Thursday, March 29, 2012

Front-Row Center: Soul Cycle with Charlee Atkins

Front-row center. The most clamored-after spot in a spin studio. When I first started spinning years ago at my local Crunch, I wasted many an hour as I would jet over to the gym right after work, elbowing slow-moving pedestrians out of the way, in order to sign up for my favorite bike an hour prior to class. I would then spend the next hour leafing through a magazine while speed-walking on the treadmill, patiently waiting for my class to start.  It was a colossal waste of time.

Much time has passed and I am now much less rigid about where I sit in the spin studio. However, over the past week, I have ventured away from my comfortable spot in the back and made my way to the front. Not just front, but front-row center and I can tell you, that I kind of like it again! It is, without a doubt, the best spot. You have a clear view of the instructor. Knowing that the energy of the front-row riders disseminates through the class keeps you on track. And pedaling in front of the mirror and seeing how bad-ass you look can only make you want to push yourself harder!


This afternoon I made my way down to Union square to take a front-row center class with Charlee Atkins at Soul Cycle. Charlee is one of Soul's newer instructors but the word on the spin circuit is that she's a fierce contender for soon-to-be rock-star status. After taking this class I can see why. The girl is a petite dynamo who worked the packed room like it was nobody's business. While on the bike she was spinning as hard as she was demanding her followers to do so. When off the bike she fluidly moved around, at times dancing wildly, and at other times coming straight up to riders to individually motivate them. The collective energy in the room propelled us all on and it was no doubt that it all diffused from Charlee.

The music was great. Lots of remixes. She played some Kanye. She played the Prodigy's "Firestarter" (probably one of my all-time  favorite songs to spin to). At one point she made us sprint to Crazy Town's "Butterfly" on a double beat which gets challenging, to say the least. "It's only temporary," she championed us on, "It's always temporary." Pedaling away in Charlee's line of vision pushed me to stick to the beat. Soul Cycle is all about the beat and I certainly did not want to to disappoint her! Before I knew it class was over and I have yet another amazing instructor to somehow fit into my workout schedule.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dance Party on the Upper East Side: Soul Cycle with Danny Kopel

Ah, Soul Cycle. I have such a love/hate relationship with you. I hate that a class series expires in one month. I hate having to pay for cycling shoes every time. And most of all, I hate the ridiculously competitive Monday noon sign-up process. Why do I keep coming back then? Because I love the amazingly talented instructors. I had been hearing great things about Danny Kopel, who has amassed quite a following in the past few months. Everyone seems to be clamoring to get into his weekend dance party classes at the Union square location. This weekend he was subbing for a regular instructor up in my 'hood on the Upper east side and I was shocked that I was able to nab a front row-center bike!

 The Upper east side Soul studio is undergoing a much-needed expansion. Currently there is very little room to stand around and wait. The cramped feeling intensifies once the earlier class lets out and the later class waits around for the bikes to be cleaned. Sweaty shoulders brush past you. Shoes and jackets are being put on in the entrance. Luckily this will soon change (renovation starts this weekend) so the check-in/waiting process will be much smoother than I experienced.

UES Studio; Source

Now, Danny. What a ridiculously fun ride and what an absolute show-man. He walked in and commanded the attention of the entire room immediately with a flick of his bleached blond hair. We started the class by warming up off the bike, in second position. That caught me by surprise but I loved it. "Get in rhythm with your neighbor," he  hollered. "It's sexier that way!" I'm all about the riding to a beat and this was one fun synchronized class. Danny would get on and off his bike throughout the class, and a few times he gracefully jumped up and landed perfectly perched onto the handlebars in a swan-dive! I could not stop smiling!  The class itself was non-stop, and was a lot more challenging than the other classes I have taken at Soul Cycle. He had us sprinting, doing intervals and threw in plenty of those bike push-ups and oblique crunches. Personally I am not a fan of the bike push-ups and I don't believe I am going to get chiseled abs with those oblique crunches but in this class it did not matter. I was just having too much fun, and those moves are actually more fun if the beat is just right. I was at a dance party! Twenty minutes in and we were drenched. On seeing that Danny opened his water bottled and lightly sprayed the front row.

The music was amazing. I don't know what most of it was and a lot of it was remixed but the music was synchronized to perfection. At the end we even stretched to a beat! Also Danny kept up the dance party atmosphere by flickering the lights on and off. It worked.

