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My First Time: Cycle House

It always makes me feel old when I describe a restaurant or bar as “You know, the place that used to be [insert restaurant that was the place to be for six months and then it died but the new place at which we’re about to totally overpay for drinks and mediocre food totally won’t follow that same path.]”  Especially when I have to insert cringe-worthy names like “Privilege,” “Area-then-Industry” or “Guys?  Guys and Dolls…I don’t remember: the one we typically walked by on our way to stuffing our face at Dominick’s.”

Interestingly enough, however, my first time having to do this for a gym just made me feel really athletic.

In what used to be the uber-run down cycling studio at Train, the brand spanking new Cycle House has emerged.  And no, this is not just a fresh coat of paint, new sign, call it a day takeover: this is a full renovation into a completely new studio.

The place is beautiful.  From the shoes, to the bikes, to the decor - everything is brand new, and they spared no expenses in making it a luxury fitness destination.  If you are using the studio’s shoes - as I did - they are waiting for you at your reserved bike when you arrive with a fresh towel.  It’s those details that really add to the experience.

The class is 45 minutes, and starts off with a statement from the instructor that makes me realize I’ve probably been spinning wrong for years: In order to get the workout benefit of riding along a FLAT road, the resistance pads need to at least be touching the wheel.  Not a hill…a flat road.  Take a look the next time you’re spinning…just touching the wheel is more resistance than you would expect.

There is nowhere to hide, as my fitness friend Lauren has us in the front row center (bless her, probably for the best).  That means that every time the instructor has us turn the resistance up, I’m turning it up - and no sneaking any decrease resistance turns.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: spinning, when you’re really following the “turn the resistance up” commands from the instructor, is the most intense workout there is.

The 45-minute spin is mostly out of the saddle, a lot of hills, and just a few sprints toward the end.  The music is well-suited for the ride, and can best be described as the playlist your hip, music-aficionado friend would make for you knowing you like pop music, but hoping you can appreciate some more quality jams in there.  In addition to a mix of hills and some runs, we do five minutes of light (2lb) weights, but that really serve to fatigue the arms for some decent toning.

Between the music and the variation on challenges, the class really flies by and I’m surprised when it’s over.


I will say one thing:  the whole look, feel and routine is a little - shall we say - derived from SoulCycle. The lighting, the motivational signs, the light weight workout at exactly the same time it’s done at Soul Cycle, the instructor-turned-DJ running a playlist of a laptop in the front - everything right down to the LED candles around the instructor platform screams “We’re not messing with a formula that works.”  As I have no monetary investment in SoulCycle, I’m fine with this.

The first class is discounted 50%, which makes trying it totally worthwhile.  The prices, however, were also ripped off from Soul Cycle - as in super ‘spensive. The 45 minute classes start at $26, and go down to $22.60 if you purchase 25 of them.  Granted, this is all inclusive of the shoes, the parking, towel service…but the pricing is the one thing I miss from Train.

The rusty bikes, not so much.

The deets:

Cycle House

624 North La Cienega Blvd

West Hollywood

(310) 358-0888

http://www.cyclehousela.com

The instructor: Jason

Key Takeaways: If you like SoulCycle, you’ll like Cycle House, if you don’t like the SoulCycle prices, you won’t like Cycle House prices

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My First Time: Antigravity Wings Yoga

               

If I learned anything from Antigravity Wings Yoga, it is that the bathroom floors at Crunch fitness are very nice, and impeccably kept up.

Let me rewind for a moment to the night before this ridiculous exercise.  I may have had a few glasses of champagne while out celebrating…life.  Not enough to cause college-style hangover puking, but certainly enough to have me dragging a little on the way to the gym.  What happens next could be construed as partially my fault.  Ten percent at the most.

And we’re back.

A few weeks back, I saw an ad for ‘Antigravity Yoga,” which essentially looked like doing yoga while suspended in mid air by a silk hammock.  Being that this was the most ridiculous looking exercise I had seen in…ever, I had to try it.  Being that it was all the way in the South Bay, it wasn’t looking likely.  I then, however, found that the same class was offered at the Mecca of group fitness classes in my area: Crunch Fitness.

I’ve been off gyms for a few years, because mine was not the greatest, and I don’t have a house to mortgage in order to join Equinox.  Crunch has been on my radar for awhile, because the number and variety of group classes they offer is phenomenal, and it’s less than half the price of Equinox.  This was the perfect time to try their free week trial, and Gravity Free Yoga.

I grab my most fitness fearless gal pal Amanda, and head to Crunch early for an obligatory orientation and tour.  I’m super impressed by the spinning studio and amount of group fitness classes, though less impressed that the in-house reformer Pilates is not included in membership.  According to our tour guide, we should really act now, because prices are going up in 3 days.  I’ll hear a similar pitch in the e-mails and texts that come in in the weeks that follow - only with lower prices and tighter deadlines.  First lesson: don’t put your cell phone on the information sheet.

We enter the yoga studio, and take seats in the back.  We are then moved up to the front, because the back spaces are at risk of swinging into the back wall.  Oh good: immediate injury risks!  After the silk hammocks are set up, we get in them and just sort of hang for a few minutes.

I feel weird.  It’s going to get weirder.

We then go through some standard yoga poses - such as Warrior 1 and 2, half lotus tree pose, standing big toe pose, and crow pose…but with some or all of our bodies in that silk sling.  The more we go along, the less the poses resemble anything having to do with yoga, and more girl wrestles hammock in the ultimate battle for least graceful.  There may be people in the class really feeling a benefit, but the gimmicky hammock does more to throw off my pose than to alleviate the usual pressure of gravity.  Also - it’s typically the gravity that’s helping with the strength aspect - so that’s been cut down greatly.

