An Affair of Character

A Chicago Fitness Blog by Meg Schneider

Breaking out of an Exercise Rut

Whew, time flies! It feels like I was trying out my first month of Classpass just a few weeks ago…even though that was June! After a few months of experimentation, I had been spending basically all of my classes on AIR (aerial silks), Studio Three (cycling/spin), and Reform Pilates (pilates, duh :)). I even just kept going to the same teachers week after week!

With the start of 2018 coming up, I knew I wanted to switch a few more things up and try more studios around work. A friend encouraged me to try her cycling studio, CycleX in West Loop, and I found a new favorite teacher: Melissa! Her playlist was great, and I ended up taking her Britney Spears theme ride shortly after!

I’ve tried a few more studios since then, with varying levels of success. Pilates seems to be very hit or miss for me depending on the instructor. I liked Studio Lagree’s non-core approach to pilates, but wasn’t a huge fan of the uber-minimalistic instruction at a few other studios. (I think it’s kind of odd if a pilates session doesn’t include any mention of breathing, which happened to me at 2 different studios this week!)

Today, I tried out the S.W.A.T. class at Energi Fitness. I walked in and was intimidated by the Cross-fit style countdown clock. All I could think is: What have I gotten myself into?! Luckily, the instructor, Mary was super helpful in pointing out my form errors and helping me understand each exercise.

Each S.W.A.T. class has a mix of different equipment, so I had no idea what we would be working on. I was super thrilled to finally use battle ropes!!! It was a crazy moment for me as I always imagined battle ropes as reserved for Shape or Women’s Health fitness photography…it is nuts to believe how far I’ve come that I’m EXCITED to use battle ropes!!!

There’s also a ton of other cool equipment at Energi like monkey bars, skiing machines, and rowing machines. I will definitely be back to check out other classes they have!

What I’ve been realizing is that it is SO important to keep experimenting if there’s an option! It’s like makeup – you want to keep things fresh and still keep an eye out for what’s new! Plus, if everything is terrible, you will appreciate your tried and true classes/instructors even more!

Here’s some tips I have for trying out a new studio:

  1. Read reviews online on Yelp and ask friends. Keep in mind that one person’s “challenging and motivating” can mean your “personal torture/hell chamber”, but a 4.5 star studio will generally be cleaner/safer/better than one with 3 stars. When I am first looking at the studio, I search “favorite” on the Yelp reviews to find either the best instructor or teacher at a time that works for me. Why waste time with the worst teacher at a studio you haven’t been to yet?!
  2. Actually show up 15 minutes early. It’s so tempting to just show up 5 minutes before and sign the waiver in 10 seconds. Those 15 minutes though can be so helpful in assessing the “vibe” of the studio long-term as well as acclimate to the special equipment used in the class.
  3. Tell the teacher it’s your first time. I have no shame and will admit my lack of experience in a certain exercise pretty readily. Yes, I know you are rolling your eyes at how uncool it is to be a fitness newb…but think of the benefits! The teacher will be looking out for you in the exercise, helping you with form more than they normally would in a group class. I did my first kettlebell swing correctly because I told the teacher I was new and had never really gotten great form on it.
  4. Give it your all – but don’t worry if you’re not up to par just yet. I was legit frightened to go to Barry’s Bootcamp, as I hate running (fun runs/silly 5ks don’t count). Everyone’s advice for my first time was not to go crazy trying to keep up with the class, but take things at my own speed/pace/level. What’s the point of killing yourself in one class if you then won’t go back for a month?
  5. Give it a shot with another instructor. If you liked the studio “vibe”, equipment, and general style, but not the instructor, give it another chance at a different time! I really like the silly fun of Bobby’s workouts on Wednesdays at 7:30, which is completely different from the hardcore spinning enthusiasts awake at 9 am on a Sunday morning (ex. not into the silly or the Britney).

Hope this helps!

FloatSixty Review

Float tanks have been on my mind for a while. I don’t know if it was a particular movie or television show that got me thinking, but I would always wonder what it would be like in a completely dark tub!

At a Brunch x Burn event this fall, I won a free FloatSixty soak and was psyched to try it out for myself.

When you book, you get the choice of 6 experiences, ranging from a large tub with colored or no light to a complete immersion option (similar to a grave, at least to me, ha). I picked the beginner option 🙂

I showed up for my appointment on a Sunday night a few weeks ago with literally no idea what was about to happen. The front desk staff seems to mostly deal with “regulars” and I got a quick overview of what was going to happen: shower, soak, shower, relaxation room. You get a luffa, some ear plugs, petroleum jelly (to cover any cuts), and vinegar to blast out any sea salt.

