DSC_0011SmartyPants headquarters is located in Marina Del Rey, California. Within one mile of our office, there are 24 Pilates studios, six meditation centers, three CrossFit boxes, seven juice bars, and one exclusively Paleo coffee shop. But all it takes is a plane ride, or a trip down the 405, to realize that it’s a great big world, with as many food and fitness trends as there are people to follow them.

Introducing Smarty Food & Fitness: a series dedicated to investigating how people all across the US are staying happy, healthy, and fit.

Each SFF installation will feature a different city, delivering the lowdown on what they’re eating, how they’re working out, and what kind of superfood they’re putting into their smoothies. First up: Chicago, where we tried five of the city’s top fitness classes.

This is our unbiased review.

COREPOWER YOGA

I first arrived in the Windy City weary and stale from the five-hour flight. I needed to move, stretch, and sweat, but it was late, and I didn’t know the area. In times like this, there is one place I know I can almost always turn: CorePower Yoga – the yoga chain with over 50 US locations, that offers some kind of class almost every hour, every day of the week.

To my delight, there was a studio within walking distance. The next class was CorePower Yoga Sculpt: an hour-long mashup of plyometrics, cardio, yoga, and weight lifting. I was looking for something a little more soothing, but oh well.

The “yoga” portion of the class consisted of a few rounds of sun salutations and a closing Savasana. I spent the rest of the 40 minutes bounding up and down my mat, alternating between high-intensity exercises such as burpees, jumping jacks, and mountain climbers, and weighted classics including tricep kickbacks and lunges. All of this, beneath heaters set to 90 degrees.By the end, I had worked extremely hard, or, at least, I felt like I had. But with heated exercise, I always wonder:

By the end, I had worked extremely hard, or, at least, I felt like I had. But with heated exercise, I always wonder:

Did I really work that hard, or was it just really hot?

Either way, I felt infinitely better than when I had started the class. I used to attribute this post-sweat euphoria to the healing powers of detoxification. Unfortunately, the idea that you can sweat out toxins is not backed by science. The biological function of sweat is to cool the body. Only about 1% of your sweat contains “toxins,” the rest is mostly water and electrolytes.

Heat has been shown to help increase blood flow and range of motion, but I wouldn’t recommend this type of class on a daily basis. Excessive sweating can dehydrate you and put strain on your kidneys. If you do decide to do sweat-based workouts, aim for no more than three or four per week, and make sure to replace those lost electrolytes with a mineral supplement, like ConcenTrace® Trace Mineral Drops.

TRAPEZE SCHOOL NEW YORK – CHICAGO

The next morning I hit the Google machine in search of the most interesting, unique, or geographically convenient fitness class I could find. I came across the flying trapeze. To be clear, I am NOT a thrill-seeker. I would never go skydiving or bungee jumping. I don’t even like to jet ski. I do like hanging upside down in my roommate’s antigravity chair, so I figured this might be a nice compromise.

I arrived to find the school not in a building, but in a park off North Lakeshore Drive. There was a large scaffolding apparatus with two platforms that were pretty tall. But it wasn’t the height that bothered me, it was the instructions:

“Clip the red clip to the right rope, the blue clip goes on the left…”

“Grab the cable with your left hand, the bar with your right…”

“Pull your knees up…”

“Point your toes…”

“Keep your elbows locked…”

The words were merging together. I was getting confused and overwhelmed. System overload. But rather than give up, I mustered up all my mental strength, turned off the “This is too hard, you’re going to fail” voice in my head, and focused. When I stepped to the edge of the platform, I thought: “Just listen to what they say, and do it.” And I did. For what was possibly the first time in my life, I did not think twice, and it worked. I was even able to do the catch (see video).

It may not be a heart-pounding, muscle-burning, soul-crushing workout, but if you try anything on this list, I highly recommend the flying trapeze.

One doesn’t often get the opportunity to shut off the mind and jump into the abyss.

 And I have to believe an exercise in thinking less and listening more is just as good as any butt-kicking boot camp.

 

 

SHREAD415
Now, for that heart-pounding, muscle-burning, soul-crushing workout, I give you: Shread415 – a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class that has you switching between running on a treadmill at different speeds and inclines, and working out with free weights.

I had tried a class like this a few years ago, but figured I’d see if this one brought anything new to the table. The first difference I noticed was that the rooms are lit like a Miami nightclub with music to match. Another nice touch is that all the necessary accouterments – benches, weights, cords, etc. – are conveniently set up for you. No time wasted wrangling dumbbells and elbowing for floor space.

This class gets your heart pumping for a full 60 minutes – something that many people couldn’t achieve when left to their own motivations (at least I couldn’t.) But the strobe lights, the group energy, and the Pitbull definitely help. And just when you think you can’t push any harder, it’s time to switch. So between the intervals, and checking your neighbor’s monitor to see if you’re beating them on the uphill sprint, time passes almost as fast as you’re running.

