I’ve never been a fitness person. Wellness people will yell at me for that first sentence about limiting beliefs, but whatever, go drink a juice and calm down. I danced a bit when I was young, but that was about the closest thing I got to consistent exercise in my life. In gym class, I was one of the gals who walked the perimeter of the gym for their credit. Once a year, I think, yeah, I should probably do something with my body and I’ll take a class and then never go back ever again. I once hired a personal trainer, years ago, and almost fainted on my first day. My body (and brain) was like, “Yeah, not for me.”
But this year, as I turned 35, I thought, “Just move your body, Sam.” So that’s what I wanted to do. But as a workout hater, I truly wondered what I can even expect from these workouts I see everyone doing. Can I even do them? Why do some of them feel like a cult? (Said as someone who would probably join a cult if the food was good and I didn’t have too many chores… Just kidding.*)
If you, like me, hate working out but kind of think you should do it or whatever, find my first impressions below of popular workout classes and studios. Think of it as a first-timer’s guide to boutique fitness classes, if said first timer truly detests fitness. We are one in the same.
*She was, in fact, not really kidding.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪💪
Welcome to my nightmare. If you haven’t seen Barry’s on your Instagram feed (I envy you), it’s basically a very red room (they literally call it the Red Room, and no, I don’t really get it either), that has treadmills and floor, uh, like, individual raised platforms (I don’t do workouts, remember?) that you do things for arms and abs and other non-treadmill workouts (with the help of dumbbells and bungees). I’m not gonna lie, for some reason, this may have been the one I was intimidated by the most — maybe because I sort of knew what was to expect, since it’s been around since 1998, and everyone I know who lives in both cities I’ve lived for the formative years of my life (NYC and LA) talk about how hard it is. Wahoo, sign me up. (Sarcasm). I signed up through the app and chose a treadmill place first (you pick treadmill or floor, though if you really don’t want to run at all, you can choose a double floor designated placement. I thought I’d be a good person and do the “true,” this-is-what-Barry’s-is-known-for experience, even though I hate running). I arrived at class 15 minutes early as instructed by the app for a newbie walkthrough and was basically told the run-down of the class, where the locker rooms were, and where the towels and water stations were located. If you’ve been to a workout class before, I would say you don’t need the 15 minutes, unless you want to talk to the instructor about injuries or things you’ll need. My instructor was Alex and I was in the Venice location, which is basically known for hot people who are often shirtless and ripped. While normally I’d be into that, being perceived by these individuals as you huff and puff is maybe not my idea of a good time. Thankfully, as soon as the workout started, I realized no one really gave a flying fuck what you were doing in your little treadmill or floor land. Everyone was super focused on their own workout, and it was… dare I say it, enjoyable? I think the instructor is key to this workout (as many are), because Alex was super helpful and explanatory and kept dancing around the room, calling out the newbies’ names with praise which, honestly, helped.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪💪💪
If you haven’t heard of Solidcore yet, you will. The studios focus on your core (uh, duh) by using a pilates-inspired reformer (those big scary looking platforms that move). It’s been around for 10 years but has seemingly exploded in the past few, with locations all over the country. Before going, my fitness friends described it as “the hardest workout” they’ve ever done and questioned my sanity since this was actually the first workout (like, ever) I had done in maybe a year. So, obviously, I headed in super confident. My studio in Santa Monica thankfully offered a “beginner” class, which focused on explaining a lot of the major moves done in Solidcore by way of a slower-paced class. (The classes are typically 50 minutes and are generally all movement — you build in your own breaks if you need them — while the beginner class was a 50-minute class with about 40 minutes of movement.) Since core is the focus, we started off in a plank (I later learned that’s how practically every class starts to warm up). Then it’s a series of movements on the machine, and depending on the day, they focus on your core, back, legs, etc. Was I cursing under my breath about 5 minutes in? Yep. Did my neighbor hear me and shake her head in unity? Yep. And that, my friends, is called building community.
