Feelin’ Fine with Refine Method

Refine Method is one of those studios that’s been getting a huge amount of buzz of late, and I now understand why. Simply put, it’s an awesome class that leaves you in a sweaty shaky pile of endorphins every time. Refine’s original studio is located on the Upper East Side, and they recently opened a brand-spanking new second location in Union Square, which happens to be a super convenient location for me. (Yay!) Since I just finished my new client intro 8-pack of classes (a sweet little deal that ends up being $16 per class), I thought now would be a great time to write a review from the perspective of a newbie.

Refine’s downtown studio is an intimate spot, with a cozy lounge-like waiting room that doubles as a locker room. There unfortunately are not showers (though the uptown location does have them), but there are 2 private changing rooms for those of us who need to shed our suits and pencil skirts before class. (I always feel so Clark Kent/Superman-like during this change. It’s like a mad dash to get the office off of me and let the inner superhero out so she can kick some ass.) The studio itself has a U-shaped setup, where everyone has a mat that juts out from the wall space. The wall houses Refine’s secret weapon: a pulley system consisting of 2 height adjustable handles that are weighted by bungee cords of various resistances. I think the pulley system is brilliant. Not only does it allow you to target various muscles by customizing weight load and position, but it also lends itself to more fluid, challenging movements since the resistance increases in proportion to your strength, unlike the constant level of resistance that free weights provide.

The 60 minute class is built around a series of circuits that provide both strength training and cardiovascular benefits. While the exercises vary from class to class, the basic format is always the same: stretch, power section, and then multiple sets of circuits punctuated by intervals to keep the heart rate up. Class typically includes zillions of squats (really, zillions), and often uses kettle bells for additional challenges. There are targeted plank-heavy ab routines folded in there, and a deliberate lack of traditional crunches. According to Brynn Jinnett, Refine’s founder, traditional crunches performed with a rounded back are ineffective ab exercises. Her theory is that if you spend your entire day hunched over a desk (which, sadly, I do), then you need to counter that position in order to strengthen core muscles. Makes sense. (On a related note, I wholeheartedly agree with Brynn’s sentiments that abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym. But that’s a different post for a different day.)

Refine Method’s techniques are very different from other boutique fitness studios- and represent a drastic departure from barre method types of classes like Physique 57 or Core Fusion. I personally enjoy both types of workouts, and will continue to spread the love across all. However, there are a few things I really love about Refine that are different from the other studios that I frequent:

  1. Classes are not scheduled back to back each hour. Rather, there’s a zen-tastic 10 minutes or so between classes in which you can stretch, chat with the instructor, and generally ease in/out of the workout mindframe. I love that there isn’t a mad dash in or out of the studio, which is what inevitably happens when classes are scheduled on top of one another. There’s enough harried frenzy in NYC; I’d prefer to leave it out of my workouts.
  2. Refine workouts are bookended by a perfect amount of stretching. Furthermore, foam rollers live at the head of each mat, and are encouraged to be used before and after class. (Side note: I’ve now become obsessed with foam rolling- how has nobody told me about this glorious invention before?!?!)
  3. Class size is capped at 12 people, so you are always guaranteed personal attention and correction from the instructors.
  4. Speaking of instructors, Refine’s are fab. Sweet, energetic, clearly loving what they are doing, and always remember your name. Also, they take the time to personally modify exercises to accommodate injuries or sensitivities, and correct. For example, my lower back apparently has a tendency to wiggle during squats, a point which Brynn noticed during an early circuit and made a point to coach me about throughout class, as well as afterward. I was really grateful for her not letting this go unnoticed, and I’ve been cognizant of correcting my wiggly back during my workouts ever since.
  5. The weight bearing aspect of each class makes me feel so hardcore. I leave class feeling stronger each and every time.

While I love my barre method classes, I also think that variety in workouts keeps me interested, engaged, and challenged. I’m excited to have found Refine, and that its new location in Union Square will allow me to add it into my regular exercise rotation. Refine is now launching a semi-private outdoor class, ReGroup just in time for summer. My thoughts (perhaps unsurprisingly): Yes, please.

Have you tried Refine Method or a similar class? Check out these workout  programs to sculpt your abs.

What are your thoughts on the crunch vs. plank debate? I continue to do both depending on my mood, but am curious as to what others do.