I Tried (and Survived) New York's 5 Most Popular Workout Classes
When it comes to working out, let’s say I’m not very experienced. The whole cult-workout craze has been lost on me. I’m scared of riding a spin-class bike to loud music and the encouraging (and scary) chants of an enthusiastic teacher. I have yet to adorn myself in a skintight leotard and take a barre class. I don’t have enough coordination for Zumba. But that’s not to say exercise isn’t important to me.
I’ve made a habit of frequenting my local yoga studio—my flow of choice is ashtanga. I love the way it makes my body feel, and I totally subscribe to the yogi mantra. I like to relax and feel good all the way through my practice. Needless to say, with everything else, I scare easily.
I decided to face my fears head-on and attend some of the most widely popular workout classes on the map. My goal? To get my heart racing, break a sweat, and hopefully not die trying. I sought out help from the founders and respected trainers leading each class to get the lowdown on what exactly was going to happen. Then I strapped on my most fashionable athleisure gear (Ivy Park Sleeveless Logo Body, $50), bought a Bkr Glass Water Bottle ($35), and hit the pavement (or the mat, or the bike, or the jump board). In the process, I learned a lot about pushing past my limits and reaching an exercise-induced endorphin nirvana. It does exist, you guys.
Keep reading for my experience at each class to decide whether or not it could be right for you.
The Workout: NW Method
Before heading to her class, I wanted to chat with Nicole Winhoffer to see what I was getting myself into. Luckily, she was wildly informative and really understanding of my hangups. She told me to just do what made me feel comfortable and to not worry or think too much. Winhoffer also talked a lot about the different muscles we’d work in her class and why it’s so important to pay attention to them. “Because we walk forward, speak to people with forward intention, and type and text on our computers and phones, the same muscles get used day after day.” She continued, “My exercises change weekly, even daily, which is something I learned to do when working with my clients. I pay attention to the details of the body we might overlook because we can’t see or feel them yet. It’s not just a workout for your mind and body, but also your spirit! I exercise feelings, body, and mind during the NW Method in a fun, sexy way that puts women back in touch with themselves.”
The room was warm, and I knew I was definitely in for a sweat session. But it was also dimly lit, so as to prevent self-consciousness and competition (two things I saw as common threads in cult-fave workout classes). “I heat up the room because it helps with so many different things. It improves flexibility, burns calories, warms your internal organs, increases circulation, sweats out toxins, and gives you a healthy skin tone.” She adds, “I think people get nervous from watching my videos because everyone looks good. But it’s important to know that everyone comes from all fitness levels and sizes. Getting to that point takes time, and everyone moves at their own pace.” This is a no-judgment zone, people—just the way I like it.
The first portion of the 60-minute class targets rotational muscles around the shoulders to ease any neck pain. The second works your hip muscles, low abs, and butt. “The toning and high repetition is what sets the NW Method apart, Winhoffer explains. “I like incorporating different styles of dance in my routines, so you’re never bored. My choreography is always fun and expressive because I like making people feel like pop stars for the day. Classes start with toning and sculpting work, and then transition into dance choreography and dance cardio.”
It makes so much sense—you work a bunch of muscles and then actually use them in the second part of the class. It’s hard, but it’s really fun too. (And believe me, I never thought I’d say that.) “When you’re sculpting, you’re tearing small muscle fibers,” Winhoffer says. “And if we just stopped, stuff would lock up. That’s when you get cramping. But when you move afterward, you get blood pumping through the muscle. It’s a whole circulation thing and an energetic one. Plus, you leave on a high.”
After all was said and done, I couldn’t believe how great I felt. Performing a choreographed dance in front of anyone, much less a group full of hard-bodied women, was previously my nightmare. But it was uplifting to forget about what you look like and just jump and dance around. “It’s a class where booty-dropping combines with be-real-with-yourself messages—and the approach leaves you feeling happy, rejuvenated, and drenched in sweat.” Amen to that.
Afterward, Winhoffer suggested I take a bath with Epsom salt and rose oil, so naturally I did exactly as instructed.
The Workout: Dogpound
The Dogpound boxing program was designed by former Olympic champion Regilio Tuur, and it has a strong emphasis on correct form. That immediately freaked me out. But don’t fret! It was an awesome full-body workout. Much to my dismay, it wasn’t just about arms and punching things (though that did happen).
I chatted with Brey Peña, one of the founders of Dogpound, about what to expect. “Our signature style is the Machine Gun Method—a high-intensity full-body session that combines elements of yoga, barre, resistance training, core strength, ballet, and cardiovascular endurance. It begins with 15 minutes of jump rope and stretching. Then, you’ll do one to three laps around the gym.”
But then comes the punching. You do repetitions of forward, backward, and side-to-side movements with left jabs, right crosses, and mix of both. It’s a lot to take in, but it feels badass while you’re doing it. Then the class goes right into straight punches, hooks, and uppercuts (phrases I only know from dramatic boxing movies with a central love story). Then on to the dreaded abs portion. I held it together while I worked my core, but seriously, ow.
The classes finish up with cheering and chanting in a way that would have scared me off before but feels strangely satisfying in the moment. I don’t usually enjoy screaming “Dogpound” with a bunch of people much more physically fit than myself, but it really felt like we were all in it together. Basically, I got my butt kicked, but I learned that boxing is a full-body sport that engages the entire body from your ears down to your ankles. Everyone was so energetic the entire way through, which was helpful and empowering.
