Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hardest Workout in Town: Review of the Tonique Method

This week I got 'owned' by an exercise class. Really, I have never experienced anything like it.

The class is the Tonique Method and its creator is Sylwia Wiesenberg. In a city with a burgeoning fitness scene it has become hard to keep track of the latest studio, which is why many of you may not have heard of the Tonique Method. I first learnt about it late last year, and after finally trying it out, I can assure you, this is one tough class!

Sylwia Wiesenberg, a former trader at an investment bank with a strong background in gymnastics and a passion for fitness, created the Tonique Method seven years ago, more as a way to get back into shape after having a baby. She decided to develop her own routine rampant with squats and lunges. On seeing her amazing results neighbors started to inquire about her "secret" which she gladly shared by offering free classes  in her building's gym. This was four years ago and through word of mouth her classes gained popularity. She obtained a certification in personal fitness training and group exercise, along with a specialty training in women's fitness (women are her primary clientele) which allowed her to understand the different health and fitness challenges faced by the whole female spectrum, including adolescent females, pregnant mothers, postpartum women and menopausal women, and provide appropriate modifications.

The class soon had to move out of her building's gym and currently is being held thrice a week at Complete Body and Spa in Chelsea.

Her website provides the following description of the class:

 "Tonique method draws on the toning and strengthening powers of dance, gymnastics, and running to challenge and improve your entire body."

"The method’s unique combinations of moves are designed to achieve three important goals - develop strong and lean muscles, strengthen your cardiovascular system and improve your overall fitness level. The method builds core strength and trains your balance which is critical to achieving the desired results."

"Tonique method combines constant repetition with gradual progression."

I was very intrigued. As I waited outside the group exercise studio located inside Complete Body and Spa, I watched as women started filtering in. They all seemed like regulars and were all in fantastic shape. Sylwia warmly greeted me and told me I should get a pair of light weights (2lbs) and a small mat.  Prior to class I had been warned me that although the class is two hours long I am free to leave after an hour and a half. I won't lie, I was intimidated by the prospect of a two hour class! Loud pop music started booming on the speaker and the class began.

The class started with a 'warm up', which was more like a cardio drill, full of jumping jacks and running with high knees. This immediately segued into what forms the backbone of this class, lunges and squats. I kid you not, we did every single lunge and squat variation you can think of for the next 90 minutes, a lot of which also involved simultaneous use of the hand weights.

Curtsy lunges, curtsy lunges with kicks, curtsy lunges with bicep curls, forward lunges with an overhead press, diagnonal lunges with boxer punches. Tired yet? I have merely scratched the surface of the lunge variations we performed. Then there were squats: squat jumps, squats with front kicks, squats with side kicks, squats with an overhead press.

Repetitions are what drives this class. Each move is repeated 30-40 times. At times, just when I thought the set was ending Sylwia would add 10 more reps. I wonder if she noticed the glares I was giving her during class!

There was a lot of 'progression' involved. Let me give you an example. We did a set of curtsy lunges consisting of 30-40 repetitions. We then repeated the curtsy lunges but this time we lifted the non-working leg upto our elbow ("Carving Curtsy"-see picture below). Another 30-40 reps. We then repeated the curtsy lunge and kicked out the non-working leg, while keeping it straight. You guessed it, another 30-40 reps. After said 90-120 reps we just moved onto the next lunge or squat exercise. It was really intense. My butt and legs were screaming for mercy. This was up there in the ranks as the most intense class I have ever taken.

Sylwia doing the Carving Curtsy. Source: Fitness magazine

After 90 minutes of this non-stop action we were asked to move to the floor onto the mat. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking we were going to be mat work. No such luck. We started the dreaded mountain climbers and jumpbacks and the Thigh Trimmer (see picture below) which progressed into harder and harder variations.

