Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Core Fusion at Exhale Spa: A Review

I love my barre workouts. Although my workout of choice is Physique 57, I'm always on the lookout for that killer burn, and have slowly made my way around the 'barre' circuit of New York, making pit stops at The Body NYC, Nalini Method, Bar Method Soho, Flybarre and Figure 4All of the major barre studios, I think. All, except one, the one that has evaded me thus far, Core Fusion.

Core Fusion was created by Fred Devito and Elisabeth Halfpapp, and was the first of the Lotte Berk-inspired studios to open its doors in New York city. Fred and Elisabeth, both former star instructors at the original Lotte Berk Studio, left the studio in 2002 to create their own version of the method which they debuted at Exhale Spa on the upper east side of Manhattan in 2003. Although their workout, Core Fusion, takes its main inspiration from the principles of the Lotte Berk Method (the concept of using your own body weight as resistance), it fuses it with elements stemming from pilates and yoga, and mixes things up with some added interval cardio training. The results (long, lean, and strong physiques) speak for themselves, and for that reason Core Fusion's popularity has spread far and wide. In addition to the six studios in New York city there are studios in Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and California, along with one international location in Turks and Caicos. Those who do not live in the above-mentioned locales can also partake in the Core Fusion mania thanks to the availability of their eight dvds!

Needless to say, I was highly intrigued in trying this out so when Fred Devito invited me to take a class with him I moved things around my own schedule to make it work!

Excited, I went to the studio at Central Park South to take my first ever open-level Core Fusion class.

The classes take place at Exhale Spa and because of the spa's proximity the reception area exudes a calm, serene and incredibly zen vibe; the smell of fragrant oils subtly permeats the air; light jazzy music plays in the background, softly audible. Just being there is relaxing!

In addition to the fully functioning spa, the location also sells fitness wear...

...along with all eight of the Core Fusion dvds..

Blueprint Cleanse juices are also available to quench your thirst after class...

I made my way to the changing room and saw this at the entrance...

A subtle reminder to please leave your cellphones in the lockers. Amen to that! I hate it when people bring their cellphones into classes. Don't they realize how disruptive it is to their fellow class-goers?

The locker room had lots and lots of lockers, all with attached keys. Win for Core Fusion.

There are two studios, one for yoga and one for the core fusion classes. The space is beautiful and bright. Sunlight streams in from the atrium-style roof and ricochets off the mirrored walls.

One side of the room is lined with various props including red rubber balls, yoga mats, kettlebells, hand weights and yoga blocks. There is also a small basket containing yoga straps.

As I was waiting for class to being, Fred walked in and introduced himself. He was incredibly warm and so down-to-earth and we spoke a little bit about barre classes and how Core Fusion differs from the others. He then asked me to spend some time hanging from the stall bar prior to the class and to obtain two sets of weights (5lbs and 3lbs, a yoga strap and a mat).

The class began with leg lifts to warm up the body. We then moved straight into a set of 20 push-ups. These were performed slower than what I am normally used to and I started to feel the heat being created in my body. Following this set we were asked to hold a 90 second plank. While this is a long period of time (I think) for a plank, Fred kept speaking to us, saying words of encouragement, and when he said, 'last 30 seconds' I was surprised at how quickly it had passed - I thought we still had a ways to go. After this was another set of 20 push-ups, again performed at the same rhythm as before. I was really starting to feel the burn now. Core Fusion prides itself on its "Strength in Stillness" philosophy and Fred mentioned this a couple of times during class. I now understand exactly what that means and can vouch for its effectivity.

The arm series was performed using a set of hand weights. I chose 5lbs weights and we did a lot of moves targeting the deltoids and upper arms. The series involved pauses and holds and slow pulses. Again, the pace was slow but the burn was intense.

Thigh work at the barre was next. We placed the rubber ball between our thighs and started off with the chair pose (you hold onto the barre with your arms straight and your body is positioned as if you are sitting in a chair). Slow pulses. Hold. Slow pulses. Hold. My thighs were on fire and beads of sweat started to collect on my forehead. After a few more thigh exercises we moved onto the floor for 'seat' work. The 'pretzel' was going to be the weapon of choice. I hate the pretzel. Basically it is performed like this: you sit on the floor facing the barre, holding onto the barre with both hands, and keeping one leg bent at a 90 degree angle in front of you, you swing the other (working) leg behind you, with your heel close to your butt and you start pulsing it off the ground. This move is killer. If you are doing it correctly (and for the longest time I was not), you really feel it in your butt. Fred was moving around the class, ever watchful of form. He noticed my 'pretzel trouble', came over and eased me into the proper position. Made a huge difference! After repeating this on the other leg and doing an interesting standing split that also involved grabbing the foot of the lifted leg with the opposite hand and performing a mini-balancing act, we moved onto abdominal work.

The first set of abdominals was performed sitting up with our back flat against the wall and our legs stretched out in front. In this position we were asked to raise one leg at a time, then pulse both legs up together and then hold both legs up for a few seconds.I often feel this move in my hips and after class Fred explained that I should contract my abdominals more; that way the other muscles like the hip flexors (in my case) will not be compensating for the lack of adequate abdominal contraction.