Second lesson of the day: in Gravity Free Yoga, fear is your enemy.  After a series of twisting the fabric of the hammock around arms or ankles, we’re told to just flip upside down and the hammock will hold us.  I have zero interest in doing this, and negative a million interest in doing this for the first time without a spotter, but I’m getting called out by the instructor on the other side of the room.  I believe I yell “I HATE THIS” as I’m flipping over, which I imagine disrupts the relaxation the other hanging butterflies are feeling.  Sorry. But I do.

Maybe I just don’t like the feeling of hanging upside down with no clue as to how to get back up. But this is when I decide that I truly, truly do not like this exercise.  I keep it up though, through some more stretching and lunging and upside down hanging that I struggle to keep up with, and make it to the very end.

And that’s when it happens.

As a first time student, swinging around - sometimes upside down - in the hammock causes some dizziness and nausea (confirmed with other first time students in that class).  In the final “inversion” (read: hanging upside down by my ankles in another terrifying pose), the instructor swings me around in a circle to show me how fun this class is.  This immediately sets me over the edge of definitely going to vomit now.

So I do.  Luckily, it’s not immediate, as I spend the final meditation curled up in the fetal position on my mat (all the other butterflies are curling back up and swinging from their cocoons).  After I manage to wipe the nausea sweat off and slink out of class doubled over, I do completely unload that morning’s Jamba Juice in the (very clean) Crunch toilets.

So - Anti-Gravity Yoga: not for me. In addition to the nausea, it just wasn’t challenging (other than in the technical aspect).  I did get that weight loss benefit from post-yoga vomiting, but I’d like to think that is not what they’re going for.  Maybe it gets better over time, but I am not going to find out. 

And, come on, Crunch.  On my way out, I told you that I threw up.  Does that sound like someone who is going to join the gym (I can’t even drive past it without flashbacks, illness and shame). Cut Your Losses, right?  Wrong.  Not only have I received e-mails, but texts!  More than one! Cell phones are sacred.  A line in promotion has been crossed.

The deets:

Antigravity Wings Yoga at Crunch Fitness

8000 Sunset Blvd - Los Angeles

(323) 654-4550

www.crunch.com

Key Takeaways: No champagne before, not for weak stomachs, another fitness gimmick.


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My First Time: Swerve Studio Vinyasa Flow

You know what does a number on your body?  Running a half marathon at 5 AM…and then spending the rest of the day at Disneyland.  I truly can’t tell which destroyed my body more, but that back to back body breaking action on Sunday had me down for the count on Monday and Tuesday, and ready for some yoga on Wednesday.


Enter Swerve Studio.  I previously reviewed their signature class - Yoga Booty Ballet - and found it fun, but very soft.  After aforementioned weekend, I was down with some sort of soft workout, so off to Swerve I go.

I bring along the boyfriend, who you might remember from the Pop Physique incident of 2012 (yes, dear, pink weights ARE heavy).  He experienced the same running/Disney mashup on Sunday, and is similarly ready to stretch.  So ready to stretch that he could be seen doing downward dog at the hotel bar days earlier.  We are both relatively-novice when it comes to yoga, and he, in particular, is about as flexible as the GOP (what up political zinger!?).

Swerve offers a 12:30 Vinyasa Flow community class, which is $10 instead of the regular class price of $18.  Love it.

Being an Unemployed Angeleno, I’ve hit my fair share of midday workout classes.  They are generally surprisingly full, especially if they are offered at a discount.  Not the case with this particular class: it is just the two of us.  For a mere $10/each, we get a private yoga lesson.  You just don’t find deals like that on Groupon.

The instructor, Susannah, is very attentive, and doesn’t have that “Yoga is so serious you better be thinking about world peace the whole time” attitude that makes me so uncomfortable with some other instructors.  Sure, yoga is for the soul, but I’m primarily into it for the physical benefits.  I would much rather have an instructor discussing the nuts and bolts of a pose than leading the group in a chant.  But that’s just me.

We focus on breathing at the beginning of the class, but it is not heavily guided through the rest of class.  Instead, form and pose correction are paramount.  The more I practice yoga, the more I realize that seemingly simple poses like upward and downward dog, in fact, have a whole lot of nuances to them that change the whole workout.  With this in mind, this class’s attentive correction will benefit future yoga practice.

Being that we are, again, the only two people in the class - we get a lot of personal attention, but not so much that it seems overboard.  She focuses on the safety of the more advanced moves, which my finicky shoulder and tight hamstring muscles are grateful for. 

Although the class doesn’t have a designated level, I would rate it at early intermediate (I am making up levels now).  We ran through most of the same poses as an intermediate/advanced class, but held the poses for less time - fatigue didn’t set in until toward the end of class.  The sweat factor was moderate.  I’m sure if the two of us had been stumbling over ourselves, or (less likely) jumping into headstands, the class would have been adjusted accordingly.

The majority of the class is set to Bon Iver - which is a total win in my mind.  I leave the class uber-relaxed, with the pain of Disneyland almost faded.  Almost.

The Deets:

Vinyasa Flow Yoga at Swerve Studio

8250 West 3rd Street, #205

Los Angeles

http://www.swervestudio.com 

The Instructor: Susannah Hall


Key takeaways: Yoga mats/blankets/blocks all provided, towel service available, allot time to find street parking, small mid-day class size, not for the spiritual yogi, don’t go to Disneyland for 10 hours after a 13.1 mile race.

