Austin’s always been filled with active people, and now more and more exercise studios are finding their niche here…
…by offering classes that give clients a total body workout. Since January is about making resolutions to get healthy, we dusted off our sneakers and spent some time sweating at a few studios to learn more about what makes our city’s most popular group workouts so appealing.
Climbing up long swaths of fabric in front of a group of people was never something that crossed my mind in the past. In fact, it sounded downright scary. Despite my intimidation, I enrolled in an Aerial Silks Level I class at Vamps Dance. The 90-minute class includes a half hour of warm-up activities on the ground, as well as some hang time.
Our patient instructor, Susan Harkey, had us do some acrobatic stretches and tumbling exercises on the mat that would have us standing up taller the next day, she said. Like regular dance, aerial is all about stringing together choreography with music. Experienced aerialists are able to gracefully climb high up the silks, wrap themselves with the material, and then do a “drop,” free-falling to a lower position. When it was time to finally work on the silks, Susan gave us a simple sequence to memorize by teaching us the techniques that would help us get there. After several attempts, I was able to tie a “foot lock” and spin myself around the fabric using every single muscle in my body into two (somewhat) elegant positions, hovering just a meter over the studio’s thick mat. It looks pretty simple to an outsider, but just doing that left me feeling extremely accomplished.
“I feel like it’s the most empowering thing I can ever do,” says Becca Strong, who has been doing aerial at studios around town for three years. She’s gained both physical strength and confidence to do more. “If I can do an open drop, I can go to grad school.”
Aerial performer and instructor Susan Harkey has “accidental” buff arms and a six-pack from doing aerial over the past four years. “You can’t help but get in shape just by going to classes, but it doesn’t feel like work,” she says. The physical challenge and the adrenaline around performing tricks is part of the appeal. “Being in the air is exhilarating, and people come and feel like kids again.”
First there was spinning. Now there’s spinning and weight training, spinning and yoga, and spinning and Pilates for the person who wants a good strength and cardio workout combined in short bursts of time. I tested Kor180’s 30.30 class, which combines its trademarked Ryde and Reform classes into one hour of power training. Hard core? Yes! Calorie burning? Like a house on fire!
30.30 begins in a dimly lit spinning room, so the only thing to focus on is pedaling to the beat of the music. Just when I started to think the heart-pumping workout would never end, it was time to trade my clip-on spinning shoes for sticky socks. Reform takes the principles of Pilates and combines them with intense interval training on a reformer. By using the resistance of the reformer to move our arms and legs in multiple positions, we toned all of our muscles during the second half of the class. Having never taken a Pilates class in my life, trying to maintain my balance was definitely challenging, but Kor180 owner Maja Kermath promised me it gets easier the second day.
When Ashlley Beall does Kor180 regularly (six days a week is her goal), she sleeps more soundly at night. She also notices more defined muscles in her seat, core and legs. “I can especially feel my oblique muscles,” she says, pointing to them. “I’ve never been able to carve them out with other workouts.”
Since opening her studio, Maja Kermath’s witnessed huge weight loss among her regular clients taking the class. “There’s a lot of research that shows doing some cardio to warm up the body and burn calories is a great thing to do before strength training,” says Maja. “As your body is recovering, you’re still burning calories, and that can continue up to 12 hours.” Women who wear heart rate monitors say they burn anywhere from 800 to 850 calories in just 60 minutes, Maja says, and the men are burning upwards to 1000 calories.
Barre is not a new workout to Austin, but there’s definitely been an increase in franchises offering their own version of barre around town. Pure Barre’s Arboretum location, for one, offers a dense, intense workout in just under an hour. My workout was divided by sections of the body (arms, thighs, seats and abs) using small, calculated movements with a few resistance accessories and very light hand weights. The most grueling exercise happened during the middle of the class, when everyone migrated to the ballet bar to work on our thighs and seats. This involved putting tiny rubber balls in between our legs and pulsing our legs together as we simultaneously plié-d up and down, ever… so… slightly. My legs trembled and burned at the same time, but it was hard to quit when there were women 20 years my major holding steady. And they looked amazing.
Debbie Marett has noticed a transformation in her seat and legs since getting into barre a year and a half ago. She likes it because it never gets boring: “I can do it five days a week, and if I wake up feeling sore I can do it again and I feel better.”
