Get Fit Now!: Workouts That Work

With thousands of fitness options to choose from in Philadelphia, how do you find the best one for you? Grab your sweats. These workouts rise above the rest.

Remember when exercise was simple? There was the Jane Fonda approach — pull on those leg warmers and get physical! The Pumping Iron approach — curl those barbells till you could speak with an Austrian accent. And the Jim Fixx approach — jog along Kelly Drive, praying you wouldn’t suffer the same fate as Mr. Book of Running (massive coronary, mid-workout).

Things have gotten more complicated, to say the least. These days there are, literally, thousands of workout options in the Philly area — from straightforward aerobic classes at your neighborhood Y to the latest yoga-robi-lates craze at chic fitness studios. But which sessions really stand out? More important, which workout works best for your particular interest? Schedule? Fitness level? We spent the past several months researching the Philly fitness scene — and found 15 workouts that rise above the rest. Leg warmers ready?

I Could Really Use A Calming Yoga Class
(But Who Has Time To Get To A Calming Yoga Class?)


The workout: Private yoga instruction with Nicole Chemi
You don’t need to know your dogs from your cobras to benefit from Chemi’s personalized practices — this is yoga for all levels. Chemi asks detailed questions about your life (what causes you the most stress?) and level of fitness (where are you flexible?). Then she walks you through a comprehensive hour-and-a-half practice, gently adjusting posture and prompting breathing. You leave with a tailored at-home practice, a prescription for yogic Zen in your own living room.
Who takes it: Yoga fans — beginner and experienced — who just can’t commit to a regular schedule of classes.
Our road test: Not the most physically taxing yoga practice available, but with its focus on fitting fitness into a hectic lifestyle, it is one of the most accessible. Plus, Chemi’s meditative voice and gentle instructions ensure that you leave class more rested than you arrived. — April White

East Eagle Yoga, 18 East Eagle Road, Havertown, 610-789-6789; by appointment only. $75.

I Want To Get In Shape
(But Boy, Do I Hate Getting In Shape)

The workout: "Burn It Up" at 12th Street Gym
Stepp Stewart’s workout is a dance class in disguise. (No wonder, since his day job is choreographing in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles.) But we’re not talking intimidating pirouettes and pliés. How about the "Axl Rose" (alternating shoulder rolls) or the "Temptations" (step/clap to the right, step/clap to the left) or the "John Travolta/Olivia Newton John" (the finger-shaking hop-step from the prom scene in Grease)? Each class, Stepp teaches a dance routine in stages (hip-hop, funk, Broadway, whatever is his whim that week), adding on eight-counts until everyone has it and can perform it in groups — even at super-fast speed.
Who takes it: Mostly, but not exclusively, 20-somethings who can’t dance nearly as well as they think they can.
Our road test: Judging by the profusely dripping sweat, this is a major calorie burner. This is also the most fun hour spent working out ever — like jamming in your living room to the radio. Except in public. With someone else’s music. And an instructor encouraging you to "let your groove out." — Vicki Glembocki

12th Street Gym, 204 South 12th Street, 215-985-4092; Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. $20, including full day of gym use; free for members.

I Need A Tough — but Fast — lunch-hour Fitness Class

The workout: Russian kettlebells at Maxercise
Brace yourself. Trainer Steve Maxwell will work you like the Italian Stallion worked Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. The kettlebell looks like a cast iron cannonball with a handle, and it comes in varying weights. Until recently, kettlebells were used only by Eastern European athletes and military personnel, but now they’re surfacing everywhere. Unlike Nautilus machines, which target one muscle group at a time, the kettlebell works your entire body.
Who takes it: This 30-minute group class consists mostly of championship Brazilian jujitsu (think street-fighting with legit judges) competitors, with a few middle-aged participants. But anyone can do it.
Our road test: Working the kettlebell takes practice. But once you get the hang of it, your glutes, hamstrings and shoulders will feel sore — in that I-worked-my-butt-off kind of way. — Blake Miller

Maxercise, 707 Chestnut Street, 2nd floor, 215-928-1374; Monday and Thursday, 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. $22 per class, or $200 for 10 classes.