The shower has some shampoo, conditioner (only post-soak), and body wash and is in those single-push containers you’d find in a public bathroom for soap. There was supposed to be music playing, but I didn’t hear any (it could have gone off when I was in the shower). Deciding I should just try to maximize my soak time, I hopped right into the largest beginning pod they have.

The first few minutes were amazing. It felt like being in the ocean without any waves. The light was dim and just set off a nice orange-y glow. After a few minutes, I stood up a bit and tried to mess with the lights to get full blackout, but it wasn’t responding. (That was probably for the best).

After I laid back down into the tub, I realized the foolishness of standing up. My hair, face everything was dripping really salty water directly into my eyes. Oh boy it was painful. It reminded me of that feeling you get when sunblock gets caught – that stinging irritation that you can’t do a thing about! There was some freshwater to spritz with, but it was ultimately just a few minutes of pain.

I can’t say that I entirely loved the soak after the salt in eyes moment – it’s a very personal thing. I flipflopped between “trying” to be zen/relaxed and being bored. Honestly, I think I would have been fine if I had just laid from beginning to end without getting the salt in my eyes, but it did kind of ruin an otherwise luxe/relaxing experience.

After I hopped out, I showered again and walked out to the relaxation room. I think this is the most underrated part of FloatSixty, as you have three rooms to choose from. One is a traditional beauty-salon type atmosphere, one is a very dark tea/book corner, and one is a very fluffy looking sleep zone. I picked the tea one expecting to chillax for at least 30 minutes. Unfortunately, because I had picked one of the last times for the soak, there were workers cleaning up…even though nobody said anything, I did get a move on faster than I probably otherwise would have.

I’m so so so glad I was able to try FloatSixty as it really is an incredible experience to do at least 1x. I think the next time would be better as I would know what to expect and really relax post-soak.

If you soak, I would recommend being careful of when you sit up (to avoid salt in your eyes) and picking a time in the middle of the studio’s workday. Let me know if you do go!



Santa Hustle 5k Review

Can you imagine a crazier sight than 5000 people dressed in santa hats, beards, and t-shirts running on a Saturday morning??

This year, a friend told me about a Groupon for the race in Chicago. There’s many variants of the race throughout the US, but the Chicago race is the one that’s been featured on Rachel Ray, news, etc. I like 5ks with a twist (beer and burger run was a particular favorite!) but I was still a bit skeptical. I’ve been involved in enough “holiday themed” activities that just mean a passing wink at a holiday.

From start to finish, I was impressed by the smoothness of this operation. Pre-race communication was great with lots of packet pickup times outside of business hours. I got my packet in under 5 minutes and was pleasantly surprised at all the things included with admission! Every participant got a santa hat, santa beard, athletic santa-style shirt, and red and white long striped socks.

When I got to Soldier Field, there were a ton of photography stations so you could take photos with Rudolph, Santa, blowups, as well as a ton of vendors (Rxbar, Boxed Water) handing out food. I have to say I was most impressed with my fellow racers’ costumes though! People went ALL out. There were christmas tree costumes, reindeer, and people dressed all in jingle bells.

On race day, the DJ was killing it, pumping up the crowd and keeping everyone motivated. For an early December race in Chicago, we got a beautiful day that was about 40 degrees and Sunday. Everybody in the crowd was going crazy taking selfies, and it was a great atmosphere!

During the race, there were a ton of stations. We had been told to expect cookies and candy, but the carolers at the .75 mile point were a great treat! The kids kept our spirits high for sure 🙂 Matt’s cookies provided cookies, and we got a small cup of mini M&M’s throughout the race. My highlight was when a small child looked up at a large man wearing an Elf costume, and said to her dad with wide eyes: “Can I say hi to Buddy? is that Buddy?!” So cute!!

After the race was over, we got finisher’s medals, more protein bars and drinks, and then there was milk and cookies! (There also was free photography although I didn’t know it at the time!)

All in all, this was a great 5k race, whether you are a big runner or just looking to get into the holiday spirit.

Getting Back Into the Groove

My exercise program got a huge wrench it when I got sick with the flu…and then bronchitis. All in all, I was sick for about a month! I could barely get my packages, let alone do a HIIT cycle class!

Here are some of the tips I’ve learned in the past week:

1)Make sure you are fully recovered: I am a big believer in positive thinking but it is actually not possible to “will” yourself into feeling better. Even if you have leftover Classpasses or expiring packages! This was hard for me, as I like to get the most bang for my exercise buck. I had to keep thinking that any overexertion would only delay me further.

2) Give yourself some grace: I may or may not have dramatically thudded to the floor in my first aerial class back. I had to make the mental decision to do the best I could in that class, rather than beating myself up.

3) Use healthy food to fuel you: It is cliche, but healthy food really does your body good. Don’t let a few slipups in class set off a spiral of bad eating choices! Think of this time as a “restart” instead of “the beginning of the end”.

