Workouts, times 2 (or even 3)

Courtney Rubin / New York Times News Service /


Published Jun 7, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

NEW YORK — One of the most popular sprints among New York’s female fitness fanatics isn’t on any race calendar: it’s the two-minute 350-yard dash from a class at Barry’s Bootcamp in Chelsea to one at Flywheel Sports in the Flatiron district.

Another popular sprint: the one-miler from Flywheel in Flatiron to 23rd Street and the Hudson River for Holly Rilinger’s Training Camp.

A third sisterhood of traveling panters ducks out of cool-downs at SoulCycle on the Upper West Side and scuttles down three steep staircases to make a barre-method toning class at Pure Yoga next door.

These women (and nearly all of them are women) who sweat through double and occasionally triple workouts at different boutique fitness outfits in the same day aren’t major-league athletes or required to look good for a living. Most are professionals with full-time jobs, yet they manage to spend some two hours a day — and upward of $500 a month — exercising. (By comparison, a membership at the upscale Equinox gym chain ranges from $149 to $183 a month.)

“It’s New York, and I think that everyone’s always just trying to look better and better,” said Alyson Organek, 32, a working mom who frequently completes the Barry’s/Flywheel double. “Some people think it’s crazy and it doesn’t make any sense. But you see so many other people doing it, you don’t feel crazy.”

Indeed, on a recent Monday at Barry’s, two women greeted each other with squeals of “You’re so tiny!” while a third asked, “Don’t I see you at Flywheel, too?” Meredith Poppler, vice president for industry growth at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, said multiple-gym membership is also popular in “affluent metro areas” like San Francisco and Boston, but the phenomenon of two or more separate, specialized gyms in one day “is definitely a Type-A New Yorker thing.”

How is this different from, say, hitting an elliptical machine and following it up with weights — something Poppler (who said she is not and has never been a “fitness fanatic”) herself did in her 20s?

For one, the boutique gym workouts may be tougher. “These gyms are expensive, but they’re a cheaper way of having a personal trainer all the time,” said Neda Talebian Funk, a veteran marathon runner and a founder of FITiST, a company set up last year to satisfy New Yorkers’ yen for mix-and-match workouts by offering class packages across a selection of studios. “They’re small groups and they push you hard.”

Much-higher-than-expected demand for the all-studio, all-access option forced the company to raise the price from $760 a month to $1,000 within three months of opening, she said, though FITiST does not encourage doubles or “necessarily think they’re healthy.”

Workout hopscotch is most viable in Manhattan, where the requisite mix of money, demand and fitness choice is packed into a compact 34 square miles.

Charity Gonzalez, the chief executive of Urbanfit, which offers 16 classes a month at a selection of Chicago boutique studios, said there is no demand there for an all-access option. “By the time you did a class and got from one gym to another here, you’d need about five hours,” she said.

It’s the same case in looks-obsessed Los Angeles, where driving from Santa Monica to West Hollywood could take an hour. Joey Gonzalez (who is not related to Gonzalez), the chief executive of Barry’s, a recent import from the West Coast, last month even rejiggered the brand’s decade-old celebrity favorite formula to make it safer — not to be confused with easier — for Manhattan double-dippers. “New Yorkers are a rare breed,” he said, noting that he encourages cross-training though not extensive doubling.

Many double-dippers work out six days a week, but most are careful to point out that not every day is a doubleheader. “You get such a high, and I feel like I’m missing something when I don’t, but I have responsibilities and a child and I have a life,” said Raina Seitel, a reporter for “New York Live” on NBC who would say only that she is “in my early 30s.” According to FitMapped, a website that went online in February to catalog the city’s exercise options, there are 517 gyms in Manhattan (about one for every 20 restaurants) and lately a new one opens every three days to a week, said Anita Mirchandani, a founder of the site.

The Chelsea area technically has the most gyms (50), “but it’s a huge territory,” Mirchandani added. The area from 14th to 23rd streets, between Seventh Avenue and Broadway — a swath that includes chunks of Chelsea, the Flatiron district and Union Square — has both the highest end and greatest variety of specialized gyms, she said, noting that “every boutique fitness studio wants to be there, or expand there.” (Gym owners say this is thanks to good transport links, zoning and the availability of the required 1,000-to-2,000-square-foot spaces.)

Proximity does not equal easy access, though. Double- and triple-dipping is a feat of determination, endurance — and scheduling.

Juggling multiple gym timetables and online booking windows takes Laura Smith, 28, an hour on some days.

“I have all the booking windows in my calendar and I try to avoid scheduling meetings then,” said Smith, a hedge-fund researcher for an investment bank. “If there is one, I’ll go a few minutes late, because otherwise all the classes are gone and then you have to figure out a different combo.”

Catharine Grimes, 43, a foundation director, said she sticks to the same doubleheaders partly to avoid this. “I will practice to get a reservation at Momofuku Ko and I’ve gotten one, but that’s a level I won’t go to for exercise,” she said.

Fans say the time and money they spend is worth it, for more reasons than just calorie burn.

Lisa Gross, 37, a fashion designer, said her doubles are her relaxation. “Some women get facials and manicures and pedicures — I do this,” she said.

“I feel like my day is more efficient when I double-dip,” Gross said. “I have better clarity and head space.”

Deirdre Berne, 29, whose grab bag includes Barry’s, Yoga Vida and toning workouts at Physique 57 and Exhale’s Core Fusion, called boutique group fitness “my entertainment and part of my social life.”

She said: “You see the same people and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, I’m sore from yesterday.’ You have a common interest, you get to be friends, you go for coffee after class.”

Rilinger — whose own hard-core training propelled her into playing pro basketball at 5-foot-4 — loves to say, “It’s not about calories, it’s about getting happy.” Her website bears the slogan: “Sweat. Breathe. Laugh,” and she said her camps “are about camaraderie, and people develop lasting friendships.” She sees the same thing at many boutique gyms, she said.

Sleep, dining out and expensive shoes were the most commonly mentioned sacrifices (“I tell myself I don’t really need those heels because I’m working out all the time anyway,” said Michelle Weisz, 25), though two women interviewed hinted at a higher toll; their names are not used here because the frequency and expense of workouts were at issue in contentious divorces.

Meredith Greisman, 35, a legal assistant, spends more than $10,000 a year (“my entire social budget,” she said) on her weekday doubles and Saturday triples, which usually include pole dancing at Chelsea’s Body&Pole and strength and conditioning at Velocity Sports Performance in Midtown. She also has an Equinox membership.

Greisman, who is single, said she often forfeits other social events for her workouts — “the gym is where my friends are,” she said — and does not make plans on Saturday apart from three of her favorite classes, which run from 11:45 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. Dating, she mused, “would be challenging.”

“I would need to date somebody who understands my workout schedule,” she said. “Hopefully they would have their own crazy workout schedule.”