Certain openings in New York City’s saturated workout scene still generate whispers that ripple out among the city’s sweat-set. What is it? Have you been yet? What did you think?
Switch Playground, which “soft-opened” mid-November (there’s still some construction happening and the class schedule is sparse) is one of those studios.
It’s the first fitness concept to land in Manhattan via Capetown, South Africa, where it debuted two years ago, and the man behind it is longtime fitness entrepreneur and personality Steve Uria. The brand has also recruited some top-notch talent to teach—like Swerve’s Seth Maynard and Shadowbox’s Brittany Clybourn—and plugged-in fitness blogger Susan Harrison joined the team as CMO.
This workout is a trip. As in, a blacklight-trampoline-fog machine-TRX-laser lights-treadmill-DJ kind of trip.
And already, there are big expansion plans. “We’re coming in pretty hot with the concept,” Uria says. Switch has two locations open in South Africa and three others set to open there soon. In NYC, the Union Square studio opened first, but a Soho location will follow in January 2017, and two others are “in development.” Uria he says he has interest in many other places and will continue to expand quickly.
So does it live up to the hype? “It’s not just about getting in shape; we take you on a journey for the mind, body, and soul,” Uria promises me after my first class, and the word journey seems apropos as one thing is for sure: This workout is a trip. As in, a blacklight-trampoline-fog machine-TRX-laser lights-treadmill-DJ kind of trip.
I went twice to gather intel on what you need to know. Here are the fast facts on NYC’s most talked about studio of the moment.
1. The founder is no stranger to fitness
Uria’s fitness career started after he developed a boot-camp workout in Atlanta in the mid-’90s, and he’s owned nearly every kind of workout business: a personal training gym, a boxing studio, and more. He’s the creator of the popular DVD workout program Ruthless and was a co-founder of SWEAT 1000, a studio concept that’s similar to Barry’s Bootcamp and is still operating in South Africa. He’s passionate, muscled, and in the class I took, his shirt came off within the first five minutes.
2. The studio is big and has plenty of amenities
Switch’s first space in NYC is expansive, with a spacious lobby, retail, and the workout studio on the first floor, and big locker rooms with plenty of showers for both men and women downstairs.
3. It’s definitely a tough, effective, full-body workout
Okay, here’s how the workout actually works. After a seven-minute yoga warm-up, you and a partner travel together between around 20 stations set up around the room. You’re at each station for two minutes, during which you complete two exercises in 30 second intervals. You’ve got 20 seconds to then get to the next station and start the next circuit. There’s a crazy variety of equipment and you generally hit all muscle groups at some point during class. Think Bosus, hand weights, boxing bags, TRX, treadmills, stair climbers, rowers, medicine balls, and more…more…more.
The multi-dimensional aspect is what Harrison says made her fall for the workout when she first discovered it in Capetown. “For me, Switch hits every nail on the head. It combines everything I love: cardio, strength training, plyometrics,” she says. “It challenges my body in a way it has never been challenged before.”
The stations and classes change daily, and Uria insists the format—focused on intervals, intensity, and variety—is super effective.”The results from this have been mind-blowing in terms of people’s physical fitness and body changes,” he says.
4. There’s a lot going on and you may feel overwhelmed
Overall, there’s an insane amount happening in the room, and when you initially get to a station, there’s no indication of what the exercise is. There are up to 10 (yes, I’m talking double-digits) trainers in every class who man instruction at multiple stations each—so someone may be there to demo…or you may have to wait a few until they can get over to you.
It’s also way too loud to communicate with anyone in the room, so instructors mime the movements—a strategy that doesn’t allow for any level of detail in terms of helping participants nail proper form (there’s no way for someone to say, “make sure your knees are tracking over your ankles,” during a squat, for example). Everything moves really quickly, so I sometimes felt like by the time I figured out what was going on at a new station, the 30 seconds were up and it was time to move on. Uria tells me it typically takes three classes for people to really “get it.”
5. Switch takes the gym-as-nightclub atmosphere to a new level
Speaking of loud, if you’re used to the blaring beats at Flywheel or Barry’s Bootcamp, imagine turning the volume up at least a few notches. A DJ in a permanent booth provides the playlist, and while Uria told me the style of music varies by class, the two I attended were very techno- and EDM-heavy. Combine that with a very dark room lit by moving, colored lights and lasers, a fog machine, and trainers who do as much dancing as instructing, and it can feel like someone slipped club drugs into your water bottle.
6. It’s a perfect workout…for the right person
Switch’s over-the-top, sensory-stimulating approach to working out seems like it would be ideal for fitness fiends who want to move fast and often treat their workouts as social occasions. Also: type-A achievers with short attention spans who like to feel like they’re being entertained—rather than trained—while sweating. But like all workouts, you won’t know if it’s your muscle-building match until you give it a shot.
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