I Tried the Newest Electricity-Enhanced Workout Class in NYC—Here’s What You Need to Know

Photo: Chris Fanning

I used to go to this physical therapist. I was training for my second marathon and my weekly mileage was getting pretty high, so I decided to invest a few dollars (okay, a lot of dollars). Dr. I Forget His Name would do all kinds of crazy things to get me to feel better, looser. And I loved all of it—except the electric stimulation machine. Zap.

At every appointment, he'd apply the little e-stim sensors to various parts of my legs and let them vibrate for 20 minutes; to goal was to shake the gunk out of my muscles and speed up recovery. I hated it. Sometimes, when he left, I would turn the machine all the way down— er, off—and when he returned I’d be all, “OMG that was amaaaazing.” I didn’t want to admit that I hated it and that it totally freaked me out.

So imagine my slight horror when, after telling my editor I was “always down to try new classes,” she sent me to NYC’s newest boutique fitness studio: Shock Therapy.

I was skeptical. But I did say I was down for anything, so there I was, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, headed to the Upper East Side to willingly get shocked—and maybe a little awed. (Sorry, I had to.)

Photo: Chris Fanning

The whole way there, I couldn’t stop brainstorming (more) puns. I sang the lyrics to Greased Lightning in my head, wondering if the class would be automatic, systematic, or hydromatic. I decided I’d do my best to work “we will shock you” into the story somehow. And I re-read the rules on the studio’s website for a third time.

Shock Therapy's studio is designed to feel dark, sleek, and futuristic. I was greeted by a few smiling faces—did they know I was about to go upstairs and get tortured?—and was asked for my clothing size. Upstairs I met instructor Ural Huseyin and founder Esra Çavuşoğlu, who got hooked on electric muscle stimulation (ESM) in Turkey. “Everyone is doing this in Europe,” Çavuşoğlu tells me.

The locker room was filled with scents created especially for the studio by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel of Dream Air. I ditched everything but my sports bra, socks, and sneakers and changed into the provided three-quarter-length black top and black capri-length leggings. I felt like a ninja. (Note: Getting ready for class is a process and you have to arrive at least 15 minutes early.)

There are a few must-follow rules for each high-powered class, including no phones (I’m into that!) and no bathroom breaks (I'm not into that). As a girl with Crohn’s disease, being told a bathroom is off-limits is my nightmare. Fortunately I was feeling well that day. The reason? Getting in and out of the suit just takes too much damn time.

Slip into the power suit

As Shock Therapy puts it, the suit “does the hard work for you,” activating 300 different muscle groups simultaneously as you move. (I had no idea there even were 300 muscle groups.) The suits are sprayed down before each class, so mine was a little cold and wet when I put it on, on top of my sleek black top-and-tights combo. It was also a bit heavy, and being strapped in feels like what I imagine space shuttle astronauts experience. Huseyin tightened all the various pulleys and straps, and I waddled into the studio.

It's less like sticking your finger in an electric socket, and more like working out on one of those "futuristic" chairs in the Brookstone store at the mall. #HiTech.

The power suit pulses with electrical vibrations, which actually feels kind of satisfying. And because of the undergarments they give you, which you can buy or rent, it's not touching your skin at all. The suit is wirelessly connected to a machine that controls the intensity of the pulses. As the suit does its thing it activates the muscle groups it's touching, sending blood to them and forcing them to contract. It's less like sticking your finger in an electric socket, and more like working out on one of those "futuristic" chairs in the Brookstone store at the mall. #HiTech.

Photo: Chris Fanning

The suit vibrates in various places, including the glutes, the abdomen, the arms, and the legs. Huseyin walked me through each vibrate-able area, gradually turning up the power on each one until I said to stop. I went pretty easy at first because the sensation was totally new to me. I was, for the most part, in control. If I wanted to turn down the shockwaves, I could. (But I didn't, because I am nothing if not competitive with myself.)

Beyond the tech, how's the workout?

The studio itself is small, and classes max out at just six people so you have plenty of room to get your pulse on. The actual 40-minute intro class itself wasn’t super inspiring, TBH. We followed the instructions on the giant television screen at the front of the room, as demonstrated by a somewhat robotic-looking man. The moves were basic—think squats, lunges, standing crunches, jumping jacks, and other low-impact movements. It felt a little more science class than SoulCycle, which is fine if geeking out over muscle stimulation gets you going! I've just always been more of a high-energy, dance-class obsessed fitness fiend.

Maybe you can easily stand up and do 20 squats. But try standing and doing 20 squats while your entire body is shaking.

To keep it exciting, Huseyin would check in with me throughout class to see if I wanted to turn it up ("You want more?"), and for the most part, I did. The higher and more intense the vibrations, the more challenging each movement becomes. (Think about it: You can easily stand up and do 20 squats. But try standing and doing 20 squats while your entire body is shaking. You have to seriously stabilize your muscles in order to maintain balance and proper form.)

I didn’t get sweaty, perhaps in part because the suit is cool and wet, and because the moves aren’t particularly challenging, but Huseyin explained that this was merely the intro class. The three non-beginner classes—Strength, Metabolism, and Challenge—introduce bike work, and use more hand weights and complex movements.

Photo: Chris Fanning

By the time we finished our cool down, I couldn't hold back. “That was so…weird!” I exclaimed. Huseyin laughed, but I didn’t have a better word to describe it. Shock Therapy is definitely a little gimmicky, but it was interesting to feel the different muscles in my body activate with each move.

According to its website, one Shock Therapy class will “effectively condense three hours of traditional strength training or cardiovascular exercise into half-hour workouts,” fast-tracking your results. To my knowledge, this method isn't totally backed by science: Some studies have found it can be a good training tool, while others say it may not be super effective.

And just like my days at my old PT’s office, the vibrations did make me feel like I was messing with my body a little too much. My stomach vibrated for the duration of the cab ride home. But much to my surprise, I was so sore for the next two days. My glutes, in particular, were on fire. I absolutely know soreness is not an indicator of a good workout, but I do love the sensation—which made me feel that facing my electro-fears was worth it.

Shock Therapy, $55 per class, 153 East 70th St., New York, NY 10021, (917) 409-0128, www.shocktherapy.com

After a supercharged workout, here's a mellow (and anxiety-reducing) way to recover: blanket yoga. Or if you want to get woo-woo with it, this lunar-centric sweat sesh could be your answer.

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