The next 15 minutes were a choreographed cardio dance sequence which involved a lot of jumping, lunging and kicking, and the final 15 minutes were done on the floor. The floor work in every class is different and in this class we started off on all fours and did donkey kicks and fire hydrants. This progressed into lifting the leg, pulsing it off the floor while keeping it straight and then into an interesting move where we swung the raised leg in front of us into a lunge and then swung it back again. After a few moves targetting the lower abs we stretched and we were done. Wow, is all I can say.

Sylwia demonstrating the Thigh Trimmer. Source: Fitness magazine

I spoke to some other women in the class, all were moms and had been taking Sylwia's class for a few years. Most take the class a few times a week. While they all seemed to know each other the vibe was not cliquish at all and at no point did I feel marginalized. They marveled at how I had stuck it out for the whole two hour duration. Apparently people have walked out of the class after 30 minutes. I could see that. This class requires an intermediate to high level of fitness and endurance which not everyone has.

Sylwia was nice enough to speak to me after class. Talking to her I was immediately struck by how passionate she is about fitness and her clients. She is focused on getting all women to be fit, healthy, strong and happy with their bodies. "It is not about being skinny over here," she said. She is not concerned about a fancy gym setting, a celebrity endorsement or being the next 'It' fitness studio. As such, the class is not advertised much - her clients are all there through word-of-mouth. For her it is all about delivering results to her clients whom she genuinely cares about. Even now she is teaching two free classes/week in her West Village neighborhood. As if reading my mind, concerning monetary incentive, she said, "I have my DVDs - that is my main business." Although she does hope to move her class to its own space someday with more than one class per day. When asked if she has taken classes at other boutique fitness studios, she said she has not because it is so easy to get inspired by other methods. Instead she finds inspiration for her classes by watching athletes, in a tennis match, for example.

The Good:
1. The workout: I think squats and lunges are the two of the best exercises one can do to lose weight, and build endurance and strength. With the constant repetition and multiple variations of these two exercises, this class is killer. Sylwia is not wasting your time. Every move is cost-effective, from the cardio-drill based warm-up all the way to the floor series at the end.

2. The instructor: Sylwia is very passionate about her method which she wants to be accessible to all women. She wants women to be fit and strong all the way into their 40s, 50s and 60s. She was motivating and did not make me feel bad about taking the many many breaks I took. Even though she was doing the exact same routine as the rest of the class she was watching everyone's form in the mirrors and jumped out of the sequence to make adjustments to her clients.

3. The music: Music is important to this class and flowed very well with the choreography. Most of it was pop.

The Not-so-Good:
1. The class length: Two hours is a long time to dedicate to a class for most people. Although, on the flip side, a lot of yoga classes are 90 minutes long and two classes-in-a-row are not uncommon at spin and boutique fitness studios. But I like that she gives the clients the option to decide if you would like to be there for 90 or 120 minutes.

2. Lack of stretching: There is no stopping in this class. The only break comes right at the end. What about stretching? Sylwia explained that stretches are of two types: Static (the ones we normally do at the end of a class) and Dynamic (the way a tennis player will stretch his inner thigh while side-lunging with the opposite leg - a move she has incorporated into her class), and that in her class she likes to utilise active dynamic stretches which are done as part of the workout. That way not a single moment goes wasted.

3. No microphone in class: There is a reason for this. Sylwia explained that she likes to maintain a congenial atmosphere in the class. She does not want to separate herself as the instructor. She is one of us, doing the same moves and the same number of reps. Also she does not like to call out on people in class and I noticed that she would go up to people individually to correct form. The room is mirrored and so I do not think the lack of microphone made it difficult for me to follow along.

4. Inconveniently timed class: The classes are only offered once on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 930am. Not incredibly convenient for people that need to get to work. Hopefully if she gets her own space Sylwia will be able to offer more classes at different times.

This was a really hard  class but I really enjoyed it. I found that I was working harder here than any other class I have ever taken. But if it's results that you are looking for then this class is for you. Its hard-core nature may not appeal to everyone but it is effective, as could be witnessed by the 8-pack abs on display at this class! At one point I felt that I could not handle it anymore (a first for me!) and considered leaving. Instead I used that time to walk out of class, fill my bottle of water and regroup. I am so glad I did that, because once class was over the endorphins rushed in and I couldn't wait to do it all over again!

