The fitness scene on the Front Range, long a bastion of workout fanatics, has recently reached a tipping point. A Yelp search for “gyms near Denver” yields more than 2,000 results, and it’s not difficult to determine that those numbers are genuine. Drive down any street in the metro area, and you’ll find a place (if not many places) to burn calories and build muscles. Many of these workout meccas are big-box gyms; others are part of a growing number of smaller or independently owned shops. CrossFit studios in particular have exploded; Colorado may have fewer people than many states (22nd out of 50 in population), but our go-hard-or-go-home populace sustains the ninth-largest CrossFit market in the country. And we’re not just into lifting tractor tires to get ripped: Boutique studios, where instructors teach specialized classes in high-intensity interval training, pole-dance fitness, ballet barre techniques, and even Brazilian martial arts, are popping up in Cap Hill, Wash Park, Highlands Ranch, Boulder, and everywhere in between.
So do more fitness facilities mean more people are working out? Not necessarily, says personal trainer and Pearl Street Fitness co-owner Scott St. John. Instead, he says, it likely means exercise enthusiasts want more than one modality in their training arsenals, and they are willing to go to more than one studio to get the best instruction. “Gym-hopping is a big trend in Denver right now,” St. John says.
What does that mean for you? The upside to the increasing number and diversity of gyms is choice: You can find the right type of workout in the best environment for you. The downside is that navigating Colorado’s extensive fitness landscape can be overwhelming. Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Find the category below that most accurately describes your exercise experience, and then read on to find the local gyms, studios, and classes that will get your heart pumping in a way that’s right for you.
What’s your Fitness level?
You live in Colorado, yet you’ve somehow missed the exercise bandwagon—or fell off it long ago. Your daily physical activity is limited to carrying groceries, walking the dog, and lifting your pint glass. Whether you’re a college student or a graying grandparent, the common link among complete newbies is usually a serious lack of motivation. Your hashtag: #LetsGetItStarted
You’ve dabbled in exercise on and off during your adult life or have, at the very least, stepped inside a yoga studio or been on an elliptical machine. But six-pack abs and defined biceps aren’t a priority for you, and the programs you’ve tried haven’t stuck. You know your health—both physical and mental—would improve with regular exercise, but it just hasn’t happened. Your hashtag: #MakeItStick
Fitness is a regular part of your regime, whether it’s training for a triathlon or practicing yoga. You deftly balance your career, family, fun, and fitness. But sometimes the gym can feel a little too routine. If you’re not careful, you could get bored with your workouts, which often leads to playing hooky. Your hashtag: #MixItUp
No one needs to tell you to get off the couch. You’re self-motivated and fulfilled by living an active lifestyle. You most likely compete in your favorite athletic activity, and while you may not be a professional athlete, you train like one. If you’re not hitting the gym regularly, it’s because you’re injured or overtrained. Your hashtag: #SmarterNotHarder
For The Complete Newbie
At first glance, Fitness in the City can look intimidating—like an ultrasleek CrossFit gym only in a retrofitted garage with neon green walls and a thumping sound system. Inside, a tattooed twentysomething with superhero good looks leads a dozen Denverites who range in age from mid-20s to mid-50s through a group workout dubbed “Gridiron.” After they’re done working their biceps with suspension cables that use body weight to generate resistance, Thor demonstrates the next drill: pounding a monster truck tire with a sledgehammer. He says the action provides a quick cardio burst while building upper-body strength and power. As daunting as it all looks to an outsider, no one appears ready to vomit. In fact, there are big grins all around and a buzzy anticipation over wielding the sledgehammer. “It’s a great stress release,” says co-owner and operator Stefan Olander. “Plus, it’s just fun, which is part of what we’re going for—I can’t think of a more supportive, fun-loving, and encouraging community than this.” He says brand-new beginners can participate in every class on the roster, thanks to his team of instructors, who modify exercises on the fly to suit varying ability levels. “Everyone gets a lot of personalized attention in here,” he says. Industry veteran Natalie Baumchen (who teaches Meta Circuit and Power Hour) is the best bet for beginners; she leverages her master’s degree in exercise psychology to get newbies off on the right foot in terms of safety and expectations. Fitness in the City celebrated its two-year anniversary in May and offers about 30 classes a week in five different flavors, including “Yoga-Cross” in partnership with the adjoining River Yoga studio.