Overall, I am excited to get back to my regularly scheduled programming of aerial, spinning, and boxing! I can’t wait to try the Pilates megareformer and take another Krav Maga class. Let me know what you are looking forward to this week!


Exercising While Sick? What I Learned

The past two weeks, I’ve been really under the weather. A driving cough and now a cold have really thrown off my normal routine. My first reaction when I’m sick is to dive under the covers, sleep, and eat takeout. Here are a few things I have learned:

Resting can be just as important as exercise. I’ve really changed my entire approach to fitness since June of this year, so it was hard to not go to my normal routine of aerial and pilates classes. It had taken me so much to go to those classes, and I was worried that it would be just as hard to get back into the routine. This led me to pushing myself too much at the beginning stages of being sick; it’s important to give yourself permission to rest and recover.

-Diet is still important. Even if your throat hurts, it’s not a great idea to throw out everything you normally do to prepare healthy meals. I went from daily healthy green smoothies to salty, heavy soups. Even if it’s not as “fun”, I am now making and eating healthier, vegetable-based soups to recover.

Don’t go back full-hog. We all have some exercises/exercise classses that are easier than others. I made the mistake of trying to go to a challenging spin class on Thursday, and my body immediately told me I had the wrong idea. An aerial yoga class based on stretching would have been a better way to ease back into exercising daily.

I hope to be back exercising at full force by the end of next week. Until then, good luck!

Studio Three Theme Rides

I LOVE distraction when it comes to exercise. Flashing lights? Loud music? Lots of instruction? Yes, Yes, YES!

Studio Three’s theme rides are a fun twist on a normal cycling workout. (Ok – not actually fun fun but more fun than it normally is).

I went to my first theme workout with a friend for Tupac vs Biggie with Sho Pettaway. This workout was KILLER. We were going high on resistance and my legs could not take it. The music was also not especially inspiring to me as it was on the slower side.

The next theme workout I tried was One Hit Wonders with Andrea. I love old songs from the 80’s like “Twisted Love” and “Come On Eileen” so I was grooving the whole time. I came in after a long day and left with a huge smile on my face.

The last has been a dual ride with Erin Schirack and Bobby Gouse. I’ve liked Bobby’s rides before, but hadn’t been in Erin’s class before. It was so fun as both instructors tried their best to make the experience as over the top as possible. At one point, we had flashing rainbow lights, strobe lights, a loud Christina/Camila Cabello remix AND twerking. Wow. All this was enough to get me a Personal Best for Output!

Overall, I think theme rides are a great way to reinvigorate a solid schedule of cycling classes. It’s an easier way to try a new instructor, as they are putting on their best behavior. That said, if you are used to a routine (ex. always taking the Thursday at 7:30), I can see how a theme ride can be a little annoying. Not for me though! I’ll be on that bike with a huge smile!

Soulcycle Friday Night Out Review

I’ve always heard that Soulcycle is one of those things you have to experience for yourself. This past Friday, I took advantage of an introductory promotion to join the “Soulcycle Friday night out” event. So, instead of the usual ~$34+shoes, I paid $20 with a free shoe rental. Add in the fact that Devin was named one of the best instructors of Soulcycle nationwide, and it seemed like the perfect time to try!

I’ve gone to a few other spinning studios in Chicago, but Soulcycle was always hyped up in my brain as something super different or unique. I had even been to Dynamo three times in Paris this past spring, which I now realize basically a more chic “knockoff version” of Soulcycle!

The class process was similar to any other on Classpass or Mind and Body – you check in online, sign in when you get there, and then prepare for the class. I flagged down a staff member and was able to get set up.

The first big difference I noticed was that the bikes at Soulcycle are CLOSE! I’ve been going to Studio Three in River North, which has stadium seating (and some breathing room) between the bikes. If the girl in front of me leaned back while I leaned forward (which unfortunately happened a lot), we were basically hitting each other!

Another big difference was the arm section. A lot of times, the arm section can feel very “tacked on” to a spinning workout, ex. “now, we’re doing arms for 5.5 minutes”. At Soulcycle, we were encouraged to move our shoulders and do more “dance-type” moves throughout the entire class. It felt a teensy bit more organic to me.

I will say that I liked the fact that there are no metrics or “metric boards” at Soulcycle. I was able to focus on my own pace of exercise. As there are no metrics on the bike itself, you have to control what resistance feels good and feels challenging.

The instructor was great and had really good music, although the music at the Soulcycle Loop location was LOUD. The girl next to me even brought earplugs! One of the most surprising things to me was the length of the class. It felt like we were in and out so quickly compared to other spinning classes! More than half the class seemed to be gone before the stretch even began.