The reformer is a bit of a Transformer of sorts, giving you all types of workout options, and the main platform moves but there’s also straps for foot placement and non-moving platforms on either side that you can use for things like seated crunches and bungee pulls (where you put your forearms on the platform, your feet on the floor, and use one of your feet to lift a bungee cord up — I’m told this works your glutes but as a flat-footed person, I spent half the time getting out of a cramp). By the end of that “beginner” workout, my body was on fire and I had sweat the most I had in my entire life. I came again to do a “normal” workout (I’m a journalist, god dang it), and it was much faster but the instructor came around and helped my poor unfortunate soul, which was good. I actually didn’t sweat the same in that one, and I soon learned that the workouts can differ based on instructor and focus a lot. I also learned that you can do pretty much everything on your knees (get your mind out of the gutter), so that makes it less difficult for those of us who haven’t worked out since our days in P.E. The thing that gets me is that the instructors (and thus, the program) focuses on muscle “failure,” so they often yell about that. “We want you to fail!” one instructor yelled at the class, which made me giggle. I’ve been back many times since (which tells you something), and honestly, I still can’t do like half the workout, but if you’re an easily distracted girlie like me, you’ll enjoy this one. Time flies and you aren’t spending any time thinking about what you’re doing next — there’s literally no time to.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪💪
Orange Theory, from what I can tell, is one of those workouts that if you love it you love it and if you don’t you’re, well, that’s that. It’s a circuit-based workout, meaning you start at one station and then move to the next. With a treadmill, a row machine, and floor (with weights and a bench), you’re basically following the same format, with two different groups doing the workouts in a reverse order. (Similar to Barry’s in this way.) I showed up for my first workout ready to go 12 minutes before start time. They were like, nah girl. Apparently, for your first Orange Theory class, you have to show up 30 minutes before start. (The class itself is 50 minutes.) I never got the email to alert me to do so because I signed up for a class last year and never went, and apparently they only send that message out once. So if you’re like me who bails, just know that when you actually show up you have to do so a half hour before start. On my second try, I got in, and was given the run down of the zones — there’s a Gray zone (aka Zone 1), Blue zone (Zone 2), Green zone (Zone 3), Orange zone (Zone 4), and Red zone (Zone 5). It’s based on your heart rate, which they measure and track using a band they give you before class. You can then see your individual stats after the workout, both on your phone and on a screen during class (oh yeah, did I mention that your zones are broadcast to everyone?). In that 30 minutes, I learned the zones, how to wear the band, how the circuit worked, where I’d be starting, and was given time for questions. (I feel like this could be accomplished in 15 minutes, but what do I know?)
When you start class, you’re with a group, but then you sort of like, peel off depending on how fast the others are going. So sometimes I would find myself just rowing along on the row machine, maybe one other person beside me, as I finished up the amount of rows I was supposed to do. The instructor will tell you what zone you’d want to be in per part of the class, and I found that I crushed this part because it didn’t take me long to get to any zone — my heart was pumping, baby. In fact, no need for increased speed or weight for Orange or Red, I’m already there and I’m sweating. Since you’re kind of doing your own thing at your pace, I found it kind of hard to focus — the exercises for the floor were overhead on the screen (the instructor demoed them at the beginning of class), but without my glasses, I was relying on the competence of the others in the group so I could just match what they were doing — and everyone had a different pace. The instructor kept coming around and encouraging us all, giving us tips on what we should be doing differently, our form, etc. but I found myself just chillin’ at one point on the bench, looking around at all us silly little humans doing our little workouts. An existential workout crisis, if you will. If you’re motivated by being in a group class but kind of like to do your own thing, this could be your go-to. For me, I just learned that I don’t like seeing my stats on a board.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪
Rumble is a boxing-inspired workout. I say inspired, because I don’t really know what real boxing is supposed to look like, but I sure as hell can tell you I was not doing it. Like many of these boutique classes, it’s a combination of the “thing” (aka boxing) and then weights and ab work on the floor with a bench. When I got there, I was outfitted with gloves (for free, since it was my first class, but it’s a fee in the future) and wraps (that I had to buy). The wraps are now mine, but the gloves you need to either purchase a set of your own, or rent them afterwards every time. In any case, we started off in a dark room with lots of lights and my instructor saying words like “jab” and “cross” and “right hook.” I later learned that there’s only 6 boxing moves you use during class (probably should have known this going in, but I’m trying to experience, okay?), and then combinations are made from them that are both demonstrated by the instructor and put across a top screen — kind of like a dance. After you do this for a bit, you then move to the floor to do a series of weight exercises. Then it’s back to boxing, before going back to the floor for ab exercises. (At least, that’s how my class was structured.)