The omnipresent Curves empire takes some flack—The Simpsons parodied it when Marge opened a franchise. But with 41 locations in Colorado, the women-only gyms are known for getting results, particularly among ladies who’ve never exercised before or haven’t felt comfortable in other workout settings. Women who sign up for Curves Complete (fitness classes with nutrition and lifestyle coaching) can expect to lose, on average, 10 pounds and three inches over 13 weeks. The Curves fitness class method is novel and specific to the franchise: An experienced trainer leads 30- to 60-minute group workout sessions during which women rotate around a circuit of hydraulic resistance machines. The user-friendly machines don’t require fiddling with weight stacks—resistance is created automatically via hydraulic pistons, which respond to how hard or fast you either push or pull. Beginners will want to start with full-body classes and can work up to more specific classes targeting the core, legs, arms, or skills like flexibility and balance. Bonus: The first 30 days are free.
Looking for a world-class introduction to working out? Then Courtney Samuel is looking for you. The former New Orleans Saints draftee, Denver native, and natural (i.e., no steroids) bodybuilder offers personal training sessions for $65 at his penthouse gym—a sleek, sophisticated space with three walls of windows overlooking the Capitol building. “There’s no safer option for someone just getting started than to work one-on-one with a good trainer,” Samuel says. “And it’s nearly impossible to slack off or skip your workout when you know I’m waiting for you.” Bodies by Perseverance’s personal training rates are among the most affordable in town and, once you’re comfortable with the equipment, you can make a seamless transition to small-group personal training sessions ($199 per month). Plus, the space is highly professional, completely approachable, and often relatively quiet. Samuel’s sweet outdoor balcony is a feature you won’t find at many other gyms in Denver; there, Samuel sets up a peloton of spinning bikes in the summer months for small-group training rides with the wind in your face and a killer city view. You can choose to work directly with Samuel, who focuses on strength training to build lean muscle and rehabilitate injuries, or sign up with any one of his six expert trainers, whose specializations range from learning to run properly to establishing a serious yoga practice.
No-Excuses Steps For Getting To The Gym
According to Laura St. John, co-owner of Pearl Street Fitness, the hardest part of any exercise routine is getting yourself to the gym. Here, St. John details her no-excuses steps for making it happen.
1 Don’t Be Wishy-Washy
“Don’t think, I want to be healthier. Instead, set a specific goal: I want to lose 10 pounds. Write it down, then say it out loud to yourself. Better yet, tell others. Boom! Now you’ve made it real, which makes it harder to walk away.”
2 Dig Deep Into Your “Why”
“Most people can set goals, but then they miss this important next step: asking themselves why they want to reach those goals. To answer this, picture how your life will change as a result of reaching your goal. Maybe you want more energy to run around with your kids. Understanding the ‘why’ taps into an emotion. Put a Post-it note about your ‘why’ on the mirror. Every time you see it, you’ll access that emotion, which can overpower the urge to skip the gym.”
3 Live Your Life
“We all have lives—weddings, cocktail parties, nights out—that we can’t avoid. Use the 85/15 rule: Make 85 percent healthy choices and 15 percent fun ones. I sprinkle my 15 percent throughout the day. Others like to do six days ‘on’ and one day ‘off.’ This rule sets you up for success because there’s less reason to feel guilty.”
