Personal Excellence: The P.E. Club

I’m not at all sure what the P or the E in The P.E. Club really stand for (if not the traditional Physical Education), but this boutique fitness studio does offer an excellent and personal workout, so that’s my best guess. I was impressed as soon as I walked in the door.

Picture the scene: a pristine Upper East Side boutique studio space, waxed wood floors, cream walls, shiny chrome equipment. In walks a model-esque trainer with not a hair out of place wearing the hottest new sports bra trend, the string-back (seriously, I’m seeing these everywhere I go all of a sudden), an open-backed top, and floral sneakers. (Yes, I wanted to hate her for being beautiful, but she was welcoming, friendly, and almost hugg-abble. It was impossible not to love her because on top of all that, she knew what she was doing.)

Through the walls of the bathroom, where I stood in front of the mirror trying to tie back my greasy, unwashed locks and adjust my Hello Kitty t-shirt to hide a small hole in my thinning Old Navy leggings, I overheard comments about someone rocking some shiny green spandex leggings, and how so-and-so was looking great today. “Lo-ove that outfit!” Suddenly I realized it was the kind of place that people dressed for.

Even though I felt a bit self-conscious and out of place in the land of the too-rich-to-be-doing-anything-but-working-out-everyday a.k.a. the Upper East Side, the instructor, Nedra Lopez, put me right at ease in the TRX workout room. And truthfully, so did the smiles of my seven classmates.

PE-ClubThe class was “TRX Xtreme Total Body,” and I’d been curious to give it a try when I realized how quickly the class books up. I’ve been spoiled with FitReserve, being able to constantly book almost any class I want at the last minute. But this class fills up faster than most because it’s very small and personalized. Only 8 students per class.

Everything about the class was deliberate and well-planned. We started with dynamic warm-up stretching, hit all our major muscle groups, and finished with static stretching. It was a full 50 minutes of purposeful strength training. Nedra not only walked around to gently correct our form as we squatted and planked, but she also continually reminded us how each part of our body was connected to every movement. She actually helped me understand what it looks and feels like to “keep your shoulders down and away from your ears,” something I hear trainers say all the time, but never fully understood until Nedra’s class. As a result, the day after class, I could feel the activation of small muscle groups that I don’t usually get to.

The class was challenging, and although not cardio heavy, I did sweat a lot. It activated a blend of large muscle groups that HIIT and bootcamp-style classes target, as well as the smaller muscles that Pilates and Barre classes seem to focus on, therefore increasing both muscle strength and tone. On leaving, I was sweating, but with better posture. Even though it wasn’t a cardio workout, the P.E. Club allows you to use their cardio equipment before or after class if it’s not being used by one of their personal trainers.

In short, I give this fancy place a 2 thumbs up! Even though it had the potential to be elitist and snobby, it wasn’t at all. And it managed to pull off not feeling cramped despite not having a locker room. (There are 2 bathrooms with showers and cubbies.) It really did feel personal, inviting, and all-round excellent.

The skinny:

The PE Club

Location: 238 E. 75th Street, 1st Floor New York, NY 10021

PROS: Beautiful space, personal attention, careful, deliberate and thorough workout. Challenging, but do-able, and works for beginners through athlete; fun, friendly atmosphere.

CONS: No locker room, but not really a need for one since it’s small enough to keep your belongings nearby; expensive; you might have to think about your wardrobe a little– it’s not the Monster Cycle crowd.

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Hook Up with an Ex on V-Day: Barry

Why is it so hard to resist the hook-up with the former flame that tortured you? This Valentine’s Day I found myself back at Barry’s Bootcamp, and half-way through I had that sinking feeling, like when you run into an ex and then you suddenly find yourself in his bed knowing that you will probably regret it the next day. I’m speaking hypothetically.

I used to wait longingly by my computer everyday at noon to try to book a coveted session at Barry’s Bootcamp through ClassPass. If I got in, I had to make sure I dressed as fashionably as I could (without owning one piece of Lululemon, mind you) to make up for the fact that I weigh more than 110 pounds and don’t have a six-pack. The regulars at Barry’s look they could quite literally be models and professional athletes. And when I first tried it, it was one of the best and most challenging workouts I’d ever encountered. Just like looking past a hot ex’s narcissism, I looked past Barry’s snobbish front desk crew and beau monde crowd. I reasoned that not knowing proper form on the floor lifting weights was my fault, not the trainer’s. The dark lights and smoothie bar were just so irresistible.

