How Training Like An Athlete For A Day Changed My Perspective On Group Fitness

In high school, I played sports year-round. Training like an athlete is not something many of us get to experience as adults. But when we're in school? There are all kinds of opportunities. In the fall, I hit field hockey balls around an uneven field before retreating to the gym in the colder months for basketball season. Once it got warm enough, I’d venture outside again for track season. After graduation and moving on to college, it was comforting to be able to join the club field hockey team. I liked the idea of working toward a common goal with like-minded individuals — even if that common goal was something as frivolous as putting more balls in the net than the other team.

After college, I moved from Boston to New York City, and soon became well-acquainted with the “adult” version of group fitness. The many trendy exercise classes currently available are prime displays of individuals paying big money to sweat in the same room as one another, without much interaction. If simply knowing that the person on the stationary bike next to you is feeling the same pain (or endorphins) as you are is all the interaction you need, all the more power to you. But personally, I missed the team mentality of high school and collegiate sports. So when I heard about the flagship opening of Tone House, New York City’s first-ever extreme athletic-based fitness studio, I jumped at the chance to try it out. The recently opened 7,500-square-foot athletic training facility is more like varsity practice than your standard spin class, bringing back the shuttle drills, high fives, and team mentality you might remember from high school gym class.

Here are five things I learned by unleashing my inner athlete with former professional basketball player (and owner of Tone House) Alonzo Wilson.

1. Exercising Regularly Doesn't Prepare You For Every Workout

Since college, I’ve maintained my fitness mostly through training for and completing various endurance races like marathons and triathlons. Yet despite being “race ready,” I quickly discovered that Tone House’s workout would nonetheless be incredibly challenging. After huddling up on the turf and beginning our workout with a pep talk and team cheer, we lined up to begin a set of sprints, jumps over cones, and burpees. Woof. My heart started racing, and my breathing got heavier within minutes — and that was just the warm up.

2. Having A Coach Can Motivate You To Work Harder

Whenever I hit the road for a run on my own, or even when I’m with friends, it’s easy to adjust the pace according to however I’m feeling that day. If I’m feeling a little bit sluggish, nobody gets on my case about slowing things down. However, easing up on an exercise didn’t exactly go unnoticed at Tone House. In fact, it justified a, “Let’s go! You got this!” reminder from Wilson. And while, sure, it was annoying at times to know that I couldn’t slack off, by the end of class I was able to walk away feeling 100 percent accomplished and happy with my hard work.

3. High Fives Are Better Earned

As I mentioned before, it’s rare to interact a whole lot with other class-goers at typical boutique fitness studios. And when you do, it’s usually on the FlyWheel leaderboard, which isn’t very personal. During shuttle races at Tone House (sprints to the far side of the room and back, followed by two sets of bear crawls), class goers who were waiting their turn to race actively and enthusiastically cheered on their peers — and provided well-earned high fives upon completion. While, of course, their cheers didn’t totally erase the burning sensation in my arms, they definitely made me feel like I wasn’t going through the pain alone.

4. You Don’t Need “Traditional” Gym Equipment To Get An Effective Workout

You won’t find a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike inside Tone House’s 3,500-square-foot NoMad studio. What you will find, though, are battle ropes, TRX suspension trainers, sand bags, and weighted sleds. Between bodyweight workouts — think squats, fast feet, push ups, and jumps — we made serious gains on our upper body with rounds at the battle ropes and TRX suspension trainers. While these types of equipment may not provide the cardio blast many individuals seek at the gym, the soreness I felt the next day was evidence of the insanely effective workout.

5. You’re Stronger Than You Think

At Tone House, trainers believe that every individual has the capacity to be like the athlete they admire — or at least train like them. This attitude is palpable throughout the studio, where trainers and classmates are encouraging, and both men and women of various shapes and sizes cycled through all the same exercises. Not only was it empowering to lift heavy things, sprint over cones, and challenge my classmates, it was fun — and it reminded me of the good old days participating in high school sports.

The workout ended with another huddle, and left me with a fresh perspective for the day that only a new workout can bring.

Images: James Farrell; Andrew Zaeh for Bustle