Musings: Finding the fun in a new workout regimen thanks to ClassPass

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Note: Reader Outfits will run tomorrow afternoon!

Back in June I embarked on a new phase in my workout regimen: toning my body and muscles. Since starting a personalized weight loss program 2 years ago I've felt more alive and energetic than ever...and been having so much fun with life! (I was having fun before too...just a little more now.) I've gotten a ton of community requests to revisit what I've been up to physically so this post is all about what I've been doing...what's worked...what hasn't...and why fitness is a bonus to my life rather than the centerpiece of it.

Once my weight became stable at a level I was comfortable with and running started to be a bit boring I knew it was time to start including some more fitness options in my regimen. My options seemed so few though. I could join a gym for $$$ and try to figure out my own routine. I could take classes for $$ that would help me tone, but my budget wouldn't allow me to take more than 3-4 classes per month.

Enter ClassPass...the coolest workout program for city-dwellers ever...


Before I started my new toning routine in June I did the usual health check-ups. I saw my general physician for a checkup (all systems go), my nutritionist to let her know I was starting a new fitness routine, and I checked in with my good friend and former personal trainer Dan for tips and to ask questions. (Lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions.)

My goal has never been to look like a fitness model or a model. I want to be as long and lean as possible yes, but I don't want to be overly muscly. I came to the conclusion about 9 months ago that I'd rather eat all the foods I enjoy and weigh 5-10 more lbs than my ideal than give up being totally happy for the sake of someone else's idea of perfection. I feel quite content just as I am. Health -- that's what's critical to me. That's what drives me, pushes me. I want to be healthy, I want to feel good, I want to have energy and vibrancy!

My workout regimen thus far has mostly consisted of running, anywhere from 16 to 50 miles a week. I also occasionally meet up with a group of friends to do an intense cardiovascular workout with strength training. I've noticed that some muscles in my body have developed nicely, like my now-defined calves, while others continue to be practically non-existent. In talking to Dan, he spelled it out for me: if I want to grow muscles I have to target those areas in my exercises.

The answer was simple: I needed to incorporate different types of workouts into my routine. Exercise is like a cult in NYC and very expensive. One specialized class like spin or CrossFit or barre might cost $30 or $40. Gym memberships range from $25/mo (for a no-frills, no personal attention bare minimum gym) up to $250/mo for a big, fancy gym with minimal personal attention -- personal training costs extra.

Over the past couple of years I've dabbled in classes with friends but it never stuck. Then over the winter a friend told me about ClassPass. At the time you paid $100 a month for access to about 50 NYC gyms. Each month your ClassPass membership allowed you to take 10 classes at any of those gyms, no more than 3 classes per gym in any given month. Instead of paying $30 or $40 per class, it worked out to $10 a class per month! How could I resist that. Then on May 1 ClassPass sweetened the deal even more.



They went UNLIMITED. This basically means that for $100/month, ClassPass members could take as many classes as we want to at more than 100 gyms per month (and growing)...just limited to 3 classes per gym per month. This was perfect for me. Not only would it encourage me to try lots of different gyms -- meaning I'd work and tone lots of different muscles -- I was also ready to try a very intense regimen aka lots and lots of classes. The value is incredible! If I work out 6 days a week in a 31-day month that means I'm paying around $4 per class...amazing. ClassPass isn't just in NYC either -- it's also in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Another cool thing about being a ClassPass member is that we get offered special discounts on class packages from a lot of the member gyms. So if I've used all three of my ClassPass classes at a particular gym in the month, I can buy more for less than the public from time to time and that's pretty sweet!

In May I started ramping up under the supervision of my personal trainer friend and my nutritionist. By the end of the month I was going to classes 6 times a week. Sometimes I'd do 2-a-days, meaning a class in the morning and then a run in the evening. (Further down in this post I'll have a breakdown of all the classes I've tried.) Before ClassPass I'd been paying through the nose for SoulCycle and while I love the classes it was putting a serious dent in my spending abilities. Once ClassPass started I was doing spin, barre, multiple types of pilates, rowing, boot camp and intense toning classes. Over time I kept the classes I loved and dropped the ones that didn't click with me (yoga for instance, I've never found a studio I love). With my trainer Dan's help I also focused on classes that would help me tone the muscles where I'm weakest...upper arms, backs of my thighs, outer thighs, core.

