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Five hot workouts shaping up San Diego

When I came up with the idea to try five of the hottest workouts gaining popularity in San Diego, I think I may have underestimated my ability to complete all of them in one week and still be able to walk afterward.

I put myself through this rigorous – but fun – assignment to reveal the off-the-beaten-path workouts that would entice anyone from those new to exercise to the seasoned athlete, or anyone in between who may be looking to spruce up their fitness routine and challenge their bodies in a new way.

As an endurance athlete and overall enthusiast of nearly every sport, I was definitely humbled by some of these unassumingly difficult workouts. I thought I had some of them in the bag…I mean, how hard could a class with a ballet barre really be? Let’s just say my fitness ego was tested on multiple occasions.

This is not an exhaustive list of the newest workouts in San Diego. This is merely a glimpse at some of the trend-setting workouts I’ve heard about through fitness and social circles – so I thought I’d give them a try in the name of journalism.

Let my tour-de-fitness trends commence.

TRX Suspension Training

When I learned that Drew Brees got himself game-ready with TRX Suspension Training, I had to try the workout that helped create a Super Bowl MVP for myself.

I headed to Frog’s Fitness in Carmel Mountain Ranch where I was paired up with Carolyn Erickson, regional general manager for Frog’s Fitness in Southern California, who took me through a private TRX session.

Taught on the TRX Suspension Trainer – a pair of nylon straps with handles anchored into the wall – TRX is a functional training system that builds strength, cardio endurance and core balance using body weight as resistance. TRX was designed by a former U.S. Navy SEAL who wanted to get a total body workout anywhere (including a war zone) in a minimal amount of space and time. Coined the “go anywhere workout,” elite professional athletes like Brees and all branches of the U.S. military train with the TRX.

My TRX workout started with a five-minute warm-up including jump squats, mountain climbers and shoulder exercises. Then Erickson took me through a series of total body strengthening exercises that worked multiple muscles at one time, often with movements that required quick bursts of energy that got my heart racing. To increase the resistance and my workload, Erickson had me move my feet closer to or away from the wall to change my body angle for more challenging upper and lower body exercises. At one point she had me attempt to do pull-ups with my feet on the wall so I was parallel to the floor. I could barely eek out three reps.

Erickson says TRX can change even a seasoned athlete’s perspective on their own fitness level, while also accommodating those new to exercise.

“TRX requires different muscles and different breathing techniques,” said Erickson. “It’s like taking a runner and putting them in a pool and telling them to swim 100 meters. TRX also offers varying degrees of difficulty so you can place a beginner next to someone who trains on it regularly.”

I would recommend TRX as a dynamic addition to any weight training routine to help increase your range of motion and challenge muscles in a different way. TRX is fast becoming available at many personal training studios and gyms throughout San Diego. You can also buy a TRX Suspension Trainer for your home, which attaches to any door jam or overhead anchor point, complete with training DVDs at Fitness Anywhere.

Barry’s Bootcamp

Next up was Barry’s Bootcamp in Hillcrest, San Diego’s first indoor boot camp, according to manager Sam Sharon. Barry’s Bootcamp classes are taught in an indoor studio and structured for 30 minutes of interval cardio training and 30 minutes of weight training. A-list celebs like Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, Jake Gyllenhaal and Taye Diggs swear by the weatherproof workout originally offered in Los Angeles.

I began this particular day in a daze. I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m. and hauled myself down to Hillcrest, 20 minutes south of my warm bed in Scripps Ranch. I was not looking forward to a burly boot camp instructor screaming in my face this early in the morning. Instead, I encountered the exact opposite: bright-eyed boot campers and an instructor, Ami, who was the perfect mix of peppy and hard core. The studio was aglow with neon lights and dance music pulsated in the background to awaken the early riser.

On one side of the room was a row of treadmills and opposite them was a strength training area complete with dumbbells, resistance bands and step platforms for performing full body conditioning exercises. We started on the treadmill with a brisk walk that progressed into a jog for about four and a half minutes. Then we hopped over to the risers to do bicep curls with resistance bands. What seemed like a cinch for the first 30 seconds quickly began to burn. We continued moving back and forth between the treadmill and strength training, which had me breaking a good sweat.

