Surf’s Up @ SurfSET (and I’ve got a Secret)

In honor of the new Point Break movie (at least the original was awesome), I trekked to the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers  to try the SurfSET class that you can book through either ClassPass or FitReserve even if you aren’t a member of the gym. (And by the way, considering all the amenities including the giant pool, indoor track, super-spacious locker room, and a full class menu, at less than $200 a month, it’s not a bad deal. The trick is getting there.)

It was a humbling experience. Coming off my runner’s high from Mile High Run Club and feeling the burn of total body training at Exceed, I thought for sure a silly surfing-style class would be a breeze. But just standing without wobbling was a challenge!

 

The perky, but tough teacher, Diana, had to hold my hand at one point so I could keep my balance as I attempted lunges on a surfboard that was attached to unstable inflated balls. In a 45-minute class she had us alternate between intensive cardio, strength and balance intervals. There were a lot of what she called wave runners that were basically plank mountain climbers on the unstable surf board.

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In addition, we did squats half-on and half off the board, pretended to kick sharks in a Pilates-esque move, and went from face-down “paddling” to a wide-stance squat in mock stand-up for a wave on the board. I’m sure it’s not sufficient training for the real thing, but it was a decent workout with lots of core work. And more importantly it was novel and FUN!

It’s good to feel humble once in a while, and to challenge your muscles (and balance) in new ways. In fact this takes the whole core stability trend to a peak. Rather than feeling silly on a balance board or Bosu, why not feel even sillier pretending to be a surfer dude for the day?

I wouldn’t make this my main fitness source (not enough cardio and no extra weights, although we did use bands), but I’ll definitely be back. Plus, and I’m hesitant to write this for fear of them cracking down, but here’s the secret: after class I hung out at the Sports Center checking out the indoor track and enjoying the sauna in the locker room. I could easily spend the afternoon there and stop by the cafe for some post-workout sushi and smoothies on the way out.

SurfSET at Chelsea Piers

PROS: Awesome space including the giant locker rooms with plush showers and towels (bring your own lock); great teacher; fun and different; no shoes needed.

CONS: Location (a pier is by nature not centrally located); not the most efficient workout if you’re looking for total body plus cardio, but tougher than your average Pilates class and I haven’t graduated to the advanced classes yet, so who knows!

Learning from the Heart at OrangeTheory Fitness

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I did not want to like OrangeTheory Fitness. On a brief visit home to Tallahassee where my ClassPass membership is meaningless, I decided to give it a try for the sake of the blog. The reason I didn’t want to like it is that it’s a chain, a nationwide franchise, and in Tallahassee they’re located right across the street from one of my favorite locally-owned studios, Sweat Therapy.

But my body hasn’t felt this way in a while. Totally spent. Like I really pushed myself to places I didn’t think I could go. The set up is a lot like Barry’s Bootcamp, but they also have rowing machines, and the most important feature, you wear a hear rate monitor. I’ve seen these at BFX, and even wore one at Drill Fitness, but this was the first time I was sold on their true value.

In the past, at Barry’s I’ve been hesitant to try the big numbers the teacher calls out, convinced that my body can’t handle them and I might go flying off the machine. I’m a max-out-at-6.0mph kinda girl. Or I used to be. Tomorrow will be day 50 of my 100 days, and despite my body shape (or at least my body image) not changing a whole lot, I’m definitley MUCH more fit than when I started. Feeling strong is the best high. Wearing the heart rate monitor today helped me realize how strong I am.

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At OrangeTheory Fitness (soon to open a Chelsea studio in NYC), like at Barry’s, you move from intervals on the treadmill to strength training floor work. Unlike at Barry’s, the workouts are a little more varied (sometimes you’ll only be on the treadmill for 5-minute stints, and other times for longer). Also, your name is on the big screen with a bunch of numbers, the most prominent of which is your heart rate. It’s highlighted in a color that corresponds to your ideal and maximum heart rates (which are calculated based on your gender, age, and weight). I can’t remember the exact breakdowns they tell you are ideal, and I liked the fact that the teacher told us to just ignore them if they were distracting us. The idea is to be in the Green zone (fat-burning) for part of the time and in the Orange zone (84% or higher of your max heart rate) for part of the time. According to the people at OrangeTheory, by getting that time in the Orange zone you will experience Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC. This means you’ll have an increased metabolic rate even after you stop working out.

