Survival of the Fittest

Raise your hand if “get fit” is on your resolution list this year.

Mine’s up. Now raise it if that common refrain has ever been one of your resolutions. As I thought … just about everyone. It’s hard to incorporate consistent exercise into our busy lifestyles. So I went in search of challenging new workout options that would motivate me to get moving and, more importantly, stay active all year. Three Cary fitness studios invited me to try out their particular brands of blood, sweat and tears, and surprisingly, I lived to tell the tale.

Studio owner and instructor Ami Seier said, “The first three classes are the hardest.” Well, I’m certainly glad they weren’t the easiest, because that would have sent me running for the door. Or I should say, walking gingerly toward the door, as that’s all the effort I could expend after my first intense 1-hour Pure Barre class.

While much of the class utilizes a ballet barre for balance and resistance, don’t expect serene music and graceful dance positions. The high-speed group class wastes no time turning up the burn in your abs, seat and thighs with isometric exercises at the namesake barre, weights, a resistance band and mat work. Many of the standing exercises are conducted on tiptoes, which adds intensity to the moves and gives a nod to the ballet roots.

By the end of the class my muscles had been worked to the breaking point by all manner of squatting, lunging, lifting, tucking and stretching. I could tell the soreness would soon be setting in, when Seier stopped to congratulate me. My form was good for a first-timer. And she recommended taking at least three to five classes to get used to the technique, pace and variety of exercises.

Each instructor conducts a slightly different program so you don’t get accustomed to a routine, but they all firm, tone and lift those vital core muscles. Seier, who owns three Triangle locations, including the new Park West Village location that I attended, said many clients see results in just 10 classes. I believe her. I felt pulled in and lifted up after only one class.

As a beginner, at times I struggled to keep up with the pace and found myself looking around wondering, “Am I doing this right?” But Seier traveled throughout the class correcting form and offering encouragement, keeping me on track. The intensity of the exercises kept me totally focused on the workout. No thoughts of deadlines or to-do lists entered my head.

Despite the exhausted muscles, I left longing for more. With consistent attendance, I could tell the Pure Barre workout would produce results.

Burn Level: 9-10
Great for: Toning lean muscle, setting your core on fire

The trouble with the gym is, you have to go for it to be beneficial. KoKo FitClub of Cary is on a mission to instill the motivation to keep you coming back well past the resolution rush. Club owners Chuck and Anne Cook believe so strongly in the KoKo FitClub program that they moved to Cary specifically to open a location, the first in the Triangle, right here in Cary’s Tryon Village.

Club attendant Erin O’Reilly offers assistance on the strength machine.

KoKo FitClub stands apart because of its use of technology. When I signed up I was given a KoKo key, a USB drive that stores my personal data and keeps track of every exercise I do at the club. Hoofing it up hills on a treadmill? Logs it. Pumping out a killer strength set? Logs it. And afterward I can visit a personalized website that will track my progress across all my workouts. There’s nothing like seeing instant measurable results to get you pumped for the next workout.

The club is divided into two sections: strength machines and cardio machines. First, I plugged my KoKo key into one of the strength machines and a digital trainer program displayed on a small screen took me through my set for the day, including instructions on proper form, weight amount and number of reps. The entire strength segment was completed on one piece of equipment that switches from leg extensions to chest press with a few easy adjustments.

My favorite part of the digital trainer was the pace bar, which helped keep my lifting speed calm and controlled. During each exercise, the pace bar travels at the ideal speed to maximize full range of motion and extension of target muscle groups. Attempting to achieve a perfect match of my actual speed with the pace bar felt like a fun video game. The digital trainer works just like a personal trainer by coaching me through each element of the workout, without the hassle and expense of scheduling a live personal trainer.

Strength training was followed by a cardio session, which are set up in 15 minute increments. KoKo FitClub’s national fitness director narrates the workouts via headphones and discusses new research and helpful tips to keep you committed while you’re moving. Learn a little, burn a little.

The KoKo digital trainer shows proper form, set up and weight level for all exercises.

And the best part? Your exercise program is 100 percent tailored to your goals and fitness level. A baseline strength test on your first visit serves as the jumping-off point for your digital KoKo trainer to customize a complete fitness and nutrition program. The digital trainer then provides varying workouts each time, increases challenges as you get stronger and never lets you plateau from boredom.

“We’re here to be used. We want to keep you coming back,” said Chuck. And KoKo FitClub might have landed on the combination of technology and personalized attention that will.

Burn Level: 5-8
Great for: Tech lovers, gym-aphobes

If you’ve ever walked by the tall windows of Triangle Pilates and Cary Yoga Center in Stone Creek Village and been intimidated by the seemingly complex Pilates equipment, you are not alone. I have long been fearful of the specialized machines and boutique setting that Triangle Pilates offers, but after attending a class I realize I couldn’t have been more off base.

Founder Patty Geiger warmly greeted me before my scheduled class, a TRX and Pilates Tower Combo class. One of Triangle Pilates’ signature benefits is a small class size; mine had only six participants, most of whom knew each other from previous workouts and were welcoming and friendly. Geiger started off the session by giving me a short intro to the TRX system, since I had never practiced it before.

Triangle Pilates offers intimate class sizes, with lots of one-on-one encouragement from the instructor.

TRX is suspension-based training that uses an anchored band and your own body weight as resistance for a head-to-toe workout that engages your entire body. TRX was created by a Navy SEAL looking for a way to stay fit without access to a gym full of equipment. So right from the get-go I knew I was in for a tough morning. Here at least, I was correct.

A Navy SEAL created TRX suspension training. What did I get myself into?

My muscles were burning and sweat was threatening to drip off my forehead when I noticed only 10 minutes had elapsed. OK, time to buckle down and focus. Using the resistance bands adds new dimension to familiar exercises, like lunges, for example. A TRX lunge is performed with one leg planted on the ground and the other elevated in the resistance band’s handle. Every exercise requires engagement of the core muscles, another signature Triangle Pilates element.

The “combo” part of the class includes a segment on the specialized Pilates chair and jump board. Like the suspension band, the equipment helps isolate certain muscle groups and uses balance and body weight resistance to strengthen and tone.

Throughout the hour-long session, Geiger coached us through the exercises, offering tips on proper form and cheering us through each rep. I finished the class fatigued (that’s the point, right?) but energized with the sense of accomplishment that accompanies conquering a new challenge.

Burn Level: 9-10
Great for: Total body strength gain, variety seekers

Don’t let Emily have all the fun! Visit:

Pure Barre
Park West Village,
(919) 377-0299

KoKo FitClub of Cary
Tryon Village, Cary
(919) 851-2721

Triangle Pilates & Cary Yoga Center
Stone Creek Village
(919) 466-9989
Lochmere Pavillion
(919) 851-7221

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