I didn't grow up playing sports; I was a weak dork. Exercise sounded like a hassle, and I assumed I just wasn't cut out for fitness. A lot of us have felt similar negativity about our bodies, and often that insecurity is worst when we're surrounded by peers — in a gym, at a pool or in a locker room. But my negative attitude was working against me: A 2014 Gallup poll showed that Americans who said they exercised 30 minutes every day of the past week felt best about their physical appearance. I decided to get more serious about my routine, and to the astonishment of my younger, gym-class-hating self, I discovered I love group fitness.
Some people will always be dedicated solo exercisers. Others may value the convenience and low cost of online workout videos or fitness DVDs (check the New Orleans Public Library). Exercise in general is on a national upswing, and once-ridiculed group classes (Jazzercise, anyone?) are experiencing a major comeback. I started going to gym classes as an experiment, but I've tried and enjoyed more new activities than I ever thought I would. Communal fitness can provide friendly support, fierce competition, or any level of encouragement in between. Being surrounded by like-minded people helps everyone do his or her best, and the best instructors have killer playlists.
There's bad technique and boring workouts, but there's no wrong way to exercise, and no call to be judgmental about something that can benefit almost everybody. If you begrudge your occasional jog or feel like you're just going through the motions at the gym, it's way past time to branch out. New Orleans has a burgeoning crop of specialty fitness studios, but here are three I've tried personally.
The following is adapted from fitness columns I wrote for the Gambit website in 2015 and 2016.
For adventure close to home
1746 Tchoupitoulas St.
Before visiting the New Orleans Boulder Lounge, I hadn't climbed since elementary school. My most vivid memories were of the harness: nylon straps that rode up the inner thighs, bulging at the crotch with the power of Superman's red undies. The Boulder Lounge is different: it offers only bouldering, which is done without harnesses, ropes or carabiners. When you're ready to come down, you let go — and crash into foot-thick cushioning covering most of the floor. Grabbing hold of the smooth, unfinished wood at the top of the wall is strangely rewarding, and knowing you could slip at any moment is exhilarating. The Boulder Lounge offers group climbing lessons, and it also includes a quiet room for yoga classes and a small, specialized training area with free weights, gymnastic rings and a miniature rock wall.
For no-fail motivation every time
4141 Bienville St.
Orangetheory's workout is a mix of treadmills, rowing machines, free weights and TRX suspension training straps, but its "theory" revolves around heart rate. Everyone wears a monitor on a chest strap, and heart rates are broadcast on overhead TVs. Lower levels of exertion mark you as gray, then blue, then green. When you hit 84 percent of your hypothetical maximum capacity, you're pushed into the exalted "orange zone." To my surprise, the public-shaming aspect didn't faze me too much; instead, I felt motivated and aware. The best part of Orangetheory is the brand-new equipment, including treadmills with built-in fans and rowing machines that draw their resistance from translucent tanks of real water that make satisfying whirling noises as you "row" through it.
For a different kind of beach getaway
5924 Magazine St.
The signature City Surf workout is performed in stocking feet on an indoor surfboard strapped to a trio of squishy fitness balls and topped with a thick, rubbery black mat. My class began with a warm-up to acclimate participants' balance, then moved on to basic surfing moves like the pop up (moving from lying to standing on the board) and the duck dive (which, to the nonsurfer, feels similar to a yoga chaturanga). Unlike surfing in the ocean, you can put one foot on the floor when you lose balance — which I did. The board also serves as a bench for tricep dips and a wobble board for lunges and squats, performed HIIT-style in 30-second increments. Indoor surfing isn't cheap ($22 for an a la carte class), but it's a feel-good, full-body workout when you can't get to the beach.
I wish I had a step-by-step list for motivating myself to work out when I don't feel like it, but I do know this: There's no substitute for an activity that you find challenging and enjoyable. To me, the variety of experiences offered in group classes is its own kind of reward. If none of the above sounds terribly exciting to you, there are many other options to consider: indoor cycling, Pilates, boot camp, barre, martial arts, hula hooping and a dozen types of dance. Don't worry if you feel like a particular sport is somehow antithetical to your personality — if I believed that, I never would have realized how much I enjoy gym classes.
If you already have
a gym membership, there may be group classes you can attend at no extra cost.
The New Orleans Recreation Development Commission offers FREE classes including:
• boot camp
for a schedule.