The Best Fitness Classes for 2016
Find Your Fitness Match
These editor-approved workouts will help you reach your fitness goal, whether it’s building lean muscles, upping your cardio burn, or just having fun while breaking a sweat.
Pinpoint your chakra, find time to chill, or stretch it out with perks. By Katie Henry
Meet: Anya Litvinova
Don’t be surprised when you first walk into Concord’s Yoga Treat that the young, sprightly yoga instructor greeting you is the owner of this tucked-away gem: Anya Litvinova, 26, is a seasoned yogi. Raised by elite athlete parents, and a competitive swimmer and ballroom dancer herself, she started taking yoga in middle school and began teaching full-time after college.
“It became a physical therapy for me,” says Litvinova. “As the saying goes, ‘Yoga finds you when you most need it,’ and it would always find me in tough moments in my life.”
After bouncing around from one studio to the next, she opened Yoga Treat—with some help from her parents—in June 2014.
“I hope that my students feel like they are in a safe space when they come to Yoga Treat,” says Litvinova. “I want students to feel stronger, more aligned, and like they have just visited a spa, all at the same time.” yoga-treat.com.
Mixing poses with focused breathing, Kundalini yoga gets you tapping into your inner god or goddess. The practice involves chanting mantras and using breathing techniques—such as breath of fire—to build heat from within. At Danville Yoga and Wellness Center (danvilleyogawellnesscenter.com), each Kundalini class focuses on one chakra meant to enlighten a particular essence in your life. During the class, you’ll breathe loudly and quickly to warm up your throat, and chant in unison as the instructor guides you through the movements to tune into your chakras.
Yoga Classes That up the Uncommon
For the Boozy Bruncher
Hot Spot Yoga’s Bubbles and Flow class in Oakland combines fitness and sparkling wine. You’ll be guided through 75 minutes of power vinyasas and then toast to a room full of empowered yogis. Be prepared to sweat. hotspotyo.com.
For the Cat Lover
Join Cat Town Cafe on Thursday evenings, when the adoption room opens for vinyasa flow for all levels, among the cats. Don’t be surprised when your new friends find their way onto your mat or get in your way midflow. cattownoakland.org.
For the super inflexible
Taking a Yin Yoga class at Dragonfly Yoga and Wellness in Livermore benefits yogis who need to stretch. Expect a class on the floor, where tight muscles release as you hold poses for a longer period of time than normal—great for athletes or those who sit for hours. dragonflyyogawellness.com.
For the Evening Meditator
If you prefer a gentle class with breath work, you’ll love The Benicia Yoga House’s Heated Flow by Candlelight. These postures are meant to help ease a busy mind, so you’ll leave feeling balanced and restored. beniciayogahouse.com.
For the New Mom
Bloom Retreat in Walnut Creek offers classes that include baby, too. Bring your little one—up to six months old—to a Mama and Baby gentle vinyasa class modified for the postpartum body. bloomretreat.com.
Expert Tips From Just Be Yoga
If you’re looking for a retreatlike yoga studio, Walnut Creek’s Just Be Yoga is the spot. The glass garage doors inside the studio open to a deck where—good weather permitting—you can enjoy a class. Founder Jenni Wendell opened her studio with the intention to uplift her students, and that is how you’ll feel after stepping off your mat. myjustbeyoga.com.
Q: What is your favorite part of yoga?
A: One favorite is a sweaty flow class that shows me my strength, then drops me into a place of vulnerability.
Q: What are some benefits of yoga?
A: Many people discover yoga for the physical benefits, and end up connecting to a place of bliss and freedom.
Q: Teach me how to do yogi breath.
A: Breathe through your nose, gently constricting the back of your throat to make an audible breath, like Darth Vader!
Three to Try
Ready to try a yoga class that will challenge your fitness at the same time? Try power yoga—a fast-paced, sweat-inducing, full-body class. CorePower Yoga – with locations in Walnut Creek, Blackhawk, and Berkeley – specializes in this heart-pumping yoga. All power yoga classes are heated to some degree and led with loud music to keep your energy up. If a lunchtime sweat is what you need, check out Lafayette’s Earth and Sea Yoga for their mid-day Power Hour class. You’ll feel the burn as the instructor keeps the vinyasas flowing while demonstrating and modifying poses. And get a burst of cardio at Walnut Creek’s YogaWorks in its signature Cardio Flow class, which mixes in traditional poses at varying tempos to give your metabolism a boost. There is little time to break during the flowing class, but you can always find your way to child’s pose for a breather. corepoweryoga.com; earthandseayoga.com; yogaworks.com.
