The colloquialism “it’s just like riding a bike” has always lacked personal recognition for me, for all the reasons. To me, it might as well be “it’s just like reaching Everest Base Camp,” something to file under “people do it, but so far not me.”  (I would like to summit Everest Base Camp.) But after a few weeks off from bike riding, I did find a sense of familiarity back in the saddle.

Bike NYC

Cold and windy

Last Sunday I found myself risking windburn and pneumonia (caused by severe hypochondria, as it was 50 degrees) on Randall’s Island to take a second level learn-to-bike class with Bike New York. You might remember my first class where I triumphantly “earned my pedals” by gliding in a circle in a Roosevelt Island gym.

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hierarchy of need

Maslow + Haber = BFF

Since joining ClassPass last month I’ve had fun studio-hopping. I’ve spent some quality time with old favorites (Flywheel, Flybarre and Exhale). And I’ve tried some boutique fitness options that were not on my radar (Cyc, Nalini Method, Pure Barre and Moving Strength).

Going to so many classes has got me thinking about what actually makes a class worthwhile and what will make me want to return to a studio. I started to realize “creature comforts” had a lot more to do with it than I give credit. After being an Equinox member and frequenting boutique NY studios, I started to equate exercise with amenities.  Even the clothes we wear to workout are getting more and more expensive and offering more high-end accouterments.  (I won’t buy running shorts unless they have a zippered pocket.)

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Last week I wrote a post about keeping in shape while traveling, and this week I took my own advice.

My friend Kelly moved to Panama City, Panama for work. Over Columbus Day Weekend I popped down to the narrow waistband of the Americas to pay her a visit, butcher the beautiful Spanish language and do some exploring.

Kelly and a few of her coworkers (all expats) bought the equivalent of a Groupon deal to a Panamanian boutique fitness operation called The Daily Barre. They had plans to take the 6:15am class and I decided to join. At 6:05am we left Kelly’s apartment and hopped in a cab and headed to a shopping center called Punta Pacifica.

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Let’s talk mornings. Glorious and full of potential? Or plain terrible?*

The reasons to exercise in the morning are obvious:

  • Post-work hours are clear for socializing
  • You theoretically have more energy in the am
  • You’re less likely to flake out on your workout if you do it first thing

And of course the most unmissable one:

  • You get to be gloriously smug about having run 10 miles while your friends and colleagues wasted the morning accumulating an extra hour of pillow drool.

But if you’re not naturally of the ever-pious “morning person” variety there is hope for you yet.  Personally I require between 10 and 12 hours of sleep. That’s only slightly hyperbolic. Waking up early (OK waking up period) does not come easily for me. So that’s where this lesson is going to start, right here at Morning Workout 101.

morning runner

Your future self says “‘sup, sugar”

I wanted to workout in the am because it was too hot and I was too tired after work. I was also allured by the idea of “getting your workout out of the way.”  After a few weeks – they say it takes 21 days to create a habit – I got happily into the swing of the pre-work run/sweat session and here are my tips for how you can too.

4 Ways to Become a Ride or Die Morning Person. Let’s hit it:

1. Do not rage or stay up late the night before.  Staying up late is an advanced move and you are in an introductory course. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do this. Go to bed early the night before. In fact start going to bed a bit earlier even before you plan your first am workout. It will condition your body to fall asleep at an earlier time.

2. Make a date with a friend.  If someone is waiting for you at Engineers’ Gate at 6:30am you’re not going to stand them up. Not unless you’re a really bad person. So yes part of becoming a morning person involves peer pressure and maintaining friendships.

3. Sign up for a class (like SoulCycle or Physique) that you can’t cancel without financial penalty morning of. Think about how guilty you will feel to not only miss your workout but lose $34.

4. Sleep in your gym clothes. Getting dressed is now one less thing you have to do! When you wake up in a sports bra you will feel too ridiculous not to workout.  A lower key approach is just to lay out your clothes the night before but the more intense version is what’s worked for me.

These tactics feel tough at first. I am instructing you to play mind games and it isn’t fun, but it works. After a few weeks you will happily and naturally get up in the am. Even if you don’t sleep in your spin shoes.Just don’t go running too early. It’s not street legal.

Any other tips for making mornings easier?

*Every time I asked questions into the internet ether I think: “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.)

When I moved to New York from DC a few years ago, I joined Equinox immediately. I love ritual and I was excited to get life started in my new city. I lived near the gym in the Time Warner Building which also boasts a Whole Foods. I became the picture of yuppy life.

Time Warner Building

My home away from home

The combination of a Lululemon outfit and a post-workout glow are essential for purchasing kale and almond butter. Did I say purchasing? I meant grinding my own.

peanut butter

Grindr

I quickly drank the Equinox cool aid. I made time for the gym. I loved going. Maybe it was because I was new in town and didn’t have a full social circle, or maybe something just clicked because I was able to really get into the fitness zone.

I went to a bunch of classes each week. I tried all sorts of things. I followed teachers from location to location. I had no problem dragging my gym bag on Metro North each morning and back to the city after (for my reverse commute) and I didn’t mind getting ready for a night out in the locker room. Equinox has great showers with Kiehl’s products, a blow dryer better than my own and towels I don’t have to wash. I got in great shape.

Equinox

Just me and my gym friends

I had the global membership and I treated the gym as a fun way to explore NYC. I’d take a class at the Greenwich location and then wander around the West Village. I’m pretty good as a wolfpack of one, so it made for nice little impromptu outings. On days when I could work from home, I’d take a class at the Rockefeller Center gym and work from their giant cafeteria.

If you do the math on it, and if you assume like you should I would’ve gotten two Physique classes a week minimum, I was saving $ and getting a more diverse workout, plus access to the non-class facilities. I was Equinox’s biggest PR rep. More than a few of my friends joined after seeing how much I liked it.

Then about a year passed, I moved a few blocks further north and my lifestyle slowly morphed. I got more friends, and started making a better effort to see the ones I already had. I started running more.I got bored of the gym and the often over-crowded classes. I wanted to be outside more. I gradually stopped going and felt less excited to donate $200 each month.

This past summer I did it. I quit the gym. Equinox made it much easier than I had imagined.

I basically told the guy at the front desk that I was running more than I was coming here and he said with convincing sincerity “good luck on your next half marathon” and we parted ways.

Now with gym cash freed up, I went to the occasional Physique and Flybarre class, took a New York Road Runners class (more on this soon!) and I ran up a storm. I did miss the gym from time to time. Sometimes you just want to put on your headphones do 20 minutes of arms and peace out.

When I re-injured my ankle and had to go on a running hiatus my first instinct was “time to join again.” I wasn’t ready to commit to a year-long relationship, and that’s when I started looking for other options.

That’s why last week I joined ClassPass. Have you ever tried it? With ClassPass you pay a monthly fee ($99) and you get unlimited access to a ton of boutique fitness classes all over the city including some of the big names like PureBarre, Barry’s Bootcamp and FlyWheel/Barre. So far I’ve taken some old favorites (FlyWheel) and some lesser known classes (Nalini Method and Moving Strength) which I have mixed feelings on.

ClassPass’s website has a search tool and you can find classes based on time, location or type of class. I am only a week in, but so far I’m liking it, at least for my specific purposes – a stopgap until I can run more.

Does anyone LOVE their gym? Why? Does anyone else do ClassPass? Any classes to recommend?