Nontraditional Workouts Can Jazz Up Your Exercise Routine and Help you Lose Stubborn Pounds
It starts with a little black dress and a wedding. The dress is beautiful and does not fit, and it’s what I’m wearing to the wedding in six months. I need help. I need a new exercise routine.
I decide on yoga, hoping to balance out my running. I check out The Yoga Tree in downtown Haverhill. Owned by Caroline Pineau, the studio is in a renovated mill, with high ceilings and beautiful wooden floors. Pineau practices Vinyasa yoga, a series of postures and breathing exercises that move smoothly from one to the next. Or at least that’s the theory. I am not smooth. I creak and stumble and lose my balance. Occasionally I fall over.
Pineau, who opened her first studio three years ago, is a stickler for technique. She shows me how to modify my posture during sitting exercises to accommodate my short torso. She coaches my alignment during a cobra pose. She reminds me to breathe.
After a month or so of classes, I begin to see definition in my pectoral muscles and upper arms. And one day after class I drive on Route 114 in rush-hour traffic. I’m so calm, so mellow, I don’t use my horn once. Yoga is making me a stronger person, and a nicer one, too.
Pineau, who regularly brings in instructors from Boston and New York, confirms those mind-body benefits. “Yoga is accessible to people of any ability, at any age,” she says. Her students range in age from 10 to the late 70s. “Whether you can stand on your head or barely touch your toes, it’s about meeting yourself on your own level.”
Inspired by my yoga success, I seek out other forms of exercise. I sign up for a class at barre n9ne studio in Andover and show up with the vague idea that I’ll be doing some gentle dancing.
Tanya Croteau, the studio owner, is a former Patriots cheerleader. She’s created a cult community of followers who swear by all things barre. Fifteen minutes into my session, my arms are burning, my legs shaking. It’s the hardest class I’ve ever taken. Croteau — who mixes a proprietary method of dance, Pilates and stretching moves — is tough.
It isn’t long before I learn this about barre n9ne instructors: They lie. They say things like “Almost done!” and “Onnne more time!” and what they really mean is “You may be almost done with this exercise, but I have another fiendishly painful one coming right up.” Also, they cannot tell time. An ab exercise we are supposed to hold for 30 seconds seems closer to a minute by my watch.
Still, I’m hooked. I drag myself out of the first class and immediately sign up for a second. I participate in a barre n9ne “Challenge” — 60 days of classes, cardio activity and common sense nutritional guidelines — and drop several (OK, 9, but who’s counting?) pounds. There’s a Facebook page for challengers, too, where participants exchange recipes and exercise tips, and cheer each other on.
That camaraderie is exactly what Croteau was striving for when she opened her studio in 2010. “I wanted to make working out fun and help women stop dreading it,” she says.
“I wanted a community that anyone, no matter their shape or size, can be a part of, with no judging.”
My next stop is CrossFit Lowell. I call owner Gina Tacconi-Moore because a fabulously fit author I meet swears by CrossFit — a high-energy workout that uses everything from kettlebells to ropes to your own body weight. The only drawback, he admits, is that occasionally you push yourself so hard you throw up.
When I call Tacconi-Moore and express my concern about upchucking, she doesn’t deny it. But she says it isn’t as common as people think. “I’ve been doing this for three years, and I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened,” she says. “CrossFit is all about finding your threshold and pushing up against it. The workouts are intense, but they are designed to help you give your personal best every day.”
“The cool thing with CrossFit is that even though participants wind up with awesome-looking bodies, the emphasis is on what your body is capable of, less on what it looks like,” she says. “It’s a functional fitness, which to us is way more important.”
It would be nice to be able to do it all — yoga/barre/CrossFit, plus whatever else catches my fancy. So I call Latitude Sports Clubs in Methuen, where David DeRosa assures me that my fitness fantasy is possible.
“The trend right now is toward more directed training, not necessarily one-on-one, but small groups,” he says. Latitude offers small groups for barre, yoga and Pilates classes. There’s something called TRX, which sounds similar to CrossFit, plus a crazy kickboxing program that uses machines that light up in a pattern, the exercise equivalent of Whac-A-Mole. That’s in addition to the standard weight-training and cardio machines.
“We’ve been around gyms for a long time, and we’re always trying to do things that will make it more fun so clients don’t get bored. It’s nice to be able to try one activity for a month, then switch it up to a different activity on the same membership,” DeRosa says.
At the end of my six months, I’m in great shape, and the dress fits like a dream. But the exercise bug has bitten me hard, and I’m seeking my next challenge. A trip to the beach has me inspired. Paddleboarding anyone?
The Yoga Tree
barre n9ne studio
Andover and Danvers, Mass.
Latitude Sports Clubs
Methuen, Salisbury, Bradford, Peabody and Andover, Mass.