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My body experiment: group fitness

The OG routine:

Exercising has always been my time to be in my own headspace, and for the last few years my workouts had centered around lifting. Sure, I liked it, but mostly it was what came easily to me. After spending most of my day creating plans for clients, doing a strength session was the path of least resistance. 

I’d generally write programs for myself in four- to six-week blocks to make sure I was progressing appropriately. But at the start of 2019, I was getting burned out thinking about fitness all the time. Between travel, work projects, my kids, and everything else happening in my day-to-day, I had little mental energy to think about my gym routine. As a result, my goals became broad and unfocused: to build general strength and fitness.

The breaking point: 

The lack of specificity made structuring my own workouts less fun. I became more and more disengaged during my sessions; I’d just head into the gym without a real game plan and do whatever lifts took the least amount of mental effort. Planning my own workouts became like a third job, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it anymore. So one day, I signed up for Precision Run.

The new programming: 

I strongly dislike running. I could have eased into group fitness by starting with something familiar, like strength, but I already knew how to do that on my own.

If I was going to take classes, I wanted to try something that I wouldn’t have been able to program myself. I had worked with David Siik, the creator of Precision Run, on the new Labs, so I knew they had fantastic treadmills. For me, Precision Run was the perfect entry to group fitness. 

I tried it for the first time in February. What surprised me most was that I didn’t hate it. The class, which is interval- rather than distance-based, appealed to me because there’s a lot of variation in speed and incline and every routine is different than the last. And it's true: Those treadmills are amazing. Once you run on one, you’ll never want to run on anything else. I went back, again and again. 

My success in Precision Run encouraged me to look at another fitness genre: yoga. Considering I couldn’t even touch my toes, I wasn’t excited about spending an entire hour on flexibility. Thankfully, Equinox has several athletic-focused offerings. Because these routines combine flexibility and strength, I felt both challenged and capable in my first class, which drew me in even more. I quickly became a regular at Inner Heat at Gramercy on Fridays at 12:30. 

Next, I experimented with boxing after people around the office recommended it. I’ve always liked the activity, but doing a whole class with gloves and heavy bags was still a change for me. 

I learned quickly that finding instructors with challenging programs was crucial if I wanted structure and consistency. My go-tos are Damien Alexander and Cooper Chou for yoga, CeCe Marizu for cardio and metabolic conditioning, and David Siik and Elizabeth Corkum, aka Coach Corky, for Precision Run.

The perks:

After a few months of taking group fitness, I started seeing major changes in my physique: I lost about six pounds and two percent body fat. My cardiovascular endurance has also picked up significantly. In my first Precision Run class, my PR speed (the fastest pace I could maintain for sixty seconds) was nine miles an hour. Now, it’s twelve. Even my recovery speed is two miles per hour faster than it was when I started. Thanks to yoga, I have much better control of my range of motion in all my workouts, and I can finally do Cossack squats, which have traditionally been pretty difficult for me.

Mentally, I love that I don’t have to think about my weekly programming. I know I’ll do cardio at Precision Run on Tuesdays and yoga on Fridays, with boxing and MetCon sprinkled in between. This schedule allows me to go to the gym and get back to work and life afterward. 

I’m an introvert, but the point of group fitness isn’t to socialize. Still, the people around you add to the experience, inspiring you as they hold their poses deeper or run their sprints faster than you can. It’s almost like being on a sports team: The other athletes motivate you and push you to keep up.

I also love that most of the classes at Equinox are less than an hour long. I can easily do a high-intensity workout in 30 to 45 minutes and still have time to shower before going back to the office. 

All of these factors have made my routine much more consistent and productive, both in and out of the gym. I’m working out more than I was at the beginning of the year and I’m getting more out of every session. Plus, I’ve committed to drinking less alcohol and eating healthier because of my renewed focus on performance. 

Maybe most importantly, I’m just excited about working out again. I actually feel worse about missing classes now that I know the instructors, which makes me prioritize them just like having a workout partner would.

The roadmap: 

There’s definitely still a place in my routine for solo workouts and personal training. Right now, I do group fitness during the week and my own strength routines on the weekends when I have more time.

In fact, taking classes has actually piqued my interested in one-on-one training. Thanks to the improved range of motion yoga has given me, I’d like to take a few private Pilates sessions on the reformer.

Boxing has also sparked a passion, so I want to find someone who can help me with pad work and take my skills up a notch. I’m telling myself what I always tell my clients: Even if I understand finances, I’m not going to do my own taxes—I hire an accountant for that. We can all pretty much program a routine on our own, but a dedicated trainer or coach can still push you to the next level. 

Group classes have gotten me out of my comfort zone and made me try things I normally wouldn’t. That’s what leads to both mental and physical change. If you do the same workouts week after week, you’ll stay static—but throw a monkey wrench in the system and you’ll start to feel stronger. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for publication.