An exercise fad is a bit like a nationwide dance craze. At best, it’s cheesy in hindsight, but a sweet reminder of the time: roller rinks and P90X are the fitness world’s Twist and Electric Slide. At worst, we have Shakeweights and Thighmasters, the fitness world’s Chicken Dance and Macarena. Goofy spandex is also more or less a constant.
To an outsider, it all makes us Americans look a bit silly. Comparing ephemeral Western fitness fads with longstanding Russian practices, Marty Gallagher, former coach of Powerlifting Team USA, writes: “We in the West are continually dazzled by the latest innovation, seduced by shortcuts, lured by sleek and glossy exercise machines and razzle-dazzle nutritional supplements.”
With the slew of new boutique fitness studios and exercise ideologies taking after SoulCycle and CrossFit, respectively, that seems truer by the day. That doesn’t mean they’re all clunkers; time will be the judge of that, and on the bright side, it means more gateways for fitness newbies to slowly find their niche. For now, here’s what you can expect the office fitness buffs to prattle on about in the near future as they fill up their branded Nalgenes at the water cooler. Don’t be afraid to join ’em.
If you’re the type to sweat a lot on the dance floor, you’re either out of shape or you’re grooving a lot harder than anyone else around you. 305 Fitness, which merges dance with interval training, is a good solution for either person. Each class is led by an instructor backed by a live DJ, rather than an iPhone wailing the trainer’s pump-up playlist through the sound system, and lighting, meant to evoke a club, works to both stimulate and pacify the self-conscious. The Huffington Post observes that “While the class [feels] like a party, the workout aspect [isn’t] disguised,” and that “jumping jacks, squats and lunges [make] their way into the choreography,” depending on whether you attend arm- or leg-focused sessions. The franchise was founded in Miami (its namesake), with studios opening up in DC and New York City.
Mile High Run Club
Despite their distinctions, cycling and long-distance running share a particularly strong
cult pack mentality. Spinning studios amplify this tenfold for cyclers, so it only makes sense that a SoulCycle for runners would exist. Mile High Run Club replaces the stationary bikes with treadmills, with one coach leading runners through sprints, inclines and then some (bookended by non-treadmill exercises like pushups and kettlebell routines), which studio members are encouraged to tackle at their own pace. On the downside, this means less incentive to push yourself, other than perhaps peer pressure from neighboring runners, which would be unexpected given the studio’s positive mentality. At any rate it gives runners a good group running option in the event of shit weather, and beyond class fees it requires no investment beyond your current running equipment.
105-degree torture chambers ain’t for everyone. Neither is the sweet stench of human secretion, which is why Modo Yoga, a less intense offshoot of Bikram hot yoga, uses cork flooring; it doesn’t retain the smell of sweating students. But more importantly, as Bikram’s benefits are called into question, Modo modifies its core elements to make something more positive and inviting: classes, which run from 60 to 90 minutes, take place at temperatures below 100 degrees; drinking water is encouraged, unlike in Bikram; and modified poses are offered for beginners.
Fitwall prides itself on taking a Silicon Valley approach to the fitness studio concept. That may be true of its namesake fitness tool, a monolithic “Swiss army knife of equipment” with built-in bars and pulleys that tracks users’ performance with feedback sensors and displays the results on a mounted iPad display. But its small class size — one coach guides eight students — makes for a more personalized experience than the sterility of tech would imply. Private training is also available, and the roster of group classes is one of the most comprehensive on this list: 40-minute strength training, interval training and cardio sessions each have two dedicated days in the week, with Sundays made up of specialty classes on recovery, mobility, core work and more.
The hardest part of exercise, they say, is showing up; once you’re at the gym, it’s a cinch. The same is not true of dieting — there’s no “there” to show up to, really. Which is why Iron Tribe, a Crossfit-like interval training studio, precedes its “main course” of fitness training with “Iron Tribe 101,” which pairs dietary education alongside learning the basic movements of the gym’s curriculum. To ensure that users follow through with these dietary guidelines, Iron Tribe features a robust online component (including an app) in which members log their diet and exercise alongside their peers. Strength-focused and advanced classes are also provided for overachievers. The downside is that each location caps memberships at 300 athletes, meaning it’s tough to get a spot in the gym, let alone the waiting list.
Monkey Bar Gym
One of the hardest things to overcome in exercise is a lack of motivation. At Monkey Bar Gymnasium, where the exercises are built entirely around a pair of hanging gymnastic rings, you have to push yourself so that you don’t fall on the ground — it’s clear when you’ve failed. For that clarity, suspended fitness programs are gaining ground — see Airfit, which is a little more “Cirque du Soleil,” and gentler in its branding, than Monkey Bar, as well as in its membership culture; in addition to personal diet coaching, which is reasonable enough, Monkey Bar staffers “monitor our clients’ attendance,” according to their website, “and make weekly phone calls to anyone who’s been ‘slipping’, because if we don’t hold you accountable, who will?” It’s yet unclear how many missed calls it takes for a Monkey Bar coach to park across the street from your house for inordinate periods of time.
Flywheel & Swerve Fitness
Like Bikram, SoulCycle is the parent to a growing number of offspring that are just slightly different. Flywheel and Swerve Fitness share spin class genes, but they differ in where they fall from the tree: Flywheel motivates its athletes to compete against one another with a vast leaderboard displaying each numbered bike’s performance and ranking, while Swerve cyclists are organized into teams (or “packs”), whose performance is evaluated collectively rather than individually — still competitive, but there’s an element of camaraderie, in contrast with Flywheel’s emphasis on proving your inner ubermensch (as detailed in this alternately hilarious and harrowing review on Slate).
Strong Swift Durable
Like CrossFit, Strong Swift Durable offers its fitness courses online. Unlike CrossFit, the organization’s various courses — Mountain Athlete, Military Athlete, Law Enforcement Athlete, Fire Rescue Athlete, Prep Strength and the eponymous Strong Swift Durable — build upon methods used by their respective figures, or “athletes”: mountain climbers, soldiers, police officers, firemen, and varsity athletes. Currently there are no affiliate gyms save for the Strong Swift Durable “laboratory” in Jackson, Wyoming, but the exercises within each course can be performed at any franchise or home gym.
This studio only just launched, but we’re excited about it. Just think: sport fighting on principle has always produced absurdly fit individuals, so why shouldn’t its practices go mainstream? If the hype around the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight is any indication, there’s certainly enough interest in boxing for a boutique boxing boom. Shadowbox NYC promises “intense shadowboxing and guided heavy bag work, paired with high-energy music, elements of interval training and bodyweight exercises,” along with group classes and individual training sessions taking place on a “custom-built vintage boxing ring” — in addition to, in true “boutique fitness” fashion, a cold-pressed juice and coffee bar.
The benefits of climbing are various — full-body toning, intense calorie burn, mental sharpness. So where there isn’t a mountain, there is, hopefully, Brooklyn Boulders or a climbing gym like it. Not unlike yoga, these gyms provide a calmer, steadier experience, from the nature of the exercise to the small class size. (Individual coaching is also available.) Progressing from beginner classes to the higher levels also provides a concrete sense of progress often absent from large-scale fitness studios.