Joining the Cult: An Exercise Novice Tries 3 of Philly’s Cult-Followed Fitness Studios

Illustration by James Boyle

In the exercise realm, there’s lots of talk about the need for variety. But a certain sector of fitness studios seems to transcend this want, inspiring such commitment — allegiance, even — that attendees return day after day, week after week. These studios boast clever hashtags, cute branded apparel, and supportive, tribe-like communities. It’s all quite alluring. But can I, an exercise novice, keep up in the devotion-spurring, slightly intimidating world of boutique exercise classes? There’s just one way to find out.

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I Tried It: Ax Throwing in Kensington

Photo by Jeff Fusco.

I signed the waiver at Urban Axes without reading it. The nondescript warehouse on a no-man’s-land block in Kensington didn’t give me pause, nor did the fact that I’d be throwing sharp objects around without any experience. Read more »

I Worked Out With Cult-Followed SoulCycle Instructor Stacey Griffith

Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

SoulCycle is often described as a cult. And not for no reason: Devotees to the indoor-cycling studio attend classes religiously, brand themselves in SoulCycle gear, and are constantly trying to convert their friends and family.

And this isn’t a bad thing — a cult-like following is a trademark of a successful fitness company. And where there are cults, there are leaders. For Philly’s recently shuttered Lithe Method, also oft-described as a cult-like fitness brand, there’s Lauren Boggi. For SoulCycle, there are a few faces that one could associate with leading the pack: There are the founders, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, the CEO, Melanie Whelan, and there’s Stacey Griffith, senior master instructor and the second hire at SoulCycle, who’s been written up for her motivational style of teaching in outlets ranging from the New York Times to Vanity Fair (which actually called her “cult trainer Stacey Griffith”) to People. She has arguably the biggest following of these names (her Instagram boasts nearly 57,000 followers), and she really walks the walk — she tells me she teaches somewhere around 900 SoulCycle classes a year. Her classes, a favorite for celebrities, are instant sell-outs.

My point: If SoulCycle is a cult, Griffith is definitely one of the leaders. And this past Wednesday, I found myself sweatily sipping on the Stacey G Kool-Aid in a 4 p.m. class led by Griffith at SoulCycle Rittenhouse.

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I Tried It: The Eyebrow Shaping Treatment That Costs $600


Going under the blade for good brows. | iStockphoto/Jacob Wackerhausen.

It’s very easy for most women to justify absurd beauty and fashion purchases. We practically have our master’s degrees in it. That stupidly expensive midi dress? “It can be dressed up or dressed down. I’ll basically live in it this summer!” That insanely pricey lotion? “I only have to use the tiniest amount, so it’s actually a good value in the end!” And the eyebrow treatment I just got that cost more than a car payment? “It’s gonna save me minutes every morning, for years, and that is priceless!”

But, in the end, was it actually worth it?

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The Cruel (But Awesome) Way Solidcore Totally Tricks You 

Solidcore in Adams Morgan, D.C. | Photo by Adjua Fisher

Solidcore in Adams Morgan, D.C. | Photo by Adjua Fisher

Last Saturday, I found myself in a Solidcore class at 10:30 a.m. The studio, home to a popular Pilates-style workout done on a resistance-based machine, hasn’t yet made its way to Philly (the first Philly studio is slated to open on Chestnut Street this spring), so I figured I’d get a taste of the workout while I was back home in D.C., where the studio got its start.

I’d watched YouTube clips of the workout online beforehand and, let me tell you, If I learned anything in that 50 minutes of class, it’s that you should not — I repeat: do NOT — be tricked by the slow movements and tiny pulses involved in a Solidcore class. It is so much harder than it looks. Like have-to-take-a-Lyft-home-five-blocks-because-you-can’t-walk-afterward hard. (I mean, not that I did that or anything.) Read more »

The Philly-Area Yoga Class That Won a Staunch Om-Hater Over

I hate yoga — hated, I should say. That opinion never bothered me because I thought I gave yoga a fair shake and it, like drinking eight glasses of water a day or not cursing under my breath, just didn’t stick.

