So you want to try something new with your fitness routine. Same. I get what it’s like to feel bored at the gym. But I also get what it’s like to get over that boredom — and what it’s like to genuinely look forward to working out most days. In my experience, the best way to stick with exercise is to find workouts that you actually like doing. Every workout has its health benefits. But the aesthetic results of a fitness routine are, in the long-term, actually largely outside of your control. So why exercise? Well, that’s up to you. I started exercising because it was good for me and because I felt great afterwards. But I’ve grown to love exercising by focusing on the experience of actually being there — of actually enjoying the workout itself.
And in the years and years I’ve been going to fitness classes (and sometimes teaching them, too!), I discovered that the best way to get over boredom at the gym is somewhat obvious: Switch it up. Go to a new studio with some friends. Give yourself a new challenge you haven’t tried before.
But studio classes can be expensive — and you might not want to spend hundreds of dollars sampling classes at the latest trendy spots trying to find one that appeals to you. I’ve run into that dilemma, too. Sure, barre sounds cool. But is it worth the $40 fee to find out?
To help you find the right place for you, I sampled a few. By sharing my experiences at each, I hope to alleviate some of the mystery of what happens behind those closed studio doors. I ranked the seven I tried in terms of how fun they were, how beneficial each seemed to be to achieving fitness goals, and how the instructor ran the class as a whole.
Of course it might not matter which my favorites are. You and I are different people, and we probably have different tastes. So in my reviews of these workouts, I’ll also include some more general info about the experiences and their benefits. But with that in mind, here’s what I thought of all seven workouts.
I left this class on 1) an endorphin high that reached the clouds and 2) an exhaustion level that forced me to sit down on the train ride home. Talk about a mix of emotions… This left me with a few. The exercises themselves were great; achievement-based goals such as pushing 100-pound sleds, finishing a certain number of heavy reps, and doing laps around the room while jumping into burpees were a couple of stand-outs. You watch the instructor demo each task thinking, “I’m genuinely not sure I am capable of that,” and then you find out you are. Everyone cheers for you. It feels pretty great.
But the tone of the instructors wasn’t always uplifting. While people were encouraged to clap and cheer each other on, there was also a mentality of, “Wow, look at that 6-foot dude with huge pecs! Everyone gawk at how high he can jump!” which I find annoying and, frankly, destructive. In my view, any person in class should feel just as impressive as that man who has good genes and a lot of time on his hands to spend in a gym basement. I go to a class to feel supported — not talked down to. The instructors also made me feel as though they expected me to fail. They questioned my choice of dumbbells. A couple times, they called out how surprised they were that yes, I am actually kind of good at this. News flash: You can’t tell how strong I am just by looking at me. What is this, a fitness magazine photoshoot?!
It’s also worth noting that this workout is not for the weak — or even for many of the strong. Regulars are applauded while newcomers are largely left behind. Though I have taken similar classes many times and felt familiar with the complex movements, I could easily imagine feeling alienated and disadvantaged by having never been to class before. In my opinion, anyone should be able to walk into a class and learn how to do something right. I watched many of my fellow classmates make some potentially dangerous errors that went uncorrected. But you will leave that class feeling accomplished. That’s a fact.
Barre is a ballet-inspired, Pilates-style workout where you perform various poses and “toning” exercises using a ballet bar. I tried Pure Barre, a studio with locations in multiple cities. This workout was a different experience than I am used to. For one, everything focused on control — much different than the high-impact, short-interval movements I’m used to doing in a HIIT class. Also, all the movements were really small — nothing like the big jumps and heavy weights I usually work with. This class forced me to focus. And it worked. The next day, I found myself feeling sore in a different way than I usually do. That class definitely helped me get stronger. It also focused on flexibility in a way that I really enjoyed.
Some of the messaging in the class talked about lighter weights for the purposes of toning, which is total BS. But it is true that lighter weights can be used for a larger number of reps — and this barre class had us doing the same movement with those tiny weights for so long that I could not wait to put them down at the end.
The instructor was great at explaining which muscles we were meant to use for each move. I never felt lost or like I had to catch up — everything was explained and corrected. I did find myself getting a little bored. But this is one of those things that rely on personal preference. To each their own. I also don’t like yoga, but that seems to be pretty popular. So who knows?
On-demand workouts have been increasingly popular, likely due to how incredibly convenient they are. Peloton is one of a few of these nationwide companies, offering on-demand fitness classes (as well as streaming classes that are happening live at a studio) to machines people purchase for their homes. You can either take a class on the machine itself from anywhere or attend one of the Peloton studios; I tried a spin class in the studio as it was broadcast live to thousands of viewers on their at-home bikes.
The experience was innovative, fast-paced, and a little unsettling in that it felt oddly futuristic. The bikes themselves were high-end and came installed with screens on which you could track your progress and your pace. I appreciated that; it made goal-setting during the workout much easier. The woman at the front of the room was done up in makeup and trendy clothes. She had the look of a fitness model. As a former instructor, I can confidently say that I do not envy her job. I loved showing up to work in athleisure and no makeup.
She also spent some of the time talking to the class and some of the time talking to the camera. This honestly didn’t really detract from the experience; it was just hard to get used to. Once the music was going and my legs were moving, it didn’t matter how many stay-at-home moms in Colorado were tuned in. It was a great workout with a fun playlist (‘90s themed!) and I was glad they could all join in, too!
There was some talk of metabolism-boosting, toning, calorie burn, and other fitness concepts I’ve learned are total myths. So that was annoying. But tune all that noise out and focus on other things they talk about — like feeling good in your body, accomplishing goals, and enjoying the class — and you’ll have a great time.
