We get it – life often gets in the way of maintaining a fitness regimen, especially when you have kids. Luckily, Beijing has a plethora of sports and activities available in English. Some, like Heyrobics, encourage people to drop in whenever they want and involve very few barriers to entry while others, like CrossFit, require a foundation class but offer personalized attention. Whatever your needs, there are classes for any schedule, interest, and fitness level; the following are but a fraction of what’s available out there, so have fun exploring and get fit!
Yoga and Pilates are often classified together, but the two are very different – if complimentary – exercises. I’ve done yoga on-and-off for a couple of years, but I’d never tried Pilates before stepping into Alona Pilates Studio on a Thursday
Founded in 2005 by Russian-born Alona Vostrikova, the studio specializes in mat Pilates that uses key pieces of equipment to create long, lean muscles. Today, there are only three other students in the class. Our teacher is Eleonora Angelopoulos, who has taught at Alona Pilates for three years. She cheerfully announces that we’ll be focusing on core exercises – lucky me.
The core is easily the weakest part of my body, so I have trouble keeping up with the others as Angelopoulos instructs us to “roll down slowly onto the mat, vertebra by vertebra.” I unceremoniously fall back onto the mat and have trouble resisting the urge to rock myself back up, muscles straining with the effort to maintain balance and control over my movements.
Over the course of the 60-minute session, we use Thera-Bands (as in “therapy”), fit balls, and magic circles. Made of flexible metal or rubber with small pads for cushioning on either side, the latter are rings that offer moderate resistance. We hold the magic circle between various limbs – inside our ankles, outside our ankles, between our hands – and squeeze or press outwards while doing various exercises.
For the last portion of the class, we use Thera-Bands – essentially flat resistance bands – in a series of arm exercises, performing bicep curls and lateral raises in front of the mirror. A couple of us groan from the exertion (OK, it was mostly me), shoulders and arms burning. But by the end, I feel pretty good, with the same loosening of muscles and awareness of breath that I get from yoga. “You looked strong in there,” says Vostrikova as I step out of the studio for our interview.
Vostrikova stresses the benefit of Pilates for people of all ages, backgrounds, and fitness levels – even children. “If you haven’t done exercise for a long time, the best is to start with Pilates because it prepares your joints,” she says. “If you go to the gym and start running [without any preparation], what happens? Problems with your knees, your joints, your hips – injury.”
In fact, Vostrikova first took up Pilates after two decades of teaching yoga had started to aggravate her naturally-loose joints. “Yoga softens your muscles,” she explains. “If you don’t do any strength exercises, you’ll end up like Jell-O.”
Vostrikova makes a point of texting reminders to each of her students when she has a spare moment. “I prefer this way because it’s like a personal touch. I can see who’s on a business trip, who’s lazy, who’s had surgery, whose kids got sick,” she says. In addition to sweetly guilt-tripping her students into coming to class, this also allows her to understand their individual fitness goals and challenges.
“In Pilates, in class number three I usually ask my students ‘Do you feel a difference?’ They often say, ‘I feel the difference but my husband can see the difference.’ After five classes, you get really addicted.”
Venue: Alona Pilates Studio
Cost: RMB 250 per class. There are several discount packages ranging from five to 200 classes that bring the price down to RMB 80-200 per class. Check Alona’s website for details.
Contact: Daily 7.30am-9.30pm. Heavenly Spa by Westin, 5/F, Westin Beijing Chaoyang, 1 Xinyuan Nanlu, Chaoyang District (139 1029 0260, email@example.com) www.alonapilates.com 朝阳区新源南路1号金茂北京威斯汀大饭店5层威斯汀天梦水疗中心
Even if you’ve never been to a session, you’ve almost certainly heard of the happy sport of Heyrobics. One of the cheapest fitness options around, Heyrobics is spearheaded by its perennially-cheerful founder, Linus Holmsater.
Based on a Swedish exercise movement called Jympa started by Holmsater’s father in the 1970s, Heyrobics combines strength, sprinting, agility, and cardio in a sweaty one-hour session.
I started going to Heyrobics with my former roommate around a year ago. Many will tell you that their first time was pretty awkward, and I was no exception.
It was at the British School of Beijing (BSB), Sanlitun; there were 25 to 30 people standing around a single pink-shorted instructor. “Is anyone here doing Heyrobics for the first time?” she asked.
When I sheepishly raised my hand, she ran over to give me a resounding high five. “Welcome! Just try to keep up and rest when you need to.” Little did I know, my roommate had taken me to an intensive session – the hardest class.
A cheesy pop song started blaring from the speakers. The instructor launched into a warm-up routine and everyone followed. I imitated her as best as I could, haphazardly swinging my arms and legs – sometimes into other people. Thankfully, regular participants gave me a knowing look. “We’ve all been there,” they seemed to be saying.