Rev up your calorie burn and heart rate with cycling and interval training. By Kristen Haney
Martinez Athletic Club
Meet: Ben & Pamela Borsellino
Martinez Athletic Club proves that waking up at the crack of dawn to work out isn’t crazy. Its 5 a.m. boot camps are some of the club’s most popular classes, which also include yoga, Pilates, and indoor cycling. But husband-and-wife owners Ben and Pamela Borsellino say that it’s the welcoming atmosphere, not necessarily the crazy class hours, that keeps people coming back.
“We have around 300–plus members, and we know everybody by name,” says Pamela. “We know their kids. It’s a big community vibe around here.”
The couple, who met more than a decade ago (“I had a big crush on him, so I bought personal training sessions,” says Pamela), transformed a former post office into a place where wives bring their husbands, and a former Golden State Warrior can be seen sweating it out next to his two daughters.
“We feel really lucky to have the space,” says Pamela. “We put lots of love into it. It’s our second baby.” martinezathleticclub.com.
Rockin’ Spin Classes
Spin studios are utilizing the beat of the music to power their workouts. Walnut Creek’s Cycle Scape (cyclescapefitness.com) offers classes that play music along with videos of party scenes or rides through Paris and New York. On Thursday nights and Saturday mornings, Oakland’s Project Pedal (projectpedal.frontdeskhq.com) is driven by tunes from a live DJ. And at Walnut Creek’s Flywheel (flywheelsports.com)—a favorite of Ayesha Curry that also offers barre classes—themed rides include throwback Thursdays and pop-star showdowns.
Interval Workouts That up the Intensity
Forma Extreme Interval Training
Prepare to push your limits during this one-hour class at Walnut Creek’s Forma Gym. The bursts of anaerobic exercise are designed to improve your metabolism, fat-burning abilities, and athletic capacity. formagym.com.
At Michelle Brown’s hour-long outdoor boot camps, high-intensity exercises range from TRX workouts to kettlebell swings to battle rope exercises designed to burn out your arms. Locations in Danville, Lafayette, Moraga, and Walnut Creek, gumsaba.com.
You may have trouble going down stairs after these one-hour classes, which alternate between cardio on the treadmill and a rower, and a weights circuit, all while connected to a heart rate monitor. Locations in Alameda, Dublin, and Walnut Creek, orangetheoryfitness.com.
Shape Up Boot Camps and Fitness
During the hour-long Boot Camp Fit classes at Shape Up in Pleasanton, you’ll use a combination of free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, and TRX equipment for toning. shapeupbootcamps.com.
Tuff Girl Fitness
High-intensity options abound at Livermore’s Tuff Girl, where you can attend coed or ladies-only classes. Owner Erica Martin’s daily changing boot camps frequently rely on interval training, which combines 30 seconds of all-out work efforts (think sandbag tosses or pull-ups) with brief recovery periods in between. tuffgirl.com.
Expert Tips From Ride Oakland
Ride Oakland was born when Deb Collard bought a few bikes and started teaching spin out of her garage. Demand for classes was so huge that Collard—along with Helen Saunders, a former student—opened an indoor cycling space on Piedmont Avenue. Now, riders flock to the beat-driven studio for a workout. rideoaklandcycling.com.
Q: What should you do if you’re new to spin?
A: Collard: Come in 10–15 minutes early to get set up, and to get the 101 on the spin bike and the positions.
Q: Do you have to be in shape to spin?
A: Saunders: The beauty is you can go at your own pace, even though it’s a beat-driven studio. Come in, and have a good time.
Q: What sets you apart?
A: Collard: We provide awesome classes and fantastic instructors, but the biggest thing is that it’s fun to be in there.
Heart Rate Monitors
There’s no slacking off when you’ve got a heart rate monitor strapped to your body—at least, that’s the idea behind MyZone at ClubSport Pleasanton, Renaissance ClubSport in Walnut Creek, and Danville’s The Studio. If you’re obsessed with checking your stats (we’re looking at you, Fitbit addicts), strap on the belt to the heart rate monitoring system ($99 for members) and you’ll get live feedback: Information will be streamed real-time to monitors found throughout each gym, including the group fitness studios. In addition to showing how much effort you’re exerting at a particular moment, MyZone offers points and challenges, and you can take the monitor outside the club and track your progress via a phone app. clubsports.com/pleasanton; renaissanceclubsport.com; thestudiolife.com.
Where else to try it: Orangetheory Fitness, locations in Alameda, Dublin, and Walnut Creek, orangetheoryfitness.com.
Barre and Pilates help build a lean dancer’s body and correct imbalances. By Kristen Haney
Benicia Biker Barre
Meet: Jasmine Powers
It’s not every class where you’re asked to pop your booty—and even fewer where you’d feel comfortable doing so—but building a body-positive place where women are encouraged to shake it and sweat is what Benicia Biker Barre owner Jasmine Powers is all about.
“It’s just about being together and empowering each other,” says Powers. “Leave your inhibition at the door, and just have fun and feel the music.”
Powers offers cycling and barre classes, but her biggest following comes from her wildly popular Buti class, a sexier and faster-paced take on yoga that involves hip rolls, booty pops, and hip-hop music. It’s not uncommon to see a 65-year-old shaking it next to a dancer half her age.
Powers hopes to bring the same cross-generational appeal to a number of new classes she’s rolling out in early 2016, including a cabaret-style barre class, contemporary and advanced Buti, and a live DJ spin class. beniciabikerbarre.com.
Working the Booty
Most Pilates and barre classes tone the derriere, but a few studios focus primarily on your rear with booty barre. At Absolute Center (iloveabsolute.com) in Lafayette, instructor RaeLea Saxton gives your backside a full workout that blends Pilates, dance, and yoga into flowing movements, set to a beat that keeps your heart rate up while maintaining control. Expect plenty of plié work, squats on your tippy toes, and other booty-blasting exercises. Star Pilates and Fitness (starpilates.com) in Moraga also offers the backside-focused class.
Barre Classes That up the Tempo
The challenging 45-minute cardio classes quickly move through thigh, seat, and ab movements to challenge your muscles. The Lafayette location has also introduced NextVertical, which uses an upright ballet barre. Location in Danville and Lafayette, nextbarre.com.
This Danville studio gets the blood pumping in each of its hour-long workouts. That means you’ll get cardio and strength training—through both small- and large-range movements—in a class that counts Kristi Yamaguchi among its fans. barre3.com.
The Bar Method
Check out the higher tempo, more advanced Move classes. Bar devotees with at least 40 regular classes under their belts can expect a quick-moving routine: The new “zinger” move is a killer seat workout. Locations in Berkeley, Oakland, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek, barmethod.com.
Expect to kick, punch, jump, and stretch at this weekly hybrid boxing and barre class at Crunch in Danville’s Blackhawk Plaza. The class melds barre work and high-energy kickboxing—including West Side Story–esque shadowboxing. crunch.com.
This fast-paced workout keeps you sweating as you plié, jeté, and ballet your way through workouts on the barre and floor. Bonus: Sunday classes in Pleasanton are taught by real-life ballerina Alysia Chang. cardiobarre.com.
The Dailey Method
Try Dailey Interval, a 45-minute nonimpact class with fast-paced movements interspersed with short recovery periods. Locations in Berkeley, Lafayette, and Oakland. thedaileymethod.com.
Expert Tips From IMX Pilates
Opening a Pilates studio was a lifelong dream of Keri Hawkins, an East Bay native. But when she decided to stay with her full-time job after she and her husband, Josh Hurst, found studio space in San Ramon, Hurst had to learn Pilates—fast. He now teaches many of the classes at their six-month-old IMX Pilates studio. imxbayarea.com.
Q: Who should come and try Pilates?
A: Hawkins: Anyone can do it. It’s all about how you vary the workouts.
Q: How do you start?
A: Hurst: Schedule a few sessions with me on the reformer. I’ll put you on the machine, talk about the movements, and eventually take you through a whole routine.
Q: What’s the hardest part at the beginning?
A: Hawkins: Doing multiple movements at a time can be challenging. But once you get it, you want more.
Three to Try
Pilates on a Roll
Local studios are using foam rollers or specialized equipment to challenge balance and release tension. At Walnut Creek’s FormaGym and Pleasanton’s Pilates Body by Valentin, MOTR (more than a roller) classes combine muscular fascial release with strength training involving a pulley system on a wider than normal roller. You’ll work on your balance jumping on and off or staying poised on top of the roller while working the arms and legs (formagym.com; pilatesbodybyvalentin.com). You’ll find a completely different experience at Pleasanton’s Springs Pilates Pleasanton —which recently expanded into a nearly 2,000-square-foot space. It’s the only place in the Tri-Valley where you can find MELT, which uses a specialized roller and small balls for neurofascial release. Katherine Campbell, who owns the one-year-old studio with her daughter, Juliana, has been in fitness for more than 35 years, and uses MELT to rehydrate the connective tissue, improve flexibility, and decrease recovery time from injury (springspilatespleasanton.com).
To really feel the burn, try these new and out-of-the-box offerings. By Katie Henry
Perpetual Motion Performance Training
Meet: Rich Edgren & Elyse Petterson
If a boost of confidence is what you need, look no further than Perpetual Motion Performance Training in Walnut Creek. Co-owners Rich Edgren and Elyse Petterson emphasize mind and body health, focusing on strength and flexibility. From yoga to circuit training, their goal is to have you strong and injury-free.
“We want our clients to have fun,” says Petterson, who met Edgren when taking a group fitness class he taught.
Daily classes are held in the studio, but a few workouts get you outside to enjoy the splendor of our backyard. Friday morning’s Sunrise Foundation class meets at the Shell Ridge Open Space, so you can work out as the sun rises over Mount Diablo.
The duo plan to keep expanding classes as they dream big about other outdoor adventures, including a nontraditional triathlon. perpetualmotionpt.com.
New & Coming Soon
SoulCycle (soul-cycle.com), a beat-driven spin studio lit with candles, is coming to Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza in 2016. Also in Walnut Creek, Open Barre Fitness Studio (openbarrefitness.com) started classes off Ygnacio Valley Road in December, and Pure Barre (purebarre.com)—which has studios in Berkeley and Pleasanton—is slated for a space on Mt. Diablo Boulevard in February. You can now get your CorePower Yoga (corepoweryoga.com) fix at a new Blackhawk location, which opened in mid-November. And Orangetheory Fitness (orangetheoryfitness.com) hopes to add a Concord location in the spring.
New Workouts That Up the Fun
For the Weekend Warrior
Feel the burn in a TRX class at Diablo Rock Gym in Concord. Using straps anchored to the wall, you’ll use your body weight to build strength in muscles that otherwise get ignored. Think squats with one leg suspended. touchstoneclimbing.com/diablorock.
For the Adventurous
At Mama Bel’s Twirly Girls Pole Fitness in Pleasanton, everyone is greeted with a hug before the real work starts. Both beginners and experienced dancers are welcome. Note: Wear shorts so you don’t slip down the pole. twirlygirlspolefitness.com.
For the Obstacle Racer
Hit San Ramon’s Hawc Gym for a full-body workout intended to mimic strenuous obstacle races, with pull-ups, battle ropes, planks, and squats. The small class sizes ensure hands-on coaching. hawcgym.com.
For the Kid at Heart
Think back to younger days when you could bounce the day away on a trampoline. Add a dance class element with party jams and an individual trampoline, and you’ve got Hoppin’ at Crunch in Blackhawk Plaza. This 45-minute class will have you sweating. crunch.com.
For the Back-Up Dancer
No need to be a professional dancer: You’ll learn all the right moves, step by step, and then put them together at the end for a dance party workout in Cize Live at Renaissance ClubSport in Walnut Creek. renaissanceclubsport.com/walnut-creek.
Expert Tips From Blogger Ashley Pitt
Exercise blogs are popping up everywhere, but Ashley Pitt’s A Lady Goes West stands out from the crowd. When she’s not teaching at Walnut Creek’s Orangetheory Fitness or leading classes at 24 Hour Fitness, the blogger shares everything from workouts to glimpses into her daily life. aladygoeswest.com.
Q: What are your favorite workouts?
A: Group fitness; it’s what pulled me into fitness. But everything I teach is tough, so for recovery, I take barre and yoga, which are a good complement to what I teach.
Q: What workouts are best for being generally in shape?
A: It’s important to bring in functional movement exercises, those we use in everyday life. So instead of bicep curls, do a rowing position exercise.
Q: Any tips for finding time to work out?
A: Early morning workouts are the best. No meetings can come up to make you stay at work.
A New Way to Book
Memberships at local studios offer discounts on class prices, but if you are more of a dabbler than single-gym devotee, two apps offer money-saving benefits without the commitment. For $119 a month, ClassPass (classpass.com) grants you access to as many group classes across the East Bay as you’d like, with the opportunity to return to the same studio three times per month. Options range from boot camp in Pleasanton to aerial yoga in Oakland. If you prefer to sign up for your workouts more spur of the moment than penciling them into your planner, check out Zenrez. Every night at 9 p.m., studios release a limited number of last-minute spots for the following day, which you get in an e-mail (zenrez.com).
Keep checking out diablomag.com/wellness to see our latest workout class reviews and roundups