Pole dancing classes and studios started as a niche interest, but their popularity has exploded in past years. The studios typically put a heavy emphasis on inclusivity of all kinds — fitness level, body size, gender, etc. Though you might not think of it this way, pole dancing is actually a performative form of dance that’s intensely fitness-focused. Try suspending your body sideways off of a small metal pole — it is not easy. People who practice pole dancing have core muscles of steel.
I must admit, I’d wanted to try one of these classes for quite some time. One of my family members runs a studio and I’d attended one of their shows last summer. The dancers reached heights of 10 feet into the air, spinning and turning upside down, holding their bodies above ground with nothing to support them but their own strength. Of course, I knew I wouldn’t be doing flips anytime soon; but I could learn a spin or two. So I signed up for the Intro to Pole class at Body & Pole (not affiliated with my family, since I wanted to be fair).
The 90-minute class was slow-paced, yet surprisingly difficult. Many of the moves rely on skills like flexibility and spatial awareness, of which I have neither. Each move and sequence was challenging in its own way; sometimes physically, but most of the time mentally. Not only was I forced to overcome my own sense of discomfort (much of pole dancing is improvisational and I’m used to mimicking a fitness instructor’s movements to a tee) but I also had to remember which moves came next and pay attention to the beat of the music.
But here’s the thing: None of that mattered. The studio and instructors were so accepting of literally every person, movement, and idea that entered the room. It was amazing. I left the room feeling light and happy, having accomplished something unique. It made me want to come back again and again until I could climb up to the ceiling like the others.
Running is one of the most popular (and oldest) workouts in existence. But treadmill-based classes are a new thing — in a studio-like environment, you race over hills and through sprints alongside a class of others. An instructor tells you what to do: how much speed to add on, how long of an interval you have to sprint, etc. I tried a class at Mile High Run Club called DASH 28. The class involved 28 minutes of treadmill work followed by approximately 10 minutes of strength training and a stretch.
My relationship with running in general is touch and go. I like to run when I can do so outside — surrounded by fresh air, sunlight, and zero expectations of where to go or how fast. I enjoy participating in races because the atmosphere is so addictively positive and they leave me hyped. However, I hate (and I mean hate) the idea of running on a treadmill. But I actually really enjoyed this class.
The playlist was motivating. The atmosphere was electric; everyone was running together and that really appealed to my competitive side. If the girl next to me was still sprinting, there was no way I was slowing down. And the runner’s high I experienced afterwards was a huge bonus.
For someone who wants to get faster or stronger or gain more endurance, these classes definitely have a practical purpose as well. The instructor will lead you through the sequences you need to do to work on those skills. Additionally, you might not think there’s a lot of form involved in running, but there is. The arch in your spine, the orientation of your feet on the tread, and your shoulder posture are all important to get right during your run. The instructor walks around and lets you know what you should change to improve. No matter whether you’re a beginner runner or a marathoner, this class could be right for you.
There are all kinds of dance fitness classes out there to try: Zumba, Pound, actual dance classes like salsa or ballet… For the purposes of this trial, I chose 305 Fitness, a dance studio that teaches cardio and strength classes through hip-hop dance. I’ve tried Zumba before and I used to be part of a dance crew — but this class was by far the most fun I’ve ever had while dancing. Ever. And it was a great workout. The class was an hour long (though it felt shorter) and had two cardio dance sessions and one strength-building session. I took the advanced cardio class — a choice that, after the instructor warned that the steps might be a little tricky, I thought I would regret. But I didn’t.
In that class, it didn’t matter whether you got the steps right. It didn’t matter if you made a fool of yourself. All that mattered was that you kept moving and you had fun. And honestly, it seemed impossible not to have fun. The moves are pretty loose and you’re encouraged to have some attitude, show off a little, and improvise. I don’t think of myself as someone who can dance — but I forgot all of that and just went with it. The lights are flashing and everything is loud. People all around you are smiling and laughing. There’s also a live DJ in the back of the room, adding to the club-like experience.
The instructor, who I later found out was the founder of 305 Fitness, looked like she was having the time of her life. She moved around the whole room, making sure every person felt personally included in the class. Everything out of her mouth was positive and supportive. I didn’t think a fitness class could feel like a party — but this one did.
There are all kinds of boxing-inspired workouts at fitness studios, but rarely do you find a workout that’s taught by actual competitive fighters. I wanted the real boxing experience — I wanted to train like a real boxer. So I took a class at Overthrow, a fitness studio that teaches high-intensity boxing classes that alternate between time spent doing work on the bag and on the floor. The workout itself was so fun. I mean, when else are you encouraged to punch something — as hard as you can — without holding back? Letting go of my stress by hitting the bag felt amazing (hello, endorphins) without feeling difficult. There was some partner work to help the group atmosphere, bodyweight moves to build stamina and strength, and opportunities to work one on one with the instructor.
The trainer was a competitive boxer; but regardless of his experience and no-nonsense attitude, he was still a great instructor. You weren’t shamed if you didn’t know the punches. No person in the class was ever left behind. In fact, he broke everything down to the basics and would come correct your form if you were doing something incorrectly. But at the same time, the workout was challenging for everyone in the room, no matter their level.
In addition to being physically challenging, this boxing workout felt like a workout for my mind. The instructor calls out combinations of different punches for you to follow. 1! 1-2-3-1! It might seem simple, but when you’re knocked out of breath and have been hearing numbers for the past 30 minutes, those combos are hard to remember. The mental challenge — as well as the diversity of the workout — made the 45-minute class fly by. If I could, I would have stayed there all day. Heck, I’d take boxing classes every week if I could. I have tried working out before work every day for a month — though maybe I was doing the wrong workouts. That wasn’t anywhere near as successful as my time in the ring.
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