Day 25: Brick by Brick at BRICK New York

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Have your abs ever been so sore that it hurts when you laugh? That’s me today after the Friday Abs B/X class at Brick New York in Chelsea. If there’s anything that’s clear after 25 days of my ClassPass adventure, it’s that there is no shortage of awesome gyms and boutique studios, especially in Chelsea. Brick New York was another great find.

I flew into the studio one minute before my scheduled class, and the girl at the front desk checked me in, and assured me that all was fine– that I should change and go on in. Downstairs, it took me a minute to figure out which locker room was the women’s as the two doors facing me read, “Squat” and “Jerk,” a little CrossFit inside humor perhaps? While not huge, the locker room space was well-planned for minimal traffic jams. The lockers (bring your own lock) are outside the locker rooms, so that inside there’s space to change, hang your coat, use the bathroom, and shower. They have all the little amenities you need like the hair ties and complimentary razors, deodorant, and tampons. I so appreciate the gyms and studios that provide these things for forgetful me.

The workout was equally well-planned and efficient. CrossFit gyms or boxes, as their known, don’t mess around. I sidled past an actual CrossFit class into my own B/X class which, like the EVF 360 classes at EVF Performance, seems to be a class reminiscent in style to CrossFit, but a bit more accessible. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s gonna be in any way easy. I thought maybe I was in the wrong place when the first thing I saw the instructor demonstrate (as a part of the warm-up, no less) was a move called a “Wall Walk” in which, basically you start in push-up position an then literally walk your feet up the wall and your hands backwards until you are in a hand stand against the wall.

“What?” I yelped. The class laughed, and the instructor gave us an example for a modification that still involved walking up the wall as far as we could, and surprisingly, I was able to get much straighter than I thought I’d be able to. I couldn’t do all of the exercises without modifications (the Toes to Bar, for example), but I did more than I ever thought I was capable of. We were in constant motion going through 5 stations of 3 exercises each. The music was spot on, cranking me through my Plank Jacks (on the rings!) when I wanted to quit.

brick lobbyAfter the workout, I enjoyed a large free sample of a protein shake in the lounge. You can also purchase all kinds of Paleo salads and snacks as well as coconut water and protein bars. I feel inspired to go back, and perhaps even try out the Academy classes which are a series of 8 classes that you’re required to take at Brick before beginning the CrossFit classes. I love that, because I’ve been completely intimidated by CrossFit, and frankly worried that I might injure myself. The Academy is designed to make sure you know proper form and technique so you don’t get hurt. This is a studio that will help you become an athlete, brick by brick.

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LOCATIONS: Chelsea, Grand Central, Brooklyn, L.A, Chicago, Boston

PROS: Challenging, efficient workout. Classes are not tiny, but small enough for instructors to pay attention to your form and push you to our max; good music; plenty of amenities including showers, towels, shampoo, lockers (bring your own lock), and a protein smoothie bar.

CONS: They should make the towels and water available in more places than the front as it’s a big space, and you will need extra water. Towels and a water cooler in back workout room would rock. There was no stretching after the workout, and I could’ve really used a stretch.

WHAT TO WEAR: Regular workout clothes and sneakers. Bring water and a lock.

MY BRICK GOAL: Toes to the Bar

Backtracking: Tribeca Health and Fitness and Pablo Fitness

I haven’t yet written about a couple of classes I took last week. That’s because they were nothing to write home about. But if you’re a ClassPasser or just passing by, you get to have my two cents about them anyhow. Both of them felt a bit like stepping back in time compared with some of the sparkling new studios I’ve been to lately.

The first was Tribeca Health and Fitness, which is not a boutique studio, but an actual gym with weight rooms and treadmills in addition to a windowless exercise class room. With the word Tribeca in the title, I was expecting understated swank and a little snobbery. Instead I was greeted at the door with a sign that said TANNING in bold print. It foreshadowed more anachronisms circa 1985. Either I was in a time warp or they just haven’t remodeled or changed their playlists in quite a while.