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My First Time: Yoga Booty Ballet

                            

I enter Swerve Studio on a particularly hot Thursday afternoon, and they score immediate points for ample air conditioning.  I have been training for a half marathon - coming up this weekend - but as it’s time to taper the distance, I have some time and energy to sneak a class into the schedule. Everyone in the reception area is just so nice - and when they hear it’s my first time taking this class, they are incredibly welcoming.  So far, so good.

The studio offers a variety of fitness classes, from highly aerobic dance classes, to Rock N Roll Pilates, to Vinyasa Yoga and many in between.  There is also a gym club and private training available, so it’s a one stop shop for West 3rd Street fitness.  Yoga Booty Ballet is their signature offering, and what was recommended to me as a first time student.

Swerve Studio is in a dangerous area, in my world.  It is above Plancha tacos, which are delicious, within eyeshot of D’Amore’s pizza, which puts most LA pizza to shame (not that this says much), and right next door to a place called “Hair Fairies."  Hair Fairies is not a salon, rather it is an establishment where people who MUST hate their jobs remove lice from children’s heads.  That is all they do.  Listen - I’m sure Hair Fairies has some solid ways of making sure those lice don’t scatter, but its presence alone is enough to keep me away from the seating area the businesses share. And I’m still imagining an itchy scalp. But I digress.

Before I took the class, I thought “Yoga Booty Ballet” was one specific dance/exercise that gave you a butt that looks like you do yoga all the time through some ballet movements.  Upon further reflection, this makes no sense at all and I worry about my brain.  What would that even look like?  Yoga Booty Ballet is a workout that encompasses (separately) Yoga, some Booty dancing, and Ballet.

We start with five minutes of relaxing yoga breathing and stretching, setting our intention for the class.  I always like this because it reminds me to actively NOT think about my diminishing bank account, freelance jobs who haven’t called me back, or how I’m not where I should be in life with 30 creeping around the corner.  Don’t worry, I can - and will - go back to those thoughts immediately after the class.

We then move into the booty dancing section of class.  Oh, how I wish there were not mirrors surrounding the room.  For the next 30 minutes, we run through some dances set to hip hop and R&B.  The instructor is amazing at both choreographing something that even a beginner can (sort of) keep up with, and continuing to shout out steps as we go along. She must exercise her vocal chords on the regular.

I can’t even begin to tell you how uncool I look.  There are women in the class who are really into it, and really good.  They should be in music videos.  I, on the other hand, while also really into it, have no rhythm.  I have never had any rhythm.  Unfortunately, I’m lacking the social anxiety that comes with lack of rhythm and have no problem dancing, no matter how silly it looks.  I’m that wedding guest.  At weddings, however, it’s darker, there are no mirrors, and I’ve had my share of champagne. It’s broad daylight, with no alcohol and lots of mirrors in Yoga Booty.  I had no idea my legs moved like that.  Terrifying.

All that said, I keep moving throughout the dancing section, and work up quite a sweat.  I like that even though I don’t have the perfect form, I am burning calories as I go along.

After the 30 minute cardio dance, we move on to 10 minutes of ballet.  The plies and bends do a little to strengthen, but I am used to the more hardcore Bar Method/Cardio Barre/Pop Physique workout.  This ballet is a very soft in comparison, but good for beginners.

The 10 minutes of ballet are followed by 10 minutes of yoga.  The stretch is nice, but again, it feels soft compared to YogaWorks.  The downward facing dogs are held for shorter periods of time, and 10 minutes can only get you so far with yoga.

Overall, the class was a fun time, and the perfect workout to bring your mom to when she visits LA. The 55 minutes of mixed movement had me sweating mid-way into the workout (and it was air conditioned), which is the basis by which I judge calorie burn.  But it was just really…soft.  Exercise is my addiction (to balance out my other addiction: wine), and going from some of the toughest classes offered to a nice workout for everyone leaves me wanting a bit more.  I acknowledge that not everyone has this addiction, and for non-workout enthusiasts, this class is a great way to get into fitness and keep healthy.  For fellow fitness extremists, stick to Sweat Garage, YogaWorks, Bar Method, Pop Physique - or any other workout that has you wanting to quit halfway through.

And then really sit down and think about what is going wrong in your life that you need your workout to feel so terrible.  Once we all get our lives together, we’ll go back to Yoga Booty Ballet.

All types of classes at Swerve are $18, and go down to $13.50/class with a 20 class package purchase.   First time students can purchase the $100 one month unlimited, and there are different types of monthly packages priced fairly, if you visit regularly.  Big kudos to the number of $10 community classes offered, which may not fit into the schedule of the “fully employed” folk, but certainly fit the schedule (and budget) of the funemployed set.

The Deets:

Yoga Booty Ballet at Swerve Studio

8250 West 3rd Street, #205

Los Angeles

http://www.swervestudio.com/

The Instructor: Conisha Wade

Parking - there are a 16 spaces in the lot, shared by all businesses in the plaza - your best best is to meter park on 3rd street.  Don’t worry - the meters accept credit cards.

Key Takeaways: Plan time for parking, sneakers optional (but advised if you have any sort of foot/leg issues), a good fun intro back into working out, or a workout for non-workout enthusiasts.



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My First Time: Park Slope Yoga Center


Fully bracing for the eye rolls and “yeah rights,” I enjoy working out on vacation. It balances out the excess of eating and drinking that I perform on vacay (sort of), there is way more time to fit in a good workout, and it feels like a field trip when you work out at a studio in a new town. It’s  also the best time to try a new class that will potentially make you look like an idiot, because you have way less of a chance of running into these people again.