Over the session, we moved into strength exercises, including push-ups, crunches, and the infamous burpees – whole-body exercises where participants start in a standing position, drop into a squat with their hands on the ground, kick back into a plank, return to a squat, jump up to standing, then repeat. Other segments focused on agility and balance, sprinting, and stretching or cooling down. By the end, I was pouring sweat but my interest was piqued.
One of Heyrobics’ hallmarks is the music. Playlists are highly idiosyncratic to each instructor, with songs tailored to the different workout segments. Over the past few months, I’ve sweated to everything from ABBA to Nicki Minaj, French rap, and obscure German rock.
The social aspect is also essential. Frequent Social Workouts allow members to bring an unlimited number of friends for free as long as they pre-register on the website. In addition, kids under 10 can work out with their parents gratis; I regularly see at least one mother-and-daughter pair at BSB Sanlitun.
Besides Heyrobics, participants can also check out Core (core exercises), Circuit (circuit training), and HeyRunning (running camps). Regular prices and memberships apply to Core and Circuit sessions, but HeyRunning camps cost extra (see website for details).
Venues: Various locations in Shunyi, Liangmaqiao, Sanlitun, and the CBD. The schedule changes weekly; consult the website for the most up-to-date information.
Cost: RMB 40 per session (members), RMB 50 per session (non-members), RMB 400 for 12-times card (members), RMB 500 for 12-times card (non-members), RMB 200 per month for unlimited sessions (members only). A membership card costs RMB 100 and entitles the bearer to a free drawstring bag or reusable water bottle.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.heyrobics.com
Founded by Ruben Payan, Human in Motion (HIM) fitness studio in Shunyi is in the business of personal transformation. Their group classes and personal training employ “functional” training methods, which focuses on developing movement systems instead of individual muscles.
Although HIM was the first organization to bring a Crossfit certification to China, classes are modeled after a system called Fit Moves developed by Juan Carlos Santana, founder of the Institute of Human Performance (IHP) in Florida. According to this system, four pillars of human movement form the foundation of how the body moves in everyday life: locomotion, level change, push/pull, and rotation.
“Movements such as rotation are an important part of human movement. Just pick a sport and you will see rotation as a vital component to improve one’s performance,” says Payan.
With so many people remaining in a seated or flexed position for over 14 hours a day, the ability to rotate effectively is lost. “When I selected the IHP system for the HIM studio, I [took]into consideration our everyday client, someone who is over the age of 40 and just looking to regain their fitness,” he explains.
“Functional training isn’t about lifting 90kg weights or doing 100 burpees in a row. It’s about first assessing your ability to move in a 360-degree environment and safely moving up the performance continuum by using movements that are specific to your everyday activities,” continues Payan.
Classes are designed to accommodate all fitness levels and instructors are trained to teach a circuit-style class while respecting each person’s needs. In a sense, you’re getting your own class within a class.
I knew that my technique in some areas wasn’t up to scratch, but I was in good hands with trainer Marc, who promised a fun but challenging class. There were seven of us in the group of mixed fitness levels. The session would incorporate six rounds of exercise with 30 seconds spent on each. Each station focused on a different pillar for all-over workout.
The functional exercises included rage ball slams, punching with resistance bands, alternating hops over a Bosu ball, anterior reaches with a dumbbell, dumbbell presses, TRX rows, alternating side lunges with a dumbbell, and rage ball over shoulder throws. I did OK with most of the upper body exercises, but lifting a 20lb sack over my shoulder was a challenge – especially by the time we got to the fourth round. My balance wasn’t perfect either – a sign of how much I needed to work my core – so anterior reaches and Bosu balls were tough. But as Marc kept reminding us, exercise is supposed to be hard work.
For cardio, we ran at a pace of 11km/h on an incline of 6, we cycled to reach 90 rpm, and we ran up and down a set of stairs. The incline on the treadmill really worked my legs and glutes, and boy I felt it the next day. I could only reach 85rpm on the bike, so clearly I need to sign up for some spin classes. It was challenging, but it was a whole lot of fun and we knew we’d all be coming back for more.
Venue: Human in Motion (HIM)
Cost: RMB 150 per drop-in group session, RMB 800 for eight-session punch card (can be used for Cardio Circuit, spin, Pilates, and yoga), RMB 700 per private training session, RMB 2,500 for five-session private training (prices may vary).
Contact: 2A Cathay View Plaza, Xiangjiang Beilu, Chaoyang District (8470 3616, 136 7129 4008, email@example.com)
This article originally appeared on p60-62 of the September 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Ken, and courtesy of Heyrobics and HIM