tour de sweat
Californians take their fitness seriously – leave it to them to develop today’s hottest workouts.
Fitness is to Californians what coffee is to Italians – a full-blown religion. The dress requirements involve a lot of lycra and the altar might include a sprung floor and wall-to-wall mirrors. But unlike the current trend of receding numbers hitting Sunday service, membership for this modern place of worship is on the up and up. As of 2015, fitness became a $26 billion industry in the sunny state of the USA. And, just as they are Down Under, boutique fitness studios are popping up faster than you can say, “Did you put the ashwagandha in that smoothie?” In fact, the increasing popularity of these studios (think of them as small gyms that focus on a particular type of group exercise) has seen them double in revenue in California in the past five years.
The impact of this rampant enthusiasm for sweaty salvation is probably being felt at your gym, too, no matter your postcode. California is basically fitness mecca, meaning cities around the world follow its lead. And with nearly double the population of Australia, and a load of them regularly visiting a gym, you can bet your Nike Frees that if you’ve ever dreamed up a workout, there’s already a heavily frequented timetable happening for it somewhere in the Golden State. All of this passionate patronage means California is positively packed with toned torsos and well-honed workouts.
Secretly, I’ve always wondered if I could kick it (and press it, squat it and lift it) with the firm-bodied fitness zealots in Cali. So I shelved my standard holiday to LA (which normally involves Disneyland, plenty of the free-pour thing and far too many burritos) for a journey down Highway 1 of a different kind. I hopped on a Qantas plane emblazoned with the flying kangaroo (which now serves a mid-air Botanica green juice, because, of course it does) to test whether my bicep curls could cut the mustard.
If I had any doubts that California was heaving with fitness fanatics, they were assuaged at San Francisco International Airport. It’s there that you’ll find a yoga room – for all the downward dogs and self-reflection you might want to do before strapping yourself into a flying tin can and watching a box set of Veep, while chugging on a miniature bottle of wine. The most surprising part of this space is that it’s free. Yep. While airports around the world are likely looking into how they can charge you to use their oxygen, in California, you can find some pre-flight inner peace for less than the price of a luggage trolley. Namaste indeed.
My first fitness stop is Avant-barre. It was founded by Nini Gueco, a dancer and instructor who was frustrated by the rigidity of the rules in traditional barre classes. She added a bit of fun, an inclusive kind of energy that can sometimes be missing at the franchised barre studios and music that makes you want to move. The mix proved successful and lithe bodies of all kinds started lining up for mat space. There’s a young, rebellious vibe (blame the monochromatic tanks hanging in the entryway emblazoned with Avantbarre’s signature phrase, “Badass Ballerina”) that is addictive and might just stoke your inner Beyoncé (read: never a bad thing).
If you prefer your barre with a side of hipster, then try Pop Physique. Founded in LA in 2008 by former pro ballet dancer Jennifer Williams and her husband Deric, this is working out for the #fitspo generation. Clever branding, collectable merchandise, a “selfie saloon” for taking #humblebrag “Look at me, I’m at the gym” photos and lots of talk of a “sculpted” booty make it the most fun sweat space I’ve ever stepped a sneakered foot into. There were no cheesy motivational slogans, no classmates clad in the latest sportsluxe outfit; just a collection of happy faces wearing high-waisted leggings and T-shirts knotted to bare the midriff, and a delightfully kitsch instructor. “Embrace the shakes!” she shouted when a set got a little too much. It’s a little like (basically the highest compliment I can give, in case you weren’t sure). Stretching occurs throughout the class, rather than during a cool-down at the end, which results in the body feeling flexed and limber rather than just taut and toned. And like the lights, the volume of the music rises and falls depending on the intensity of the exercise. It made me realise that if you distract me with the right tune for long enough, I could end up with a butt as juicy as a Kardashian’s (#goals #notreally).
There are, of course, the purists, and the most “California” of all gym classes is Pilates. Revered for keeping many a Hollywood bod lean and clean (and a blow-dry fresh), it’s also the most popular workout on Classpass in this state. But if you don’t have time to wait out the results afforded by a traditional class, sign up for a session on the Megaformer. At Fit Buddha in Ventura, north-west of LA, gym-goers are hopping aboard the souped-up reformer machine for one of their nearly 50 sessions a week. Instructor Eva Kettles hands you an affirmation card before the class – the spiritual pep talk should have been enough warning that I was about to get my butt handed to me. Before she became a teacher, Kettles took a couple of classes on the Megaformer and saw results in two sessions, so promptly signed up to go pro. The Megaformer can be intimidating; the movements don’t always feel natural, but they’re resultsdriven. If you’re completely insane, opt for the “combo class” – an hour-long pairing of the Megaformer and a spin on the bike, capable of burning about 4,200 kilojoules. Yowsers.
If you thought a mash-up better than the Cronut didn’t exist, then I suggest you hunt down a session of the boxing/ Pilates hybrid Piloxing. It’s an hour-long cardio spectacular, performed barefoot and using weighted gloves, choreographed to thumping techno music. The movements range from fastrep boxing to Pilates stretches, and I think it’s the first time I used the phrase “sweating bullets” and really, truly meant it. At least it’s a great way to work off the Cronut.
If Italy is for eating, India is for praying and Indonesia is for loving, then California is the perfect place for sweating. Because holidays where you sit poolside sipping a margarita and reading a book about someone else’s adventures are so 2016.