When I first moved to New York four years ago, Classpass had just launched (RIP the days of unlimited classes), the fatal combination of blizzards and taxi cabs made it nearly impossible to run outside, and I quickly learned that workout studios offered rare, uninterrupted moments of calm from the chaos of the city. As a result, I got really into boutique fitness classes and became Queen of the New Client Specials, shopping studios till I found those with staying power. There were a lot of misses, including the time I took pilates in the leaky basement of a residential apartment building and attended a crossfit class before work, only to learn that the "showers and locker room" they advertised was a nozzle attached to a sink in the women's restroom (I used it and dried off with paper towels—you gotta do what you gotta do). But in between the misses were a lot of gems—studios where I found a community, got my Zen on, tucked, squated, and jumped, and took glorious saunas and real showers. While I belong to a gym in L.A., I still love to treat myself with the occasional boutique fitness class. Because it can feel overwhelming to know where to start, I reached out to friends, coworkers, and fitness contributors to create a definitive list of the best studios in Los Angeles, New York, and whenever possible, nationwide:
*Stars denote my personally vetted favorites, and I've included a list of my Top 5 at the end!
If you like low-impact, high-intensity cardio... you'll love Soul Cycle (national) or Rise Nation* (L.A.)
What to expect: A class that keeps your heart pumping hard for the entire workout (just 30 minutes for Rise, 45 for Soul Cycle) in a dark room that allows you to focus internally and push through the challenge.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, and cycling shoes for Soul Cycle / sneakers for Rise Nation, and water!
If you like working out at home... you'll love Peloton, Tracy Anderson online classes, Physique57 online classes, or Kayla Itsine's BBG: Bikini Body Guide*, (all at-home programs)
What to expect: Full-body workouts that range in price from incredibly expensive (a Peloton bike will set you back $2,000+) to almost nothing, that you can do from the comfort of your home, though it means missing out on the fun social experience of a group class.
What to wear and bring: Your pajamas! But you'll want to invest in a resistance band, some weights, plus cycling shoes & a Peloton bike if doing that program!
If you're motivated by competition... you'll love Orange Theory (national) or Flywheel* (national)
What to expect: Classes that challenge you by posting your results, and in Orange Theory's case, your heart rate on a screen for the entire group to see.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, supportive running shoes (Flywheel provides cycling shoes), water, and a snack—these classes burn a significant number of calories, so you'll be hungry afterwards!
If you're a runner... you'll love Mile High Run Club* (N.Y.), Stride (L.A.), Precision Running at Equinox* (national), Nike Run Club* (app), or Aaptiv* (app)
What to expect: Spin class-style treadmill workouts with sprints, hill repeats, and enough variety to put an end to treadmill boredom.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, supportive running shoes, water, and a snack—like the classes listed directly above, these classes work you hard, and you'll crave a pick-me-up after!
If you like to get your frustrations out during your workout, you'll love BoxUnion (L.A.), Shadowbox (N.Y.), or CruBox (L.A.)
What to expect: A group boxing class that involves a mix of plyometrics, intervals, and bag work in a much cooler studio than Rocky's ring.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, sneakers, water, and boxing handwraps (these are often sold at the studio if you don't own your own!)—gloves are provided at the studios.
If you like dancing... you'll love NW Method (N.Y.), Body by Simone* (L.A.) Ballet Bodies (L.A.), or Pound (national)
What to expect: A dance-inspired, low-impact cardio class involving plyometrics and easy-to-learn routines, even if you have zero dance experience.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, sneakers, pilates socks or ballet shoes for Ballet Bodies, and water.
If your main focus is mindfulness... you'll love InScape (N.Y.) Unplug* (L.A. & online), MNDFL* (N.Y.), Roam (L.A.), or Sweattheory* (L.A.)
What to expect: Guided meditation to exercise your mind in a serene space, devoid of distractions (Sweattheory offers individual saunas and iPads to sweat it out, uninterrupted!).
What to wear and bring: Whatever you're most comfortable wearing, and water or a thermos of tea, depending on your preference. Cushions and mats are usually provided.
If you get bored easily... you'll love Speedplay*, Sanctuary Fitness, Studio 10, or The Wall (all L.A. studios)
What to expect: A fast-moving class where you move from machine to machine.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, supportive running shoes, water, and a snack. These classes kick your butt, so you'll want to replenish after!
If you prefer to work out with other women... you'll love Uplift* (N.Y.) or Wundabar Pilates (L.A.)
What to expect: Challenging women-only classes in an environment that fosters camaraderie and girl power.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, sneakers, pilates socks for Wundabar, and water.
If you're on a budget... you'll love Everybody (L.A.), Mikkeller Run Club* (national), or Nike Training Club* (app)
What to expect: Pay-what-you-can workouts or free running groups, no membership required. Bonus: Mikkeller Run Club ends with a free beer!
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, supportive running shoes, and water.
If you want a unique experience... you'll love Air Aerial Fitness* (national), Cirque School (L.A.), AquaMermaid (Chicago & Canada), Hoopnotica (L.A.), SkyZone (national), Sandbox Fitness (L.A.), or BikeBus (Boston)
What to expect: Anything and everything! Whether you're flying on the trapeze, hoola-hooping on the beach in Venice, or donning a mermaid tail for a full-body work out.
What to wear and bring: Varies from workout to workout—check the website before attending a class!
If you don't want to break a sweat, but still want a great workout... you'll love Pure Barre (national), Barre3 (national), or The Bar Method* (national)
What to expect: Lots of lifting and tucking, with a low-cardio workout that's big on alignment and tiny movements that burn, even though it sometimes feels like you're hardly moving.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, and pilates or regular socks (Note: Many barre classes will not allow you to join if you don't wear socks, but they're available for purchase if you forget to bring your own!).
If you want a full-body challenge... you'll love Barry's Bootcamp* (national) or modelFIT (N.Y. & L.A.)
What to expect: A cardio-heavy, intense bootcamp-style class that mixes cardiovascular training with strength training for a well-rounded workout.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, sneakers, and plenty of water.
If you're not into yoga, but want to be... you'll love PlayList Yoga* (L.A.) or Y7 (L.A. & N.Y.)
What to expect: Sun salutations and vinyasa flow, in a heated studio, set to Kanye, Big Sean, and other hip hop legends.
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, water, a yoga mat, and thin towel you can lay over your mat (the rooms are heated, so prepare to sweat!).
If you don't have a lot of time... you'll love Platefit (L.A.) or Fit Wall (L.A.)
What to expect: 40 minutes of intense exercise, using unique machinery (a vibrating plate in one case, and a reformer tower-meets-ladder in another!)
What to wear and bring: Leggings, tank, sneakers (though you can do the exercises barefoot at Platefit), and water.
The Short List: