Best of the City

7 Gyms and Fitness Classes That Are Worth the Sweat

In a city rich with exercise options, from old-school gyms to yoga on a paddleboard, how do you separate the glorified weight rooms from true fitness bliss? Behold, the best workouts in a town obsessed with them.

By Hayat Norimine April 24, 2018 Published in the May 2018 issue of Seattle Met

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Inside the Seattle Boxing Gym.

Image: Pao Sanchez

I had grown averse to gyms. That wasn’t always the case. Not in high school, where I’d been a softball player. But in recent years you couldn’t get me near anything resembling a fitness center. I hated paying the money. I hated running in place. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay someone to yell at me to run faster in place. So exercise, for years, remained a drag.

Until now.

For two weeks this spring, I visited fitness class after fitness class, swinging kettlebells, spinning backward around a pole, squeezing a ball between my thighs. The thing I realized, when I wasn’t nursing my sore muscles (ahem, barre class), is that these days exercise can be a blast.

So maybe you dread the thought of drowning in sweat and heavy, labored breathing in front of a group of toned strangers. I dreaded it, too. And now I don’t. Let me show you why. 

Be Saved by the Kettlebell

It’s okay to admit it. You don’t even know what a kettlebell is, right? It’s, well, what it sounds like—a weight that looks a little like a teakettle. Kettlebell is all the rage right now. And the Seattle scene is no exception. In fact, this year Seattle’s kettlebell club in the Central District ranked fourth in the world, largely because of its competitive sports team, assembled from a group of amateurs turned pro. 

What’s great about kettlebell exercises? They’re smooth, they’re fun. And unlike typical weights, they feel natural. Kettlebell reps are defined by the easy, almost involuntary kinetic movements of swinging iron or steel weight from between your legs to above your head, which does wonders to your muscle tone while being soft on the joints. As I swung these things for the first time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the human body was meant to do this. 

The body- and age-friendly sport stands out for the effect it has on endurance, too. Get good at kettlebell exercises and you can easily run a half marathon, insists Seattle Kettlebell Club owner Nikolai Puchlov. It’s an intellectual sport, Puchlov adds—all the talk of maximizing efficiency by keeping the weights close to your body really did take me back to my high school physics class—which is why he thinks it draws more Seattleites every year. So grab a heavy-as-hell teakettle and get swinging, smarties. 

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City Cycle owner Lauren Perry leads the pack in Greenwood.

Image: Pao Sanchez

Get Spun Right Round

You likely already have an impression of spinning. And that impression probably isn’t great. Spinning is Kimmy Schmidt, euphoric on a stationary bike, until she realizes she just joined another cult. Spinning is the stuff of dystopian horror, like that Black Mirror episode where people must endlessly cycle to earn “life points.” 

The truth is, spinning is neither. But it’s a workout you’ll not soon forget.

At City Cycle in Greenwood, my attempts to keep apace left me cycling so hard my shoe flung off. (Trying to put your shoe back on discreetly in a synchronized spinning class, even in the back row, is downright impossible.) I jostled side to side on a bike to the rhythm of Charlie Puth’s “How Long,” embraced the woos of encouragement from the other ladies in the class…and I finally got it. Spinners are happy to be here. And that energy rubs off, even when you hate yourself for your airborne footwear. The smaller class sizes at City Cycle ameliorate the culty vibe, even if the dark room and blue-green fluorescent lights are otherworldly—and a session here makes you high on life. 

Boulder Like Nobody’s Watching

It’s the only time I take off my wedding ring. When I’m bouldering, I’m a child again, time traveling to the days when I obsessed over monkey bars or hunted for trees to climb. It’s become a workout I could not only feel comfortable doing—despite getting blisters, exacerbated when I wore a ring—but feel like, as a woman, I was kicking ass. Because bouldering isn’t just about arm strength; it’s about flexibility, balance, efficiency, intelligence. You can climb as much or as little as you want; sit on the mats and observe if you’re tired. The people are friendly. No one will judge you. 

