Last week, I got the chance to take a class at the new “team” based indoor cycling studio, Swerve Fitness. Started by former college athletes who missed that team spirit in their workouts, Swerve divides the class into three teams – Red, Blue and Green and the teams compete to win the class. When you sign up for class you choose a team, which is clearly marked online. Since I was going by myself, I just chose my favorite color, Blue – but I think this class would be more fun with friends stacking the ranks of your chosen team.
The last month has been a little crazy and getting in my workout has been a ridiculous challenge –I make it happen, but my workout window is so small that if anything goes wrong, it quickly gets hard to do anything. I’ve being going to a lot of classes with instructors I know and love. Last week, I realized that I needed to shake things up. On Wednesday night, when my big plan to go try something new the next morning fell apart, I immediately went to Flywheel’s schedule to look and see if there were any options to squeeze in a ride before work –even though I’ve been out of credits for ages. The fella, it turns out, had a few credits and offered to book me a bike when he saw me looking longingly at the Flywheel site. I immediately said yes. He snagged me a front row bike in Kari Nicolle’s class the following morning and I couldn’t wait for the ride. I was in dire need of a good sweat session.
When I arrived to check in, my buddy SinWorkouts was just getting there and it turned out we would be riding next to each other – score! Sin never fails to inspire me to work harder in a class and it had been FAR too long since we had caught up. So I snagged a pair of shoes and proceeded to class without a second thought. Kari Nicole is one of the newer teachers on the Flywheel, but she is a total rockstar. I knew I was in for a good class with Sin by my side and Kari leading. The room was stacked with an impressive group of riders and I just hoped I would be able to keep up. I hunkered down and rode, inspired by clear coaching, awesome music and the kick-ass women in the room.
When Kari flipped on the board for the first race of the class, I glanced up and realized I was 1st on the men’s board. I just smiled and kept my head down, trying to keep up with Sin next to me since she was already crushing my score. Each time the board flipped up I would glance up to see if I’d fallen yet but as the ride wore on, I stayed at the top of the board. By the end of the class, I was totally spent and still in the #1 position on the men’s board…well, the fella was! I finally looked over to see where I would have fallen if I’d been with the women – 5th solid. While I may have won the men’s board, the strong women in that room kicked my ass!
At the end of class I was a sweaty and happy – Kari taught a hard, fun class that inspired us all to give our best and as she walked over to my bike to high-five me she leaned over and said “So, you’re incognito today, huh?” I just laughed and shrugged. Being incognito wasn’t my plan but winning the board was a lot of fun….
Oh Flywheel, I’ve missed you! And Kari, you are now on my list of go-to instructors!
Photo of Kari from the Flywheel website, bottom quote just a little bit of internet goodness.
Recently when I fessed up that I had never been to a Charlee Atkins class, one of my Soul Cycle friends was horrified…. his exact response was “that is unacceptable” followed the next day by a list of classes he was going to be taking with her the next week. Turned out there was really only one that I could make, her Saturday night class in Tribeca – which is easily my favorite of the Soul Cycle studios. I am always game for any new class and always have fun at Soul Cycle, so I immediately wrote back and said “I’m in!”
When I got to the studio, my friend had already checked me in and after a brief moment of horror at realizing I was in the front row, I shrugged it off and snagged a pair of shoes for the ride. When I turned around there was Charlee, sporting a bright red baseball cap worn backwards, who really is stunning in person but also has a wide, disarming smile. I’d seen so many serious, smoldering fitness shots of her that the smiling, sweet, open person asking me how I felt about “aggressive rides” in front of me threw me off a little. In those first few minutes of meeting her, I realized that my preconceived notions of what this class was going to be were just completely out the window.