YogaWorks in Los Angeles had reinvigorated my long-dormant yoga phase, so I decided to continue this that during a trip to New York.  Whereas I generally hit up a class I’m terrified to try on my home turf, the Zumba class was offered at 7PM, and that’s prime food and alcohol consumption time in my world.

I enter the studio pre-blissed due to being on vacation, which was only enhanced by the two hours I just spent at the tea shop downstairs writing and sipping on herbal. Yeah - it was a Brooklyn sort of morning. I’m only mildly hungover from the dirty martinis that marked a mini-college reunion the night before, so all in all, I’m as ready to work out as I will ever be on vacation.

I select a Vinyasa Flow class, because if it isn’t already clear, I don’t have the attention span to hold long poses during Hatha. Deal finder that I am, I find a “try a class for $5” promotion. Listen, I generally feel bad about taking a discount class that is supposed to be a marketing play for locals, but A.) Make that a condition of the discount and B.) I’m sure I’ll move to New York at some point soon/be back visiting and come to a class. Or so I tell myself to sleep at night.

The studio is small, and there are mirrors that help immensely with form. From all angles, you can see the instructor’s demonstrations.

The women in this class are ser-i-ous. We’re talking Lulu Lemon wearing, water bottle toting, organic diaper using, in better shape at 40 than I was at 20 moms who yoga. My Target yoga gear and mild martini hangover feel incredibly out of place, so I find a place closest to the fan in the back.

Nope. No hiding here in the mid-day class of 8. While this is not the class to take for just some relaxing stretching and strengthening, it is the perfect class to take for a boot-camp on form. Often times with the flow, it’s easy to cheat the moves a bit, or inadvertently get out of form because bodies aren’t built to twist like that. Sasha was on her feet correcting poses throughout the whole class, and offering modifications when needed. She even paused the class briefly between flows to point out a mild overall form problem that was common in the room, and that little tweak made all the difference.

An interesting fact about me is that I once dislocated my shoulder running.  More accurately, I dislocated my shoulder when I tripped over a dog while I was running, and it required an emergency room visit, surgery, and physical therapy.  As I didn’t quite place ample importance on physical therapy at the age of 17, the shoulder never really healed, and it has limited rotation and pops out every now and then.  Damn dog.

Anyway, I bring this story up not just for your amusement, but also because I think it’s what differentiates good fitness instructors from great fitness instructors. Generally when I bring this up in a new class, I’m told to go easy or just not try certain exercises.  That’s fine - way better than an arm popping out and ruining everyone’s class.  But when I tell Sasha this, she not only remembers during the full 90 minute class, but she offers me comparable poses that keep my shoulder in socket while accomplishing the same results. Congrats, lady: you’ve moved on to greatness on my scale.

The music selection has a rhythm that keeps the class going, with increased volumes during the flow sessions between instructions.  It helps distract from the intense burning and fatiguing arms and legs, and from the fact that I am easily the least flexible person with the highest percentage of body fat in class.

Park Slope Yoga certainly incentivizes snap purchase decisions, as class packages are discounted 10% if you commit right after your first class. I get it, but the last thing anyone wants to deal with after Yoga is rushed decisions, so they are losing a point there. I have not, however, received any e-mail spam since taking the class, despite signing in with my e-mail address, so I’ll award a bonus point for respecting my inbox.

The class is challenging, but doable, and I leave profusely sweating (despite positioning myself next to the fan). It certainly justifies the large Italian meal/bottles of wine/craft beer I will consume later that evening, which is the definition of a perfect vacation workout.

The Deets:

Park Slope Yoga Center at Devi

837 Union Street, 2nd Floor - Brooklyn

718-789-2288

http://parkslopeyoga.com 

The Instructor: Sasha

Takeaways: $5 first class with coupon (on website)/$10 without, better for intermediate to advanced students, small classes ideal for form improvement, tea shop downstairs has free WiFi, be prepared to commit to purchase after class for discount.

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My First Time: YogaWorks (Larchmont)

I had that momentary panic a few weeks ago when I checked the number of purchased exercise classes that expire at the end of the year, added in the YogaWorks number of days I need to run each week to train for a marathon, and compared it against the number of days actually left in the year.  These numbers favored 2-a-day workouts if I didn’t use up some of those classes quickly, and I’m no Olympian.  In any case, I’ve been at Bar Method more than usual (which is great, because it’s still the best workout I have yet to try), but haven’t been to a new workout class in weeks. 

It was time to change that.

A few weeks ago, gal pal Erika suggested I feature in My First Time. I was into it, but a bit hesitant. I have been to some bad yoga classes in my day.  Real bad. I once sat through 15 minutes of sitting cross legged alternating breathing out of my right and left nostrils while the sounds of the Amazon screeched on in the background, after which we moved on to what I can best define as Yoga Eye Rolling (no lie). Maybe some people find this beneficial, but I personally need to sweat and hurt in order for it to be considered a workout. Oh, and use muscles that aren’t limited to my face.

Erika assured me YogaWorks was down to accommodate my need for pain and discomfort.  Great. Bring it.

I head to the Larchmont studio for a Vinyasa Flow class after downloading a free week of classes coupon that is offered via Yelp. Parking is easy on Gower - just a block east of Larchmont - so I don’t start the class with the anxiety of running late and searching my car seats for meter change. The energy as the reception area fills up is strong and positive. There isn’t that quiet dread or sussing out the “competition” that is so common in some studios. The class is a level 2-3 class, which I may come to regret, but I’m confident it will be enough of a challenge.

