For the record, I’m no fan of gym classes. The airless rooms, the harsh lighting, the sea of Lululemon pants—better for me the solitary, meditative practice of running. But after years of five-days-a-week jogs, ennui was setting in. So when a friend told me about a hilarious new class set to music from Glee, I had to try it. And it wasn’t half-bad. In fact, it was as taxing as a 5K race (only with more Cee Lo). As it turns out, the city’s gyms have been rolling out a barrage of classes that collectively represent the new norm in fitness: hybrids of old and new routines; high-intensity interval-training sessions; and odd variations on Jane Fonda–style aerobics. Armed with a Mio Motiva Petite— a heart-rate and calorie-counting watch that would tell me (approximately) how hard I was working—I set out to take as many classes in a month as I could handle. These are the twenty I liked best.
SoulCycle, 103 Warren St., at West St.; 212-406-1300; $32 per class
Regular spinning is intense, no question. Spinning, plus upper-body-strengthening resistance bands—plus a Bell Biv DeVoe–infused soundtrack—is intensely satisfying from head to toe. Fifteen minutes into the SoulBands class, my shirt was nearly soaked through. My legs were in near-constant motion, and as I pulled on the bands anchored above the bike, my entire body was, too: Obliques, hard-to-reach lats, and oft-ignored back muscles even got their share of burn.
Peak Heart Rate: 162
Calories Burned: 438
The Pain-O-Meter: 1
(Assessed on a 1-to-10 scale, with 1 being pure fun and 10 pure suffering)
Eastern Athletic Clubs, 43 Clark St., nr. Hicks St., Brooklyn Heights; 718-625-0500; free for members, $25 for day pass
My adrenaline, and the music, didn’t stop pumping for this entire hour of fast, high-energy barefoot choreography—a mixture of Indian classical, folk dance, and hip-hop. Instructor Sam Ghosh’s Bollywood-melodrama patter added a strangely lyrical narrative to our steps. During our knees-up-hands-slashing-an-X progression, he chanted: “You think I won’t cut you? There, I just cut you.”
Peak Heart Rate: 164
Calories Burned: 451
The Pain-O-Meter: 7
Clay Health Club, 25 W. 14th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-206-9200; memberships from $130 per month
Jillian Wright, a sculpted motivational speaker who supposedly once weighed 225 pounds, does wonders for people who don’t mind nearly constant “inspirational” pronouncements, underscored with careful manipulation of lights and music. For me, it all made the grunty, gritty work of body sculpting more palatable. Instead of cursing silently on my umpteenth back lunge while holding a twelve-pound bar, I junked my negativity. Wright reminded us that perfection wasn’t the goal, only “honest effort.” A little touchy-feely? Yes, but the hour went by as fast as one spent watching Oprah.
Peak Heart Rate: 146
Calories Burned: 219
The Pain-O-Meter: 4
Reebok Sports Club/NY, 160 Columbus Ave., at 67th St.; 212-362-6800; $25 for members (memberships from $209 per month)
Float, a blend of aerial acrobatics, Pilates, and yoga, certainly looks effortless. In reality, there’s nothing easy about balancing aloft on a silky sling “hammock” suspended three feet from the floor. Arms and shoulders burn every time you pull yourself up into the hammock; thighs tremble as you stand with one leg slung up behind you. Even hanging upside down takes work; relax too much and forget to engage your stomach, you might fall.
Peak Heart Rate: 148
Calories Burned: 390
The Pain-O-Meter: 5
New York Sports Club, 113 E. 23rd St., at Park Ave.; 212-982-4400; free for members, $30 for 30 days
Two things learned in this boot-camp-meets-Jeopardy! class: Competition gets your adrenaline going; also, I watch too much TV. We were divided into two groups and, depending on which team answered questions correctly, performed exercises that were either tiring (fast jumping jacks) or rapidly exhausting (squat-and-jump combos). I scored with this question: In which sitcom was Fear Factor host and comedian Joe Rogan a regular? (Answer: NewsRadio.)
Peak Heart Rate: 152
Calories Burned: 284
The Pain-O-Meter: 2
New York Sports Club, 61 W. 62nd St., nr. Broadway; 212-265-0995; free for members, $30 for 30 days
Burlesque is all about the slow tease, so how much cardio can one get from shimmying your shoulders and wiggling your hips? Quite a bit, it turns out. Dancer Johnnie Paolillo had us repeatedly practicing a fast-paced, hip-hop- and jazz-inflected choreography with signature bump-and-grind moves. After my initial self-consciousness dissipated—and how could it not with all the feel-good whooping going on?—I was strutting, sashaying, and sweating with a gusto that would have made Cher proud.
Peak Heart Rate: 154
Calories Burned: 344
The Pain-O-Meter: 2
Break Beat Gymnastics
Field House at Chelsea Piers, Pier 62 Chelsea Piers, West Side Hwy. nr. 23rd St.; 212-336-6500; $19
Talk about shocking your body out of complacency: Break Beat Gymnastics turned this uptight runner into a break-dancing fool, attempting sweeps (hands on floor, swooping the legs around), CC Rocks (twisting on the floor, one leg extended), and windmills (let your imagination run wild). Even the warm-ups were, um, unfamiliar: I can’t remember the last time I shuffled crablike over a springy floor.
Peak Heart Rate: 160
Calories Burned: 355
The Pain-O-Meter: 7