In the room, I got all set up and waited for the class to start. My friend was across the room so I sat there in the front row and just took in the scene, which was filled with regulars (always easy to spot) and a few newbies to the class like me. After everyone got settled, Charlee immediately got down to business. The music was aggressive but in the best possible way and I immediately was sucked into the ride. The songs had us riding on a heavier, slightly slower beat than a lot of the Soul Cycle classes I have been to, so with the heavier resistance and more seated work, it was a class that just felt GOOD – hard & challenging but good. She also did a thing I loved, she broke down the pushup moves. Charlee would start the pushups in a slightly slower tempo section and then would allow the music to ramp up the speed of them naturally. It made so much sense to me that I was pretty close to being able to do all of the chorography – even the clapping pushups towards the end! It was like a miracle – I was in the front row and didn’t feel totally hapless!
Charlee was just amazingly charismatic – on the bike or when she would get down off and move around the room- she pounded out the beat with her whole body. I totally get now why my friend was so horrified that I hadn’t taken her class…I walked out of her class completely blown away and trying to figure out when I would get to take another one.
Charlee really is just epically good.
On Sunday, April 13th, I took off my shirt in the middle of Union Square and joined 300 other riders at the 3rd Annual Sports Bra Challenge, in a celebration of acceptance and positive body image. A challenge that started in a Soul Cycle classroom a few years ago, when Jenny Gaither couldn’t bring herself to ride in just her sports bra, has grown into a huge charity event to support her SEAK Foundation’s mission to provide programming that improves young women’s self-esteem.
The event, which took over the North side of Union Square Park, was in full swing by the time I made it there after my workout that morning with Gabby Reece at Exceed. I checked in, snagged a pair of shoes and got ready for my class to start up. I was tired but so excited to be there. Thankfully, Zico Coconut Water was a sponsor, so I grabbed one immediately, knowing it would help my second wind kick in. I saw so many people I knew – bloggers and instructors from other studios (places like Exceed, Body Space Fitness, Uplift, Pilates ProWorks) who had all showed up to support the cause. It was an inspiring group.
I am not a “sports bra only” sort of a person and the first few minutes of sitting there on my bike waiting for our class to start, I was acutely aware that I was not wearing enough clothes for this workout. Thankfully, I had worn my new Moving Comfort Juno bra that is cute and doesn’t move at all, so it didn’t take me that long to get used to it!
Our class session of the Sport’s Bra Challenge was led by Jenny Gaither and Ayana Curtis. They were a powerhouse of a team – both Soul Cycle Rockstars who just radiate the love they have for what they do. This event is Jenny’s baby, and watching her take it all in for those first few moments was amazing. DJ GB lit the place up right away with a fun, eclectic mix and Anya & Jenny launched into a fun, challenging class. After the first song though, watching Anya and Jenny rock it out on stage, taking in the crowd, I let myself just get totally swept up in the class. It flew by and at the end, when the whole crowd sang along to Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait For You” – I almost cried it was so beautiful. It was truly impossible not to be captivated by the joy and positivity of what was happening that day.
I am so grateful that I got the chance to be part of an event dedicated to empowering everyone by sharing that moment of complete acceptance, of yourself, just as you are. It was a beautiful, joyful day – I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next year!
Photos and video by Eric Stafford, Stafford Sports Media
Months ago, I read Ryan Foley’s SoulCycle story about going from being 60 pounds overweight, working 90-hour work weeks on Wall Street to finding SoulCycle and becoming one of their newest instructors. I love stories like that – about finding your passion and just going for it. I’ve wanted to take his class ever since, then on Friday, in a flurry of Twitter exchanges with another exercise fanatic, I was invited to Ryan’s class the very next day.
In January 2012, Ryan discovered SoulCycle and by the end of the year he’d made his radical (and AWESOME) leap – but this would be his first birthday on the bike in front of the room. Held in the stunning Tribeca Soul, it was in the smaller of the two studios but the class was packed to the rafters with friends. There were a few randoms like me, who hadn’t taken Ryan before but mostly it was his crowd and they roared for him almost instantly – it was one of those rides that when you were clipping into the bike you just knew was going to be special. I felt a little bit like I had snuck into a party and was just hoping no one would realize that I didn’t belong and kick me out!
