I like to think of myself as a pretty fit person. I run three times a week and weight train four times a week, all by my lonesome at a gym or in the great outdoors. I never bothered with group fitness classes because I assumed they were all jumping around and dancing — not serious workouts. So when I’d hear people swear by barre classes or see SoulCycle plastered on someone’s clothing, it made me wonder if these intense, cultish fitness classes could live up to the hype — and their price tags. To find out, I tried four classes with the most outrageous claims I could find. I took two different classes a week at the same time each morning, with two to three days of rest in between, and ate the same breakfast an hour before each. Here’s how they went, from most least difficult to most.
4. Power Playground
50-60 minutes; Mint, 1001 16th St. NW & 1724 California St. NW; drop-in class $35, mintdc.com
Claim: “A class like you’ve never experienced.”
What it is: Power Playground is a bootcamp-style class with 10 strength-training stations. The first go-round, we did each strength station for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of cardio bursts (jumping jacks, mountain climbers, high knees, etc.), then another 30 seconds of strength. The second round, we just did the strength workout for a full minute. We ended with partner workouts. My partner, Miranda Paley, a 29-year-old Power Playground regular, warned me that the partner ab work, which included back-to-back side planks while using our spare hand to pass a medicine ball back and forth under our bodies, is harder than it looks. She was right.
Most painful move: A full minute of burpees while holding onto a weighted medicine ball.
Aftermath: I was sore in my shoulders, back, glutes, quads, hamstrings … so almost everywhere.
As fun as: Making the rounds on the playground at recess.
Verdict: Despite my limited class experience, this one — held in the middle of the gym — felt familiar.
60 minutes; Orangetheory Fitness, multiple locations; drop-in class $30,orangetheoryfitness.com
Claim: “The most effective workout you have ever experienced.”
What it is: Orange60 uses treadmill interval training, indoor rowing and weight training to push your heart rate into the “orange zone,” 84 to 91 percent of your maximum heart rate. Everyone wears a heart rate monitor; your beats per minute appear on a screen, and people can compete for the most “splat points” by staying in the orange zone. The idea is to spend between 12 to 20 minutes there in order to continue burning calories for the rest of the day.
Most painful move: Rowing on the water rower, which uses a flywheel rotating in a circular water tank to create resistance.
Aftermath: No matter how much I ate, I was hungry the rest of the day. I ate an entire Chipotle bowl in one sitting and still wanted more food.
As fun as: Being in your own video game.
Verdict: “Effective” is vague, but I did feel like I got in a ton of cardio.
2. Sunday Sufferfest
75-100 minutes; Off-Road Indoor Cycling, 905 U St. NW; drop-in class $22, offroaddc.com
Claim: That you’ll suffer in this Sunday-only “high-intensity, sweat-inducing, soul-searching, gut-wrenching” cycling class.
What it is: The class uses footage of pro cycling races to put you through a simulated racecourse. The videos, shown on a screen at the front of the studio, provide the target cadence riders should aim for during each phase, give cues on when to sprint or climb and scold you if another cyclist passes This particular class was made up of two Tour de France routes: 55 minutes of speed intervals and a 35-minute uphill race, which started with a sprint down the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Most painful move: The virtual uphill climb that is “The Wretched,” aka the second video. It included no recovery time, and we were forced to pedal faster and increase resistance as the race progressed.
Aftermath: My butt was sore from sitting on a bike for that long.
As fun as: Competing on “American Ninja Warrior.”
Verdict: I suffered. I soul searched. It was indeed on a Sunday.
50 minutes; solidcore, multiple locations; first class $25, drop-in $37, off-peak $27, solidcore.co
Claim: “The most intense workout you will ever have.”
What it is: The solidcore workout is made up of slow, controlled movements, all done on a scary-looking Pilates machine loaded with a moving platform, resistance springs, straps and cables. We did some body-numbing plank variations and leg workouts and ended with weighted overhead tricep pullups and shoulder presses. People in the class were literally screaming because of how much it burned.
Most painful move: The lunge/hamstring curl combo. My legs and glutes were shaking and seizing beyond belief. Instructor Erica Breaux told me the point of the class is to get your muscles to that failure point. “That’s when they break down, and they come back stronger,” she said.
Aftermath: I was sore in places I didn’t even know I had muscles for the next three days. It hurt to laugh and even sneeze. Keith Ives, 30, who lives in Shaw, told me it doesn’t get any better. He’s been taking the classes for about a month. “It gets easier because you understand what [the trainers] are yelling, but it still kicks your ass every time,” he said.
As fun as: A deep-tissue massage.
Verdict: The hardest workout I’ve ever done. I was surprised I survived.