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Three Reasons Why 2014 Is a Great Year for Fitness in NYC

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Flex Studios; photo via <a href="">ClassPass</a>
Flex Studios; photo via ClassPass

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Living in the age of the Internet, sites like Groupon and Gilt have taught us that a) we can get what we want when we want it (within reason, of course); and b) we shouldn't ever have to pay full-price for it. And New York City's fitness world has definitely embraced these principles.

Within the past year or so, a slew of programs have revolutionized the realm of wallet-friendly workouts. I tested out a few of these options—specifically, ClassPass, Booya Fitness, and AthletesClub—to spice up my regular treadmill runs at Blink and the occasional classes at Yoga to the People. And I already may (or may not) have a favorite.

↑ Classpass

My first taste of this fitness world shake-up came courtesy of ClassPass, which we recently featured as an editor's pick. In sum, you pay $99 to take ten fitness classes at boutique studios within 30 days, which includes some top-of-the-line places like Barry's Bootcamp, Bikram Yoga NYC, and Brooklyn Bodyburn. Since classes at these places can run upwards of $30 a pop, it's really a steal to get them at an average of $9.99.

If you look at their studio offerings right now, you'll probably notice a lot of yoga options, and that's because ClassPass has dedicated the month of February to helping members find their favorite place to practice. But there's still plenty of other option—think dance cardio classes, circuit training, indoor cycling, and more.

The first class I booked was the Core Fusion Barre Express at Exhale Spa New York in the Meatpacking District. I thought "express" meant it'd be faster, and thus easier, but that was certainly not the case—they just squeeze their hour-long program into 45 minutes, meaning there were no breaks. However, the instructor knew it was my first time at the studio, and frequently assisted me with form.

Photo via Exhale Spa

Though I won't be going back to an "express" class anytime soon, I loved the feeling of heading to a pricey studio in a fancy location (this one's in the Gansevoort Hotel) that I couldn't otherwise afford. Others who have used ClassPass recommend I try the studio on Central Park South, where you can take advantage of their fancy locker room amenities before and after class, so I'll be going there on Monday.

Photo via Xtend Barre

My next ClassPass adventure took me to Xtend Barre in Brooklyn Heights, where the instructor checked in with each student before the start of class to discuss injuries and modification. Just the thought of barre classes used to make my quads quiver, but Xtend led a moderately-paced class that anyone could keep up with, regardless of barre experience. I'll definitely be headed back there (and not just because I left my umbrella).

Verdict: Classpass is as good as you make it for yourself. It's wonderful to be able to explore the fitness options in the neighborhood of your office or apartment, or to check out what other areas offer. It's like having access to all of Manhattan (and Brooklyn!) with just a few clicks.

But while their expansive class selection is awesome, it can also be overwhelming—as of now, you can only book a class by date and time or by studio, but not by type of exercise. The offerings can also be deceptive. Though you can usually find a class for the next day that works within your schedule, some studios are just impossible to book during peak hours—that includes ChaiseFitness, Uplift Studios, and Pure Barre.

Also, if you don't use all ten classes within 30 days, you're technically increasing the value of each class. In addition, they have a missed class/late cancellation fee of $20, which is both a benefit and a drawback—while the loss of money is a strong incentive to keep your promise to work out, sometimes a cancellation may be out of your control, like a work emergency.

↑ Booya

Oftentimes, especially in this harsh winter, my biggest deterrent to working out is the commute. The thought of that 15-minute walk from the gym to my house with sweat-soaked hair in below-freezing temps sends shivers down my spine as I write this. Naturally, the easiest way to combat this is to work out at home, but with the plethora of YouTube and Pinterest workouts out there, choosing a suitable option can be a little daunting.

Enter Booya, a website that launched earlier this year that brings the boutique workout to your computer screen. For the payment-averse, you can access one free featured workout per day, or you could drop $9.99 a month or $99 a year for unlimited access to their video library. Their partners include Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp, ChaiseFitness, and Shrink Session.

Start by picking your category—cardio, yoga, bootcamp, or strength & toning—or fill out their super-quick recommendation form, which addresses concerns like your energy level and lack of equipment or space (also known as every NYC apartment). They'll cue up one or two videos to fit your needs, and bam—you're ready to sweat.

I went the recommendation route, choosing strength and toning for a medium energy level without equipment or space. Up popped a video from ZaxFit titled "Extreme Core Challenge." My first move was to throw it up on my flat screen via AppleTV, but alas, the video did not display the AirPlay icon. So I set my laptop on the floor and got to work.

I was encouraged that the video was only 20 minutes long—anyone can survive 20 minutes of ab work, right? I definitely worked up a sweat with plank poses, leg lifts, and more. It was helpful that the video included two participants along with the instructor, one of whom helpfully performed modified versions of each exercise—I did those more times than I'd like to admit.

As most fitness instructors (and Nike FuelBands, et al.) will tell you, every little bit of work you do counts, whether it's a five-mile run or the five flights you climb in your walk-up building. But I couldn't help but feel like I cheated a little bit here—though my abs were certainly burning, I didn't have that same out-of-breath, satisfied feeling I get when stepping off the treadmill or out of the yoga studio.

I also could have definitely benefitted from some in-person pointers—like an instructor yelling "Suck those abs in!" during the last ten seconds of a plank. The urge to slack is definitely stronger on my living room floor than it is in a studio. But I really can't complain about the ten-step walk from my workout spot to the shower.

Verdict: Booya is best for those who are either super lazy or super busy, since you can cue up a quick workout without leaving the house. But since it's a fairly new site, someone who dedicates herself to doing a video a day will quickly exhaust her options, and you'll only want to repeat them so many times. They'll be adding more workouts as the year goes on, so stay tuned.

↑ AthletesClub

The last option I tried is the most inclusive of the three, since AthletesClub encompasses everything related to wellness—that includes fitness, food, sports equipment stores, and even facilities for physical therapy and acupuncture.

It's basically a membership discount club—you can pay either $10.75 a month with an annual plan, or $19 month-to-month, to gain access to perks like a free intro class at Brick New York, price breaks on class packages at JumpLife, or discounts at JackRabbit Sports and The Little Beet. (Full disclosure: AthletesClub gave me gratis access to their media account for this article).

Photo via Instagram/@sohostrengthlab

After browsing through their options, I jumped at the chance to try my first Soho Strength Lab class for free. And honestly, it's the first time that I really loved a workout (and that's not because it was taught by one of the city's hottest trainers. Our class of five people warmed up with runs on the turf, shuttled between workout stations, and finished off with pushing a weighted sled and swinging some massive ropes. I felt like I was back in phys-ed, but a more mature version.

Verdict: If you have the stamina for commitment, AthletesClub offers great discounts for class packages and studio memberships without expiration dates. And if you frequent their selection of health food places and fitness-centric retail locations, the perks will certainly come in handy for you.

But for someone who's just looking to bounce from class to class, options are limited. And while their membership rates are certainly affordable, it's a bit deceptive, since you'll still have to pay $265.50 for ten classes at CityRow after the 10% discount.

Conclusion: After checking out these three options, ClassPass is a clear winner to me. It's the best value, and gives me exactly what I was looking for—a jolt to my workout routine. I plan on exploring even more studios and integrating my favorite options into a weekly workout plan.
· ClassPass [Official website]
· Booya Fitness [Official website]
· AthletesClub [Official website]