As I entered the room, the charming, handsome Ryan hollered “FBS in the house! I think you are over there!” I grinned, waved and set out to set up my bike as quickly as possible since it was almost time to start. I was in the middle of the room (for me a Soul score) but surrounded by obvious Soul-ers. Ryan got the room going from the bike and immediately the playlist rocked. The very first song was Linkin Park and two women in the front row and directly in front of me had their hair down and started to rock out the moment the class started. The idea of riding with your hair down just confounds me and I was completely captivated when one of them full on started head banging when Nine Inch Nails came on. Watching it, I was totally smitten with the coolness. It looked so awesome that I really wanted to try it but I could just see myself launching over the handlebars and toppling half the room. Another song of awesome rocking out, then she put her hair up and I went back to focusing on Ryan, whose tshirt had lit up at some point. We launched into the classic Soul pushup chorography that never fails to make me feel like the least coordinated person on the planet (especially when added to my lack of head banging ability) and Ryan rocked it out. My favorite moment was when at one point, when we were doing beats, where we were supposed to all be on the same leg, Ryan busted out what looked like Airplane Wands, rocking left and right for which leg we were supposed to be on. It was so ridiculously fun and was the only time I was remotely on the right leg! Ryan’s playlist was awesome – filled with mixes & songs I’d never heard in any other class. He managed to have a playlist that made me think often, “I’d have NEVER thought you could ride to that!” Towards the end of class, Ryan pointed out the awesome headbanger and said anyone here who hasn’t gotten to Janet Fitzgerald’s class, you need to now. AHH! I was still crushed out on her but I suddenly felt better about the fact that head banging was out of the question for me!
Ryan’s birthday ride was also one of the few classes where I wasn’t even remotely the loudest person in the class and it was just ridiculously fun -I loved every single moment of it. The ride itself was so loud that by the end Ryan blew out his mike. It made him burst out laughing –“anyone take bets on that?” Soul inspired him but on Saturday night, he showed a whole room of people that following your passion can lead you to a really wonderful place….
Photo of Ryan from Twitter (follow him @24_7_Ry) and bottom image just a little bit of internet goodness.
On Friday night, I went to the kick-off event for the Sports Bra Challenge 2013, a 45 minute Soul Cycle class led by the awesome Jenny Gaither, a Soul Cycle Rockstar and one of the founders of the S.E.A.K. Foundation. S.E.A.K (which stands for “Strive, Embrace, Achieve, Know”) grew out of a challenge that Jenny issued for herself 3 years ago to be comfortable in class in just her sports bra. It was a huge leap in self-acceptance for her and she wanted to be able to share that sense of empowerment that she found in that Soul Cycle room with the help of others. That original, seemingly-simple goal, forms the base of what S.E.A.K is all about – “promoting fitness as a platform for women to build the confidence they need to feel empowered and comfortable in their own skin – exactly as they are.” I love S.E.A.K’s mission and jumped at the chance to attend the kickoff again this year!
When I made it to Soul Cycle’s Union Square studio, it was packed with women who were there to support the cause and each other. I checked in, got my cute bright orange NB Sport Bra Challenge tank, and ran into a friend of mine all before making my way downstairs. It was, of course, packed in the women’s locker room and since I had on my workout gear already, I stashed my bag and got ready to head back upstairs. I then realized that I needed to change into the new tank I still had in my hand. Then, I did something I’ve never done before – In the middle of a studio hallway, I stripped off my old tank, tossed it in the locker and threw on the new one before I headed upstairs to wait for the class to start. When they finally flung the doors open, all the bikes were decked with whistles, glowstick circles and SEAK towels. Thankfully, I was in the back row and made quick work of setting up my bike.
