Maybe it was Thrillist's idea of "sensitivity training" after one-too-many articles about strip clubs, but a few months ago I was asked to spend a month going to women's fitness classes and share what I'd learned. Even as a former personal trainer, it was a world I was fairly unfamiliar with past a couple of yoga classes my sister dragged me to, and like most guys I thought barre class was somewhere you went to learn how to drink.
So I spent a month traversing the gyms of Miami, trying out SoulCycle, Barry's Bootcamp, Pure Barre, Pilates, yoga, hot yoga, Zumba, and something called Mitana at Equinox Fitness. Then I learned to twerk at the notorious Vixen Workout. And kept a log of the whole thing.
And I learned not only how to work out better, but how to better understand women.
SoulCycle is an EDM-fueled gateway drug to boutique fitness
Going to a normal spin class then claiming you're familiar with SoulCycle is kind of like drinking coffee and saying you know how meth feels. It's not so much a spin class as a one-hour self-esteem workshop where painfully energetic instructors scream, "Be your best you!" over blaring Calvin Harris and a strobe light. All conducted on stationary bikes in a room that feels like the inside of a dishwasher.
Throughout the hour you pedal to the beat with encouragement from your new life coach, who leads the class like a spandex-clad EDM DJ. Everyone moves together, side to side then up and down as you push off the handlebars, creating an impressive visual of a sea of people sharing adversity. It’s an intense, communal experience that captures the essence of what group fitness is about: using the energy of others to better yourself.
Though, apparently, not everyone likes it.
Exercise is empowerment
After an hour with the "Vixen Army," I saw how group fitness can give anyone the confidence to say, "Fuck you, bring it on."
The Vixen Workout, for those unfamiliar, is an hour-long hip-hop dance class based around that classic dance move: "watch me shake my ass." After the first chest thrust we learned, the instructor corrected one girl by saying, "Ain't nobody buying you drinks with a shake like that, girl."
Zumba is better exercise than your "cardio" day
Zumba is no joke. It’s an hour-long class based loosely on salsa and merengue music that looks like it could have been a dance number in From Justin to Kelly. I have about as much Latin in me as a Cheerio, and just trying to keep up with the instructor made for the toughest dance class I did the entire month. You don't stop moving for the entire hour, and not a single song slows down the pace. So before you make fun of your mom for going on the Zumba Cruise, realize she's probably working out harder than you are.
Barry's Bootcamp might be harder than actual boot camp
Having gone to ACTUAL Marine Corps boot camp for the worst 89 days of my life, I'm always a little skeptical of anything that describes itself as a "boot camp."
Barry’s, however, lived up to the name
Barry’s Bootcamp is a group fitness gym that charges roughly $35 for an hour of intense cross-training. I opted to do Legs and Butt class here, since no man in history has ever uttered the phrase "I really need to work on my legs and butt."
My first class STARTED with our instructor, Kellie, telling us to crank our treadmills up to a 10.5% grade and running at "9, 10, or 11." I could only guess Kellie was Canadian, because those speeds clearly had to be in kilometers.
They were not in kilometers.
By the end I could barely breathe and was streaming sweat down onto the floor. As I sat doing hamstring curls with something called a "booty band," blinded by the sweat in my eyes, I thought, "Man, I haven't worked like this since... shit... boot camp."
Well played, Barry. Well played.
You get resentful of skinny girls real quick
While doing said 11mph sprints up the side of a mechanized cliff, I noticed the collection of thin South Beach girls next to me gleefully prancing their way through like it was a power walk at the shopping mall. At 215lb, that kind of work is little harder. I both resented them for being so damn skinny but secretly wanted to trade places with them so everything would just be easier.
Barre will change your body
Pure Barre is a ballet-inspired workout whose motto is "Tone, flex, burn." Or something else that lets you know it's going to be insanely painful.
They're not lying. The workout forces you to use muscle groups you didn't even know you had, essentially spending an hour on your tiptoes and/or leaning on a small wooden bar and lifting your leg 2in at a time while simultaneously flexing your abs.
After half an hour, you will believe your muscles are filled with battery acid.
When you invariably start shaking, the instructor says something like, "That's just the feeling of your body changing." Which sounded uncomfortably like advice I also got in seventh-grade health class. After a month of barre class, while I didn't exactly have a six-pack, I still had the best abs of my life.
If you're a guy in class, you'll be a celebrity
At least four times a week I heard, "You're the first guy I've ever seen here." So you become a novelty. Not that I'd ever suggest going to the gym to meet girls, but going to women's fitness classes will have women approaching you if for no other reason than sheer curiosity. Just remember to keep it professional, and always, ALWAYS keep your eyes on your form.
Yoga and Pilates are NOT interchangeable
This is what you learn when you work out all your life and never do either. As Justin Shanholtzer, owner of Reforming Pilates in Miami Beach, explained to me, there are like 900 different kinds of Pilates, ranging from mat Pilates (described as "an hour-long cool-down") to the stuff you see in studio windows that looks like a medieval torture machine.
Yoga is nothing like that -- it can be just stretching, like gentle yoga, or almost aerobic like "flow" classes. But it really doesn't have anything to do with Pilates at all. Unless you go to Yogalates, which is a totally different ballgame.
For beginners, hot yoga is like learning to ride a bike on a volcano
I took some vinyasa-flow yoga classes at my home gym, Mickey Demos Boxing (because who doesn't enjoy a little downward dog between some heavy bags), and was feeling pretty strong about my tree-and-lizard game. So I thought I'd be hard and try out some hot yoga.
Then I remembered hard is a four-letter word for stupid. It’s difficult enough trying to learn new yoga poses; it's downright impossible at 105 degrees.
To prepare, I'd gotten a mat from Yoga Design Lab that was designed to absorb sweat. I also got this Manduka hand towel, which was designed to be super absorbent and fast drying. They contained roughly half my body weight by the time the class was over.
About 50 minutes through the 90-minute class, the workout became counterproductive because I was just focused on surviving, and couldn't hold a pose. My advice: get good at the simple stuff, then step into the sauna.
Professional athletes do this stuff
Jason, my Pilates instructor, told me he'd had several NFL linebackers come in and do Pilates with him in the offseason to improve core strength. And apparently the only other guys who go to Pure Barre in Coral Gables are a couple of University of Miami football players.
But this point was really driven home when I did a class called "Hip Hop Flow" at Green Monkey in South Beach, which challenges you to find your chakra while listening to Ice Cube. A skinny guy set up behind me and, as we were the two tallest guys in the room, we kept bumping and kicking each other throughout the class. Awkward as hell, sure. Double awkward when that dude turns out to be Rajon Rondo, the Sacramento Kings point guard.
These classes will break you out of ruts, and make you better
Every men's fitness article you've ever read has told you to switch up your workout to snap out of a rut. But that means a lot more than switching from standing curls to seated.
It means switching up HOW you work out, and the body parts you train. I'm not saying everyone should abandon the weight room and start doing Zumba. But throwing in a barre class every week, and some yoga and Pilates, absolutely will have you making gains in other areas.
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