The workout: Platoon Fitness
You arrive in the dark. You are outside, whether it’s hot, cold, raining, snowing or hailing. Your instructor was trained by Mike Smaltz, a former Navy man trained by Navy Seals. You never know what the workout will be. You could sprint from football-field sideline to sideline, with squat thrusts in between. You could do three different kinds of push-ups (on grass with frost on it). You could bear-crawl sideways between 10-yard lines, do five push-ups, then hold your body in a plange (on elbows and toes) for 60 seconds. As a break, you could skip from end zone to end zone. All before the sun comes up.
Who takes it: Married, over-30 professionals with kids, who get to know each other so well that they become a bit of a cult. There are two groupings in each class, beginner and advanced, so anyone can make it through the workout.
Our road test: We’re not sure what’s better — the aching, sweating triceps and quads, or the satisfaction of having accomplished so much before 7 a.m.
— Thad Henninger

Platoon Fitness, P.O. Box 580A, Villanova, 888-752-8666;
Various times and locations. $80 per month.


The workout: Capoeira
This 400-year-old Brazilian martial art is a mix of dance, gymnastics and "combat." Instructor Lobo Mau (a.k.a. Martin Rueter) leads the class in a series of moves, from the simple (a half somersault/half cartwheel) to the seemingly impossible (a handstand into a jumping, both-feet-off-the-floor spinning kick). In the last half hour, called "jogo," classmates pair up and use all their headstands and kicks and cartwheels and back flips and front flips in a friendly, minimal-contact fight set to Brazilian music.
Who takes it: All different ages and races, all dressed in the art’s traditional loose white pants and shirts, all with major upper-body strength and flexibility (which they developed through capoeira).
Our road test: A serious, high-intensity cardio and upper-body exercise that requires you to let go of a lot of fears (standing on your hands, for instance) and is really cool to watch. — V.G.

Various times and locations; $10 per class.


The workout: Boxing at the Sporting Club
Wimps, beware. While mild-mannered trainer Clif Johnson won’t bark commands at you or humiliate you in front of the dozen or so other masochists in his class, you’ll still feel like you’ve barely emerged from a back-alley encounter afterwards. Johnson, a former professional fighter and current trainer, leads the class through this 60-minute heavy bag/jump rope/medicine ball tour de force, including 1,000 — yes, 1,000 — sit-ups, followed by footwork, more ab work, and extensive use of the aforementioned paraphernalia. And yes, you get to wear wraps and gloves.
Who takes it: Lawyers and teachers — "People who need to get off some aggression," observes Johnson. "And they’re mostly women." In fact, at a recent Wednesday evening slugfest, all 15 pugilists were of the fairer sex. But, fellas, if you’re thinking that Johnson’s class is the place to meet your next wife, think again. "Guys aren’t used to working this hard," says Johnson. "They just can’t keep up."
Our road test: We still can’t get over the 1,000 sit-ups thing, but this is a great way to work through your problems and build a fabulous new you quickly — if you can handle the pain. And who knows, you could have a second career in the making: Some of Johnson’s female Sporting Club protégés have won the Golden Glove. — Victor Fiorillo

Schedule varies. The Sporting Club at the Bellevue, 220-224 South Broad Street, 8th floor, 215-985-9876; Members only; membership is $175 initiation, $92 monthly.


The workout: Pro Velocity Fitness at Velocity Sports Performance
Cherry Hill’s Velocity is a 21,000-square-foot facility that focuses on training people of all ages and abilities — from college-bound athletes and seven-year-old wannabe Donovan McNabbs to stay-at-home moms and dads. Velocity’s instructors are highly qualified — many are former collegiate athletes, and there’s one current triathlete — so expect a tough workout and little sympathy for pain.
Who takes it: Usually a small group of up to six; Pro Velocity Fitness is coed. Not-so-athletic participants will love the camaraderie they might’ve missed out on by never playing a team sport.
Our road test: For former athletes, this brings you back to the days of pre-season workouts full of sprints, wall sits, more sprints, and strength training. Needless to say, it’s a helluva workout, especially on the cardio/endurance end. Trainers run drills that build speed and agility, which leaves you feeling like you just played two full 45-minute halves in a competitive soccer game. — B.M.

Velocity Sports Performance, 2005 Route 70 East, Cherry Hill, 856-874-9700; Tuesday and Thursday, 6:30 p.m.; Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. $650 for 24 classes.