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Passing through a weight room of muscle-heads straining to Twisted Sister, I found the hidden room that houses the exercise classes which include Karate, Zumba, Elf Tennis (I really hope this does not involve tossing elves around), Flat Iron Express (I don’t think it’s a hair styling class), and the class I’d come for, Body Shred. The room was large, but dingy and covered in cushy padded vinyl flooring (see above). Even the teacher was wearing 80s-style floral leggings. But she was welcoming, asked my name, and had prepared a fun, sweat-filled class for us. Apparently, it’s not just a catchy title, Body Shred, but a specific kind of circuit training that includes several sets of strength training, cardio, and abs. We were constantly in motion. It was an efficient 30 minutes well spent, with a wonderful 15 minute stretch segment afterward using foam rollers (that once again looked as though they were purchased many years ago).

After my surprisingly gratifying workout, I headed two deep stories down where the locker room is. There was plenty of room, but don’t expect Bliss personal care products or any freebies. I was really wishing I’d brought my own flip-flops as I tip-toed across the moldy tiles into the shower which had a totally exposed light bulb on the ceiling. Health code violation? But maybe I’m being too harsh. I’m getting spoiled by David Barton and Exhale. There were two hotel-style hair dryers and some body lotion which was really all I needed to get ready for work.

PROS: Great teacher and a quick, efficient workout with a wonderful stretch afterward.

CONS: Bring flip-flops, or better yet, shower at home. Locker room leaves much to be desired.

pablo fitness

And now I’ve written so much about one place that I claimed was nothing to write home about that I don’t have time to write as much about Pablo Fitness. As a part of my quest to try all the cycling studios in Manhattan, I ventured to Midtown East to try out their Interval Cycling class. The bikes were basic, with RPM meters attached, and it was clean and well-kept, complete with two bathrooms (that also had small showers) and a changing area with cubbies (not lockers). I found the workout a little on the easy side, but truthfully, I could have put more energy in. The teacher was peppy and the music was better than most, with more of a Latin vibe. If I didn’t have so many other snazzy cycling options closer to my apartment, I’d probably go back if only to have a ride with good music.

PROS: Good music with Latin vibe; friendly staff; clean space; decent burn

CONS: Older style bikes with limited metrics; nothing special about the ride and no upper body; no lockers

Speaking of music, I’ve been to so many classes with mediocre music, I’ve stop expecting to get into my workouts through the music, but the class I took this morning at FlyWheel had the BEST playlist ever. I was singing along to Janis Joplin and Cindy Lauper (which reveals something about my age). I’ll write more about the class in my soon-to-come Tour de Spin post. In the meantime, check out Danielle’s classes at FlyWheel.

Day 21: Bollywood Boogie with Booya Fitness

The blizzard was a bust, and with my son home from school on a snow day I thought maybe I could call it a snow day from my 100 days of classes too. Then, my conscious got the best of me when I saw that Booya Fitness was offering a Blizzard of 2015 promo code on their Facebook page. Booya Fitness promises boutique workouts without the crowd. That’s because you’re at home watching videos of the classes. They charge $10 a month or $100 a year which seems reasonable, but I’ve only committed to my free first month so far.

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After registering, I clicked on the box that said “Dance (Ethnic),” because are people seriously using the word ethnic to describe things other than what they’re used to? I had a friend in college from Kentucky who called pizza and tacos “ethnic food.” Is Zumba “ethnic?” Yoga?

(FYI, the founder of Booya Fitness is Harvard Business grad Prita Kumar, also not a name I’d feel comfortable describing as ethnic.) Turns out this “Dance (Ethnic)” workout was a 30-minute video of the Bolly X workout which is also a studio class offered on ClassPass. It’s a lot like Zumba, Bollywood style. I’ve enjoyed Zumba workouts in the past, but usually feel like the girl in the back with two left feet. So this Booya Fitness chance to practice Bollywood dancing in the privacy of my own home was especially appealing. The only problem is, I live in NYC and my neighbors can see directly into my apartment, so I had an audience anyway.