The next abdominal set was round back where we slouched down a little from the previous position so that our lower back was on the floor and we performed moves such as raising both legs all the way up, and keeping them straight. I had the same problem again, feeling it more in my hip flexors and less in my abs. We then did a set lying down with our toes on the barre and began crunching and pulsing up.

The last abdominal set is the 'curl.' This is my favorite abdominal section in a barre class and in this series I really felt my abs working. This section is done lying on a mat with your shoulders raised off the mat and your legs slightly bent, resembling a curled position. The class ended with a stretch.

Fred and Elisabeth doing the 'curl'

I really liked this class. While it is slower-paced than other barre classes I have taken, not once did I feel like I was not being challenged enough. I felt my heart rate elevate, my muscles burn and I was sweating. As far as I am concerned, all the signs of a great workout. Sure, there is not a lot of cardio, Fred acknowledged, 'but for that we have other classes like Core Fusion Cardio and Core Fusion Bootcamp. This class is for building strength and flexibility.'

I asked Fred about variations to do instead of the flat back and round back section which I was having a hard time with and he said that he tries not to give variations. The key is to make you strong enough to do the exercises as they are meant to be done. Agreed.

The Good:
1. The Studio: A calm, serene oasis in the middle of a noisy and bustling city.

2. The Instructor: Fred is so knowledgeable. He has been doing this a long long time and it shows. He kept the class challenging, provided gentle corrections and and was very aware of everyone's form.

3. The workout. The "Strength in stillness' philosophy really resonated with me. As someone who has always worked out 'hard' I was pleasantly surprised to note that even with a slower pace I was still able to get a good workout.

4. Locations: There are six studios in New York city so whether you are an east-sider, west-sider, down-town gal or Hamptonite, there is a Core Fusion studio near you. The same goes for dwellers in Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles.

The Not-So-Good:
1. Price: Like all other barre studios, classes here are expensive at $35 a pop. However, I was looking at the unlimited monthly membership and it is less than that at other studios. Plus you get to try a whole variety of other Core Fusion classes including Cardio, Sport and Bootcamp, along with a few different styles of yoga.

2. The workout: This particular class does not have a lot of cardio so if that is what you are looking for you may not find it here.

3. The abdominal section: I had a hard time with the abdominal section  (other than the 'curl' which I loved). This is less a critique of the class and more just frustration on my end at being unable to do it properly. I am going to try Fred's tip on contracting my abdomen further while doing this series in subsequent classes.

This is a great class. I feel really lucky to have taken my first Core Fusion class with one of the co-creators. The choreography flowed seamlessly, and the cues were spot on. While there was not a lot of cardio, I felt constantly challenged. I am planning to go back to try their other classes thanks to a certificate I bought off Gilt a few months ago which I have yet to redeem. Also, they have a great special for first-timers in New York: $40 for one week of unlimited core fusion and yoga classes; and the price goes down to $30 for the Core Fusion-curious in LA, Dallas, Boston and Chicago. Check out their website for details.

A big thank you to Fred Devito for inviting me to take his class, which I enjoyed thoroughly!

Note: While I was provided with an invitation to attend this class the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Have you taken Core Fusion? If so, what has your experience been like with the abdominal series and do you have any tips for me? 
If you have not taken Core Fusion what is your favorite ab exercise?


Lauren said...

Great review. I used to do Core Fusion religiously and liked it. I switched for yoga and now I'm doing Figure 4 classes. They are all a little different and I always feel I need additional cardio. Glad you liked it! I do love that exhale vibe.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Lauren: I took a Figure 4 class a little while back and loved it! Interesting how all of these barre workouts have a similar foundation and yet little things make them different which in turn attracts different clients.

Miranda @ Working Mom Works Out said...

That sounds like a neat class, but I could never afford it. :( Sad.

Dori said...

I absolutely love your review! You totally nailed exactly what Core Fusion is and what makes it different. I am beyond thrilled that you had such a good first experience. There is nothing in the world like taking a Fred DeVito class.

I know what you mean about the flat back/round back portion. I used to not "get" it at all, but once the right teachers explained to me how I should be bracing my core and controlling my legs by pulling in my core and gripping tight in my arms, it all began to make much more sense. Still not my favorite part of class.

For the round back section, I went from not being able to get both my legs up and straight to being able to do this in just a month! I like that section because of how much it increased my hamstring flexibility, somewhere I have always been tight. Sadly since I cut back on CF due to my injury, my hamstrings have gotten tighter again. I need to get back in the game!

I am really happy that as someone used to the faster paced barre workouts, you were able to enjoy Core Fusion for what makes it special! It really is a phenomenal workout and it has done as much for my mind as it has for my body.


I started Core Fusion before I ever went to Physique! I love it too. Very cool!

Anonymous said...

Loved reading this and I love that you got to take a class with Fred for your first time!