I’m looking forward to that, and can actually feel it. Even more importantly though, looking at my heart rate numbers taught me more about myself. I actually had to go a lot faster than I thought I could to get to the orange zone, like 8.0-8.2 without an incline. I also learned that inclines are the killers for me. I had to slow way down when the incline was 5.0 or higher. Plus, I saw that I had a pretty quick recovery rate and my starting heart rate was pretty low which means I’m fit!

This kind of workout also means you CANNOT CHEAT or fake it! Which I’m often tempted to do in spinning class. Sigh. It means that even as I get fit, I can keep my workout challenging by pushing myself to the zone every time. So, as much as I hate the idea of a franchise beating out the local guy, this was a fantastic workout. Now, let’s see if they’ll be on ClassPass once they open in NYC!

ORANGETHEORY FITNESS (nationwide locations)

PROS:

Heart rate tracked by monitors shown on a video screen; progress tracked and sent to you via e-mail; clean space; efficient total-body workout; great instructors and class sizes small enough for them to help you with your form.

CONS: 

Not as many amemities as at some studios I’ve seen– the location I went to had limited locker/cubby space and only two showers; pricey.

Sweating Barry

Feeling especially overwhelmed this week (hence the dearth of new posts), I was just given the gift of a couple of free hours. I tried to schedule a last-minute class on ClassPass, but that is proving harder as more and more people join ClassPass. I’m convinced that there are people who sit by their computers everyday at noon just to book a coveted spot at Exceed or Barry’s.barrys

And speaking of Barry, even though I think of him as a boyfriend who tosses my heart around, I can’t give him up. I took a class at Barry’s Bootcamp Chelsea on Monday. I was still often totally unsure whether or not I was doing the floor work correctly, and frankly, didn’t feel like I was fit enough to enter the room. I sheepishly watched girls who were cut like boxers change into high-fashion workout wear in the locker room while asking each other if they were staying for the next class too. Two classes in a row? But then I hit a new high speed on the treadmill. 8.0! Yes! I felt like a speed demon until I saw the girl next to me reach 11.2. It’s like one of those unhealthy relationships with a super-hot narcissist who’s really good in bed. Oh Barry, I want to impress you, to feel the pain and the rush I get from being near you, yet I probably deserve a little better.

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I don’t mean to diss Barry’s, but it does bother me that the instructors have so many students to watch at once, and that some of the people at the front desk are rude in that I-don’t-need-you-as-much-as-you-need-me kind of way. In fact, I left my FitBit in the shower after class, and when I called to ask if they could hold it for me, the guy who answered the phone completely brushed me off saying I’d have to come in and check with the maintenance crew. Dreading a cab ride back downtown to Barry’s after work, I called again and a young woman with a soul answered. She found my FitBit and held it for me at the front desk.

When I went to retrieve my FitBit, I felt the pull to get back in that room and be able to lift that next level of weights and reach the numbers on the treadmill that the instructor will shout at me. I cannot stop seeing Barry. Much better boyfriend material though, would be BFX.

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Yesterday I took the BFX Burn class with Derek, and is was an equally challenging workout. But I got attention to my form by not one, but two instructors. I even felt a bit pampered. The plush new mats, the spotless new-ness of everything from the floors to the coat rack, and the sticky sweet smiles of every employee. I should totally like them better than Barry’s. They were nicer to me, their locker rooms allow me to open the door without hitting someone else, and they’re so high tech. I do, I like them. But is it possible for a studio to be too perfect?

ClassPass really is like dating. I’m starting to get that feeling that settling down instead of playing the field would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve found the perfect place yet. The place that gets to know me, supports me, but also gives me space to lay low and not feel self-conscious. For now, I’ll keep fishing around.

On that note, just got an e-mail from ClassPass that members can now use Crunch Gym and go to their classes! Woot! Tomorrow I’m giving FlyBarre a second date. Despite all the raves (even from those super fit double-day class go-ers) I’m not sold on the Barre idea yet. But everyone deserves a second chance.

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.

BRICK

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

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.