 In sum, this class was wildly fun! Danny is one of the most charismatic group class instructors I have taken class with, AND he's such a sweetheart in person! Rate your Burn recently listed him as one of the most charismatic NYC spin instructors so it's not just me. I've already booked my bike with Danny for Monday while he's still subbing on the upper east side. 83rd street Soul Cycle Studio, please take note: We want more Danny!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Get Into The Groove: Madonna-themed Physique 57 class

Are you getting sick of my themed-fitness class posts yet? I promise I'll stop after this! I had no intention of writing about the Madonna-themed Physique 57 class but upon seeing Physique 57 instructor Stephanie Fagen's amazing get-up I decided that this had to be shared outside of the class!

Class was held at the Upper west side studio on 73rd and there was not an empty barre in sight. Madonna has that effect, it seems!

At the beginning of class Stephanie sauntered in channeling her inner "Desperately Seeking Susan" complete with patterned black tights, a mesh top, finger-less gloves and arm jewelry galore. The class broke into applause and the mood was set! We pulsed to 'Lucky Star", oblique-crunched to "Papa Don't Preach" but the highlight was definitely doing the "Vogue" dance while thigh dancing. The crowd went wild!


I am thrilled that themed classes are on an upward trend these days. Soul Cycle's been doing it for a while and Flywheel has started having themed rides on a regular basis (read about my two themed class experiences here and here). A recent New York Times article wrote about the recent surge in popularity of 'dance party workouts", which in a sense, is a themed class also, and also included Barry's Bootcamp and Kiwi Sweat in the ranks of studios adding special themed classes. Will this be a new trend?

Post-class group shot! Photo is courtesy Stephanie Fagen

Coming back to the class, I can't imagine a more fitting instructor than Stephanie for the Madonna-themed class. The girl is a tiny firecracker with boundless energy and a wicked sense of humor. Plus you can tell that she loves Madonna. For Madonna fans that missed this class there is another Madonna-themed Physique 57 class next week (Friday March 16th at 630pm) at the Spring Street studio.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pilates ProWorks Opens in NYC!

Pilates ProWorks is a popular San Francisco-based Pilates studio that recently opened its first New York city location. Its signature class, Pilates Pro, is taught on an updated, more versatile Pilates reformer called the FitFormer (think more pulleys and springs) and is designed to integrate both cardio and resistance training into a single one-hour session. I had tried a similar class at SLT (see my review here) and so I was excited to check this class out to see how it would differ.

The Studio: The space is bright, airy and has a cool down-town vibe. Its central location off Union square makes it easily accessible. There are two studios - one for Pilates and the other for barre classes. A wall of lockers with attached keys (always a nice touch) is present down the hall form the two main studios.

The Class: I took the Pilates Pro class a  few days after the studio's opening and so the class size was small. It suited me fine because that meant more personalized attention. My instructor and also the NYC studio's Head of Pilates, Jenn Seracuse, gave us a quick but thorough overview of the FitFormer. We then jumped straight in. The exercises were similar to the ones I had done at SLT, including lunges performed with with one leg on a moving platform (it may sound easy in principle but the core strength required for this is beyond what I expected!) and the plank-to-pike (holding onto the handlebars in a plank and rising upto a pike position-again, much harder to do with the added instability of the moving platform).

There were some differences to the class I took at SLT.  Firstly there was more actual cardio. The sets on the FitFormer were broken up by a set of jumping jacks and another set of jumping over the FitFormer's elevated platform. Also, there was some use of props including a Pilates magic circle, which we used for simultaneous inner thigh work while doing triceps dips, as well as light hand weights which we used concurrently while working our lower body. I am a big fan of compound exercises and loved how every exercise was working different parts of the body at the same time.

The Instructor: Instructors are always key to a great class and Jenn was no exception. She gave expert direction and this resulted in my seamlessly transitioning from one exercise to the next while dexterously manipulating the FitFormer accordingly. I recalled my frustration at my last encounter with this machine when  I couldn't even lift the handlebars correctly, and so I was struck by how easy Jenn made it appear. She was very hands-on with adjustments which is so important in classes with apparatus and their potential for injury.

Overall: I really enjoyed this class. It was fast-paced with fun and energetic music. The instructors (I also met Ella-who is heading up the studio's barre program) are friendly and enthusiastic. The studio has such a warm and inviting way about it. Currently the class schedule offers are Pilates Pro and Barre Pro but TRX is on the horizon also. Totally worth checking out. I know I'll be back to try the barre class! Thanks so much to Jenn for inviting me!

Disclaimer: I was invited to try a class free of charge but was not obligated to provide a review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own.