I totally have issues with flat back too - I always seem to feel it in my right hip flexor. That was one of the things I asked to focus on in my person training session. She told me that she has been taking class for four years and teaching for three and a half and she just "got" it like last week. So that made me feel better! She really had me focus on my core, which made me not able to lift my legs as much, but I suppose that's the trick to getting it to work!
I can't wait for you to try the other classes. And Music Yoga Flow!
(PS This is Amber - for some reason I can't post as myself!)

Cameo said...

Fantastic review! I am so glad you got to take a class with Fred. I wish I could make time to get to more of his classes, myself. I am a member at Exhale primarily due to the various locations, the monthly fee being more reasonable than other barre studios, and the variety of classes. You should try Core Fusion Cardio! It is AWESOME! As for the flat and round back sections, I think it's just a matter of practice - you would probably get it down over the course of a couple classes.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Miranda: It is expensive but a lot of these classes provide a complimentary class or a newcomer's special to make it more inclusive for everyone. Agreed that the expense is a deterrant to making it a regular part of one's schedule. Luckily the dvds are more affordable and I hear these ones are pretty good!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Dori: Good to know that I am not the only one who had trouble with the ab section!

Lindsey: I didn't know you did CF! Are you taking more Figure 4 now?

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Amber: When I received a notification that an 'Anonymous' had posted, I thought, oh boy, my first hater comment! Glad it was just a bloggy friend having trouble posting as herself!

Good to know that it got better for you. There's hope for me!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Cameo: Everyone raves so much about CF Cardio-I am really looking forward to trying it!

Jess said...

LOVED reading this. Brought me right back to the last core fusion class I took with Fred when he visited us in Boston. He has this amazing calm about him, doesn't he?? Very gentle with his approach but SO inspiring and he keeps you challenged the whole time. I LOVE the open class at Core Fusion - I don't go to CF classes for any form of cardio, I go for the conditioning and the ab work and the "strength in stillness" - love that mind/body connection you get from it, SO MUCH!!! Great review!!

sofia said...

wow! what a wonderfully extensive review. i've done core fusion once or twice but feel as if i'd get bored with the sequence which is why i'd love to try core fusion boot camp, cardio, or something along those lines. i certainly felt the burn, though, despite the lack of cardio. i'm terrible with ab stuff and avoid it all costs, so i know these kinds of classes are really good for me - it's just a matter of doing the ab work on my own since i can't realistically afford core fusion. i do love exhale spa on the whole, though - they have great teachers for their yoga classes (of the three that i've taken, at least) and the space is beautiful and immaculately clean. and strolling out of class onto central park south ain't bad, either. :)

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Jess: There is an incredible calm about Fred and he is very inspiring. Thanks for your comment!

Sofia: Yes, sometimes after I write one of these I think, hmm, is this maybe a little too long? Who the hell is going to read it? But I figure people who do care will read it and others can just skim or skip it. I really want to know all the deets when I read a review! :-)

I think yoga is pretty good for core/ab work also so I'm sure you cover that when you are doing yoga, no?

Amy B @ Second City Randomness said...

Classes were always so much fun! I miss that about not belonging to a rec center/gym anymore... :(

And I'll totally agree- cell phones in the gym are SUCH a no-no. I even hate when people take up a machine for twice as long bc they're sitting there texting on it.

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Sounds like a great class. I actually really enjoy "slower" barre classes; they are challenging, and I usually get my cardio elsewhere.

I have never taken a Core Fusion class, but I have one of their DVDs, and I like it.

Jess @ Fit Chick in the City said...

First off I have to say that pretzel is one of my all time favorite exercises from barre classes. In fact I actually get excited when a teacher at any barre class decides to incorporate it. Too bad I wasn't there! =0

I really struggled with flat back/round back in Core Fusion, yet I didn't in Bar Method classes. For me it was a flexibility issue, not an issue with the different classes. However, I don't do round back at all at Physique 57 because of an injury and I love love doing the alternative exercises on the floor. However, I'm with Fred. It's like people who want to do modified push-ups... well, push-ups weren't made to be modified.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Amy: Ugh! Tell me about it with the texting and hanging out on machines! That bugs the crap out of me.

Andrea: This was my first 'slow' barre class and it was really eye-opening for me to note how hard I worked. I hear the new CF Cardio dvd is amazing!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Jess: Pretzel is not my favorite but Fred really helped ease me into a proper form. I do the variation at Physique also and honestly, I think I get the results. I know the flat back/round back options are classic Lotte Berk moves and orthopedically recommended which is why I am going to try to master them or at least muster the energy to do them semi-decently!

But I did like Fred's comment on why one should try to do an exercise as it was meant to be done and try to steer clear of variations (provided there's no injury, ofcourse).

Danielle said...

What a thorough review, Sam! I liked Core Fusion as well but it wasn't my favorite. I don't doubt that I would've had a different experience had it been a class with Fred though! I've heard he's amazing. Anyway, it was great to meet you last night. Hope to see you at another fun blogger event soon!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Danielle: An instructor can make such a difference. I don't know if I would have had a similar experience with a different instructor...

Loved meeting you also! See you soon!

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