—Courtesy of Curves International, Inc.; David Rossa; Westphal West Productions; (Fitness in the City) Darian Simon
For The Beginning Exerciser
This gym can bridge exercisers from “just getting started” all the way up to “total badass.” Each of Endorphin’s six Denver locations operates like a small community gym, and together they present a range of diverse classes and equipment on par with the big-box facilities. Owner Chris Lindley’s motto is “movement is our drug,” and the class schedule proves it. Endorphin hosts a total of 180 classes a week, along with multiple options for cross-training. In addition to the classes, which include yoga, indoor cycling, boxing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and barre, Endorphin is also a “regular” gym with cardio equipment and free weights. Lindley believes that people’s biggest challenge in staying consistent with fitness is boredom. “A lot of people will do one thing consistently for a month or two, then drop it,” he says. “They’ll lose everything they gained and then have to start over. Our goal is to have enough variety to keep them interested.” The second pitfall is accountability, which Lindley addresses through community. He partners with local bars, bakeries, and restaurants surrounding each of his six locations by offering memberships to their employees; in turn, Endorphin members receive discounts on food and beverages. Take Stink and Drink, when participants in the Friday après-work HIIT class at the Lowry location earn a drink ticket for the Lowry Beer Garden. Or Taco Tuesdays, when members who take the 6:30 p.m. boxing class on Tuesdays (and Thursdays) at the Colfax location head out for tacos afterward. There’s also the Endoholics Facebook page, through which participants connect for hikes and ski days. For those who are easing back into exercise, Lindley recommends the Kinesis Class, which is a total-body workout that lasts 45 to 60 minutes.
Hot Mamas specifically addresses one of women’s biggest roadblocks to sticking to a fitness regime: having young children in the house. This women-only facility, founded by mom and fitness professional Teddi Bryant (whose motto is “no excuses”), provides daycare during classes at low prices ($15 drop-in; $100 for 10 sessions). And that’s not all. Each of the dozen different classes is designed to improve upon the female form. Femme Fatale works the entire body, incorporating martial arts and self-defense postures. Skinny Jeans employs barre techniques to tighten abs, glutes, and legs. And Sexy Sweat proves that having fun—trendy dance moves combined with a little Jane Fonda—can also burn calories. “We’re proof that you can work out hard and get that boot-camp feeling,” Bryant says, “and still put on a dress and look feminine.” The workouts aren’t easy, but that doesn’t mean they’re not beginner-friendly. You’ll be sweating alongside 25 other women, and we promise that every person will be operating at a different fitness level. In fact, Bryant welcomes rookies: “Do what you can, and keep coming back. It can take a lifetime.”
This single-story gym at the corner of 11th Avenue and Bannock Street is perhaps the Denver fitness community’s best-kept secret. Which is exactly how owner Frankie Cole likes it. Cole, a native of Nigeria who grew up in England before earning the Colorado title in natural bodybuilding in 1994, is more interested in creating physical transformation than marketing campaigns. His gym reflects his core value that hard work equals results. Inside the 8,500-square-foot gym, the vibe is old-school, with high-energy dance music, heavy weights, and well-used equipment. Members can access the facility for solo workouts, but Cole Fusion specializes in small-group training sessions, with Cole leading up to five participants through strength and cardio workouts. The sessions go beyond lifting weights and running on treadmills to include diet and lifestyle counseling. Prospective members can get a sense for Cole’s style at his Saturday morning Body Rock class—a 60-minute workout open to all fitness levels (and body types, as evidenced by the group at the class we attended). If the weather is nice, Cole sends the class outside to run around the block between sets. He plays the drill sergeant role well, but his heart is at least as big as his biceps. “My goal is to first get people involved,” he says, “and then to create an experience that hooks them for life.” Cole is building out an indoor cycling space and a yoga/barre studio to appeal to a wider clientele, but in case anyone thinks he’s going mainstream: “They’ll be in the basement,” Cole says with a grin.
Stand-Out Yoga Studios
The vast benefits of yoga—from stress relief to increased strength and flexibility—have been well documented. But the best part about yoga is that it can help anyone, no matter where they fall on the fitness spectrum. These five studios stand out for their high-quality instruction.
Even in a crowded yoga community, Louisville’s Figure Yoga shines. A dozen spinning bikes occupy one side of the vast teaching space, and large swatches of silk—the kind that can hold a person in the air—hang from the industrial exposed-beam ceiling. Along with standard vinyasa-style classes, yogis will find Cycle Yoga (which starts with 30 minutes of spinning), Flow Yoga & Happy Hour (featuring glasses of wine after class), and Aerial Yoga (which puts those silk swatches to good use).