I played volleyball in college and my coaches routinely forced us to do yoga every Sunday until we finally revolted (or, more accurately, we quietly stopped showing up and didn’t say anything). Plus, my sister is a trained yoga instructer and has attempted to indoctrinate me many times before.

But it never worked.

In my workouts, I need to be stimulated, I need competition and I need obscenely loud music to distract me from how tired I am. Without these, I give up instantly — especially now that I’m a retired athlete and no one’s blowing their whistle to make me run wind sprints at 6 a.m.

I just didn’t think yoga could offer me what I needed. But then I heard about the new Bulldog Yoga in Villanova. They designed their program to be musically driven without the om-ing and the namastes and all the other yoga speak I never got into. The sweeten the pot, the studio is two minutes from my front door, so I figured why not give it a try.  Read more »

I Tried It: A 20-Year-Old Guy’s Very First Yoga Class

“Just relax your leg!” the doctor said with a smirk while shaking my suspended limb back and forth. “My leg is relaxed, it just refuses to bend!” I responded with a hint of frustration and embarrassment in my voice.

I was 13 years old when my pediatrician sent me to St. Christopher’s Hospital to get tested for scoliosis. This was probably my fourth visit in as many years. He was hell-bent in his belief my spine was developing a curve and every visit I feared I’d actually be diagnosed this time. Little did I know I was about to become a medical enigma for a completely different reason.

Part of the test, for reasons unknown to me, involved checking the flexibility of my hamstrings. The doctor’s assistant was the first to take on the challenge of pushing my leg to my chest. I just laid on the examination table watching this poor lady attempt to find a trace of flexibility in my leg. The assistant, after laughing with my mom about the situation – which definitely made me feel normal — left to grab the orthopedic doctor. His efforts were also wasted. After pushing and pulling my leg like a stick shift, the resistance left him stunned. While the test for scoliosis came back negative, I left St. Christopher’s scarred with the memory of the wrestling match between my legs and their staff.

Clearly, flexibility and my name have no business being in the same sentence. But as the intern for Be Well Philly, I felt it was my duty to experience yoga for myself. Plus, I love a challenge and I’m no stranger to making a fool of myself. So when my editor suggested I try a class at CorePower Yoga on Walnut Street, I accepted with enthusiasm but feared the worst. Surely enough, my fears came true. And then some. Read more »

This Is What It’s Like to Rappel from a 31-Story Building in Center City


Yep, that’s me dangling there.

To say I was given the opportunity of a lifetime yesterday is a bit of an understatement. And to say I wasn’t completely terrified about said opportunity is an even bigger one.

I joined the folks at Philadelphia Outward Bound School for their four-years-running Building Adventure event, a fundraiser that supports Outward Bound’s outdoor leadership programs in Philadelphia schools. The fundraiser was launched back in 2012, a year after the School District of Philadelphia cut Outward Bound’s funding in the face of a budget crisis; Building Adventure was created to close the funding gap in order to keep Outward Bound programs in Philly schools running. Every year, Building Adventure takes around 100 thrill-seekers, who raise at least $2,000 each, to the top of One Logan Square for a 31-story rappel — gorgeous, once-in-a-lifetime views of Philly included.  Read more »

Before & After: How Getting Bangs Completely Changed My Face


Tonia got it pretty darn close. | Emily Goulet.

I’ve always considered myself to be someone down to experiment with hair, yet I wind up getting the same style every time. However, Shoppist has been putting my self-awareness to the test, first turning me bronde for the love of summer trend testing. To be honest, that was easy. This time, though, we really went for it: I got full-on ’70s fringe. Read more »

Why You Should Start Dry Brushing Your Body Every Morning


Long-handled brush is crucial. | Shutterstock.

“Do you dry brush?”

This was what my sister asked me the other day, as casually as one might ask whether or not you floss. My eyes almost rolled out of my head. What are you supposed to brush? And when did “dry brush” become a verb? (Turns out, a few years ago, when Miranda Kerr mentioned that she did it.) The health benefits sounded too good to be true: lymphatic drainage, increased energy, immunity boost, firmer skin. Then my sister mentioned ‘cellulite breakup,’ and I was in. One trip to Rite Aid and a few days later, here’s what I discovered. Read more »

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