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I know better now. Granted, the front desk crew and trainer were quite friendly today, (they even allowed me to enter the class 5  minutes late). But, now that I know how good (and glitz-free) a similar-style workout can be because of Orange Theory Fitness, I could really see all the cracks in Barry’s bronze.

First, they keep it waaay too hot in the workout room! I had to leave at one point to get some air. They must do it so that you feel like you are breaking a sweat fast, but sprinting uphill on a treadmill and increasing every minute by 2 mph doesn’t feel so great in a sauna. Also, it’s cramped on the weight floor. I accidentally kicked someone in the head today. And there is very little explanation or correction of form. There’s just too many people in one room for the instructor to possibly watch what you’re doing. I didn’t feel safe.

I think I may have finally learned my lesson. I will no longer be lured in by the possibility of fitting in with the fit crowd and busting my butt for Barry….except…. they do offer weekend afternoon classes, and well, the smoothie bar. And it’s really convenient to book there now that I have FitReserve. Sigh. As long as I go in knowing what to expect, right?

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TrampoLEAN will make you Jump! Jump!

I wanted to title this post, “Girls on Trampolines,” as a cheap way to get more views, but when I googled it, I was too creeped out. And staring at myself in the mirror as I jumped on command at my strangely fun TrampoLEAN class, I realized that when you are almost 40 and wearing a sports bra, the bouncing flesh is in places that aren’t all that sexy.

But there’s something about jumping, like dancing, that just naturally makes you smile. It feels good to jump. And it took me back to being a kid and sneaking into my mom’s room to jump on the bed. As silly (and humbled) as I felt watching myself do jump squats on a trampoline, I kind of wanted to buy a trampoline after class so I could jump on it everyday.

My TrampoLEAN class took place at a room in the multi-studio venue, DANY studios in Midtown West, and was taught by CEO and founder, Louis Coraggio. It was a small class for a Saturday morning, and the energy-level in the room felt a bit low, or perhaps we were all just self-conscious. Something I’ve noticed since having my own kid is that it’s hard for adults to be silly and playful without alcohol involved, and trampolines by nature are kind of silly. It may have been helpful to address that directly so we could all loosen up a bit.

The workout itself was just as challenging as it was awkward. Within in the first 20 second of a light bouncing I could feel my calf muscles engage in ways they weren’t used to. I found the “knee tuck” jumping (pictured below) especially challenging as it made me feel like I might fall flat on my face at any moment. But by the end of class, it was easier, and I was going higher while flapping my arms like a bird, a move Coraggio aptly calls, “fly like a bird.” I guess that’s what it is about jumping: for just a few seconds you are suspended in the air as though you’re flying.

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We also did a good bit of core and glute work using bands and light weights. The tunes were fun too. In fact my favorite part of the class was when we did some twisty jumping while beating on air drums to a Caribbean-style drum sequence. I much preferred that to getting down on all fours and doing donkey kicks with the bands in true Jane Fonda fashion. This class works more of your small muscles than a bootcamp with heavy weights does, but don’t worry, you’ll get your fair share of jump squats.

I’ll be honest, when I first started the class I had thoughts of sneaking out and not returning. I just felt like a clumsy fool with jiggling arm fat. But, you gotta get past that. Now, I actually want to go back and try it again. Maybe next time the instructor could help us laugh and embrace the silly joy of jumping.

I booked my class through my FitReserve membership (and if you’re interesting in joining FitReserve too, feel free to use my discount code: https://www.fitreserve.com/r/15affd93). You can get your jump on too at:

TrampoLEAN

Location: DANY Studios, 305 W. 38th Street, 3rd Floor (buzz in)

PROS: Fun, unique workout; cardio and toning; no shoes required; DANY studios has a locker room or you can bring your stuff to the classroom; no prior trampoline experience needed; fun music.

CONS: You will be watching all your fleshy parts bounce in the mirror; energy level of the room/teacher felt a little low, but I’d give them a second chance; bring your own lock for the locker room; no water fountain so bring your own water bottle.

Why Fitness Should NOT be your New Year’s Resolution

I just saw this hilarious self-parody video of “All About That Bass” featuring James Corden, and I cannot stop watching it:

I love New Years and all the hope of fresh starts and checking off goals like getting fit, writing my will, and being nicer to my partner in the mornings. But, it’s true: we all feel like crap when we break the resolution, and then we just give up.