Jenny launched into a ridiculously fun, challenging class that was filled with lots of choreography. We were out of the saddle, doing a million push-ups on the beat and rocking it out. Jenny called out encouragement as people pushed themselves to keep up with her insanely infectious energy. As we rode, she told us all about the beginning of the Sports Bra Challenge and told us if it scares us we definitely need to do it. I struggled to keep up with the choreography but loved every second of the class. Jenny’s joy, passion and commitment is inspiring and on Friday night, every single person in that room left feeling more confident as they walked out. Just like last year, on Friday, Jenny made every single person fall fully in love with the principle of the S.E.A.K… that everyone is special, unique and amazing, exactly as they are.
The Sports Bra Challenge this year will be held on Sunday, April 14th in Union Square. Even bigger than last year, this year’s celebration will consist of two free kids fitness classes taught by SoulCycle’s Senior Master Instructor, Stacey Griffith, and one led by Exceed Physical Culture, and two, 300-bike SoulCycle classes taught by four of SoulCycle’s rockstar instructors: Stacey Griffith, Melanie Griffith, Ayana Curtis, and of course, the amazing Jenny Gaither.
Book your bike here and join in for this amazing day dedicated to women, to empowering one another to feel comfortable with their bodies- exactly as they are!
Photos from SEAK Foundation’s Facebook page
On a ridiculously cold day, I bundled up and made my way up to the Soul Cycle Studio on 63rd and Lexington for the very first time. It’s been almost a year since I was on a bike at Soul Cycle but thanks to one of Lululemon’s awesome community events, I got the chance to ride with one of Soul’s newer instructors, Ryan Steinman.
When I got to the front desk to check in for my class, it turned out that I’d gotten moved from the random bike I had signed up for in the store. For a brief second I thought somehow I’d gotten knocked off the list and trekked out in the freezing cold for nothing – but it turned out I had been moved to the front row. Eek! I am not the most coordinated person, so in Soul classes with their notorious on-the-bike choreography, I usually try to hide in the back. After a brief moment of front row panic, I sucked it up, initialed by my name and asked for some cycling shoes for class. Turns out that because we were there with Lululemon, they were free! Free class AND free shoes at Soul Cycle?!? Score!
Soul Cycle’s studios are always ridiculously pretty, with their clean white spaces, dark slate floors and bright yellow logo accents – the 63rd Street studio is no exception. I changed and headed into class to get ready for the ride. Thankfully, I managed not to bust my ass on the slick slate floors as I made my way into the studio– they really are so pretty design-wise but SO impractical! It’s been so long since I’ve ridden with Soul that this was my first time on their “new” bikes. I was shocked by how much better I liked these bikes – they are smooth, easy to adjust and had a better angle than the ones before… I was seriously surprised. I didn’t have any problems adjusting my bike but the Soul staff rushed around the room helping everyone who looked even slightly confused.
Ryan introduced himself to the group and proceeded to get us started as he put on his cycling shoes – turns out he was a corporate lawyer before finding Soul and changing paths. Almost immediately, he was on the bike and launched into the Soul pushup choreography and I was briefly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. Turned out, though, that Ryan was so easy to follow that I forgot how ridiculously uncoordinated the choreography normally makes me feel and just found myself grinning like crazy and having fun. Ryan’s music was great and eclectic –by far my favorite was a mash-up by DJ Robin Skouteris that included almost a full minute of opera. It was shocking and strangely, went perfectly with the isolation move he called out. The idea of the isolation is to use heavy resistance and to only have your legs move while keeping your upper body perfectly still – a brutally challenging move. Then, as the opera faded into a faster more kickass tempo, he called out for us to let it go. It was awesome. The ride flew by and was filled with talk of finding your soul, making choices, deciding to push yourself, and taking ownership of what you do in every moment; the exact kind of thing I’ve come to expect at Soul and love every time I hear it. I totally get why people love Soul Cycle. Last Sunday, Ryan’s class was exactly what I needed – a sweaty reminder that following you own path can truly be amazing.
One of my favorite things that I learned in the recent Flybarre Challenge was how much I loved the Flybarre/ Flywheel double. For me, the key to a good double is when the Flybarre come first. My body just responds better when the conditioning/toning part comes before cardio – there are others who feel the exact opposite but I need my double to start with Flybarre. Before the challenge, the few times I tried a double, it went the other way and I was miserable – however when Flywheel is the second class, some how my legs get a beautiful second wind moments after starting to pedal and I FLY.