I would recommend this boot camp for anyone who may be intimidated by the gym or those who find every excuse not to work out on a chilly winter morning. Good news is, Barry’s Bootcamp is open 365 days a year, including major holidays, so there’s no excuse for skipping a workout, and it’s a great way to diversify your exercise routine in a motivational group environment. Sharon tells me one of his clients lost 80 pounds in four months doing the boot camp five days a week.

On the flip side, this may not be an appropriate workout for someone who is new to exercise – or a treadmill, for that matter. The class moved quickly and at one point required us to run backwards on the treadmill and jog at an 18 percent incline for a full minute – as an experienced runner, even I felt like I was going to tip over.

Barry’s Bootcamp also offers classes throughout the week that target specific body parts. For example, arms are the focus on Mondays, Wednesdays are chest and abs and Friday through Sunday are full body days. Barry’s is not a cheap venture for those watching their wallets in this economy. Class packages range from $55 for three classes to $600 for 50 classes. But for those who value fitness and a good calorie burn, the cost may be inconsequential.

SPX Fitness

For my third workout I headed to Sculpt Pilates Plus in Solana Beach to try SPX Fitness, a 40-minute high intensity Pilates-based workout designed to strengthen the body, sculpt lean muscle and help burn fat – or at least that’s what I read online. Now, Pilates wouldn’t be at the top of my list as a “fat burning workout,” but it seems to be taking the fitness scene by storm with a Hollywood following including Marcia Cross, Brooke Burke and Megan Fox.

Sculpt Pilates owners Dean and Lisa Grafos tell me that SPX is largely based on the holistic principles of Pilates, but SPX classes are faster-paced and set to music, which offers a cardio element not typical of Pilates. SPX Fitness requires participants to perform controlled movements, often holding a position for up to a minute while working the muscles to failure, helping to increase muscular endurance.

Completely new to Pilates, I walked into the studio and my eyes immediately landed on what appeared to be a torture device called the Proformer, a lighter weight version of the traditional Reformer. As the class progressed, I quickly got the hang of the machine while doing exercises that engaged every part of my body, often working multiple muscle groups at once, challenging my flexibility and pain threshold. To increase resistance, the instructor had us add or remove weighted springs that connected the glideboard to the machine, adding anywhere from 22 to 50 pounds of resistance each, in addition to our body weight.

Though most SPX classes at Sculpt are female dominated, the Grafos tell me men are also challenged by the workout because it targets smaller muscles that they don’t normally hit with weight training. They emphasized that everyone from men to women, the elite athlete to the beginner, and the young to old can benefit from this total body conditioning workout.

“It’s unique to see a 21-year-old next to a 70-year-old and they’re both doing the same workout with the same intensity,” said Grafos, who emphasized that SPX is not as impactful on the body as running, for example, so there’s less risk of injury.

According to the Grafos, SPX classes are more affordable than traditional Pilates. Sculpt offers packages ranging from $35 for one session to $155 for five sessions and a whopping $1,095 for 50 sessions – still quite a pricey venture for the cash-strapped.

Sculpt Pilates is opening its second location in North Park soon and SPX classes are also offered at Pilates Plus in La Jolla. Find more information at SPX Fitness

The Bar Method

The second to last workout on my list was The Bar Method in Point Loma’s Liberty Station. I heard this workout can tone the entire body using just a ballet barre. To say the least, it seemed relaxing.

At first glance, the lushly carpeted Bar Method studio with the harmless looking ballet barre and two-, three- and four-pound weights in the corner didn’t look all that intimidating. It wasn’t until 15 minutes into the hour-long workout when my legs were shaking so badly (not uncommon in this class) I could hardly hold a pose, that I realized this wasn’t the cinch workout I’d expected.

The Bar Method combines the principles of dance conditioning with interval training. The exercises target the largest muscles in the body with isometric movements that require greater muscle strength and endurance than a typical weight training routine. The workout evolved from German dancer Lotte Berk, who created the technique by integrating exercises on the ballet barre with rehabilitative therapy after injuring her back. To my relief, the class did not require a lick of dancing skill.