I thought I would love this class since I love fast-moving things, and while I liked it, I felt like I couldn’t really get into it since I didn’t understand the moves that well. I think by your second class or third class, you’ll feel more competent. The other thing that made me chuckle (like, literally) was some people were so serious about it — I’m not really sure why they didn’t just go to a boxing ring? It seemed like they were doing their own thing half of the time, and while in other fitness classes you can kind of find the person to follow for form and change cues, this class had zero of that; I had no idea who was top dog. I found myself looking around like a lost puppy about 45% of the time. That being said, it was enjoyable. The weights and abs part was definitely a workout (and left me dead). But there’s definitely a learning curve with this one (with all of them, but with this one in particular). I’ll also say, besides Barry’s, this was one of the only classes I took that had a high ratio of men. (Do with that information what you will.)
Hard factor: 💪💪
This one is kind of cheating, because this was definitely not my first time at SoulCycle. I am a millennial who lived in NYC for the formative years of my life, aka the SoulCycle boom, so I’ve been a time or two. Spoiler alert: Nothing has changed. It’s still super positive, still super fast moving, and still super easy to not turn the knob when they tell you to for more resistance. (But, you know, I was a good student and I did it.) If you haven’t been to a cycle class yet, you basically get some shoes from the front desk (for a fee, obviously), put them on your feet before entering the studio (this part has always been weird to me), hobble over to your assigned bike (I’m always in the back), and adjust your seat to your height (I never, never know and always ask the instructor to help). Then you gracefully get on the bike (jk, there’s no way to do this gracefully) and literally hook your shoes into the pedals. That’s the part where I question my sanity, but you move past it quickly because all of a sudden you’re listening to Top 40 music selections and pedaling your little heart out. Sometimes you’re jumping out of the seat, sometimes you’re lifting weights (pending the class). Going back after years of not taking a class like this, it was comforting to know just how little had changed. Same format, same uncomfortable seats, same silly little walk to your bike. It’s a good cardio workout but I will say get there early if you’re new.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪
Pure Barre is a barre class, meaning you spend a certain amount of time doing stretches and movements from a bar on the wall (living your ballerina dreams), while also doing floor work like stretches and weights. Its focus is on small, tiny movements. They encourage you to wear long workout pants, which I thought was sort of weird, until I went, and I was struck by the fact that the room is fully carpeted (not plush carpeting, but like that corporate carpeting that leaves marks in your skin — aka you want pants). This is so you don’t have to use a mat for most of the floor workout, though about 3 seconds into the workout my body was screaming for a mat. So just take a mat. (You’ll need it later anyway.) You also need grip socks (like those you use for pilates as well), and thankfully I had them, because they were pretty pricey up front. We started with stretching, before doing some ab movements, before going into some small weight work (I was using two pounds), and then we went to the barre. I wish I could tell you the moves, but honestly I was sort of disassociating the entire time. These classes, I can tell, will really build up your core and strengthen your hip flexors, but neither of those are great for me so I was struggling. The room also made me think of a grade school classroom (I think it was the carpet and the mats, and at the end of class our instructor turned off the lights and had us stretching, which felt reminiscent of nap time.) Overall though, it wasn’t my least favorite. I think if you want to improve your mobility, this may be the right class for you.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪💪
Sweaty. That’s all my brain can muster from my experience with Y7. I’ll caveat that I’ve never been a yoga lover — I go once a year every year, without fail, thinking, “Yeah, that feels like something I could get into — mind-body connection, good stretching…” and then I walk out hating the world, which I think is the opposite of what you’re supposed to feel leaving a yoga class. All to say, I didn’t have high hopes for Y7 (sorry, y’all). Turns out, however, that hot yoga is infinitely more satisfying than regular yoga, at least for me. I think ‘cause it turns off part of your brain, maybe? Like, at a certain point, in downward dog, sweat dripping down my face and saturating my clothes, I thought, “Is this zen?” You grab a mat and towel (for a fee) and then your instructor takes you through the moves in this boiling hot room. If you’ve never been to a yoga class at all, you’ll probably need a bit more help from the instructor (so sit closer), but if you’ve been to a yoga class, it’s like that but faster and sweatier. I was a puddle by the end. Legit. I know I should be talking more about the class but I just can’t. It was hot. That’s really all you need to know. If you think you hate yoga or you want to try a different type of yoga, this one’s for you.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪
As someone who had tried Orange Theory before Row House, a class made up entirely of using row machines, I was like, dear god, this is my biggest nightmare. And then I got there. They had my name on a little welcome board by my rower (cuuuute, Santa Monica, I see you), and as a sucker for marketing, I was already on board. There were four of us who were new, so the instructor took us through what we’d be doing and how it kind of all worked. Can I just say, it’s the one class where I felt like I truly knew what the fuck was going on. Mostly because there’s only like, one move — and based on speed and pull, you can change how the rower feels and how much of a workout you’re getting. The coach basically coaches you altogether with the class, so you’re moving in unison (and again, as a former dancer, this really made my brain chemicals happy — it was almost hypnotic hearing the whirr of the machines and seeing our bodies all move together). You also do some stuff off the machine — mostly weight movements and things to help improve either your balance or your flexibility. Even though it was repetitive, it felt the most stimulating to my mind; maybe because you’re all working as a team. If you’re a team girlie, this one’s for you. More to that point: I went on a Friday, and it was the last class of the day. Thus, it was dubbed “crew then brew,” and everyone was invited to go to a local bar for drinks together. (I didn’t go, but I promised next time I would because hell yeah.) Lastly, but maybe the most important note, besides Lift Society, this class was the most diverse in terms of body size and (outward) disability. It’s great for those with joint problems, etc. and I felt very comfortable even as a beginner who is not-so-fit. Definitely a 10/10 for me.
Hard factor: 💪💪💪💪
This boutique class, located in LA, is focused on small group workouts centered around, you guessed it, lifting weights. The weights section of any workout, gym, or facility is the first thing to make me say “hell to the no,” and walk the other way, so I was definitely curious to see how this would go. I walked into the studio in Santa Monica in my cute lil fit, to find everyone in shorts, baggy t-shirts, and oversized sweats. Noted. When I first got there, there was only one other person besides the instructor. When we started, there were four of us. Love that — less people means less witnesses to my early-onset death. My instructor, Sage, asked me about my experience with weights. “You mean like these?” I gestured to the bar that, presumably, you loaded with weights like all those TikTok girlies I see. “Absolutely none.” She told me that was totally fine and she’d walk me through everything. I love feeling catered to (cue Beyoncé) so I nodded in gratitude, and she adjusted my bar height to my 5’2 frame. Next came the weights, or so I thought. “We’ll just start with the bar,” she said. She told me it weighs 40 lbs. “Alone, and we could add weights throughout if it’s too easy.” I can affirmatively say, it was not.
We actually started on the floor, doing some yoga poses. Hell yeah, I thought, with my very amateur experience with yoga, I was crushing it. I will say, she went very fast through downward dog, cat-cow, and some other stretching asanas. Got it. Yoga was not the focus here, I figured. It was basically to stretch you out a bit before we got to lifting. Then, she said the things we would be doing and my mind had no idea what she was communicating to me. Foreign language words like “progressive overload” interspersed with words I sort of knew, like “sets,” “tempo,” and “glutes,” all kind of collided together. I just looked over to everyone as they started to get the gist, and soon she was demonstrating every move before we did it on my bar. Hoorah. I found the lifting of a bar actually too easy in some parts (so I lied before, my bad), and added a measly 10-pound weight to each side for 20 extra pounds. But generally, I used the bar and focused on form. I found it actually more interesting than other workouts — I could really focus on myself, the instructor gave me great feedback, and I found myself really leaning into it (unlike others where I tried actively to disassociate from my body). I think my lizard brain really enjoyed the lifting of things. “Lift things, feel good,” was my caveman chant in my head, and that worked better than any cheesy mantra I’d experienced thus far in my (very small) workout background.
After a series of increasingly harder lifts, we did some workouts on the floor including hip thrusts and then work with dumbbells — lunges and batwing fly moves, where you hold dumbbells and lift your arms out like a bat. At the end, we did core work with some bicycle crunches and toe touches.
I’m not gonna lie, I… liked it? Like, a lot? I was sweating at the end but not in a “I will die soon,” way. So I think that’s a win.