Shread415 does not use heart rate monitors, but my heart was beating so fast, having one would have probably been irrelevant. During my class, there wasn’t much time dedicated to the other half of the HIIT interval: recovery. Our intervals were more about moving from challenging to extremely challenging.

 The studio’s website promises to burn up to 1,200 calories per class.

 Personally, I would have liked to see more time dedicated to warm up, recovery, and cool down. Like heated exercise, if you’re going to do a class with such a high level of intensity, you probably don’t want to do it every day. If you’re constantly pushing yourself to the max, you could get sick or injured. On top of that, overtraining can cause a weight loss plateau, or even weight gain – not the goal most people are after. No matter what workout you choose, make sure you always reserve at least one or two days for rest.

POLE DANCING – FLIRTY GIRL FITNESS

From the second I walked through the door, I knew this place was different. The disco balls, blowout bar, and cocktails kind of tipped me off. But it was the energy (yes, I said it) radiating from the people behind the desk and the other gym goers that made me sure, if I was going to try pole dancing, I was in the right place. At Flirty Girl Fitness there are ZERO vibes of judgment or competition.

I have been to countless gym classes and yoga studios, and heard many a message about “love, acceptance, and celebration,” but this was the first time I ever truly felt it.

 As I approached my pole, that sick-stomach-burning-face feeling of imminent disaster was noticeably, and miraculously, absent. If I couldn’t do the moves, no one would notice. No one would care. These people were just happy I showed up – which was a good thing, as half the time I could not physically contort my body into the required moves, while the other half, I couldn’t remember what came next. For a beginner with no dance background, pole dancing is more an exercise in getting uncomfortable.

 It’s watching yourself awkwardly hurtle around a pole and gyrate in a manner that looks less like a twerk, and more like a painful back spasm.

 And then getting over it.
It’s about forcing yourself to, quite literally, dance like no one’s watching. That’s the only way you’re going to get anything out of this kind of a class. Luckily, if there is ever a place where you’ll be able to let loose and get low, Flirty Girl Fitness is it.

CITYWIDE SUPERSLOW®

The last stop on my list was Citywide Superslow® – a personal training facility that promised “All your fitness in 20 minutes a week!” Surely this was some type of scam designed to prey on the fantasies of the gym-averse… I had to check it out.

I reserved my time slot online and was instructed to show up 15 minutes early for my consultation. Each first-timer gets a one-on-one consultation with a CWSS trainer, to discuss their current state of fitness, goals, hopes, fears, dreams, etc. I was lucky enough to score my one-on-one with Theresa Snyder, part owner of CWSS.

Theresa told me that the CWSS technique is based on weight lifting principles developed by Dough McGough, MD, and involves lifting and lowering weights over a 20-second timeframe. It’s supposed to be better for your joints, your alignment, and your schedule. At CityWide SuperSlow® your entire workout consists of one set of five moves performed on machines like the leg extension and the chest press.

Five machines, one set, one round. That’s it.

 If that sounds super easy, it’s not. The goal is to produce muscle failure in six to eight reps – a sensation I can best describe as shaking so bad you cannot push one more millimeter, and feeling like you’re dangerously close to bursting into flames. When this happens, you hold and squeeze for another ten seconds.

Each client works one-on-one with his or her own personal trainer, who’s sort of like a workout doula. They help you pick the right weight, remember to breathe, keep proper form, and count time. Then, they cheer you through that last, brutal squeeze when you think you’re going to explode into another dimension.

According to Theresa, moving the weights “super slow” eliminates acceleration and momentum, working the muscles more effectively and safely. There’s little to no impact, and thanks to your trainer, you don’t need to worry about straining or misalignment. “This is a type of fitness you can do forever, well into your 70s and 80s,” she said.

Perhaps the best part about this kind of workout is that, according to CWSS, it’s so effective you only have to do it twice a week. In fact, they only let you do it twice a week. That’s a grand total of 40 minutes a week spent working out – which should free up some time for those pole dancing and trapeze classes.

Leaving Chicago, I was pretty tired. Generally, I don’t recommend two-a-day workouts, but, in the name of journalistic exploration, I’ll try anything once. Will I do any of it again? Absolutely. I’ve already ordered Body by Science, by Dough Mcgough, to learn more about super slow lifting, and – detox or no detox – I love the way I feel after a good sweat. As for pole dancing? Not sure if that will become part of my regular routine, but who knows? There is a studio only five blocks from the office…


 

Know anyone who lives in or is heading to Chicago? Share this with them!

Are you a Chi-Town native? What are your favorite ways and places to stay fit? We’d love to hear in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on January 7, 2016