Fitness

Sweat It Out

A week of vigorous workouts to kick off 2014

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My week of trying out fun new fitness classes at the Center of Real Energy (CORE) Fitness in Wayland Square got off to a pretty shaky start in early January: I was battling the same nasty cold that everyone seems to have caught this year, hobbled by a knee injury suffered in a hockey game and spent the Sunday before the first class stranded overnight at the airport in Baltimore. Not to mention that the previous three weeks had been nothing more than a long span of holiday indulgences and profound inactivity.

Still, I dutifully showed up Monday night for my first class, CORE S.W.E.A.T., led by owner Denise Chakoian-Olney and very accurately described as a “heart-pounding, fat burning” workout. For an hour, Denise shouted enthusiastic instructions through her wireless headset as she led the group through a warmup (which felt suspiciously like a workout to me), then about 20 or so challenging exercises using your own body weight, light and heavy weights, resistance bands and the BOSU ball. The fast pace – about a minute on each exercise – helped you avoid the biggest curse of the gym, boredom, but also made you realize just how difficult it can be to do a single motion nonstop for even just a minute. Dynamic combinations like burpees with a 180-degree jump and v-squat jumps with upright rows using light weights are as tough as they sound: this class will get you moving, working and, as promised, sweating throughout.

My sister-in-law is a professional dancer, and I am aware of how strenuous ballet can be, despite its frou-frou image. So, I wasn’t taking the next day’s Body Barre class – which mixes ballet-barre exercises with some core and upper-body routines – too lightly. And good thing: while not quite as tough as S.W.E.A.T., Body Barre challenges you in different ways. Consider, for example, that a good portion of the class involves standing on your toes.

If you’ve ever watched ballet, you know that the dance is all about precise, controlled movements. The barre class is the same: good form is the key to all the exercises, but to maintain it requires both concentration and strength. Ballet terms like “arabesque” sound elegant, for example, but in practice holding one leg behind you in midair for more than a few seconds is pretty difficult from both a balance and exertion perspective, especially when Denise tells you to start pulsing up and down on the leg on the floor. Squats performed in ballet’s turnout position –heels together, toes pointed out – take on a whole new dimension, working the adductors and other muscles around the hips and groin. The idea that the class is more about shaping your muscles than bulking up doesn’t make the exercises any easier, but looking around the room you can see the results in the shape of flat abs, toned shoulders and sculpted calves.

Wednesday was Hump Day – a much needed day of rest. (Woo hoo!) My body appreciated the break, and a couple of Pilates classes slated seemed like a mellower way to finish off the week. As I checked the schedule, however, my sore legs began sending me signals of silent rage as I noticed the word “Jumpboard” appended to the name of my Thursday Pilates class. At this point, the idea of jumping off of anything higher than a matchbox sounded like agony, but CORE Pilates instructor Melody Gamba assured me that while I would get a good workout, Thursday’s work on the Pilates Reformer machine would be relatively low-impact.

The Pilates most of us are used to is actually just a subset of the exercises developed by fitness guru Joseph Pilates, known as “Pilates mat.” Pilates also designed several pieces of equipment to enhance his workouts, notably the Pilates Reformer, which resembles a long wooden bed equipped with spring-loaded resistance bands and bars. The Reformer makes an awesome alternative to CORE’s intense S.W.E.A.T. or Navy SEALs classes: it’s not nearly as hardcore and allows for a full range of motion, so you’re getting a great stretch as well as toning your muscles. Plus, it works on the body’s secondary muscules rather than the abs, glutes and biceps targeted by typical workouts.

As for the Jumpboard, it’s actually a flat wooden board set perpendicular to the Reformer platform, which allows you to push off with your toes for small jumps while laying flat (the Reformer bed slides back and forth, while springs return you to the landing position). In fact, most of the Reformer exercises take place in a prone or seated position, making it a great option for people who want to get a vigorous workout but are limited by injury or chronic illnesses like arthritis.

Like ballet, Pilates requires precise movements and concentration, and both are mandatory for several of the exercises in my final workout, a private 60-minute session with Melody where we concentrate mainly on the upper-body with the Pilates Cadillac – a large apparatus that resembles the hospital beds that first inspired Joseph Pilates – the Pilates Chair and TRX Suspension Training. The Chair is deceptively simple looking: it’s not much more than a seat and some spring-loaded handbars, but it allows you to raise and lower your body with controlled resistance and is impossible to muscle through: you have to engage your core to do the exercise or it simply won’t work. We finished up with the TRX bands, which hang from the ceiling and enable you to angle your body and do exercises like suspended pushups using your own body weight as resistance.

By the end of the week, my legs were sore but my knee felt great, the cold was history and at least some of the holiday pie and gravy had been sweated off. Unless you’ve been working out regularly I wouldn’t recommend doing four classes in five days, but with its broad range of classes CORE is pretty accessible whether you are a fitness newbie or looking to shake up your usual gym routine. There are no membership fees, and drop-in rates range from $15 for classes like S.W.E.A.T., Navy SEALs, yoga and spin to $28 for small group Pilates Reformer classes. Private instruction ranges from $65-75 per hour with discount packages available. Fitness classes are held at 469 Angell Street; Pilates classes are at 208 Governor Street. 273-2673. 

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