The Workout: Karen Lord Pilates Movement Jumpboard
The KLPM Jumpboard class is an in-studio super-workout. Honestly, Karen Lord’s enthusiasm is infectious. Jumpboard is 55 minutes of intermittent reformer flow and jumping. “There’s a padded board attached to the foot end of our reformers, turning the machine into a kind of antigravity outer-space trampoline experience,” Lord explains. “Or rather jumping with spring resistance while horizontal—this can be back or side lying, superhero-style flying, or side-lying squats.” Um, what? I pondered what this was going to mean for my tired body. I had been doing workout classes all week, and while it was exciting and fun to finally move my body, I felt trepidation.
“There’s a flow to the class; we'll start you off a bit more slowly, acclimating the group to the sensation, and showing you how hard the core has to work in the process,” Lord said. As you go, they adjust the resistance (lighter springs aren’t easier, FYI) to get your heart rate up with a series of moves that work your entire body. It’s counterintuitive, but you realize a light spring resistance is harder because your core has to work that much harder to support the weight of your legs. It’s pretty intense but not ever punishing, just really, really challenging. “The trick is in the cueing—our trainers are very specific; they'll give you little tricks. Listening is really important to stay safe and get the most out of a class.”
The end of the class is no walk in the park. As Lord warned me, “At KLPM, you’ll always plank at the end. It’s a great way for you to measure your own growth, strength, and stamina. We use weights and jumping simultaneously to get the arms feeling really alive (and looking really good). It’s full body, mental focus, and cardio, so there’s the sweat factor and the burn that our clients really seek. It gets your heart pumping—and hopefully smiling—because the point is it’s actually really fun.”
What I found was this class was energizing, sweaty, and really hard to cheat (not that I’m known to do that or anything…). It truly feels like a new kind of movement where you’re allowed to laugh, sweat, moan in agony, and throw your bare feet in the air.
Our associate editor Lindsey, who turned me on to the class, agrees: “I sincerely think Karen Lord’s Jumpboard Pilates class is the future of Pilates. At my first class, after finding out I’d be lying down on a spring-loaded table-like contraption the entire time, I was a bit skeptical. But after the first move of pushing off the board and flying back toward the mirror (which the instructor assured me I wouldn’t crash into), I knew I was going to enjoy the class. Throughout the one-hour session, we switched from our back, to our stomach, to our sides, doing a variety of different moves that flung us backward like we were in Cirque du Soleil, all while really working all of my muscles. I was definitely feeling the burn the next day. Plus, it’s extremely fun.”
The Workout: SoulCycle
Okay, so I really was terrified of spinning. I really didn’t want to furiously pedal in a dark room listening to early-2000s jams and compete against my fellow classmates. But I signed up for this, and you’re supposed to face your fears eventually, right?
I talked to Corinne Croce, SoulCycle’s physical therapist, about everything that was going to go down in the 45 minutes I was there. She explained, “A SoulCycle class is an interval-based cardiovascular workout. All classes are an aerobic workout that include varying intensities of aerobic output and anaerobic intervals. Benefits of both systems are a part of SoulCycle, which allows for positive effects from these systems in class and post-class (especially metabolically). They all include a proper warm-up and cool-down to safely balance the hard work performed in class.”
And she wasn’t kidding—it felt like every muscle in my body was being used during this class. My quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves were on fire. But perhaps in a good way? Croce continued, “Each leg muscle uses varying levels of activation during different portions of the peddle stroke but they are all always working. All of the muscles of the core, back, abdominals, glutes, and many other muscles of the torso are working the entire time to stabilize riders and activate at different levels depending on what is being conducted. The muscles of the arm are involved in stability and supporting the body throughout class.”
What I found, though, is the beauty of SoulCycle is riders of all levels are able to get an intense workout because the workload is based on the riders’ individual threshold. And I really liked that. I worked hard throughout the class because I felt motivated from a unique place—during the ride, you’re encouraged to work toward the goals as a pack with your fellow classmates.
Sky Ting Yoga
The Workout: Sky Ting Yoga
I had wanted to try Sky Ting Yoga for a long time, if not for any other reason than all the chic fashion girls did it. I found out, though, the flow is quite different than my usual practice. Founders Krissy Jones and Chloe Kernaghan explain: “The yoga we teach is a medley of lineages. All styles of yoga have something important to offer, and we steal from them all! Cross-pollinating yogic material allows us to create something wholly new yet refined with rich substance and history. In biology, monocultures are highly susceptible to disease and death. Likewise, we believe that braiding a diverse pool of influences helps us create the strongest possible offering for the physical, emotional, and cultural health and well-being of our wonderful community. The primary traditions we study and borrow from most are Katonah, Taoist, hatha and vinyasa, as well as several different meditation and breathing practices.”
I was totally in. I went to a class, and now I’m officially addicted. It’s wild to think about how many years I’ve been going to yoga and how swiftly this class taught me that there’s so much more education to take in. There are a range of levels, from beginner to advanced, so there’s definitely something for everyone. The “Advanced Tings” class is “designed for students with a steady practice looking to dive into more advanced variations of asana, pranayama, and meditation.” It was difficult, but it felt so good all the way through. Plus, after a week of putting myself in new and often uncomfortable situations, I felt right at home.
In the end, I wouldn’t have changed this experience for anything. I felt strong, inspired, and so tired. But I faced my fears and realized these classes are popular for a reason. They have a community surrounding them because they’re each helpful and important in their own ways. This week really helped me come around to the idea of using exercise as a way to better understand my body (and ultimately, myself). It’s truly cathartic. So maybe now I’m part of the cult craze. But hey, if treating my body well is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Now I have to go take a nap and ice my limbs.
If you’re looking for a less conventional regimen, you’ll love the J.Law fitness plan, where you can eat pizza and still lose weight. Yes, really.