brothers have fed their fitness addiction at Crossfit NYC.
When asked about their progress and dedication, even coach Sara finds some rare words of praise:
“Doug and Ben are the epitome of what every CrossFit gym and coach is looking for. They are always positive and smiling, show up consistently, listen, do what they are told, work hard, cheer on their fellow athletes, are welcoming and nice to all members, and have no ego. You will never hear them complain about not liking the wod or the programming, a 5 minute schedule change, or the thread count of the towels. They promote the gym and CrossFit in general to everyone they know and have helped make CFNYC the community it is.
When the Burkmans first came to the gym they were noticeably smaller and not extremely athletic. Their work ethic is obvious in the huge amount of progress they have made over the last two years. They have both put on muscle, gotten very strong, and now have good engines. They look and perform like CrossFitters.
I am rarely truly impressed with people. The Burkmans are an exception. Their attitude, effort, and results make me proud to call myself their coach.”
We caught up with Doug and Ben to talk about their experience with Crossfit, both in NYC and around the world…and what it’s like to be successful innovators in the world of fashion.
How long have you been designing your own clothing line, and how long had you been designing for the Gap before going off on your own?
Doug: Our brand Burkman Bros has existed for 5 years and sells at stores like Barneys, Saks, Odin and Bloomingdales here in NYC. Prior to this we were both designing mens at Gap Inc for 7 years.
Sara mentioned in class your recent success getting your clothing line picked up by Urban Outfitters. Outside looking in, that’s a huge, exciting accomplishment. What goes into the process of getting recognized by such a large-scale retailer?
Doug: A little blood, a lot of sweat and a few tears (of joy!).
Ben: I guess we had enough brand recognition with Burkman Bros that Urban wanted to do something with us at a more mass level, so we created a new brand specifically for their stores. It’s called The Tourist by Burkman Bros. It could be described as the “cooler, hipper” younger brother to our main brand.
How long have each of you been Crossfitting? What was your fitness background before finding Crossfit?
Doug: I have been coming to Crossfit NYC for over 2 years and being active has always been a part of my lifestyle. Pre-Crossfit I worked out one on one with a trainer as well as outdoor bootcamps all summer long on the green spaces along the West Side Highway. No better way to start your day!
A common goal in Crossfit is the desire to look good. In that sense Crossfit and fashion go hand in hand. Has fitness played a major role in shaping your approach to designing clothes?
Ben: While the physical effort is not as strenuous around the office, many of the fundamentals of Crossfit can be applied to our daily work load, especially with our small team – overcoming challenges and pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do, for instance. We encourage our staff to get in on the Crossfit action and occasionally bring them to the gym with us. Many of our days at work are full on and when you have the tendency to carry your work home with you, there is nothing better than a tough WOD to clear your mind.
Your work involves a lot of travel to Asia. Does your rigorous travel schedule get in the way of your fitness regimen, or do you find time for WODs amidst your busy travels?
Doug: Working out at Crossfit has become somewhat of an addiction. No matter where I am in the world finding the time to visit a Crossfit takes priority over everything else on my schedule. There is a favorite coach at each location I frequent and I sometimes end up doing private WODs due to the flexibility it allows. However I am no stranger to the group classes when on the road. Meeting both locals and expats at the classes is the best way to submerse yourself in a new city and everyone loves seeing a new face. Locations where I often visit include Tokyo, Bangkok, New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro. Its funny, New Delhi is a city of 18 million people and the box I visit has about 25 members. Their mouths drop when I tell them the stats on Crossfit NYC.
You were both regulars in Sara’s early morning classes for the past couple of years. How was your experience doing Crossfit with Sara, and which classes have you checked out since the new schedule changes?
Doug: I have a few favorite coaches at Crossfit, but Sara Carr is the one that I have trained with from Day 1 and my body has completely changed during our time together. My world ended when her 7am WOD became a Competition Team class haha. However I also train one on one with Sara twice a week so I have not lost her entirely. Having one trainer focus on my technique week after week has really impacted my Crossfit experience. Sara is tough love – encouraging, motivating and not afraid to give me a swift kick in the butt now and then. She is a professional boxer too so I wouldn’t mess around with her! As far as new scheduling changes go I feel like I am lost in a maze. I am sure things will get better in the weeks ahead.
Ben: Sara is an amazing coach. She has helped make us stronger as athletes and more well-rounded in our approach to working out. Since the schedule changes, I’ve been exploring many different classes and Crossfit coaches.
Crossfitters are obsessive about the right pair of shoes for the gym. Ben you especially stand out in a sea of Inov8s and Oly shoes. What shoes do you wear for Crossfit, and do you put as much thought into your workout footwear as most of us do?
Ben: I love a good pair of Nike hightop hiking shoes. Not necessarily the best footwear for Crossfit, but I feel pretty good wearing them.
Doug: The shoes on someones feet tell a lot about them. So yes putting a pair of shoes on each day is a thought process haha. My Crossfit shoe is Nike Air Max 90 which is probably more of a cool person shoe than a performance / function shoe.
Doug you’ve made great strides in the gym, and movements like kipping pullups have become second nature for you. Are there any movements you still struggle with at the gym? Do you take time outside of the gym to work on different skills?
Doug: You noticed my kipp but didn’t notice my cleans? haha. The most challenging exercise for me is double-unders believe it or not – and I was even in the skipping club at school when I was a kid! Outside of the gym you will find me pumping it on the bench press- incline, decline and flat. Can’t pass up the glamor muscles!
As your clothing has gained popularity, have you had a lot of experiences randomly encountering people who wear your clothing?
Ben: You know, seeing models wear our clothes is loads of fun and rewarding in itself, but spotting someone on the street rockin’ our look to perfection is even better! WE LOVE YOU. It’s almost hard not to go up to people and say, “hey, how much do you love that shirt?” We just admire people from afar instead of freaking them out haha. Aside from this, its a pleasant surprise when we see our clothes in movies and TV shows and on celebrities – James Franco, Ashton Kutcher, David Beckham, Kanye West, Josh Hartnett, Ellen de Generes – to name a few.
As experienced Crossfitters, what message do you have for people just starting out, who aspire to the longevity you both have at the gym?
Ben: Stay committed and go regularly!
Doug: Be comfortable working at your own pace. Don’t feel as though you need to be at the top of the class right off the bat – it will happen in good time. You need a solid foundation of strength and form to move into the challenging WODs, so start light. Compete with yourself before you start competing with others. Eat well and eat clean – if you can’t spell it, don’t eat it – your bod will thank you!
Doug and Ben Burkman can be found most weekday mornings at Crossfit NYC. More information on the Burkman Bros clothing line can be found on their web site.