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It was a fun way to sneak in a quick workout, and maybe after I practice 3 or 4 or 10 times, I’ll be able to stand at the front of the Bolly X line-up. In the meantime, I’ll keep dancing for my neighbors.

It would have been a decent workout too, a little on the easier side (I’m not one to complain), but I walked away from the video several times to get water or check my e-mail. I didn’t hit pause. Yes, I could have paused it. But, I didn’t. That’s why I go to in-person classes: lack of willpower without the mandate to save face. On-line college classes are the same. I’ll take a C in an on-line class, no sweat. Have a professor look me in the eye though, and I’m the one sitting in front, batting my eyelashes, and turning in all the extra credit.

PROS: Don’t have to leave your house; good filtering options; fun workout

CONS: No teacher feedback or personal attention; workout was on the easy side

If you have a friend who’ll come over and do it with you, or if you are that motivated, Booya Fitness offers more than “Dance (Ethnic).” They also have Yoga (with Zander Gladish), Pilates, HIIT, bootcamps, and circuit training to name a few, and you can filter workouts by your energy level, your goal, or the equipment you have available. It certainly comes in handy on snow days. Here’s a shout out to my NYC friends: if someone wants to come over and help me give it another shot, you can pick the class.

Or for those of you who are a little more adventurous, I’d also like to try this new Reggae/Dancehall fitness class: Brukwine.

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Day 18: A New Fav, BFX Studio!

Continuing my quest to visit every indoor cycling studio in Manhattan, I finally made it to BFX Studio in Chelsea. I woke up feeling slow after cocktails at another new fav, STATE Bar and Grill last night, but I pulled myself together and made it out the door by 8:15 AM to make the 9 AM class I’d reserved on ClassPass. (Must avoid racking up anymore of those $20 no-show fees!) Feeling quite proud of myself for my early departure and the will to brave both snow and rain, I soon found myself staring at the subway tunnel walls. News flash: incessantly checking the time on your phone does not cause the train to start moving.

I arrived2014_07_bfx-techs at 9:05, and the girls behind the front desk said they’d let me in, if I went in right away. But I really had to pee (nor did I feel like rushing). I explained my ClassPass plight and asked if there was anyway I could take a later class instead.  The smiling girl politely informed me that Class Pass was very nice in these situations, and she was sure I could call them and work something out.

Crestfallen at the thought of a phone call and no class for the day, I was quickly rescued by the studio’s manager who came over to help me figure something out. After perusing their schedule, I was able to find a spot in Juan’s 11:00 FusionRide and Build class. I am a changed woman.

Prior to today, I’ve been wondering why anyone would pay upwards of $500 a month for an indoor cycling studio or any type of boutique studio membership, only to be locked into that one studio when you can get ClassPass for $99 a month and go to several different studios. I know a community factor comes into play. On ClassPass you’re roaming rogue (which you can also do by purchasing packs of classes at various studios). But if you join a studio, you get to know the people there, feel part of the tribe, and have the added benefit of accountability for your fitness goals. I’m kinda into anonymity myself, which may be why I’ve stayed in NYC after growing up in a small town. However, after today I saw the appeal of joining. Well, joining BFX Studio anyway.

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BFX stands for Boutique Fitness Experience, and they fit the bill. Not only is the space exquisite– open, bright, they also offer a lot more than just indoor cycling classes including Barre, Pilates, HIIT-style conditioning classes, and personal training sessions. And, if you’re into metrics, they go the extra mile. While waiting for my class, I got a Fit3D body scan which collected 450 body-circumference measurements in 30 seconds. I’ll be going back to take a strength and endurance test as well. In addition to offering members an initial consultation where you are assessed and set goals, (which I’ve done at every traditional gym I’ve joined and then never referenced again), they have MyZone tracking belts that you can strap on during workouts on or off site. The workouts then get uploaded to their system so that you can track accurate data like heart rate and effort.