That’s why fitness really can’t be a New Years Resolution for me. Blogging about it is. But I’m gonna do what I can and see from there. Exercise has to be a part of my life, and so I work it in however I can. And find ways to make it FUN! Like trying whacky new classes, catching up with a friend by ice skating instead of over drinks, and doing the 7-minute workout app while I binge watch Making a Murderer.

It’s not about body image (not as much as it was in my 20’s anyway) or losing weight as much as it is about coping with my anxiety and upping my happiness quotient. It really is about health and sanity for me, and the more you think of it that way, the more likely you are to stick with it.

Revolution in Motion: Balancing Barefoot with Bosu

One Yelp reviewer describes this place as “weird and amazing!” I’d have to agree. Good weird, but definitely different than anything I’ve ever done. For instance, I’ve never played hot potato/catch-it-fast using two soft weighted balls (like these) while balancing on one bare foot atop a slant board. That is until I found myself on the 10th floor of an office building in the Garment District at Revolution in Motion.

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It was kind of genius. I was thinking fast, using my core, improving my balance, and laughing all at once. We also did all kinds of other challenging and unique movements using physioballs (those giant, inflated, bouncy ones), and Bosu balls (think half of one of those giant inflated balls).

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In the picture above, it looks easy, but that was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Thankfully, my instructor, Alex, helped me get stable and guided me toward using my core to balance and gain control. Alex was a bastion of calm and strength and smiling encouragement.

Founded by Dr. Edyth Heus, Revolution in Motion (Rev In Mo) is a program of carefully sequenced movements designed to enhance how the nervous and musculoskeletal systems work together. Another cool health and fitness blog describes Rev In Mo as a program that, “empowers you to reach your highest level faster, safer, longer than any method available.” Maybe that’s why the cast of Superman and several Yankees players have trained there.

I definitely felt sharper, more limber and graceful after leaving. I was really surprised by my state of mental clarity actually. It helped me realize the level of scatter-brained fog that I’m usually walking around in. I think it would also be a great alternative to Yoga once or twice a week or a complementary workout for those super-yogis out there if you didn’t want to commit to the system in its entirety.

I did the Power Play class, but next time I head back I’m gonna try the Slip and Slide which looks like a blast. And maybe I’ll be brave enough to try their soon-to-come 5-class Sexual Fitness series.

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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.

Another ClassPass Competitor: Move USA

One of the most fun parts of my post-workout has become chatting with other studio go-ers about ClassPass. It’s how I find out about the most popular workouts, and hopefully about some awesome workouts that are less popular so there’s more of a chance I can book one. I’m a HUGE fan of ClassPass, but as their membership increases, it’s getting harder and harder to book coveted spots at places like Barry’s Bootcamp or Exceed (which I still haven’t tried). I now have an alarm set on my phone to go off everyday just before noon in hopes of booking one of those spots. It’s why more ClassPass competitors are cropping up, like FitReserve which promises you can book seats more easily and offers discounts on things like massage and nutrition services.

Talking with fellow yogis at NY Loves Yoga the other day, I learned of a new interesting competitor: MoveUSA. Looks like they offer quite a few studios in NYC as well as in other major cities (including some international locations). Like FitReserve, their homepage says that members get discounts on complementary acitivities like massage, but I found it hard to get more information about that, and in general found their website a little confusing and cumbersome. They have 4 major price plans (some less than and some more than ClassPass’s simple $99/month rate), and then it also looks like there are other “premium” studios for which they charge an additional $10 per class.

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One thing that seems cool about them is that they have a few more “open gym” partnerships, like with the JCC on the Upper West Side which also includes access to their swimming pool. That’s something I’ve been missing with ClassPass— swim access, but access to NYC pools is fairly cheap through NYParks and Rec. MoveUSA has partnerships with many of the same gyms as ClassPass including Barry’s and Exceed, but not some of my other favorites like BFX, Brick, and Exhale Spa.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 12.43.34 PMBecause of that, I’m still choosing ClassPass over MoveUSA or FitReserve. However, if I can’t get to Barry’s at least a couple times a month, I may consider switching to FitReserve (cause I’d really like to check out Clay Helath Club) or buying a class package directly at a couple of studios.

Any readers want to share their experiences with either MoveUSA or FitReserve?