Boutique Fitness Options Abound in the DMV

So how do you know what’s right for you?

By AJ Dronkers

Photos from the Cut Seven EdibleDC Magazine bootcamp. (Photo by Kara McCartney)

Photos from the Cut Seven EdibleDC Magazine bootcamp. (Photo by Kara McCartney)

DC came in last year as the second-most-fit city in the U.S. according to , and it’s no surprise the fitness industry continues to explode here on track with the rest of the nation with an over 400% growth in the past five years. But most of that growth is not in traditional full-service large gyms, it’s from the boutique fitness sector, defined as small studios with tailored workouts, “one place where you do one thing.”

And the impact on DC is tangible. In the city’s refurbished urban neighborhoods, you are as likely to see a boutique fitness studio as you are a bar or restaurant. In a town known as a nirvana for happy hour drinking, classes at the boutique gyms are packed at happy hour with patrons sweating away.

I decided to join the trend. Three years into working two full-time jobs I had lost track of my health. It didn’t help that one of those jobs (hello Edible DC Magazine!) included what seemed to be endless cooking, eating and drinking. I had gained a lot of weight, which I’ll call my “Edible 40”, and I knew I had to change things up. I made one major commitment to myself: to sweat five times a week. As an extrovert who loves good company, good food and drinks, an extreme diet or abolishing entire food groups has never created sustained results in my path for balance. The focus on “sweat” or exercise does work for me. It wasn’t about a number on the scale, but about how I felt about showing up for myself.

Luckily, I started this exercise regime as the boutique fitness experiences options bloomed in DC. Going to the gym hadn’t motivated me enough. So I took the dive into boutique fitness. I tried the indoor cycling studio class at SoulCycle, and got hooked. I really loved the experience and saw quick results in losing weight and building strength.

SoulCycle studio (Photo compliments SoulCycle)

SoulCycle studio (Photo compliments SoulCycle)

I tell my clients that the change you will see in your body from SoulCycle will end up being a secondary benefit to the improvement in your self-esteem and attitude when you realize that that you’ve changed the relationship you have with yourself. A SoulCycle workout challenges your mind, forces you to be honest with yourself and gives you better insight into your emotions as well as your physical self. It really is unique.
— Jared Lee, Washington, DC SoulCycle Instructor 

Yes, at the beginning, waking up at 5am was totally brutal, but the pumping music, instructor enthusiasm and “pack” or team focus really resonated with me. After just three months I had shed 15 pounds and felt confident enough to try something new.

I decided to add a Solidcore workout two times per week. Solidcore is a slow and controlled resistance workout with the goal of helping build long, lean and strong muscles or what I like to call “Pilates reformer on steroids.” Founded here in DC, Solidcore has grown across the entire U.S.

I called my new SoulCycle + Solidcore addiction, the “Michelle Obama Workout Plan,” as it was widely reported she frequented both. After a full year I had lost a total of about 40 pounds, saying goodbye to the “Edible 40.” I’ve continued to try other boutique fitness options, and new ones that have given me a huge challenge are CutSeven and 305 Fitness.

CutSeven focuses on different muscle groups daily and the workout is with a group of about 16. After being greeted by the owners’ dog (named Burpee, of course they named their dog after a hard exercise), you enter a red-hued room and rotate through four different workout areas designed to maximize results for the muscle group of the day. The fun differentiator here is the team focus. A group huddle starts and ends each class, with enthusiastic cheers for each other throughout the class and lots of high-fives.

305 Fitness has a strong following for their dance fitness classes. Forget Zumba, these high-intensity dance classes have a live DJ and offer nonstop dancing for 55 minutes or until your feet give out.

To recap, here’s why boutique fitness worked for my fitness journey:

  • Small classes that build community: You really get to know the instructors, the owners and especially your fellow classmates—an added bonus; I didn’t expect all the new friendships.
  • Accountability: When people know you, you feel more accountable and inspired. Instructors know your name and will comment or direct-message you, your new friends will challenge you to show up. There are even groups with private online forums for questions and team motivation.
  • Variety: If you start to get bored, you can switch instructors, studios, try a themed class or change workouts altogether—there is always something new!
  • Vibe: The candles, loud music, specialty lighting and cool design are all part of what hooked me.

The downside is that unless you decide to give up a monthly gym fee, this can all get expensive. The boutique fitness classes range from $25 to $35, depending on whether you buy one class at a time or get a multi-session deal. And also, even though “you can do you” in most situations, some boutique fitness options require fitness prerequisites like being able to jog or hold a plank pose. Make sure and ask before you show up if you have a limitation or are just starting your fitness journey.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to find what motivates you. Don’t be shy about trying something, just tell people you are new. Expect to feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable, nervous and a variety of other things. Just don’t give up. Commit to trying anything new at least five times over the course of two to three weeks. What are you waiting for?

Places to Sweat:


Slow Resistance Workouts

Cross Training x HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)