Kari Lehman is in phenomenal shape. Teaching barre nine times a week keeps her core strong, which has helped her excel as a professional dancer and an aerial silks performer. The best way to stay in shape is finding a good mix of what keeps you engaged and motivated to work out three to five times a week, she says. “I have a client at Pure Barre who lost about 50 pounds. She always struggled with her weight. She eats incredibly well but nothing worked,” she said. “I really saw her waistband slim down, her legs, her whole body. It was just incredible.”
When I told people I was doing this story, almost all of them asked, “You’re going to do CrossFit, right?” Blame it on CrossFit’s competitive nature or the popularity of the CrossFit Games, but whatever it is, the workout that was originally designed for military, law enforcement officers and firefighters has gained an almost cult-like following with both men and women in Austin. When I showed up at Fortitude Fitness’ “box” (gym in CrossFit speak), well-sculpted men and women were running from various stations to lift weights, do “kipping” pull-ups, and pump as fast as they could on rowing machines. All the while, they had their eyes on a timer against the wall so they could keep track of their time and scribble it on white boards.
While other workouts claim to be intense, CrossFit is the real deal. Being a humble newbie, my “WOD” (workout of the day) was a repetition of squats in front of a pole, basic pull-ups with the help of a thick resistance band under my feet and overhead presses just using the pole. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Meanwhile my colleagues, who all knew each other by name, were sprinting, pumping weights and jumping onto wooden boxes. Their goal was not to compete against each other but to beat their previous times. They looked powerful, like they could run into a burning building and save a few lives. My instructor consoled me: “It’s all about scale,” she said. A girl in front of me admitted that she was a total waif just a few years ago. If I worked at it, I too could get seriously ripped.
After doing elite sports in college, Nick Blasier tried a few other full-body workouts but couldn’t find anything he could keep up with. CrossFit was it for him, and over the past six years WODs have become easier. “I like the high intensity, and because the workouts are shorter it doesn’t get boring. I also like the body awareness/learning part of it,” he says. “Sometimes you get sore but you figure it out.”
Sarah Elkins was introduced to CrossFit after being deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. She’s now a full time instructor for the Army’s Master Fitness Trainer Course and started as a coach at Fortitude Fitness just a year ago. Depending on the athlete, she says, most people see an increase in strength two to four weeks after starting CrossFit. The magic behind Crossfit, she explains, is it produces a neuroendocrine response. “Because you elicit so much explosive power out of your body, different hormones trigger muscle growth and strength changes in your body.” In other words, working out on machines may make you look aesthetically pleasing, but won’t make you truly strong like CrossFit.
HIP HOP DANCING
I dipped my toe in the world of dance by trying Dance Austin Studio’s Funk Fusion. This particular class is similar to hip hop, but instructor Kimberly Masi and her students rock out to ’90s alternative and dance songs; think Nine Inch Nails, Pink and Robyn. Classes are built around routines, which span from two to three days of practice. The day I showed up the class was practicing a dance choreographed around Beastie Boys’ “So What’Cha Want.” The moves were fierce and fast, but Kimberly broke down the routine into short segments the class would repeat until everyone had it down. I sang along, shook my bootie and flipped my hair, letting my inner Janet Jackson shine. After an hour, my heart was racing, but I managed to pull off half a dance almost in synch with the class.
“It’s either this or therapy,” says Lauren Carpenter. She and other students who take the class agree that dance is a cathartic release where they can transfer emotions into performance. Apart from having stronger extremities, Lauren’s gained confidence and a stronger memory. “You’re learning and exercising. It takes a part of your brain the memorize choreography, and my memory has gotten stronger outside of class.”
Eleven years of dancing has given Kimberly Masi loads of endurance. “I may not be able to run two miles but I can dance two miles,” she says. Apart from that, she’s developed a pretty decent six-pack. “I tell people, the whole thing about dance—especially hip hop—is you should be able to freeze at any count and I should be able to poke you and you won’t move. That all comes from core strength.”
Written by: Clarisa Ramirez
Aerial Silks- Blue Lapis Light
Spinning Fusion- Kor180
Barre- Pure Barre
Crossfit- Crossfit Central
Hip Hop Dance- Dance Austin Studio
New to Citygram Austin magazine?
Click to download a free issue today and see why we’re the #1 City Guide app in Austin!
Our mobile issues are designed specifically for your smartphone or tablet and are loaded with interactive features that connect you to the best of local Austin.