The class started with weight lifting that emphasized higher repetitions of lighter weights – from bicep curls to triceps extensions, to shoulder raises and then push-ups. The real pain began when we went over to the barre to work the calves, inner and outer thighs, quads and hamstrings. The goal is to master your form while performing interval exercises in one position for up to five minutes. After each exercise we were blessed with a quick break to stretch, but then it was back to the barre.

To my surprise, I walked away from this very challenging class feeling invigorated. I can see why my fellow classmates (another female dominated workout) find it so addicting.

Fifty-two-year-old Carole Trilling has been a Bar Method patron for the past year. She drives half an hour from her home in Carmel Mountain Ranch to take the class three times a week and says she’d do this workout until she was 80 if she could. Trilling used to work out regularly at the gym and with a personal trainer, but has since ditched the gym for the Bar Method, which she says has helped her lose inches on her hips and see more definition in her arms.

According to Bar Method owner, Allison McCurdy, you should do this workout three times a week to see results depending on your fitness goals. Class prices range from $20 for a single class to a 30-day unlimited package for $200. A one-time new client special runs $100 for a 30-day unlimited trial.

For video demonstrations of The Bar Method, head to their website. Another variation of the workout called Pure Barre is offered locally at Pure Barre in Solana Beach.

Indo-Row

To be honest, when I first heard about Indo-Row, or indoor rowing, it didn’t sound all that exhilarating. I envisioned myself working out on one of those old school rowing machines that often sit vacant in the back corner of my gym. But when I learned that the class was taught by two Olympic rowers who competed on the U.S. men’s rowing team at the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens, I was intrigued.

Dubbed “the perfect calorie burn,” Indo-Row is a group-based indoor rowing class taught by Olympians Dan Walsh and Luke Walton, co-owners of Engine Room Fitness. With a combined rowing career of 40 years, Walsh and Walton opened Engine Room in September 2009 in the Aire Urban co-op fitness facility on 5th and Broadway downtown. Engine Room is the only facility in San Diego to offer Indo-Row classes, which are starting to gain popularity in gyms nationwide.

Walsh and Walton’s motto is “Everyone can train like an Olympian,” so I decided to put that motto to the test.

The class is taught on the Indo-Row machine, a sleek, wood-carved upgrade from the traditional rowing machine, complete with a water fly wheel that produced a wave-like sound similar to what you would hear on the water. The machines were set up in rows of four on each side of the room, simulating two “teams” of rowers. As class got started, we were encouraged to row in sync, which Walsh says promotes a motivational team environment. The 60-minute class took us through various speed and endurance intervals interspersed with some ab exercises. I immediately felt my arms working, but I didn’t really feel the burn until the instructor encouraged us to use our legs to push our bodies away from the fly wheel. Walsh says Indo-Row requires a ratio of 60 percent effort from the legs, 20 percent from the core and 20 percent from the arms.

“Indoor rowing offers a true full body workout,” said Walsh, who was part of the U.S. men’s rowing team that took home the bronze medal at the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008. “It’s a great low-impact cross-training alternative that gives you a strength and cardio workout at the same time.”

Indo-Row is equal parts fun and challenging and is ideal for any fitness level.

Engine Room offers Indo-Row classes most days of the week at different times throughout the day. Your first class is free and a single class costs $20. Engine Room operates on a pay-as-you-go model, requiring online registration prior to a class and no monthly memberships or contracts. A package of four classes will run you $72, averaging $18 per class, and a package of 32 classes is $384 or $12 per class. Visit Engineroomfitness for more information.

I leave this assignment fatigued, but with a new appreciation for early risers, Pilates devotees, dancers and rowers. If you are looking to change up your exercise routine, consider exploring a few of these workouts to challenge yourself in a new and fun way. Many of these workouts come with moderately priced first-time visitor and new client packages. They say variety is the spice of life, and the same is true for staying fit for life.

Cassie Piercey is an SDNN contributing writer.