The classroom fills up quickly, but seems to expand to fit everyone that walks in the door. The instructor is phenomenal at adjusting where everyone positions themselves to make room for all the students, which I love.  The room itself has just enough lighting so that we’re not maneuvering in the dark, but is dim enough to relax. And the soundtrack is not based in jungle sounds; it’s just the right amount of background music.

After a quick guided meditation, the class starts, and my need for a challenging workout is met immediately. While I have a decent time following the flow of the positions, the strength required to hold said positions is intense. Arm and core shaking, buckets of sweat dripping intense. I love it.  I am lucky enough to have pro-yogi (progi? mmm…pierogi) Erika next to me, giving me a pointer here or there on the yoga positions I do struggle to remember.

After going through each sequence one or two times with the instructor, the class “flows”  through the sequence a few times at varying paces. The sequences are short enough to remember after a couple run throughs, though I definitely take a peak up every now and then to follow the more experienced students on either side of me.

During the class I push myself to jump into positions when instructed, and to hold one legged planks and upward dogs, one armed planks and tree positions, but I never feel forced to try anything I’m not ready for (like handstands. I never see those happening in my life). This speaks to the instructor’s ability to facilitate an environment that is both motivational and low pressure.

I find the workout to be hardest on my arms and core, but this could just be my experience. My legs are really strong from running, and I’ve always had natural Olive Oil arms (to clarify - the skinny chick on Popeye, not pertaining to the type of Olive Oil I slather on everything I eat that makes everything but my arms un-Olive Oily). There are a lot of plank-variations  that have my arms shaking, and I will feel the overall workout in my core the next day. A huge benefit was an immediately short-term improvement on my posture, which will still hold strong a day later.

The 80-minute class flies by; I am surprised when it ends because I didn’t longingly glance up at the clock once. By the end of class, my muscles are warm enough that I can fold myself right in half. This will come in handy the next time I need to pack myself in someone’s luggage to save plane fare, so I am very grateful for that. My arms are shaking and my core feels strong, and I am just as drenched in sweat as I was after Sweat Garage on Tuesday.   I am also both relaxed and invigorated, which gives me just enough energy to drive myself home, stuff my face, shower, and fall asleep immediately.

After a hiatus from yoga after the eye-rolling-as-exercise incident, YogaWorks has roped me back in. The monthly membership is an excellent deal for regular practice ($100/month). For more sporadic practice, individual classes are $22, 10 class packages are $195 ($19.50/class) and 20 class packages are $270 ($13.50/class).

I have been hesitant to call out specific instructor for each workout, as the quality should be consistent across each fitness studio. To start with, I’m finding that couldn’t be any farther from the truth in some studios - so I’ll start mentioning who’s instructing. In yoga, specifically, so much of the workout is finding an instructor that you gel with, so while this class worked for me, it’s all about what works for you.

The Deets:

YogaWorks - Larchmont

230 N. Larchmont Blvd

323-464-1276

http://www.yogaworks.com 

The Instructor: Sarah Ezrin

Take aways: Easy street parking east of Larchmont, bring a workout towel for the profuse sweating, free week trial on Yelp OR $30 2 week trial from YogaWorks.


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My First Time: Pink Iron (Lean and Mean)

I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Pink Iron from a couple of my fit gal pals since it opened. The classes offered are bootcamp-style circuit training, which I have come to realize is the fastest way to lose weight that i have yet to try. As I much prefer to deal with these classes with friends, I suck it up and wake up early to join one of my raving gal pals for a 7AM Lean and Mean class. I will note that while I feel leaner after, I am also most CERTAINLY meaner due to insufficient sleep. I can’t fault Pink Iron for this.

The studio is located in the same strip mall complex as the famous-even-in-the-flyovers Barry’s Bootcamp. There’s also a Jiu Jitsu studio there. Perhaps there is a zoning law in West Hollywood that puts all the pain together. In any case, when I arrive at 6:45, there are already people in the complex working hard.

Pink Iron is the ladies only fitness facility in the complex. This is accented by the miniature poodle that greets me at the door (the name is Barbell - adorbs), the incredibly clean and sparkly locker room with shampoo and hair driers, and the fact that the really heavy weights are pink. The idea behind this girls only rule is to facilitate a supportive environment where women don’t have to dress up to work out (I don’t own any Lulu Lemon; this has never been a concern for me), and to offer workouts that are specifically catered toward the majority of women’s fitness goals (read: toning vs. bulking up). I’m all for it.

There are six people in this class (love), which is taught by an encouraging coach who is socially-spazzy in the best possible way. The spazz-factor lowered the intimidation factor of the impending boot camp. She walks us through the plan and the proper form for all of the strength exercises, and then we are off to kick it off with a warmup run.

Here’s something I just love: the cardio intervals are outside. Not on a treadmill! Just a quick run out of the studio, down the street to Barney’s Beanery-adjacent, and back up. This really punctuates the workout in such a refreshing way; and it’s nice to feel outside air in the middle of a killer workout.

The strength cycle starts with 20 reps of five exercises, followed by outdoor running in between each cycle. The first cycle is mini bell jumps (jumping from the floor onto a stack of barbells and back down), double arm kettlebell snatches (I had to look that term up too) with a 17 lb kettlebell, grand plié squat reach and jumps, thrusters with two 8 lb weights, and finally burpees - the bane of my workout existence. Each subsequent cycle cuts off the first exercise of the previous cycle, therefore the strength cycles go down to four, three, two and finally just those damn burpees in the last cycle. The strength exercises are quick and keep the cardio up; pounds of sweat are coming off me from the very beginning. 

