Wolf Brigade doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of your typical big box Planet Fitness or LA Fitness gym. Its bare bones interior hosts a modest collection of workout equipment, fan bikes and pull-up bars scattered across a black padded floor. Muffled hardcore music echoes quietly from overhead speakers as exercisers fervently pedal or swing a large steel rod fixed with a bulbous metal weight up over their heads.
Wolf Brigade is also not so easy to find. There are no ad campaigns, no signs from the road, and discovering its location at 410 Atlantic Ave. is a challenge. These things are all fine for owner Greg Walsh, who is adamant about one thing: If you’re serious about fitness, strength training and conditioning, this is the place to be.
“We dissect things differently and we kind of promote strength and conditioning more as a martial art,” Walsh said. “There’s details to lifting and details to movement that often get overlooked in favor of people just getting sweaty and tired, and that’s not what we do at all. Details come first and then progress is infinite.”
Walsh started Wolf Brigade following a career in BMX, including at Rochester’s own Kink and at Long Beach, Calif.’s Primo, where he started his first gym in the early hours of CrossFit. What Wolf Brigade does, however, is not CrossFit.
Walsh explains that CrossFit trainers need a surprisingly small amount of experience to become certified.
“Basically, if you had a thousand bucks, you could run to a clinic this weekend and that following Monday have a piece of paper that says you can teach CrossFit,” Walsh said.
Walsh is committed to maintaining quality control to avoid injuries and ensure clients make real progress. As of Thursday, Dec. 27, there were about four open slots at the gym. Walsh is fine with that as well, saying that people come in from around the world for training at Wolf Brigade, and an open enrollment style of conditioning is not his focus.
“We’re not looking for transient, New Year’s resolution members — that’s not our cup of tea,” Walsh said. “We’re extremely detailed. We’re more experienced than anyone around here by a long-shot. A lot of what we do is travel for clinics and seminars (and) people travel here from out of state and out of the country to train. We stay ahead of the curve like that, by being a little different.”
You don’t have to be a longtime gym buff or an expert in strength conditioning to join Wolf Brigade. In fact, Walsh said his best clients tend to be older people who are ready to commit. The key feature for Walsh is not physical strength coming in but mental strengths. Clients have to be willful, ready to stick to the classes and listen to the trainers.
“What we want are people who are ready to make progress by assessing details, being consistent and understanding the hows and whys of the whats,” Walsh said. “People don’t just come in and train here. We’ve got kind of an introductory that brings folks through some fundamentals training so they know what they’re doing —but they’re expected to do it.”
Walsh’s regimens can look odd, especially Wolf Brigade’s signature mace, based on the historic Hindu gada used for centuries for training in India. It may not look like traditional training, as the trainer lifts the rod up and swings it in a rhythmic arc around their body, but for anyone who has ever swung a sledgehammer before, the concept makes perfect sense. It’s not just your arms doing the work, it’s all of those muscles in your back, in your shoulders, in your chest simultaneously being worked.
“There’s a lot of people who go to the gym and they work out the same muscles over and over, and they’re really not making any progress,” Walsh said. “And that’s because they’re missing all of these really important, tiny muscles.”
The mace is part of Wolf Brigade’s mission to promote simple, no-nonsense strength conditioning and a major portion of the company’s business model as well. The maces sell for between $160 and $220 online depending on the weight. Ultimately, it’s Walsh’s goal to cut through the gimmicks and fads and give a fitness regimen that actually works and will continue to work the longer it’s done.
“We’ve trained everyone. I used to say we’ve trained everybody but an amputee, but we trained a guy last year in Indianapolis (who was missing a foot), so now I’ve trained everyone in the world,” Walsh said. “So we can use that experience and tailor what we’re doing to anyone with any restriction.”