Classes are $25 and take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 930am at Complete Body and Spa at 22 West 19th Street in New York city. Call before going as the summer schedule will change.

Check out classes in July and August at B-East Studio in Amagansett, if you are going to be in the Hamptons this Summer.

For those who are unable to take a live class there are currently 4 Tonique dvds, with a new one coming out this summer!

Question: What is the hardest exercise class you have taken? Or what exercise do you find to be the most difficult to do? 


Dori said...

I am tired just reading about this!

I think 2 hours is a lot for such an intense class. I'd be a little worried about my injuries.

Sounds very cool though and something I will probably try in the future. Likely after my marathon!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Dori: Tell me about it! Yes, wait until after the marathon. It is high impact. A lot of the other women who take the class, including the instructor are distance runners so they seem to be mindful of injuries.

Jess said...

Holy crap - no wonder you felt "owned" after all that!! Intense!!

Jess @ Fit Chick in the City said...

Two whole hours!? I don't think I could do it. I can barely make it through 90 minute yoga classes, I think I'm too ADD for a two hour workout that someone else is in control of.

Way to stick out, though!

melissa @ fitnessnyc said...

Nicely done. That sounds crazy, the schedule would make it hard for me to go, as you noted. But I like that she doesn't correct into a microphone--I hate that!

Anonymous said...

Wow! That sounds awesomely intense! I want to try!


Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

Sounds like a very intense class. Not sure I could have made it all the way to the end... Good job! :)

I have taken some very intense boot camp classes. One in particular was so hard that I haven't taken one since...

sofia said...

two hours? 30-40 reps? lunges and squats for TWO HOURS?! holy cow, lady, this sounds intense. unless someone paid me to do it... i don't think i'm ready! haha. good for you for sticking it out!

i find reps of super fast cardio stuff really challenging. and those up and down plank thingys we did this morning at refine are also terribly challenging for me. as is boat pose. hate ab work!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Jess: Your last post was timely because I had just been 'owned' by a workout and then read your post later that day!

Jess @FCITC: I get bored also and in fact, one of the reasons I stopped taking yoga classes at my former gym were because they were all 90 minutes. Honestly, in this class, I did not get bored. Was too busy trying to keep up!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Melissa: I hope she does start teaching classes at other hours or even on the weekends so more people can try it.

Amber: It was definitely one of those classes where I was getting really mad during class and then felt amazing afterwards!

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Andrea: I wasn't sure I was going to make it! I should try more bootcamps. Some of those can be brutal.

Sofia: I know, crazy, right? The exercise you are referring to from Refine are the jumpbacks. I used to hate those, but after months and months of doing them at Refine I finally enjoy them! They are definitely challenging. So nice to bump into you at Refine today!

Pink Lady said...

"You got served" but not really because you made it through what sounds like an effective and extemely challenging 2 hour workout. I am curious to know how you felt the next day. I tried the Shen Energy Boot camp class at Gramercy Pilates. Have you tried it?

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about this class! I may have to get the DVD. Of course, if I'm doing it on my own I'll just flake out after about the 10th lunge.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Amber: Impressed that you came back to 'my longest post ever'! The reviews on Amazon are pretty good for these dvds. Let me know what you think if you decide to try them.

Miranda @ Working Mom Works Out said...

You are hardcore! I don't think I'm coordinated enough to participate.

Lauren said...

I don't know if I want to try or not from that review. I'm not so fond of the photos the instructor uses on her promotional materials. A little sleezy. However, I like the longer option (feel 60 isn't enough sometimes) and I like a challenge. I think running is hard in a good way.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Miranda: I was actually the least coordinated person in class!

Lauren: It's not for everyone. It's so interesting for me to see the variety in what people find to be most challenging.

Sam @ Mom at the Barre said...

Pink Lady: My calves were really sore the next day. Otherwise I felt fine. I have not tried Gramercy Pilates' bootcamp.

Post a Comment