Although Seattle Bouldering Project on Beacon Hill has become a staple for Seattleites seeking a community, I go alone. There are lots of reasons to love this place—including the saunas and a cafe stocked with beer and equipped with climbing books and board games. But it’s the climbing that keeps me coming back. No question, this workout will leave your forearms pulsing, tear up your hands and make them bleed, and test your fear of heights. My first time my forearms swelled like water balloons and felt like they’d caught on fire. Yet there’s no better feeling than clenching the top of the wall when you think you can’t. 

Row in Place

A half hour into this 50-minute Rival Fitness rowing class on Capitol Hill, I painfully regretted forgetting a towel. Stinging sweat pooled into my eyes. I dripped like a leaky faucet from my forehead during planks. (I felt sorry for my mat.) I kept rowing. Then squatting with weights, and lunging with weights, and whatever else the instructor was telling me to do with weights as I prayed for it to be over. My thighs were burning. The trainer was still correcting my form, as she should, and I wanted to lob a hardcover of Boys in the Boat at her. 

Hours later, I’d never felt more refreshed. These classes will give you a gym rush and push you to what you’ll swear is beyond your capabilities. But it’s true what they say about hard workouts: The adrenaline’s addictive. Make it through one rowing session, and you’ll want more. 

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The Seattle Boxing Gym on Capitol Hill is a local icon, hosting Ed Sheeran, who filmed his “Shape of You” video there.

Image: Pao Sanchez

Throw the First Punch 

I was tired before the boxing class even started. Because for five or 10 minutes, we all got jump ropes to warm up. And I don’t know how to jump rope; never have. I flailed and entangled myself as I tried to imitate the other adept jumpers whose calves seemed to run on endless fuel. What followed was an hour of cardio training that made me remember what it was like to truly test my body’s limits. I thought I’d either throw up or pass out. I prayed it would be the latter. At least, then, I’d have an excuse to bail. 

But when, finally, I threw my first punch, I felt a rush. There’s a reason so many first-time boxers come back to the Seattle Boxing Gym on Capitol Hill, and it’s not just because you feel like you’re in Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” music video. (It was filmed there.) Landing a good punch feels like a lightning bolt struck through you. The more you train, the more powerful the surge. 

Be an Ace on the Pole

Forget what you think you know about pole dancing. It’s not necessarily about being sexy (though it can be if you want it to). I was a novice at an intimate Enchant Vertical Dance class in Capitol Hill with a whopping three people enrolled. I had nowhere to hide. 

Pole dancing is…well, dancing. To music. And sure, there’s a pole involved. My instructor, Tyler Holmes, offered step-by-step lessons on the techniques behind the art, understandable even to someone whose only adult dancing experience heretofore involved shots of whiskey at a club. I learned the basics, from getting comfortable with walking gracefully around the pole on the balls of my feet, to leaning back and letting gravity spin my body as my knees bent. Of course, the pole dancing class wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t learn the Flamingo—leg gripping the pole, butt out, bending torso down to the floor, and standing again very slowly. I think I’ll keep this newfound skill to myself. 

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The strength training at Bohemian Studios in Phinney Ridge fires up individual muscles until they scream.

Image: Pao Sanchez

Join the Barre Clan of the Shaking Limbs

Bohemian Studios is one of the few locally owned studios that offers barre classes, a combination of ballet, pilates, and yoga focused on multiple reps of tiny movements. So I drove to Phinney Ridge on a Tuesday morning for a six o’clock class, anticipating a fairly relaxing session of a slightly harder version of yoga. 

Look at photos of barre and you’d think its participants were merely stretching. Maybe faking a ballet class. But I’m here to bear witness. Barre is hard. So hard, it hurt whenever I let out a laugh for the rest of the day. And I still puzzle over how little I sweated at Bohemian Studios in Phinney Ridge, given how hard I worked my core. This kind of strength training fires up individual muscles until they start screaming. And don’t let those baby weights fool you; 50 tiny arm circles with two-pound weights will sting. 

Though all genders are welcome, Bohemian instructors uniquely cater to the female clientele with a safe space that resonates with women, including body-positive language. The morning class left me feeling revived, optimistic, and—did I mention?—thoroughly sore.  

Gyms by the Numbers

No matter where you live in Seattle, there’s a reliable gym option or class near you. Here are 25 of the best places to feel the burn. View full-size graphic here.

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