Kate Hickl’s Saturday 9:30am Flywheel class has long been one of my favorites but getting up to get to Kara Liotta’s Flybarre class before just always seemed impossible. Between the goofy train schedules from Brooklyn and my love of sleeping in, getting to an 8:15 on a Saturday morning always seemed like just a daunting prospect. However, Saturday’s double was the only one that worked for my schedule, so I sucked it up and set my alarm for 6am. Turns out it this slightly infamous “KK Double Burn” is just ridiculously good.
As Kara was getting ready to start the class, she asked us if we were ready to really work since it was so many people’s first class back, to which one of the regulars said: “What I am hoping for is that you take it easy on us!” The whole room erupted in laughter, since I am pretty sure Kara’s version of “easy” would still be a killer. We all knew what we were in for, an awesome, super challenging and fun class where Kara would systematically kick our asses. She really is so brilliantly good at keeping every single class fresh and challenging, it is really amazing. I always feel lucky to get to be in a class with a master of any method and Kara really is a master at Flybarre. As the class settled in to get started, she introduced Emily Sferra, a Flybarre Seattle instructor who was in town for the holiday and was going to be jumping in to teach us the arms section. In my slightly sleepy state I was irked by the fact that we were going to have someone else teach part of the class. Dang it! I woke up early for Kara! However, as soon as Emily hopped up to teach, I was immediately won over by her charm, easy command of the room and fun arm section. She even managed to make the dynamic arms section completely make total sense and easy to follow along – which is pretty much a miracle for me. I was still terrible at it but I felt much closer to on than normal! The biggest sign that Emily is a star Flybarre instructor is that by the end of the section, I was like “Wait, can we steal her from Seattle? Just once in awhile at least?” She was GOOD – Seattle really has a star over there. Kara jumped back in front and proceded to teach one of the most challenging and fun classes to date. We even got to try a new seat movie that was awesome.
The nice thing about the way these two classes fit together is that really, by the time you have collected your stuff and gotten your shoes from your little bin, it is time to set up your bike. Kate’s Saturday class is always something special. It has been since the Flatiron studio opened. It’s funny, I sometimes forget just HOW great Kate is and then I end up in one of her classes and am blown away again by just how good she is. There is a reason I refer to her as Kate the Great. She is always so supportive while really challenging everyone – Kate truly believes in the Flywheel method and pushes people to get better each time. I almost always do just a little bit better than I thought was possible when I walked in. On Saturday, Kate was on fire and blew the room away with her drive. I walked out totally inspired and grateful to get to take class with one of the greats.
By the time the classes were over, I was wide-awake, blissfully happy to have gotten to take such amazing classes and totally convinced it was worth losing sleep for! The Kara/ Kate duo on Saturday morning was so amazing, inspiring and kick-ass, I might even have to do it again next week….
Sometime between when I took my first class with Stephanie Nieman and now, she has developed into a Flywheel rockstar. On Monday, in her packed 12:30pm class, I was blown away by what a force she has become. There is almost nothing as awesome as seeing someone completely own a room and challenge everyone to be better – while still having a ridiculously fun time. Stephanie’s energy was contagious and while some of her torque call out seemed like they were crazy high, it was impossible not to just go for it. It was a ride that was all about staying out of your comfort zone and I adored every last minute of it.
It has been a very long time between taking my first class with Stephanie and finally, going back for a second time. That first class was solid, I thought she had some “Holly-like tendencies” that were awesome – but – and this is a big one on my pet peeve list – she gave different torque numbers for men and women. A range is good, I REALLY like ranges, but different torque #’s based on gender and not skill makes me nuts. It is a pet peeve that makes me so bonkers, I will write off instructors who do it completely, even if I think in other ways they are great – and this is why after a really solid first class, I hadn’t been back to Stephanie’s class in well over 6 months. But for the last month or two, I have been over-hearing her classes while waiting for others and they always sound like a class I would love and even my stubborn self thought it might be time to try her class again.