As part of the Friday night out event, I got a goody bag full of treats. My favorite was the Alex and Ani Charity by Design Bike Bangle with charm. We also got a Tarte reusable water bottle, protein bars, Soulcycle sunglasses, a small mirror and a Soulcycle cellphone card case. (Plus, I love the shiny metallic silver Soulcycle bag it came in! My groceries never felt so exclusive!) There also were opportunities for hair braiding and makeup application.

Overall, I prefer Studio Three’s spinning as there is more breathing room between bikes, and the Peloton bikes are a teeny bit more comfortable. I would highly recommend checking out Soulcycle for one of its special events though – the Friday night out was well worth it for $20! Good luck in your spinning endeavors!

Sweatworking Review (Betina Gozo for Hurricane Relief)

Last night, I attended a great fitness event at the Lakewood! Women’s Health Next Fitness Star Betina Gozo led us through a series of grueling bodyweight and partner exercises, and the money raised went to hurricane relief. This sweatworking review will give you a glimpse into one of their events!

Sweatworking is “sweating” + “networking”. It’s been a fun way to meet new people in Chicago in my first few months here! The women are really open to meeting others, and are usually really open about other cool fitness events in Chicago. I first went after winning an Instagram giveaway to the really awesome “Sweat to Inspire Event”. The event always starts by introducing yourself to someone you don’t know.

This event also had bubble braids and free samples from Fit Foodie, Luna Bars, and other vendors. Although I didn’t get a chance, there were also free massages!

As for the workout, I’m not the biggest fan of intervals yet (I much prefer pilates or…just about anything really). Betina’s workout was killer! I’m excited to read about and see more of her workouts in Women’s Health!

No sweatworking review would be complete without mentioning the goody bag at the end. There’s protein bars, protein shakes, and tons of snacks. I especially liked the Luna Protein Bar in Chocolate Salted Caramel. I can’t wait to try the rest of the items in the bag.

All in all, it was a great event and I can’t wait for the next sweatworking event in Chicago!

Brunch x Burn Review: The Knockout

I decided to do a Brunch x Burn review because it is one of my favorite fitness events in Chicago! Whether you’re new to fitness or an old pro, it’s a fun way to break yourself out of your fitness comfort zone.

Each month is a different workout: Soulcycle, Corepower, and this month’s Title Boxing (Lincoln Park). The best part is that all the money raised from the event and raffles goes to charity.

The event at Title started with some hair braiding by Blowdry Junkie. Although I always see hair braiding at events, this was the first I was able to do it! I loved the french braid style! The music by DJ 3 Snaps was great too.

As for the workout, Courtney led the 12:30 today. The first 15 minute “warmup” was more like an excruciating bodyweight workout of jumping jacks, burpees, and more. Right as you are about to give up completely, we switched to the boxing. I liked how Courtney was low-key and positive throughout. I never felt spoken down to or intimidated.

Afterwards, there were raffles, cocktails, and brunch from Orange. The raffles had prizes ranging from a 5 pack of classes at Soulcycle to Coola products and BXB gear. I ended up entering a lot of the raffles last minute, and ended up winning a 10 pack of classes to Title, with gloves, wrap, and a bag! So, I feel like the universe is telling me I need to go back!

Throughout, I was impressed by the organization. The founders do a great job communicating all the details! I can’t wait to go to the next Brunch x Burn event next month! I will do another Brunch x Burn review so you will get the scoop!

BENDER Chicago Sunset Skyline Yoga Review

Chicago. Rooftops. A match made in heaven, no?

Bender (part of Funderground Wellness) takes this to the next level with the Bender Chicago Yoga series. For $20-30 (depending on time of signup), yogis can see the sun set as they go into their downward facing dog.

I was lucky enough to attend two full moon events in the past two months. It all starts with a very smooth check in process at the basement of Energi gym in River North. There are changing facilities and bathrooms available, but only on the ground level. Then, there’s a “warm up” with a climb up 6 flights up stairs! I’m already reaching for my water at this point…

Both yoga teachers made a point to introduce themselves to as many students as possible before the class, which I appreciated. It is those small touches that make any exercise event more fun and personal. Before long, we put on our glowing headsets, listened to the DJ, and got started!

One thing I would say for these events is that the yoga is more challenging than the average fun pop-up yoga event – there are handstands and other complex poses. Still, as a beginner, I felt like I was in a safe space to take my own adjustments.

Afterwards, there are always (of course) goodies to fuel up. The event sponsors were KeVita Kombucha, RXBar, and Kind Bar.

For the full moon event tonight, Wade Gotwals, Katy H + DJ Alissa Jo of Bender Chicago Yoga really created a fun atmosphere. I hope I can go to another next month! If you (or a friend) wants an easy way to get into yoga, I’d highly recommend the Bender series in Chicago!

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