After everyone finishes all five cycles and runs, we do a quick Tabata that alternates four 20-second ab twists and four 20-second planks. Not to be a martyr, but I would have loved a few more minutes of abs to end the workout. It was the one area that didn’t really feel fully burned out at the end of the workout. I was not about to be the girl in class that raised her hand when the teacher forgot to assign homework, so I keep my mouth shut.

The workout was fantastic. It was fast-paced and challenging, but not rushed and too strenuous for proper form. Each class varies, which keeps it fresh and effective. It was one of the better workouts I’ve tried in the past few months, and that fact that it’s “girls only” shouldn’t indicate otherwise.

For whatever reason, there is a perception of female-focused workout classes that they must be easy. You know the classes I’m talking about: any class that incorporates the word “bar,” “physique,” or “pilates,” or any class that talks about toning, as opposed to bulking up. I’m not sure where this perception comes from, but I’ve heard guys scoff at them, and I’ve even heard the ladies dismiss them as “not my thing - I prefer hardcore workouts” before giving it a shot.

Listen. I’ve done the dude classes, and I’ve done the lady classes, I’ve dragged dudes along to the lady classes, and the consensus is: they’re all hard. Just because Sweat Garage (which I love) has a wider selection of heavier weights, doesn’t mean it’s any better of a workout than Pink Iron (which, as indicated above, I also love). Unless you’re looking for body-builder type strength (to each his own, but it totally went out in the 80‘s), you probably don’t need to max out on the heaviest weights in the gym. Weights that provide a challenge, but that aren’t so heavy that they prevent correct form, are going to be the better route. So lay off the ‘tude about lady classes. 

Burst of exercise-feminism has passed; back into the details. The first trial class is free, monthly unlimited memberships are $149/month, and individual classes start at $20 (working all the way down to $13/class if you purchase a 30 pack). The other classes offered at Pink Iron are yoga and Group Training (less boot camp, more strength training). More deets, you ask? 

The Deets:

Pink Iron

1106 N. La Cienega,
West Hollywood, CA. 90069
310-360-7465

http://www.pinkiron.com/

Takeaways: Free parking in garage off of La Cienega, towel service and yoga mats provided, not a place to scam on dudes, 800-1000 calories burned during Lean and Mean

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My First Time: Cardio Barre

I have a healthy obsession with bar workouts. I went to my first Bar Method class in 2009, and haven’t looked back. It sounds super 50 Shades of Grey (though better written), but I get great pleasure out of the exquisite, lingering, self-inflicted pain that comes with a ballet-inspired workout. Love.

When I saw a Groupon/Living Social/whatever e-mail it was I read that day deal for 10 Cardio Barre classes for $40, I signed up immediately…and finally got around to redeeming it a month later.*

The plan is to meet up with a friend who had bought the same daily deal, but her boss works her too hard and she can’t get out for the 8PM class. I am on my own.

There are no advanced sign ups, so I arrive 30 minutes prior to the class, as recommended by the studio. I probably could have made it in if I got there 15 minutes prior, but they are known to sell out. While it’s nice to not have to plan this workout days in advance, I’m not crazy about spending 15-30 minutes of downtime waiting for an hour class. I hear this is even more of an issue amongst the actually-employed.

I am prepared to go through the same strength workout as Bar Method/Pop Physique, but this turns out to be much more old school aerobics, with a ballet strength twist. We start with some fast moving stretches and warm ups, including many ballet variations on calf raises and plie releve. All of the balance holds wake up my inner ballerina, who then proceeds to lose her balance and fall. The pace of the class stays fast throughout.

The instructor indicates that “bar thighs” are the hardest part of class. During this, we do a standard fold over at the bar with lifts and bends angled at different sides of the classroom. Just as it starts to really burn, the exercise is over. I want an extra minute during all of these exercises because I am a horrible sadist.

The arm workout is high in cardio, but I never get to a point where my form is quite there. The 8 counts quickly go down to 4 counts and 2 counts and singles, and I spend a good amount of time looking around figuring out if I am supposed to be doing tricep presses or shoulder extensions (we go back and forth between the two). This might get more effective the more classes one takes, but it really does move so fast that I don’t know how anyone can really focus too much on form.

We do a series of standing abs and twists that target the abs; I am semi-concerned I’m going to throw my back out the whole time. Perhaps this is paranoid, but speedy twisting of the torso just screams disaster to my ever-aging body.

The lying down floor workout gets a little Jane Fonda, but she still looks great so who am I to judge? We  lie down on towels and do a series of side lying leg lifts that I feel moderately in my hips and outer thighs, and pretty strongly when we adjust to target the inner thigh. The abs use old school bicycles, among other exercises, and it does the job.

The stretch to end the class is longer than in most classes, which is probably a great thing. Low impact or not, this is a class that contorts the body in ways that are out of the norm.

I’m sure I am missing a few exercises from the hour class - but I think that’s the point. Nothing truly hurt or challenged to the degree that I could remember it 12 hours later. What I missed from this class was the huge sense of “good lord I can’t believe I got through that” after the class, or even the most challenging exercises. My soreness factor is non-existent the next day, which I suppose is not always a bad thing when the primary focus is cardio. Granted, this is coming from someone who has been really piling on six days of running or exercise classes each week lately (only pause a moment to hate me for having the time to do this, then go back to pitying me for not having an income), and it’s also worth noting that this was a beginner class. This class is a great way to get back into exercise if there has been a personal lapse in fitness and the other classes seem too scary to start.