Fave class: Aerial Yoga (all-levels class) for how great it feels to do an inversion suspended from the ceiling
Fave teacher: Richii Jai for his deep expertise and boundless energy
The details: 917 Front St., Suite 160, Louisville; $17 drop-in
Following the success of its debut studio in Boulder, Yoga Pod opened in Denver with well-appointed locations, complete with yoga apparel retail space, in LoDo, Cherry Creek, and Centennial. The company, owned by Boulder couple Gerry and Nicole Wienholt, is known in the industry for attracting the area’s best teachers with high pay and a strong sense of community. The diverse class schedule reflects the latest research and yoga trends with offerings such as PodBarre (which blends yoga and barre for a full-body workout) and YogaTone (which adds in weights for targeted sculpting).
Fave class: Sweat, Heat, and Beatz for its rockin’ music and party vibe
Fave teacher: Rob Loud for his approachable style and ever-changing neon hair color
The details: Multiple locations; $17 drop-in
With hundreds of weekly yoga classes taught at 23 of the best-loved studios in Colorado, CorePower is known for quantity and quality—
and some serious heat. Classes range from 85 degrees with no humidity (CorePower Yoga I) to a skin-melting 104 with 40 percent humidity (Hot Yoga). Classes are packed, energy is high, and clothing is minimal.
Fave class: CorePower Yoga 2—Heated PowerYoga for its lively, sweaty flow often patronized by other notable local yoga teachers
Fave teacher: Dave Farmar for his strong, athletic practice
The details: Multiple locations; $20 drop-in
The Freyja Project
Part yoga studio, part dance studio, and part day spa, the Freyja Project celebrates the art of movement. The name, pronounced “FRAY-yah,” comes from the Norse warrior goddess of love, beauty, and attraction. Classes take place in one of two spacious rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and high ceilings. The focus of the vinyasa-style classes is flow, grace, and power, and the entire elegant studio oozes the divine feminine.
Fave class: Freyja Live Music Flow for the acoustic guitar tunes and fun-filled atmosphere
Fave teacher: Annie Abrahamson for her joyful personality and kind encouragement
The details: 3456 Tejon St.; $15 drop-in
This studio in Boulder opened in 1987 and remains one of the oldest and most authentic Ashtanga yoga practice centers in America. Here, you can still learn traditional Ashtanga yoga, as well as attend Mysore sessions—self-led practices that are simply monitored by teachers. Founder and yoga superstar Richard Freeman recently sold the studio, but it remains his home base and is still heavily influenced by him.
Fave class: Foundations 2 for its faster pace and more playful poses
Fave teacher: Billy Goldman for his sense of humor and unforgettable use of metaphor
The details: 2020 21st St., Boulder; $20 drop-in
—Courtesy of Erin Bauer; Julia Vandenoever; Elaine Gulezian; Rick Cummings; Alana Rothstein; Sebastian Cole; (capri) Westphal West Productions; (mat tie) Falkor Aerials; Figure Yoga
For The Intermediate Exerciser
Whatever you’re already doing in the gym or on the trail, swap out a training session for at least one Orangetheory Fitness class per week. It’s one of the best full-body strength and cardio workouts you can do in 60 minutes, indoors or out. Plus, it complements any exercise regime, and it’ll supercharge your commitment. Classes are scheduled multiple times a day, seven days a week, so one is bound to work with your calendar. Each facility (there are 15 in Colorado) can accommodate up to 26 participants, and sessions are broken into half-hour segments: cardio and strength. An instructor leads you through 30 minutes of sweaty intervals, which alternate between treadmills and rowing machines, and 30 minutes of exercise using free weights and suspension cables. Heart rate monitors track your intensity and corresponding “zone” (based on age and gender) and display data in real time on overhead monitors, which everyone can see. It becomes a bit of a competition—in a friendly way—to get it right. The goal is to get into the orange zone, 84 to 91 percent of your maximum heart rate (for a 36-year-old woman, that might be 154 to 166 bpm; for a 52-year-old man, that would be 141 to 151 bpm), which means you’re burning the maximum calories and fat during—and after—the workout. It’s fast, it’s fun, and the energy in the room is palpable. Just make sure you sign up online; the classes fill up in advance.
