Although race participation has been decreasing over the last two years, that doesn’t mean people aren’t working out anymore; in fact, participation in studio fitness and group fitness classes has shot up recently, with new studios and companies opening all over the country.

Because Chicago winters are ruthless, I thought it was the perfect time to taste the trend of studio fitness; I chose six of the popular classes, and wrote about them with the mission of potentially helping others find a new fitness niche. Can you say, “best assignment ever?”

Besides the few classes I took through my college fitness center, my studio fitness experience was very minimal, and I was kind of nervous going into each class. But not only did I get a bunch of free workouts, I had a lot of fun! I met many different kinds of people, and feel I was exposed to a whole new world of working out. Read about my experience, and maybe try out some of them yourself – who knows, maybe we’ll run into each other at a class soon, because I now consider myself a studio fitness enthusiast.

Class: Trapeze Taster Class

Location: Aloft Circus Arts – Logan Square

Saying I was intimidated to try a trapeze class would be a huge understatement; going in, I thought I’d be flying through the air, doing flips and expected to land them with no experience nor coordination whatsoever. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Aloft Circus Arts recently moved to Logan Square, and as a way to spread the word of its new opening, “taster classes” in trapeze, trampoline, silk and others were offered for only $10 during its first week. After that, those interested were able to purchase eight-week classes for various prices. The trapeze taster class was solely on the trapeze bar, which was a blessing in disguise for me.

The class started simple; our instructors taught us the proper hanging and swinging form, and then helped us hang upside down by our legs, and eventually sit on top of the bar. Then, we did some cool moves, including the angel and the mermaid (shown in the picture), and to be honest, I felt kind of badass.

Surprisingly, it was a really good workout! Every time I accomplished a trick, I’d come off the bar completely sweating, and parts of my arms were sore for three days afterwards. We definitely used muscles I didn’t even know I had, which explains why all the instructors appeared to be in great shape. After just “tasting” a 90-minute class on a trapeze bar, I give people in circus arts mad props.

Class: CrossFit

Location: CrossFit Illumine – Niles

Anyone who’s heard of CrossFit thinks that it’s a bunch of meatheads walking around the gym and trying to out-lift each other. While that is partially true (everyone is really strong), CrossFit is more of a family than it is a competitive class environment.

This was another class I was apprehensive about beforehand; as someone who mostly just does cardio and some ab workouts, my upper body strength is practically nonexistent. Luckily, the owners of CrossFit Illumine are super cool, and helped me modify the entire workout so I didn’t hurt myself.

The workout started off with a short jog to warm up, and then we did some deadlifts and lunges with a partner. The meat of the workout consisted of two minute intervals, trying to fit in as many sets of deadlifts and squat presses as possible, followed by three minutes of recovery. It doesn’t sound like much, especially with more than equal recovery time, but trying to go fast while maintaining proper form is pretty difficult for a beginner, and the more advanced participants were probably tripling my set count.

I enjoyed this class because it allowed me to focus on one of my biggest weaknesses, which is lifting. I also learned that I have a weak back because I kept arching it during my deadlifts, so since then I have been trying to strengthen it. However, the best part of trying CrossFit was the camaraderie; throughout the entire workout, everyone was cheering on their fellow classmates, keeping positivity and motivation flowing throughout the warehouse. In between exercises, everyone kept making jokes and laughing, never letting the difficulty of the workout bring them down.

Class: SoulCycle

Location: SoulCycle – Old Town

The only thing I knew about SoulCycle going in was what I saw on the TV show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and the episode kind of made fun of it. However, I knew it was really popular, so I wanted to try it.

Immediately I was impressed; the studio was very clean and modernly designed, and the employees were very welcoming when they heard it was my first time (they gave me a free SmartWater). The bathrooms even had free ponytails and Q-tips next to the showers! I received a pair of special shoes, like clips that avid cyclists or triathletes wear, which I had never put on so it felt a little funky walking around, but definitely saved me from flying off the bike a few times.

There were no phones allowed in the studio, which I really liked because I already use my workout time as a time to disconnect from my phone, and this was reinforcing that. The lights were dim, which I also appreciated so nobody saw me making a fool out of myself, and the instructor was very upbeat – we even sang “Happy Birthday” to a girl in the middle of the workout.

I did have a little experience with other spin classes prior to this, but SoulCycle was unlike any of those; not only was it more like dancing on a bike to fun music, but they really focused on the mindfulness aspect of working out, which I’m all about. A few times, we were riding solely by candlelight, and were asked to close our eyes and just focus on ourselves and our workout, nothing else. I have taken mindfulness classes before, and while it sometimes is hard to find that place, I was able to in this class, which I really think helped improve my workout.

SoulCycle studios are all over the place – there’s three in Chicago alone. If I was able to afford it, (about $30 a class), I would definitely become a regular SoulCycler, because I really enjoyed this class.