So that leads me back BFX-2to the mebfxclasstrics debate. From my rides in various classes, I’ve really enjoyed being able to let go and forget about the numbers at places like Cyc and another new studio I found on the UES called Crank Cycling Studios (look for classes with Amina who was top-notch). Non-metrics style classes depend on stellar instructors and carefully chosen music whereas riding with metrics often leaves me checking my watch along with my RPMs. Focusing on numbers is boring. And how the hell does the FlyWheel bike know how many calories I’ve burned when it doesn’t know how much I weigh or whether I’m a man or a woman?

But at BFX, they seem to look at numbers as a part of the whole picture, and they only offer you numbers if the ones they can give you are accurate. In the 30-minute ride I took as a part of my FusionRide and Build class, we were asked to look at RPMs and our effort number, and the instructor provided a nice balance of suggested specific-RPM numbers and general calls to increase our individual effort numbers. Hungover though I was, I pushed myself as hard as I could. The music was decent, but not terribly inspiring. The instructor was inspiring, and unlike the instructors at Barry’s Bootcamp, he managed to watch and correct our form during the Build portion of the class. (I’m sure the instructors at Barry’s are great, but the layout of the studio and number of people in each class there make it impossible for them to keep an eye on everyone.) I felt equally challenged, but much safer.

BFX has also convinced me that a studio that doesn’t provide you with cycling shoes can be worth it. One of my favorite things about picking classes is picking them based on how little stuff I’ll have to tote along with me after work and before meeting up with friends. BFX makes an it’s-more-safe-and-sanitary claim for not having having cycling shoes, and the cages on their bikes felt very secure. At least I don’t have to lug my own lock. They have the built-in lock lockers, plenty of them, and all those little goodies the best studios seem to have now, like complimentary hair ties, bobby pins, and mints. Needless to say, I’m sure I’ll be back for another class at BFX Studio soon.

img_0176PROS: Great class selection; accurate metrics; super friendly staff; amazing space with plenty of amenities, lots of personalized attention.

CONS: I wasn’t able to buy a pair of socks because they’re computer system was a little messed up. Maybe they’re still working out some kinks, but I wouldn’t hold that against them. Would be super expensive without ClassPass; have to bring your own shoes.

The Not-a-class Class: Yabla for Language Learning

My shin splints are on the mend thanks to ice, Arnica cream, and the couch. And while that ice is icing, I can take an on-line language learning class with Yabla. It’s not actually a class though. In fact if you’re a total beginner or someone looking for a traditional grammar-centered approach, it’s probably not what you’re looking for. Those of you who know me personally might think this is a shameless plug (I will admit I’m a friend of the founder). Think what you will, I use this website and count it as a class on the days that my body needs a rest from working out and/or something happens, like I get to class and realize that I forgot my sneakers. (This might have happened today. Yet another reason why classes in which you don’t need shoes– Yoga and Pilates or studios that provide you with shoes for indoor cycling are on my list of favs.)

fr_screenshot_enYabla is an on-line collection of videos with captions in the language you’re learning with an English translation (both of which can be hidden if you want). Its most helpful feature is the slow player which allows you to hear the audio clearly. Video segments are 3-5 minutes long so you can practice even when you only have a few free minutes. There are interviews, news shows, dramas, documentaries, and music from various Spanish speaking countries, all with authentic, native speakers. You can also play a listening game that tracks your points as well as review flashcards that are personally chosen for you based on words you’ve clicked on or looked up.

I first started using it as a beginner before I went on a trip to Spain 10 years ago. The music videos (especially the ones that had repetitive lyrics or Juanes) were my favorites. Yabla paired with a beginner’s book for learning Spanish had me on my way to a basic conversation. I’ve since taken several classroom classes and then private lessons while I lived in Argentina. Now that I’m more conversant, I still use Yabla Spanish to practice because it’s a fun way to improve my vocabulary and catch up on current events and music. I’m also now starting to use Yabla French in hopes of a trip to Paris, although I’d settle for Montreal too. I tried out a site called The Mimic Method for French which was amazing for learning pronunciation, especially since French spelling is so whacky.