The workout: Power-based indoor training at Cadence Performance Cycling Center
The owners of Manayunk-based Cadence, including three-time Olympian Brian Walton, have years of racing and riding expertise. If you want to shed a little winter fat, sign up for one of the center’s eight-week sessions. You start off with a three-mile field test — virtual reality-style — that measures your heart rate and wattage parameters.
Who takes it: Professional cyclists, as well as amateur racers looking to find a cycling routine or lose some weight.
Our road test: When I told my triathlete boyfriend I was taking the field test and class at Cadence, he frothed at the mouth in envy. I didn’t exactly hit the pavement like a pro, but I endured the technical drills and muscle-building repeats because of Lewis Secreto’s encouraging words. And I only limped a little on my walk to work.
— Erica Levi

Cadence Performance Cycling Center, 4323 Main Street, Manayunk; 215-508-4300. Monday and Friday, 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. $450 per eight-week session.


The workout: Striptease Aerobics at Mitch’s Market Street Gym
It starts just like any muscle-toning class, with abs and push-ups and a billion squats. But a half-hour in, instructor Rachael Sokolic (this night wearing a t-shirt that says PORN STAR) dims the lights while her students get ready, stripping down to bras and panties, then putting on the costumes they’ve brought: another bra and pair of panties, a tight skirt with side zipper, thigh-high hose, high heels, a man’s dress shirt, a tie, and a hat, which they will proceed to strip out of while performing Rachael’s choreographed routine. The dance involves so much butt-thrusting and crawling and leg-spreading that if it were a movie, you would only be able to view it on cable TV.
Who takes it: Women of all ages, shapes and sizes who want a killer thigh workout and long to release their inner vixen (though most intend to try out their new moves on their significant others. Guys? Can you say "gift idea"?).
Our road test: Surprisingly, you sweat. Surprisingly, you don’t think twice about pulling a man’s necktie back and forth between your legs. Surprisingly, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you don’t look so bad in that miniskirt you haven’t worn since the mid-’80s, when you were (not ironically) dressing like Madonna in "Like a Virgin." — V.G.

Mitch’s Market Street Gym, 322 West Market Street, West Chester, 610-918-2900; Schedule varies. $99 for four-week advanced classes, $69 for four-week pole classes, $199 for eight-week beginner classes.


The workout: "To the Extreme" at Gold’s Gym
"Don’t be wusses!" instructor Maureen Solomon screams as she pushes you through this high-school gym class/basic training/heavy metal concert. (Her soundtrack is Metallica and AC/DC … and it’s loud.) You jump rope, you run laps, you do stairs and sprints — and that’s in the first 20 minutes. At the end of class, after weights and jumping jacks and squat thrusts and mountain climbers and relays, Solomon makes you sprint again, but this time with a partner who holds you back with a big rubber band wrapped around your waist. Evil.
Who takes it: Fairly serious exercisers from their late 20s to their mid-50s. Other instructors at the gym take this class to get their butts kicked.
Our road test: You work hard enough that you won’t hesitate to order that crème brûlée at dinner. Which you deserve, since the next day your calves and hip flexors will feel like crème brûlée. — T.H.

Gold’s Gym, 431 West Valley Forge Road, King of Prussia, 610-205-3570; Saturday, 9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. $15; free for members.


The workout: Pilates with Janine Galati
For 18 years — since long before even Hollywood types knew what "Pilates" meant — Galati has been educating people on the teachings of Joseph Pilates, who developed a fitness routine designed to help practitioners better understand their bodies and use them efficiently through focused, muscular training. In small classes or in private sessions, on the floor of her airy, mirrored studio or on the torture-device-like Pilates machines, Galati coaches students with the encouraging words of someone convinced of the exercise’s power to enhance athletic performance and alleviate pain.
Who takes it: Body-conscious Center City dwellers attracted to the slow-paced but intense workout and the quiet privacy of the studio and adjacent gym.
Our road test: Galati says Pilates isn’t an abdominal workout, but that’s hard to believe after an intensive one-on-one class. Most of the hour is spent "engaging" the ab muscles and willing your body to move, slowly and deliberately, in ways you never thought would be difficult. Really, try lying on your back, lifting your leg to 90 degrees, and rotating it in a clockwise arc — without moving your hips. — A.W.