Class: Hot Yoga

Location: CorePower Yoga –  Glen Ellyn

I love to sweat, but Hot Yoga is an entirely new form of sweating.

I decided to go to CorePower Yoga for this class because every new member gets their first week free (and two weeks if you buy a yoga mat for $10, which I did), and there are several locations. The studio reminded me a lot of the SoulCycle studio; it was very clean and open, with a modern touch but also felt homey. They also sold a bunch of yoga clothes and accessories, which I almost splurged on.

When I got there, the instructor told me to go lay down on my mat and just relax before the class began. Walking into the studio felt like I crossed a border from Alaska to Hawaii, and I instantly began sweating. And when I say sweating, I mean beading and dripping in places I’ve never sweat before. It was actually kind of cool.

Once the class began, I was totally relaxed (I almost fell asleep on my mat). We did a variety of different yoga moves, all of which I failed at because of my lack of coordination, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I appreciated the repetition of the moves, too, so by the end I felt like I was starting to get a better grasp on yoga.

Personally, though, yoga is a little too slow for me; it is relaxing, but having to stay in the same position over and over was more boring than it was challenging. However, the heat added a whole new spin for me, and when I left, I felt like I had a good workout based on how sweaty I was. While the heat may be too much for some people to tolerate, I liked it, and actually forgot about it after a while.

Class: Barre

Location: The Barre Code – Evanston

Barre was the class I was most excited to try – I had heard so many good things about it before, and even though I did try it a few times back at school, I was eager to participate in one with a real instructor, not just a fitness graduate student.

When I was looking for a studio, The Barre Code got a lot of great reviews, so I tried it. Again, it was very clean and impressive; I especially appreciated the chalkboard that was hung before entering the actual studio, as it listed encouraging words and new goals every day.

The room where we worked out was covered in mats, and had ballet barres and mirrors along all the walls. The barres even had little encouraging phrases which I thought was adorable. We were all asked to grab a set of three to five pound weights, and the workout began.

I loved this class mostly because of the unique exercises we did – so often, I get caught in a rut doing the same types of squats or lunges, that I no longer feel sore after. But, by adding in a little arm movement, or lifting your heel off the ground, changes the entire exercise, and works completely different muscles. The playlist was great and motivating, and while there was not much cardio involved, I genuinely felt like I had a full-body workout in just one hour.

Class: Pilates

Location: Fox River Pilates – Geneva

Going into Pilates, I was the most confident out of any of the other classes; I have been doing different Pilates videos since the beginning of summer, and felt like I knew a lot of different moves and knew what to expect. However, it was a little different.

First, the studio was unlike any of the other studios I went to during this experience; located on the Fox River, it was pretty small, and there was only one room for the classes. I showed up for the group mat class, but was the only one who came, so I ended up getting a free one-on-one session out of it, which was very helpful.

My instructor was awesome – not only was she hilarious and we had a lot in common, but she focused on making the workout valuable for me. I told her I was a runner and had some knee problems, so she immediately made sure we did a lot to loosen my hamstrings and open up my hips. In fact, she said Pilates is really beneficial for runners, as it helps build a strong core and improve posture, ultimately increasing endurance and correcting form.

I learned that the Fox River Pilates studio is predominately private sessions, or two-on-one classes, because they like to give clients the intimate experience and make them a priority. While I was a little caught off guard by my instructor’s physical corrections, I know it really helped me to maximize each exercise to get the full benefit. I was pretty sore from this class, and I definitely want to do it again! And now, I’m more open to the one-on-one experience, and not just group fitness classes.

After this adventure, I understand why studio fitness is growing in popularity; working out in a group is much more motivating, and each class is so different, ensuring participants never get bored of working out.

The only downfall in my eyes is the prices – while I got a lot of “first-timer” deals, those don’t last long, and eventually, you could get stuck paying $15-$30 a class. There is a Pilates studio opening up in my hometown, so I may choose to forgo my gym membership for that, but I still have to weigh my options.

In the end, though, I strongly encourage all athletes to give studio fitness a try. I learned so much more about my body and how things work by adding just a little bit of variety to my workouts, and I definitely notice a difference in my mindset and form when I run too. Plus, it’s fun to challenge yourself to try something new – isn’t that what working out is all about?

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Holly's running career began in high school; after being bummed about not making the volleyball team her sophomore year, she decided to join some of her middle school friends on the cross country team. She also did track in the fall, where the 1600 m race was her niche. Since then, she has run several shorter distance races and two half marathons. Her goal for 2017 is to try a triathlon, and eventually do the Chicago Marathon. She graduated from Illinois State University in May 2016 with a degree in journalism. Working at Chicago Athlete, Holly has been able to explore photography a lot more, which is one of her main hobbies. She enjoys taking photos at endurance races, and is also passionate about nature photography and portraiture.


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