With 56 studios on three continents, the Dailey Method, named for founder Jill Dailey, came to Denver in 2012 and Boulder in March, bringing its particular brand of ballet barre–based classes aimed at creating lean, sculpted dancerlike bodies. The hourlong sessions target recreational and professional athletes in need of cross-training, as well as anyone with a fitness base looking to improve alignment, muscle balance, and strength, especially in the oft-overlooked back body (read: spine, hamstrings, and glutes). The Dailey Method stands out from other ballet-style classes for having pioneered barre’s answer to cardio training—an intense but low-impact 45-minute class called Dailey Interval that gets the big muscles of the body moving and the heart hammering. Even experienced exercisers should start with the Dailey Barre class, which is appropriate for all levels of barre students. You’ll be surprised how difficult it is to master this modality’s basic movements, as they engage muscles most nondancers rarely use.
Bonza translates as “awesome” in Australian slang, and we can see why Jamie Atlas used the word to describe his studio. Atlas, a personal trainer since 1991, founded Bonza Bodies in his garage in Highland in 2009. An early adopter of small-group training, Atlas led functional fitness sessions there until 2010, when he moved the business to the basement of the Triangle Building at 18th and Broadway. “I focus on three planes of motion—front to back, side to side, and in rotation—but that doesn’t work so well with 10 people crammed in a garage wielding dumbbells,” says the gregarious Aussie with an impish grin. Since expanding, he’s built a close-knit fitness community of 9-to-5ers who walk over during their lunch breaks to take the “Tighten Up” class, a total-body interval workout, or “Pyramid Fat Burner,” which covers cardio, strength, and power in a scant 45 minutes. Classes also happen before and after work and on Saturday mornings. The present-day studio still calls to mind a garage, with Aboriginal art–inspired kangaroos adorning concrete walls, but also boasts a lot more space and all the latest gizmos, such as ViPR—a system with large cylinders in a variety of weights that participants schlep around to build dynamic strength. In addition to the daily class schedule (taught by seven instructors), Atlas also creates seasonal programs that complement outdoor activities—running, hiking fourteeners, skiing—or help clients navigate holidays, like fat loss for getting into that sexy Halloween costume.
8 Boutique Fitness Studios To Try
Denver’s fitness landscape is vastly different than it was just five years ago, thanks to boutique fitness studios setting up shop all over the city’s hottest neighborhoods. Keep them straight with this handy reference.
—Courtesy of Orangetheory Fitness; Skirt Sports, Inc. (2); Kristina McKune
For The Advanced Exerciser
On a Saturday morning, 25 men and women of all ages and athletic persuasions—yogis, CrossFitters, martial artists, runners, and dancers—gather in the Santa Fe arts district at a loft-style studio for a 60-minute instructor-led Gymnastics Foundations class. A tattooed 41-year-old gymnast leads a warm-up session of partner stretches that would make Mary Lou Retton proud. Welcome to Awaken—Colorado’s first gymnastics-based fitness facility for adults. It could be mistaken for a large yoga studio, save for the carpeted floors, blue gymnastics mats, and rings suspended from the ceiling. During plank pose, the lead gymnast, who happens to be co-owner Orench Lagman, reminds participants to keep their shoulders “protracted,” or rolled forward, which is a hallmark of gymnastics-style strength poses and the opposite of yoga, during which you typically pull your shoulders back. “We put a lot of focus on stretching, mobility, and joint ‘prehabilitation’—undoing the stiffness and weaknesses caused by repetitive movement in other sports or a desk job,” Lagman says. “And it’s different from anything you’ve ever done before.” Everyone starting at Awaken Gymnastics begins with three classes: Gymnastics Flexibility, Hip Prehab, and Shoulder Prehab, progressing to Gymnastics Foundations and movement-specific classes such as Handstand Strength and Ring Work.
Laser therapy, compression boots, a sauna, and medical-grade hot and cold tubs are just some of the state-of-the-art equipment available at Denver Sports Recovery. The first-of-its-kind facility opened in 2013 with the goal of servicing both professional athletes (Broncos players) and mere mortals (flag-football warriors). Have a dull ache in your shoulder when you toss a ball or nagging back pain every time you ride your bike? Stop in during the club’s operating hours (Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and chat with the on-duty recovery specialist to try a treatment for free. Better yet, come in before you get injured. Monthly memberships ($85 to $189) grant unlimited access to all of DSR’s equipment plus discounts with on-site chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. “Whether we’re talking increased performance or decreased injury, everyone benefits from proactive recovery,” says co-owner Andria Hassler. Bonus: A new location in Centennial is scheduled to open this summer.