The whole reason I started working out in the first place is to feel better. Since I've started running I've done 5 half-marathons and a bunch more 5 and 10Ks and that's cool, but the real reason is that I want to be able to enjoy my health for as long as I'm alive. My posture is better, my legs feel stronger, my back hurts way less and I can walk so much further without getting tired and standing for long periods doesn't hurt like it used to. These are the real wins for me, weight loss and toning are just bonuses. In doing so many classes via ClassPass, I've learned many things about my body. I learned how weak my core (stomach/back) truly is, how stiff I am in my hips, how incredibly strong my shoulders are.


Row House -- my favorite NYC gym! More on gyms below...

Was it intimidating taking all these classes? Holy hell yes it was! There's that feeling of incompetence that would sweep over me every time I was in a class where I felt like the least skilled, fit person in there. Where everyone else was dipping so low in their pliƩs while I could barely squat down...where I was the slowest runner during sprints...where it took me 30 seconds longer than anyone else to complete warmups...where my stomach couldn't scoop into a pilates pike the way everyone else's body seemed to.

The thing is, no one else gives a shit about your skill level. Even in the group classes I found a ton of support and encouragement as I built up my endurance, muscles and so on. These days I am more middle of the pack, sometimes even tops of my classes. But aside from a little competitive yay that I feel, I don't care! It's not a contest, there's no prize for first place, it's just about me and my health. So if you're thinking of starting a workout routine and worried about how you'll look...don't worry. You'll be surprised by how much support you get. In fact, I've made several "class friends" who take classes with me and we'll sometimes hang out before or after too. We all want the same thing. Health.

*****

Things were going great. I was taking tons of classes, had no injuries, and felt sore but amazing. By the end of June however I was alarmed. While I could feel a difference in my body, every time I stepped on the scale I was seeing a scary large number. I knew that my weight would go up a bit but I was expecting 3-5 lbs and seeing more like 15 up! I knew I was really in trouble when I went to wear a pair of jeans on a cold morning and they didn't fit.

Checking in with my nutritionist it turns out I'd made a classic mistake -- I was eating way too many calories. Yes, my intake needed to go up some to support all the extra exercise. But I'd overdone it -- by a lot! -- and my body was storing all the extra food for future energy use. It took me a couple of months to correct it with professional guidance but now I'm right back in my sweet spot and my jeans are comfortably loose again. To my relief. If you have the option I really, really recommend working with a nutritionist when you start or drastically change your workout regimen. Having her guidance has helped me identify foods that fuel me versus ones that drag me down, helping me figure out why I'm bloated sometimes and other times not, and so on.

Many friends have tried to convince me to do Paleo or go gluten free as my man does or try being a vegetarian and on and on and on. I'm not saying those diets don't work -- they clearly do! But one of the things I love about my nutritionist is that her focus is on making sure my body works correctly and to her that means my gut should have the bacteria to easily digest any kind of food I might want to eat. Sometimes eliminating a type of food from your diet can do more harm than good...I used to have food allergies as a kid for instance but no longer. I am not a professional though, this is just my experience.

I've settled comfortably into a 5-day workout routine now. I found that my body really needs two consecutive days off (and sometimes more) to repair itself. In August I took a full week off and my body was so grateful...I dropped three pounds, felt so relaxed and happy. I am still running, in fact I just did a half-marathon! But now my workout routine is so much more well-rounded.

Since many of the gyms I try are available in multiple cities, I thought it would be fun to list out and review all of the gyms I've tried. And you New Yorkers in the community -- if you are interested in trying any of these classes with me email me! It would be fun.

*****


Without further ado, here are all the ClassPass member gyms I've tried. If you're in NYC all of these gyms (plus many, many more) are available to you. Even if you're not in NYC or one of the other ClassPass cities (Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago) the below can give you an idea of the types of gyms you might want to try. The gym's names are all hyperlinked so you can go directly to their website to check it out -- note that some of these are referral links.