On Monday, I finally got myself to one of her classes. I had made a spinning date and when my friend had to cancel, I almost did too but thankfully I chose to ride. The energy in the room was awesome and riders from the very start were really loud – she definitely has a crowd. I was steeled to try to get over the torque thing, but one song in, I realized that she was just giving one torque range. I proceeded to allow myself to be swept away into the ride at hand. Stephanie is very slight when you see her in person in the hallways of Flywheel but up on that instructor bike, she is a force to be reckoned with. So much so that it is almost hard to believe the two Stephanies are the same person. She yells a lot, shouts out lines from the music playing to focus on for motivation, hops off the bike and bounds around the front of the room, and gets in the faces of front row riders to get them to push harder… it was inspiring to see her just totally own the room. If I hadn’t been killing myself to go harder, I might have had the chance to revel in seeing that kind of rockstar performance but I was to busy trying not to die – her class is freaking HARD but completely and utterly awesome.
I am glad I finally got to witness what a Flywheel rockstar Stephanie Nieman has become….
Images of Stephanie from Flywheel Sports website. David Bowie quote just a little internet goodness.
Sunday was my birthday. Normally, I don’t really do much for my birthdays, except make sure to schedule one of my favorite workouts and then just revel in letting them pass without much further notice. But this year, that just wasn’t the case and it was awesome!
Originally, my plan was my normal great class then low key day, but a few weeks before, while at the evian Wooden Racquet Cup, I was invited to the US Open Women’s Final Match by my friend at the NYC PR firm for evian. The match was scheduled for the Saturday night before my birthday and I said “yes” immediately. I have wanted to attend the US Open since moving to NYC but could never afford to actually go. The Friday before the match, I got an email from the girl I was going with that said she wasn’t feeling well and did I want to take the Fella with the other ticket? Ummm… yes! So Saturday afternoon, I met her and got the tickets. I was giddy about getting to go but the weather was crazy that day -(Seriously? Tornadoes?) and by the time we were getting ready to leave that night, the match had been postponed to late Sunday afternoon.
Thankfully, my birthday treat of a class was one of my favorite Flywheel classes with the mighty Danielle Devine which starts every Sunday at 12:30, so even with the match getting moved, I didn’t have to miss it! The class was insanely awesome (and challenging). Danielle was on fire, some of my favorite songs were on the playlist and the room contained some of my favorite fellow loud riders – the energy was insane! It was the perfect kick-off to the day. After class, the fella and I hurried home as fast as our jelly-legs could take us, to change and head out again.
We made it out to the Arthur Ashe stadium in Queens well before the match was supposed to start – we even had time to pick up a souvenir shirt before we headed in to find our seats! I had seen the stadium on television, of course, but in person, it is really a beautiful space. Huge but with amazing seating. We sat in the middle of the stadium and had a clear, unobstructed view of all the action. I don’t know much about the rules of tennis but have never been so riveted by any sporting event as I was with the match between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. It was the first Women’s Final at the US Open to go all 3 sets in 17 years! This was a match that was an epic nail biter and watching that kind of passion, skill and drive, was just awe-inspiring. Even if I was occasionally lost about the nuances of the game (really I don’t get the scoring at all), just being there with a stadium filled with people who were also captivated by the skill being demonstrated, I was just enthralled with the action on the court. When Serena actually came back in the third set after being down – the entire crowd erupted on the last shot and sprang to their feet. I can’t believe how lucky I was to get to be there to see it – I couldn’t have asked for a better game for my first time at the US Open. I will definitely be back next year….
After the match, we rushed back to Manhattan to meet up with my brother who was in town for a few days and wanted to take me out for a birthday dinner. So, after an amazing day, I was treated to a ridiculously good dinner with people I love.
Seriously, does a day get better than that? Best. Birthday. EVER.
photos by Eric C Stafford