Hearing your HIIT instructor say, "I think I'm going to have to make this class harder," is enough to make anyone sweat. But Nike master trainer Kirsty Godso only meant it as a compliment (phew!) while leading a preview class at Project by Equinox, a new workout testing ground opening on Mulberry Street in NoLita next week.
Had Godso wanted to take her class in a new (possibly more intense) direction, however, she's got the creativity carte blanche to do so. That's because Project was specifically designed to foster instructor innovation.
Consider it a trainer think tank—a place where sweat superstars can throw things (like medicine balls, naturally) against the wall to see what sticks. It allows them to enjoy a level of creative liberty that Chloe Heckman, Equinox's senior director of business development, says is currently lacking in the world of fitness.
Consider it a trainer think tank—a place where sweat superstars can throw things (like medicine balls, naturally) against the wall to see what sticks.
"In our industry, we didn't feel like there was a true creative space," she explains. "We wanted to empower the brightest people in fitness with resources they’ve never had before."
The general idea of freewheeling fitness spaces for instructors to workshop new material has been circulating in the industry for some time (Bandier's Studio B and YG Studios are a few examples), and other gym chains have started getting into the boutique business, too—Crunch Gym opened its SweatShed in Midtown, and New York Sports Clubs has partnered with specialty studios like BFX, Cyc, and Tone House for its newest concept NYSC Lab, which offers members a multidisciplinary approach to working out.
While Heckman notes that Equinox has no plans to replicate its boutique concept right now, she isn't ruling out the idea of an expansion. "Don't be surprised," she says. Other cities for possible Project spaces included Miami and Los Angeles. (Fingers crossed!)
So what separates Equinox's latests endeavor from these other experimental options? Like other brilliant ideas before it, Project isn't trying to reinvent the wheel—it's taking what works and attempting to bring the creative concept to a new level of execution.
Scroll down for an exclusive first look inside the studio—and learn how it's trying to change the fitness game.
It's recruiting outside-the-lines instructors
Many fitness instructors are content to follow a script and excel at teaching set choreography, Heckman says, and that kind of workout instruction requires a serious skill set. Others, like those recruited for Project, are constantly itching to lunge outside of the lines. “These are people who want to write the script. They have ideas. They don’t like the lines that have been handed to them," she says.
There are currently nine trainers on the roster: Godso and her fellow Nike trainer Traci Copeland; SLT star Patrick McGrath; Flywheel's Kenneth Ferrer; Equinox conditioning favorite Gerren Liles; Bec Donlan, creator of booty-focused brand Sweat with Bec; Travis Sisk, owner of Manifest Bodyworks Pilates studio in Brooklyn; Lauren Williams, a fitness model; and PJ McMahon, a Muay Thai and MMA fighter.
It's taking a cafeteria approach with à la carte classes
Unlike Equinox's members-only gyms, classes at Project are offered separately ($35) and open to the public, a format that allows the audiences these trainers already attract (online and IRL) greater access to their talents.
And the schedule reflects the diversity of each instructor's background. There's the aforementioned HIIT, circuit training, and strength and conditioning. Then you've got cardio dance, booty bands, Pilates, and alignment. There are even a few mash-up classes in which two trainers combine their modalities into something interesting, like Copeland and Sisk's Dance and Mobility class, which combines a full-body workout with stretching and a sequence of choreography. The combo sounds like the exercise equivalent of wine-infused coffee to me, but I'll have to wait until next week to confirm.
It's a cabinet of workout curiosities
Making the studio's functionality as flexible as possible meant Equinox had to think outside the big-box gym model with the way Project was designed. "We needed to create a space that was the dream space for a bunch of trainers who teach very different things," Heckman says. "We got wish lists and equipment lists from every single one of them, and then we tried to get everybody exactly what they wanted."
Inside the workout studio is a pull-up bar, six battle rope anchors, and a mirrored wall that hides a surprising amount of equipment: rowers, sandbags, kettlebells, medicine balls, and more unique items like the Core Hammer and Donlan's booty bands.
Making the studio's functionality as flexible as possible meant Equinox needed to think outside the big-box gym model with the way Project was designed.
Overall, Project has an airy, boutique feel with industrial chic design elements and tech flourishes like digital signage and USB ports in every locker, which are located in the entry way behind the check-in desk. There's a retail area, bathrooms (but no formal locker rooms), and a spacious lounge where trainers (and class-goers) can hang and bounce around ideas between classes. "We're really trying to foster this collaborative feel where they feel like it’s their space," Heckman says. And Equinox, unsurprisingly, has developed an ingenious way to share the fruits of all this fitness freethinking with the world.
You may not even notice it, but in one corner of the studio, cameras, lights, and a microphone are tucked into the ceiling. From a digital interface on the wall, trainers can choose angles, length, and other factors and then use the "video booth" to film content for their social media feeds—at a quality level that far surpasses asking a rando at the gym to hold their cell phone.
So even if you can't get to a class at Project, you'll be able to start witnessing its workout breakthroughs in your Insta feed real soon.
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