Alternative Fitness Body IQ Movement Center, 2016 Walnut Street, 2nd floor, 215-567-4969; By appointment. $120 for a private session; $20-$40 for a group class.


The workout: Yoga Sport’s 90-minute class
This is an ashtanga yoga boot camp from yoga instructor Dee Silvers and her troops. Bring a mat, a towel, and an ability to balance your body weight on one hand. The Masonic Hall is no-frills (read: thankfully, no mirrors), with a dusty linoleum floor and heat that works overtime. The instructions during the 90-minute class can be hard to follow for the uninitiated, but the instructors are quick to help out.
Who takes it: These Main Line moms and dads can chant in tune, but don’t be fooled — they aren’t yogi devotees so much as yoga-aerobics fans.
Our road test: After the 45th vinyasa — the singsong Sanskrit euphemism for an excruciatingly slow push-up — the instructor said, "Child’s pose is always available." But it wasn’t until the 60th minute of class that anyone took advantage of the restful kneeling posture — and I was the only one who needed to sit out a few of the forearm stands, headstands and handstands. — A.W.

Yoga Sport, Masonic Hall, 35 Ardmore
Avenue, Ardmore, 610-525-5651; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. $20


The workout: "BodyWedge Total Conditioning" at Gold’s Gym
This 60-minute class combines cardio and strength training (think shuffling plus squats plus lunges plus crunches, and so on) so well that even the fittest participants will feel sore the next day. Instructors love the BodyWedge — a ramp-shaped foam device that’s popping up in fitness clubs across the country — because it forces you to really tighten your core while also working on balance. Throw in tension bands, weights and strength balls, and the BodyWedge is a total body workout.
Who takes it: This class is not for anyone who breathes hard walking up a flight of steps. It’s mostly women who strength-train and work out on a regular basis (at least four to five times a week), but male gym-goers shouldn’t shy away.
Our road test: Even if you work out religiously an hour a day, five times a week, the BodyWedge will kick your butt. Hitting muscles you never really knew existed, this class gets your heart rate up while also making your quads, hamstrings, biceps, triceps — hell, your whole body — burn. — B.M.

Gold’s Gym, Plymouth Square Shopping Center, 200 West Ridge Pike, Conshohocken, 610-940-6787; Monday, 9:30 a.m. $15; free for members.


The workout: Endurance Spinning Class at the William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness
When one of her students walked into the spinning room, instructor Kim Jacobs congratulated him on having recently qualified for entry in the Boston Marathon. Then she kidded with him about showing up for her class. But his presence may have been a testament to her Monday endurance ride: You get to maintain your cadence and your heart rate for an hour, and feel the road beneath your feet.
Who takes it: A lot of regulars with their own bike shoes, employees of Virtua Health, and, yeah, a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
Our road test: Jacobs demonstrates proper form, stretching techniques and breathing exercises, and when you’re up out of the saddle, the ponytailed trainer’s uplifting chants prevent you from letting your feet sink to the bottom of the pedal stroke. — E.L.

William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness, 2309 Evesham Road, Voorhees, 856-325-5300; Monday, 6 a.m. Members only; membership is $778 a year.


The workout: Yoga Babies with Gail Silver
After teaching at Yoga on Main and then out of her Center City home, Gail Silver opened her own studio dedicated to yoga for the whole family, from couples to expectant mothers to toddlers to teens.
Who takes it: Moms with tykes who are not yet able to crawl. You do your poses as your baby lies peacefully on your mat. Or at least, that’s the idea.
Our road test: Part workout, part social club — this class sounded ideal. But I had
a hard time picturing my clingy eight-week-old daughter Sylvia getting with the program, and sure enough, she began complaining 10 minutes in. To my relief, she wasn’t the only one: At any given point, maybe a quarter of the class was busy rocking, changing or nursing babies, making
for a warm, friendly environment. When Sylvia allowed me to join in, the exercises were relaxed and slow-paced enough to suit my sluggish postpartum body. And even Sylvia enjoyed it: By the end, she’d fallen fast asleep to the gentle sound of Gail’s voice. — Sabrina Rubin Erdely

Yoga Child, 903 South Street, 215-238-0989; Schedule varies. Starting at $280 for 14 weeks. b