Reforming my ways

As anyone who knows me can attest, I get restless after a few days sans workout. Living in New York has made me a total gym rat but I’ve always loved running outdoors so when we moved here, I kept myself happy by running the Opera House loop. As glorious as this was, I was hankering for some HIIT or resistance training.  Fortunately there was a giant Fitness First across the street so I popped over to sign up for a trial.

Fitness First

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I’d never encountered a Fitness First before this, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Unfortunately the salesperson who delivered my tour was as enthusiastic as a vegetarian at a steak house. The space itself was huge and even though it was slightly casino-like and underground (no natural sunlight boo!) the facilities seemed functional: a couple studios, a large weight zone, plenty of cardio machines and a huge mat area with 10 or so dangling TRX straps.

I’ve been training on the TRX for just over a year.  I love it.  Aside from the gains in core strength, stability and muscle tone (and the fact that there isn’t a dull moment) one of my favourite things about TRX is that the recovery time is short and sweet(er than a circuit).  You can throw in a 30 minute TRX circuit before or after some cardio and wake up the next day hungry for more.  Because it engages the core and spreads the work across a lot of smaller, often unused muscles, it doesn’t leave you sore and weary in the way that reps with weights or on weight machines might.

Photo from the TRX TrainStation in Toronto

Photo from the TRX TrainStation in Toronto

Anyway, back to Fitness First…

The “club”, as they like to call it, I’d walked into turned out to be one of Fitness First’s platinum locations, meaning higher prices, fewer people and the option to upgrade to black label membership — which gets you entry to a subterranean locker room with a mechanical massage table, a makeup area, a permanent locker and free laundry service.  Wait…what?

I used the first of my two free passes on the elliptical and TRX.  Meh.  The TRX bands were so hard to adjust that they were almost not worth it and the cardio area smelled funky.  The unnatural lighting somehow hampered any possible endorphin rush.

Despite the signs, I came back the next day to give their yoga a try and I have to say that it may have been the most unpleasant yoga class I’ve been too :/.  For starters, the yoga mats were half the size they usually are. When a mat can’t contain my 5’4″ downward dog, you know it’s small.  And when you can’t fit both your hands and feet on a mat, you know you’re just waiting for a slip injury. Second, the instructor for some reason had decided to use a mic. drill sergeant orders some how don’t jibe well with the zen of yoga. If that weren’t enough, every five minutes there would be a loud THUMP on the roof of the yoga studio that would reverberate across the floor.  Ahhhhh!

Next stop: Virgin Active

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After abandoning Fitness First, I decided to check out Virgin Active.  I’d heard good things and several colleagues had mentioned going there.  They only have the one club but it’s conveniently located on the top floor of a mall in the CBD, a short walk from work.  I headed over one evening and was given a tour of the brand spanking new facilities, including a pool, a climbing wall (big win) and a room containing “sleep pods” (very cool!).  My tour guide was nice enough until I asked whether they’d waive activation fees for my partner (fairly standard practice in NYC for families or referrals): he then decided to give me an awkward analogy about buying beef at a quality butcher shop vs. 7/11. Uhhh.

Ready to use my trial pass, I found that the club and locker room were packed but civilised.  I walked in to a Hatha yoga class with medium hopes.  I’m not a huge fan of Hatha but at this point, I was willing to do anything for a yoga fix.  The instructor was perched on a platform in a zen-like state.  He welcomed us in with a warm, soothing voice and, as we began our practice, I actually felt a glimmer of hope.  Unfortunately, the class turned out to be a little rudimentary for my taste but the real deal-breaker was when he made us do back-bends and inversions with the lights ON.  If you’ve ever tried to get yourself from a bridge to a wheel with a fluorescent light in your face, you’ll know what yoga nausea feels like.

Elixr: third time’s a charm

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I gave up on Virgin Active and decided to ignore their aggressive salesperson’s calls and voicemails in favour of a trial at Elixr.  The yoga-savvy wife of a colleague had  steered me towards Elixr, a high-end yoga and pilates gym with clubs in Bondi Junction as well as the city.  After a quick glance at their website and their packed agenda of classes, I was excited but cautious.  I headed to their Bondi location and as I stepped out of the lifts, I felt like I’d been whisked away to a luxury spa.  I was given a friendly, un-pushy (finally!) tour of their softly-lit, zen-like facilities, during which a member interrupted the tour to tell me how amazing her experience had been and how I wouldn’t regret the decision to join.

Elixr’s Bondi location comprises two dedicated Pilates reformer studios, a yoga studio and a fourth studio for dance fusion, boxing and other cardio classes.  There is also a massive pool, a large cardio area, a small section with machines and another small mat area with free weights, exercise balls and kettlebells. With its heavy focus on yoga and Pilates and its small weights area, Elixr’s client base looks unsurprisingly to be 80-90% women.  During my free trial, I attended the best yoga class I’d been to in months.  I was sold.  But Elixr was so nice that they extended my free trial so that my husband could come in and check out the gym as well.  I then attended a reformer class and liked it so much that I had to harass them to sign me up.

Elixr's Pilates Studio, picture courtesy of the Secret Diary of a Tall Girl

Elixr’s Pilates Studio, picture courtesy of the Secret Diary of a Tall Girl

It was my first time in a group reformer class.  I’ve done plenty of mat pilates at Equinox, my old New York gym, and experimented on the small reformer that you have to book private sessions at, but I’d never come across an all-you-can-eat group reformer class. I don’t think they’re as big in the States.

Anyway, nearly three months later, I’m going to group reformer classes (or “GRC” as Elixr likes to call it) twice or thrice a week.  I can feel the gains in my core and arm strength, not to mention in other activities including tennis.  Even better, the classes are packed into an intense 45 minutes so I can squeeze in the occasional GRC during lunch or combine it with a bit of cardio before / after.  Unlike yoga, GRC is easy on the wrists and unlike running, it doesn’t strain the knee or ankle joints.  The sky’s the limit.

Have you worked out on a Pilates reformer or found a group reformer class?  I’d love to hear what you thought!

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