Yabla (which comes in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Mandarin flavors) will run you about $10 a month or $100 a year, but with more and more research pointing out the benefits of learning a language (here’s on of my favorites) besides not looking like a stupid American when you travel, it seems worth it to me. It’s also a lot more fun than some of the free sites out there like DuoLingo which makes me feel like a grade school kid earning stars and getting nowhere fast, and it’s way less expensive than something like Rosetta Stone that makes impossible promises about language learning. The bottom line is that learning a language as an adult is REALLY, REALLY hard. The only real way to learn is to go total immersion. You might as well have fun and get to watch some cool videos on Yabla which is pretty close to immersion, in the meantime.

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Day 15: Back and Forth at Row House

With my shin splints in full bloom on day 10 of my challenge, I decided to opt out of EVF and Barry’s Bootcamp and attempt an indoor rowing class at EVF’s sister studio, Row House, located in the same building. I’ve always liked the rowing machine. That’s probabrowhouse11ly because I’ve never done it for more than 5-10 minutes in all of my gym wandering. A 50-minute class was a bit more intense, and it turns out my form was all wrong before.

I attended the Full Body class (they also offer Core, Endurance, and Express classes), and between sets of power bursts on the rower, we did bootcamp-style exercises like push-ups, squats, burpees, and weight work. The class is reminiscent of an indoor cycling classes in that the instructor starts you off with an explanation of proper form and technique, leads you through a warm-up, and then has students sprint to faster music in intervals.

I found it a great balance of cardio and strength, and it challenged me without bothering my shins. I did take issue with a couple of things though. I wasn’t always sure I was doing the conditioning exercises correctly, and in some cases I wanted a modification, but the teacher (who was very nice), didn’t do much technique correcting. I was also a little miffed that she would often call out that we were “lookin’ good” while she was looking at her watch. The music was meh, and the transition between songs was often choppy. That said, we all have our lackluster days. So I’m heading back today, DAY 15 to give it another go, or should I say row.

13493053095_2ef5db44c4_zPROS: Good total body workout that’s not hard on knees or shins; nice space; friendly staff

CONS: Teacher was great at explaining moves, but didn’t do a lot of correcting or modification; music was so-so; they need more bathrooms and showers are located in the bathrooms of which there are only two.

Spacing Out

headspace_meditation_app_image2Being the kind of person who’s often on the go, mind a-buzz with things that must get done, scrolling through my phone as I wait for the subway, or wait for anything, I realize that I’m not so good at stillness. Listening to this recent NPR piece about how our minds need time to be bored and wander, I was reminded once again that in order to keep myself from spacing out when I need to be focused, I can space out on purpose with Headspace.

I’ve been using Headspace for about 6 months (both the app and website), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that with just 10-20 minutes of guided meditation, I can feel a huge difference in my anxiety levels and focus.

andy headspaceFounded by the British former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe, Headspace takes the new-agey, hard-to-grasp idea of “Meditation” with a capital M to a more accessible, tech-friendly, everyday place. Andy uses simple, bubbly cartoon videos to illustrate metaphors for how to shift our attention. For example, in one he compares our thoughts to traffic on the road and suggests that rather than chase after the cars or ride along with them, we could sit on the side of the road and watch them. These metaphors along with his no-pressure approach and soothing voice help ease the listener to shift perspective. Almost like magic some space is created between our attention and our thoughts: headspace!

I try to get some headspace everyday, but it actually happens 2-3 days a week, and on those days that I can’t make it to a class, I try to spend some extra time with my Headspace app. There are even some exercises you can do while commuting (not driving!), walking, running, or eating. There are also 3-minute S.O.S meditations that are perfect for when you’re about to blow your top. As I get older, and especially as a parent with less and less time to myself, I am embracing the chances I get to space out, to exercise my mind as well as my body.

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