Steel, Electric Shocks and Umlauts: Toronto's Trendy, Punishing Workouts
If you think Pilates is passé and yoga so yesterday, here's a tour of Toronto's hottest palaces of sweat
Toronto lags about five years behind Manhattan when it comes to fad, celeb-inspired workouts, but it’s sweating hard in an effort to catch up. Itching for exercise that’s faster and fiercer than your run-of-the-mill spin class, the city’s Lululemon-clad fitness army throws itself into anything new and novel. Gone are the glory days of the Pilates mat (there’s now complex machinery to help sculpt our cores) or the simple downward dog (yogis are practising in mid-air). Intense is what Torontonians have asked for, so intensity awaits any resident or visitor who goes looking for it.
The buzziest workout classes are often held at sleek boutique studios with striking interiors, which come equipped with all the all-natural and eco-friendly toiletries you could ask for – as long as you can get past the per-class fees that average somewhere around $30, and competitive online booking policies. (Forget about a last-minute drop-in; regulars nab classes well in advance.)
Once you arrive at the trendy gym, note the cult-like atmosphere. First-timers look like lost sheep, and watch with envious eyes as the regulars – who are on a first-name basis with the instructors – talk shop. Don’t be intimidated: Most trainers are pumped with a welcoming enthusiasm that’s just really hard to fake. They want you there, and they’re not afraid to show it.
Billy tried a bunch of cult workouts in Toronto, showered, and now has some suggestions for how to get moving.
Electronic shocks for extremists
Do you want 18 billion electrodes pulsating through your body while you squat and plank? Believe it or not, some people do. It’s called electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) training. Why do people subject themselves to it? Proponents claim exercising takes a fraction of the time (you’re told, for example, that 20 minutes of EMS training is the equivalent of a one-hour full body workout), and that you continue to burn extra calories even after you’ve finished exercising (up to 4,000 calories in the 48 hours after each session).
Body InVest co-owner Markus Fritzinger will strap electronic padding onto all of your major muscle groups, and lead you through a series of poses. Your fingers will shake as he turns up the electricity. As he keeps going, you feel like the subject to his mad scientist. After your first-ever session, expect muscle soreness that lasts up to 72 hours. But you wanted to feel the burn, right?
A better body through electricity doesn’t come without a muscular price tag: Body Invest packages range from $60 to $80 a session depending on how many you buy, while a yearly membership that entitles you to four sessions a month costs $2,700.
170 Frederick St., 416-214-2639
Aerial yoga, for when you’re bored of gravity
Masters of Ashtanga, Bikram and other varieties of yoga, prepare to take your practice to the air. Being flexible and strong while you’re on the ground is one thing, but it’s quite another to do the exact same thing while you’re hanging upside down from a silk cloth. It’s scary, but it’s also riveting – and really pretty to watch. The major hurdle here is developing physical self-awareness and trust in your body. Fear is what will set you back, so anxious types beware: Only you can get yourself out of that star inversion (it is what it sounds like – you’re hanging upside down like a star).
Courtesy Fly Yoga
That being said, the yoga teachers at Fly put safety first, and classes are limited to 10 people, so the attention is all on you and your development. If you’re a beginner who might need extra attention, morning and daytime classes at Fly are usually smaller. New members receive an unlimited two-week pass to Fly for $45, and drop-in classes – ideal for travellers – are $25 each.
489 Queen St. W., 647-350-3597
Spinning, for those with athleisure wear to show off
The much-hyped SoulCycle spin class brand hasn’t ventured to Canada yet; unless and until it does, there’s Spokehaüs. In the heart of Cityplace condoland at Spadina and Fort York, it’s a slick-looking spot, where lockers lock themselves and spin shoes automatically stick to your bike pedals. The well-thought-out Spokehaüs brand is appealing enough to lure in the studio’s obvious target market: young professionals, the kind who are prepared to drop $200 on Michi leggings that are sold in the studio.
Now to the actual workout: Expect darkness, electronic dance music and figure eighting. (If you don’t know what a figure-eight dance move entails, we suggest refraining from trying it on a bike.) These are the core components of Spokehaüs. And by the euphoric looks on the faces of the early adopters, Spokehaüs has expertly pulled them in. What can we say when the cardio workout is one of the best in Toronto, the change room amenities are fancier what we have at home and the curated playlist transports us to Ultra Music Festival? If any workout experience warrants $28 a “ride,” it’s this.
70 Dan Leckie Way, 416-220-4641
High-intensity training for the masochist
Fitness enthusiasts everywhere love to throw around the acronym “HIIT” as if you know what it stands for. Oh, you don’t? Well, it’s high-intensity interval training and it’s what all those people with Insta-worthy before-and-after shots are doing. HIITing involves a burst of activity at 100% of everything you’ve got, followed by a period of rest. For example, you run at your max effort on the treadmill for 30 seconds, then stop entirely for the following 30 seconds. Devotees of the HIIT method say it burns fat faster, makes you stronger and increases your metabolism.
Step into Fit Factory’s Bootcamp and you’ll encounter a few rules: Latecomers are not welcome, no cell phones are to be brought into the workout area and you’re only permitted to have a drink of water when the trainer tells you so. The drilled intervals include box jumps, weighted lunges, proper sit-ups (done with your hands at your waist), and that’s only the half of it. Don’t ever say “I can’t” in front any of the trainers because they will tell you off in front of everyone. Sometimes the class is capped with a 10-minute sprint. Sure, you feel like dying, but you also come out proud that you’ve actually pushed through a workout so excruciating. It also makes that pat on the back at the end of the hour all the more gratifying.
373 King St. W, 416-900-0362
Courtesy Fit Factory
Megaformer Pilates for abs on crack
For a long time, Pilates in Toronto was done on a mat. And frankly, the exercise was almost as sleep-inducing as yoga for a hardcore fitness fanatic. That sort of person might come out of class and head straight to the gym afterwards to get a real workout in. Eventually, Toronto graduated to Reformer Pilates, a stationary Pilates machine that uses four spiralled steel resistance bands to intensify each movement. This still didn’t make Pilates tough enough for the hardcore workout types though.
Now Lagree has landed in The Six. Studio Lagree’s program revolves around the Megaformer Pilates machine, a grown-up version of the Reformer that was developed by French-American entrepreneur Sebastien Lagree. He noticed that regular old Pilates wasn’t doing much in terms of helping people break a sweat, so he made his machine harder, better and stronger. Instead of just four springs, the Megaformer uses eight springs to build resistance, so your lunging, side-planks and leg raises feel a hundred times harder. Some have touted Lagree as the best core workout in the world. And speaking from personal experience, we’d actually agree.
788 King St. W, 416-901-4788
Courtesy Studio Lagree
Stepping up to Kangoo Jumps
Remember when Richard Simmons’s step aerobics was all the rage? Women and men (mostly the former) would gather at the gym, put on some bouncy pop music and bob on and off the elevated step while flailing their arms to and fro. Australia has given us the contemporary equivalent, and it’s called Kangoo Jumps.
The workout is almost the same as a step class, with a few variations: You’re wearing clunky rebounding boots, which hinder your balance, and there’s a muscle-building portion to the class that was very much lacking in step. At Striation 6, Kangoo Jumps classes are basically a dance class with boots. Expect to be jumping a lot, kicking a lot and perfecting that salsa two-step. The crowd is still 95% percent female, and most of them have got the choreography and the look (ski bunny at the gym) down pat. Trust us when we say Kangoo Jumps isn’t for the shy types.
33 Davisville Ave., 416-972-0599
This article was originally published on Jan. 5, 2017.