I will note that after discussing the class with a workout buddy who has attended a few sessions, it appears as though the beginner classes vary significantly in difficulty level. I must have inadvertently signed up for one of the easier classes. Not crazy about that lack of consistency, either, but I’m hopeful I can get more out of the rest of these classes by finding the “hard” teacher.

I’m also hoping I can find a teacher who doesn’t play the worst music I’ve ever sat through for an hour. We’re talking war criminal torture music. It grated on my nerves for a solid 80 percent of the class. I have a wide range of music I can tolerate, including pop, cheesy rock ballads, and even a corgi cover of Call Me Maybe. This music, though: my God. I think we heard every song that Mark Wahlberg ever participated in, except for in club remix form and at like 4X speed. Every song you forgot from the 90s, but that it’s ok that you forgot, ended up on that playlist. I can’t speak to how often they change that up, but there is a very real possibility I’ll be wearing an iPod for my remaining nine purchased classes.

The Deets:
Cardio Barre - Beverly Hills (multiple locations)
469 S. Robertson Blvd
Beverly Hills 90212
(424) 777-0032
www.cardiobarre.com

Takeaways: It’s more Cardio/less Barre, bring a (beach) towel, consider bringing headphones (only half kidding), arrive early for pre- and post-work classes, class difficulty varies, street parking.

*On that note, I have 30 pre-purchased classes for various fitness studios around LA that expire on dates ranging from September to December. I am on lockdown from purchasing classes until that number goes down to 10.


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My First Time: Pop Physique

The pursuit of the perfect exercise class continues, as I meet up with two friends for a workout at Pop Physique’s new(ish) 3rd and Fairfax location. The only place I want to be is happy hour, and yet, on a street known for its happy hour specials, I am walking into an exercise class at 5:45 pm on a Friday. Credit the perfect butt in the Pop Physique ads for that guilt trip.

I am drawn to the font and colors on the website that are mirrored throughout the studio. Perhaps this seems like a silly reason to work out, but can you imagine going to a gym that used Comic Sans?

Thanks to whatever-daily-deals-site-it-was’s coupon, this will be my fourth Pop Physique class (we stretch the definition of “It’s My First Time” - I’m still a new-bie), and I bring along two of my workout buddy first timers with me.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I have the boyfriend in tow as we meet my two other workout gals. He is, in many ways, an unwilling participant, but I am, in many ways, a tyrant of a girlfriend. I really should have been a lawyer:

(30 minutes earlier)

“Where are you going?”

“Pop Physique. Want to come? I have a coupon.”

“Sure! Wait isn’t that mostly for girls?”

“No.”

“Have you ever seen a guy in a class?”

“…abstain?”

Boyfriend looks at website:

“I’m not going to your ballet class with you!”

“But you already said you would! And you can’t say one thing and then do another! And I’m sure guys go.”

“Ugh, fine what do I wear?”

“Do you have tights?”

(Back to present)

After listening to a bit more grumbling about the pink weights not being heavy enough, the class begins. The girls and I are in immediate stitches over the boyfriend’s attempts at graceful knee lifts to get the heart rate up.

Then the pain begins and there is no time or energy for laughter.

We begin with an intense, 10 minute arm workout. We do MANY repetitions with light weights, to the point that arms are shaking and 3 pounds feel like 50 (and yes, the weights did turn out to be heavy enough for the grumbling boyfriend, who switched from a 5 pound weight to a 4 pound weight midway. Huge victory.). We end the arms with pushups, reverse pushups and rotating one armed planks, which is not something my body will let me do after my arms have become so fatigued. The brief arm stretch does little to sooth the burn.

Just after a brief pre-burn leg stretch, we move on to thighs. I have always had sturdy thighs, and these sturdy thighs are shaking about 2 minutes into the 10 minute section. The instructor guides us through variations on squats and lunges that all incorporate isometric holds into the mix. We hold a small exercise ball between our thighs during one of these exercises; my inner thighs will continue to feel that days later. There are moments where I don’t think I’m doing it correctly and would have liked a bit more form correction, which happens only toward the very end of some poses. 

Following another brief stretch, we do a modified arabesque to work out the butt. The small movements are impossibly effective, and both sides of my seat are quivering at the end of this 10 minutes.

Seated round and flat back exercises are next. These take cues from Pilates; while keeping our cores completely still, we use small leg movements to work the transverse abdominals and lower abs. This quickly transitions to 10 minutes of incredibly intense abs (isometric holds to the extreme!), and then we are rewarded with some blissful stretch time.

I love exercise pain, and therefore I love Pop Physique. My muscles still felt it the next day, but not so much that I wasn’t able to go for a run (after just a bit of Ibuprofen). Even the “I’m way to strong for your girl class” boyfriend had to admit that the class was challenging. The poor studio acoustics and lack of instructor correction made the class a challenge to follow at times, but Pop Physique is the type of workout that becomes more effective over time, when your body recognizes the movements and can hold the poses without taking time to correct.

Here’s my only issue, and it stems mostly out of being a Bar Method loyalist: I find Pop Physique to be a so-similar-isn’t-it-copyrighted? workout to Bar Method. The only noticeable differences are the brighter colored weights, louder music, wood floors (prefer the Bar Method carpet!), and a slightly increased pace. The lack of form correction was also a large change from the Bar Method studios.