Also worth noting? Whether you're in NYC or not, most gyms offer a starter package of at least one discounted trial class. Some gyms even do a free class! A phone call to ask never hurts.


Spin classes are a great place to start a workout regimen so long as your knees can take it!
I love working out at Flywheel.


NO FITNESS EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
These are gyms you can hop straight off the couch and try! Listed alphabetically.

City Row (Union Square)-- Although I prefer Row House, City Row offers a fun rowing workout that is enjoyably intense. This indoor rowing gym uses water-based rowing machines which I find tougher physically than the flywheel ergs...though I also find my back enjoys the water-based ones less. During a 50-minute class you go through sprints, distance pulls and an ease-in warm-up routine broken up by two core strength-training breaks on a floor mat. The strength training is NO JOKE. It's very challenging physically and I love that! But if you're fresh to working out it's easy to modify your movements to your skill level. I enjoy how hard this class pushes me, but it lacks the group feel of Row House and I don't like the water ergs as much as flywheel ergs. Just a personal preference. I take classes with Jared, who is so much fun!

Flex Studios (Union Square) -- FANTASTIC studio to visit if you're just starting pilates. This gym offers barre and pilates classes but I've only taken their Reformer pilates classes. The Reformer machine (photo on Flex Studios' website) was designed by a pilates master to assist during movements. For those unfamiliar with pilates, the idea is that doing a prescribed set of movements in a certain order can help relieve stiffness, enhance flexibility and strengthen muscles. They offer an intro to the Reformer class (super helpful) and then have graduated levels of classes for the machine. I never thought I could do a split until I started taking this class. (I still can't do one yet, but I'm very close.) The movements are challenging but all done for a short time, so even if you're brand new and have to modify or skip a move you'll still get plenty out of these classes...and have something to look forward to! You can go barefoot or wear sticky socks during the class -- I prefer to wear Nike Studio Wraps. The Pilates Pure class is a great class for loosening sore muscles at the end of a long workout week and moves slower, which is great for people coming up to speed or learning. I've had a great time in classes with Hannah, Jackie and David. Jackie in particular is great with beginners like me. I hate to speak negatively about an instructor, but if you're new I do not recommend Elizabeth. I found her to be very abrasive and almost like I was annoying her by not being able to do some of the moves yet during her class. If you're new take a class with someone else.

Flybarre (multiple locations, Lincoln Square is my favorite) -- Barre classes mix ballet positions with pilates-esque moves and aerobics to lengthen muscles and make them lean. You work part of the class on the floor and part using a ballet barre positioned against mirrors on the wall. You don't have to be a dancer to take these classes!! There's no dancing at all actually. I like Flybarre a lot because it's easy enough for someone totally new to try, yet challenging enough to offer a consistent challenge to more experienced barre lovers. I have friends who take a Flybarre class followed immediately by Flywheel (next entry below)...maybe someday! During this class there is light arm weight work, some cardio exercises that are all about movement, and a lot of stretching and coordinated movements to tone your arms, stomach/core and legs. You can go barefoot or wear sticky socks during the class. I have really liked classes with Erin and Kristen...and one instructor whose name I don't know. (Eep!)

Flywheel (multiple locations, Tribeca is my favorite) -- In Manhattan the battle for spin gym dominance has two front-runners, Soul Cycle and Flywheel. SoulCycle isn't on ClassPass and their loss has been Flywheel's gain for me. Flywheel has several locations in and around Manhattan. Inside the "stadium" are about 40 spin bikes. What's spin, you ask? Intense stationary bike riding. Specialized shoes for the bikes are provided for free at the gym. You go at different speeds over the course of a 45 or 60-minute class. The studio is darkened during class and we're all in a half-circle around the instructor, who is dimly lit. So you can go at your own pace and no one will ever know the difference...and you can also challenge yourself to exceed the resistance and speed numbers the instructor calls out during class. At Flywheel each bike has a tracker on it that tells you how hard you're biking and how much power you've produced. On your Flywheel.com account this is converted into distance and calories burned...it's very cool to see your progress over time. Their gimmick is the Torq board, two screens that post each biker's power during the class as though it was a race leaderboard. You do not have to participate in Torq Board, it's completely optional. But man it feels great when class is over and your name is number 1 on that board!!! The instructors I really like are Clinton, Leah, Bree and Ryan who teach at various locations. There are many instructors here I haven't tried yet though.