Although it may sound strange, the Alpine Training Center isn’t for losing weight and increasing strength. Instead, athletes who step inside this warehouse in east Boulder are looking to improve performance in endurance sports. Owner and head coach Connie Sciolino, herself an elite skier, runner, and rock climber, holds small-group training sessions during the workweek that target ski mountaineering in the winter and running, cycling, and climbing in the summer. “Ninety percent of the people who come here are athletes who are competitive, even if it’s just the rec division,” Sciolino says. ATC’s philosophy is simple: No mirrors, no juice bars, no frills; only difficult, effective workouts. Expect to do all the basics, such as pushups, sit-ups, and squats, mixed in with kettle-bell exercises and box jumps. Sciolino leads the 60-minute sessions with careful precision. You won’t get any drill-sergeant shouting—just encouragement and a hawk eye on your form. She programs on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, which means classes on those days are different, while Tuesday and Thursday sessions are similar to the previous day. No matter when you go, your session will focus on strength and stamina.
Fuel For Fitness: Q & A
As a personal trainer and the national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Jessica Crandall knows a thing or two about how to eat to fuel an active lifestyle.
Is it true you have to eat more when you exercise regularly?
Most people don’t lose weight training for a marathon—they maintain it. The body needs food for repair, maintenance, and fuel. My favorite saying on the subject is “You can’t outrun your mouth.” Exercise is great for improving your health, for increasing muscle mass and metabolism, but it’s not a weight-loss technique by itself.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to eating and exercise?
Most often, I find clients undernourish themselves, which equates to not performing well in the gym. They’ll come in and do a boot-camp class and feel awful because they didn’t eat anything beforehand. There’s a fine balance there, because you don’t want to overeat, but if you’re feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or excessively fatigued, those are all signs that you’re undernourished or underhydrated.
How do you balance weight loss and fueling for exercise?
If you’re going to be active for more than 45 minutes, eat a snack 30 minutes beforehand: something simple, like yogurt, that has carbs for glucose, which acts as your initial energy source, and protein to sustain that energy. And have some protein—a glass of milk or some almonds—15 minutes after the workout. You won’t be hungry then, but eat anyway. Protein helps repair your muscles and will prevent that ravenous sensation that comes about an hour later and can result in a binge.
Mega-Gyms Are Cool Too
Mega-gyms may not have that intimate gym feel, but these facilities employ far more Denverites than boutique studios, giving more oomph to the local economy. Plus, you’ll never have to wait for a treadmill. Here, our four favorites.
With a large contingent of downtown’s power players as members, the Denver Athletic Club takes heat for putting business networking before fitness, but we’re not convinced that’s the case. The gym is open 24/7, 365 days a year, and serves up more than 20 group-fitness classes daily. We’re partial to working out in the 25-meter pool, but we also like Lauren Howe’s lunchtime Cardio Cross class—it’s like a CrossFit workout but appropriate for all levels.
If you can get past the onslaught of shiny, happy, pretty people at Pura Vida, Cherry Creek’s five-floor health club and spa boasts some of the most comprehensive yoga programming in the state and, as of April, became one of the first clubs in the country to offer aerial yoga with its monthly membership.
There’s a decidedly old-school ambience to the Cherry Creek Athletic Club, a charming holdover from its former life as a racquetball club. True, there is a stronghold of members who joined more than 30 years ago, but the weight room is a blend of tight young singles, dad bods, and veterans. The complex houses an unbelievable Pilates studio and a three-pool aquatic program that’s worth the price of membership alone.
The buzzy, high-energy Colorado Athletic Club (housed in the Tabor Center downtown) gets our vote for multisport pursuits. Besides a robust masters swimming program and four indoor cycling sessions daily during the workweek, Barrie Hufford, a USA Triathlon Level II coach, leads 60-minute triathlon strength-training sessions on Tuesday mornings.
—(Pura Vida) Courtesy of Joe Friend; Courtesy of Awaken Gymnastics; courtesy of john dickey; Courtesy of John Payne