A huge workout class pet peeve of mine is when classes have special offers, but only for people who haven’t tried the class. A lot of classes lack coupon love for the loyalists - and Bar Method, unfortunately, falls into this category. I love Pop Physique because it basically is Bar Method - but with the important benefit that it still offers discounts to non-first timers. Exercise loyalty only goes so far during semi-employment.

The deets:

Pop Physique West 3rd and Fairfax (Multiple Locations)
7940 3rd Street
Los Angeles - 90048
323.552.3322

http://popphysique.com

The takeaways: Challenging even for the boys, a toning delight, ask for form correction if needed, stretch those inner thighs after, plan time for street parking on 3rd.

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My First Time: Circuit Works

    


My workout buddies and I venture to Brentwood for an evening Circuit Works class. Knowing very little about the class, other than that the first session is comped, we wonder if this will be like Curves, the gym that most moms have tried at some point or another.

During the safety orientation, it becomes clear that this place is nothing like Curves.  The treadmills stay moving in between circuits, and the weight machines are the real deal.  Workouts are just as scary on this side of the 405, it seems.

We are branded with yellow bracelets, indicating we are first timers.  It turns out that everyone wears a bracelet based on their experience level (four different levels), and it helps the trainers cater modifications toward each individual, and corresponds to suggested settings on the treadmills.  I don’t mind branding with a purpose.

Walking into the room is like walking into a gym in the future: very stylish, and just a little technologically intimidating.  The instructors are dressed in black, and are built like perfect, lean, muscly trainer robots.  Our instructors for the night, Raphael and Scott, look like male models for a catalogue I am not cool enough to receive, but their charm lowers the intimidation factor.

A row of flat screens in the middle of the room have trainers (the same ones teaching the class) demonstrating the proper form for the floor exercises.  They really are just so pretty (the trainers, obvi).  The flat screens in the middle correspond to flat screens at numbered workout stations around the room.

Tonight’s workout is circuit burn, and alternates in 90 second intervals between the 10 numbered stations and treadmills and stationary bikes.  Our stations included hammer curls, perfect pushups, calf raises, hamstring curls, leg press, fly curls, lunges, squats, woodchoppers and alternating arm machine cable rows.

Here we go!  My first station is squats, which I haven’t done with a weighted bar since high school cross country.  It was hard then, and it’s much harder now. Facing a mirror, I see that the physical struggle is manifesting itself on my face, which is like watching scenes from The Ring.  I look over at one of the workout buddies who joined me for this class - she is doing reverse lunges, and has a similar horror movie face. After 45 seconds, everyone at a weight station cuts down to a lower weight and keep the burn going.  There’s my normal face again.

Treadmills are next, and the suggested first timer workout - 3 MPH at a 3 incline - is much too easy.  I wait for another couple rotations to increase the speed to a challenging level; I would recommend increasing this sooner for first timers in otherwise good shape to maximize the results of the workout.

After the second - equally challenging - weight station, we rotate to the stationary spinning bikes for 90 seconds of guided spinning.  This is great, in theory, but unfortunately the bikes were incredibly jolty at low resistance levels, so sprints were out of the question.

The circuits continue as so, with “commercial breaks” for the advanced students that are 90 second plyometric bursts.  The newbies stay on the treadmills or bikes while these are happening.

The instructors keep the class high energy throughout.  Raphael on the mic (pictured below in all of his glory) feels more like a really good party MC than anything; this man has found his calling.  Both trainers leading the class keep a steady eye on form and make corrections throughout, and even force us to do 90 seconds high knees as punishment for not hustling enough between stations.  This is not a passive workout.

The class ends on abs, and it also goes about 15 minutes over. It’s worth it to note that the hour is not a hard limit when you schedule this class.

There is no question that this class is a fun and fantastic full-body workout, but I have two main issues:

Weights: The heavy weights were often a bit too heavy to get an effective workout, and while were were allowed to scale them down, 90 seconds goes by very fast when some of that time is spent finding a correct weight.  This issue is more for beginners, but keep track of what weights work for you to make the second class more effective.

Hard sell: I understand this was a free class, but the hard sell after left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. During the final crunches of class, “anyone who wants to keep burning fat” was offered the opportunity to buy a protein shake. Orders were taken as we did crunches.  Innovative idea for fresh smoothies right after class, but the “are you sure??” sell went on a little longer than was comfortable.

Then, they tried to sell us classes on the way out the door.  Having not purchased a fat burning shake, I was pretty starving by our late dismissal and just wanted to get home. Just hand out the info, make yourself available, and don’t play “let’s make a deal” when I’m still sweating profusely.

Two days later, it’s still going on.  Day one, I received not one, but two e-mails. The first was from the general manager (e-mail address: automatedemail@mindbodyonline.com).  20 people in the class - and only 5 first timers to e-mail. The e-mail was just two lines.  Don’t go automated.

What I’m less than pleased about is that the second e-mail was from a third party website. Perkville e-mailed me, letting me know that Circuit Works LA sent me reward points.  Remains to be seen if I now have another regular groupon-esque spam mail - if I do, Circuit Works is off the list. Today (two days later) I received an e-mail offering a free class if I take a survey.  I can’t complain about that, but the overall feeling of getting added to a mailing list I didn’t (wittingly) sign up for is a bit annoying.

The deets:

Circuit Works Brentwood (second location in Venice)

11677 San Vicente Blvd

Los Angeles - 90049

310.826.4100

www.circuitworksla.com/

The takeaway: Charming instructors, fun class, read the fine print about how your e-mail address will be used, free towel service available, valet parking in adjacent garage $1/hour with validation.