One note with Flywheel: I always wear ear plugs (provided free by the gym) during these classes because the music is so friggin loud. I seriously think the instructors make the music loud, get continually more deaf, and over time make it louder and louder. As a former touring band member with partial deafness in my left ear...I don't want to be any more deaf. I wish they'd turn the music down just a bit. But this is how all spin gyms are here. Pounding music to get you going.

Row House (Columbus Circle) -- By far my favorite gym in the city right now, totally due to the owner Eric who runs amazing classes. Super motivating and pushes you lovingly. At this gym we row indoors for 60 minutes on flywheel-based ergs with two core strength training breaks. As anyone who's ever done crew or rowing can tell you, it's a full-body workout that requires a lot of core, a lot of arms and a lot of legs with your back contributing as well. During these classes we're pushed to lower our split times or hit a certain distance with a warm-up that gets us all rowing in sync at a slower, more predictable pace. The latter part of class is all about peak personal performance with a good amount of 1:1 attention from the instructors. If you're not working out right now and thinking about trying it this is a fantastic place to start and grow...it's easy to go at your own pace while the instructors help you ramp up your form and effort. As you get more advanced and push yourself to new levels it's just incredible. I'm having so much fun here! My favorite instructor is Eric, I've also enjoyed classes with Carter and Travis.


Chaise Fitness -- Pilates taken up about 100 notches. It's beyond fun!

SOME EXPERIENCE RECOMMENDED
You don't have to be in tip-top shape but you should be exercising before you try these classes. 
Listed alphabetically.

Chaise Fitness (multiple locations, Flatiron is my favorite) -- It's hard for me to even describe this studio. There are bungee cords. There are specialized pilates chairs (you see the instructors on them in the photo above). There's tons of movement, high energy and things you won't think you can do but you really can. This studio offers a ballet barre class, but instead of a barre it uses bungie cords suspended from the classroom ceiling. I've taken it once and it was fun...but I love, love, love the chair (aka chaise) classes! During this class you use the chaise and the bungies, and yes occasionally resistance balls too. Incredible for toning, great cardio and another class that's easy to modify for your skill level. I do think you need to have some experience exercising under your belt before you try this place -- if you can walk a mile in under 12 minutes, lift a 5 lb weight comfortably for a minute or so and do let's say 10 lunges in 2 minutes you're probably good to go. Do not be afraid to fail in this class! Yes there will be women in your class who are struggling to complete the moves. Yes there will be women in your class who are pros at every move. You will get there!! EVERY instructor here is great. Seriously. They're all amazing. My schedule has me working mostly with Catherine and Criscia who are both fantastic and encouraging...all of them are lovely.

Pure Barre (multiple locations, UWS is my favorite) -- This national franchise is one of the premiere barre studios in NYC. During this class you start with an intense floor warmup that gets your heartrate up and has a light arm focus break, followed by sets at the barre focusing on thighs, butt, and finally core. My god are these classes challenging for me! But I can see a real difference in the shape and firmness of my thighs, butt and stomach. The saddest day for me was when I asked a long-time class-taker when it stops burning during the movements and she said, "Oh it will always burn during the tougher movements...it's never easy." Blah! And yet I wouldn't have it any other way. I sweat like crazy during this class and my legs are often jelly afterwards. I sometimes find myself frustrated during these classes because of how hard the moves are for me...but that's how you grow. I get corrected on my positions constantly. You need a special pair of socks for this class called sticky socks. They sell them for $13 at the studio or you can find them on sites like Amazon. Lauren's classes are amazing as are Rebecca's, I also really like Meaghan's classes.

Warrior Fitness Boot Camp (Herald Square) -- I know the name sounds scary but this gym is amaze. AMAZE. It's run by former Marines yes but they have hearts of gold. They will push you but no one is going to call you a maggot or make you scrub the floor with a toothbrush or anything like that. Think tough, but with a friendly heart. The large facility (by Manhattan standards) features classes run by one or two instructors focusing on pushing you beyond your physical limits. There's a real camaraderie here among the members that doesn't exist at any other NYC gym I've been too. It's a mix of group motivation and personal challenge. There's sprinting, a group warmup, an obstacle course in soft tire cutups, and a lot of stair-climbing. Every muscle group will be targeted. You might do bear crawls, 100 situps, kettle ball runs, monkey bars and about a million jumping jacks. God I love this place so much.  If you're the kind of person (as I am) that is motivated by challenge, this is the place for you. Once you've been there a few times the instructors will remember you and they're incredible at not only remembering your skill level but inspiring you to reach new peaks. I can lift more weight thanks to them, I can do better push-ups thanks to them, I can climb walls thanks to them and I know that I can climb 24 flights of stairs in under 15 minutes thanks to them (and also, damn them for that last one, lovably). And if you're new to working out the instructors will modify for you. Still, I think you need to be able to run a mile before you'll be able to do the classes here. Ruben, Alex, Colter...they're all so, so great. And so, so tough. Did I mention how much I love this place?


Tone House -- not for the faint of heart or spirit.


FOR THE PROS
Already in great shape? Keep your peak with these gyms. NOT for beginners. Listed alphabetically.

Brooklyn Bodyburn (Brooklyn) -- Up in the no experience necessary section I talked about the Reformer machines at Flex Studios and how accessible they are to anyone. Well, Brooklyn Bodyburn is like that on acid. INCREDIBLY HARD and incredibly rewarding, this non-stop 60 minute class has movement after movement with no rest periods. The great thing though is that these classes are intense without being hard on joints or your back -- so long as you do the exercises correctly. The instructors in my experience have been excellent at making sure you do each move right. It's very, very hard and the rewards are great. Unfortunately if you live in Manhattan this studio is very inconvenient to get to...it's off the L which is a challenge on the weekdays and sometimes impossible on the weekends. If you're in Manhattan there's a similar studio called SLT but they're not on ClassPass so...boo SLT. Boo! I like every instructor at Brooklyn Bodyburn.

Tone House (Union Square) -- All it takes is one look at their website to know that this gym is not for the faint of heart. The warmup might be doing 100 hurdles with bear crawls, gallops, 20 pushups and 100 jumping jacks. THAT'S JUST THE WARMUP. If you've ever watched footage of NFL training camps, that's what this gym reminds me of. It will undoubtedly up your dexterity, agility and strength. It will challenge you mentally. There's tons of resistance training via bungee-harness exercises as well as sprint challenges, a fun mid-class cardio call-out (the instructor says sit-ups, then push-ups, then jumping jacks, then burpees as an example and you just do them til they call out the next move). This class is a great gauge for me of when I've hit a wall and where I am physically. It's an hour of hell and it's tons of fun, but is definitely not for beginners. Maybe not even for moderates. There is so much in these classes I can't yet do. I like having the goal. I've taken classes with Shaun and Alonzo and they are both master motivators.



*****


As far as my regimen goes, I like to mix it up. Some weeks I'll take one class at 5 different gyms. Some weeks I'll focus on one gym, others on two.

Here's a recent rotation I did that I loved.
Week 1: M - Pure Barre; T - Pure Barre; W - Chaise Fitness; R - run; F - rest; S - Chaise Fitness; Su - rest.
Week 2: M, W, F: Row House; T, Su: City Row; R, S: rest
Week 3: T-S: Flywheel, Su, M: rest
Week 4: M: Flywheel; T: Flybarre; W: Row House; R - run, F - rest; S - rest; Su -run
Week 5: rest


Mostly I've learned there's no silver bullet -- we're each different and what works for one person doesn't always work for another. I'm loving the way I feel these days and the way I look too. It's so nice to have the option of ClassPass to make exercising multiple times a week at different gyms easy and affordable. It's true that you don't need to go to a gym to get a good workout; for me it's a nice option so I can get some personal attention as I continue to tone.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Do you work out regularly? What kind of classes do you like? Do you work out on your own or via a gym?