As anyone who regularly works out knows, the exercise plateau is a real and awful thing. You've worked so hard to improve your fitness level and now the same work isn't producing the same results. The only cure for the plateau is variety. You have to mix up your workouts to keep your body in top form.

Which is why boutique fitness have become so popular in recent years. In addition to your running routine, for example, you should be working on strength and balance (how about a barre class?) and remain mindful of your upper body (how about SurfSet?) while you're at it. By continually introducing new exercises and varying your routines, you can avoid the dreaded plateau.

To make this work, you need to get organized. I like to buy 10-class passes at a couple of different exercise venues. I spin and do barre, as well as run and hike. You could also consider signing up for FitReserve, MoveUSA or ClassPass, which are great if you're not sure what other exercises you want to do and you'd like to explore. The big caveat with these services is that studios only set aside a few spots per class for these companies, so for popular classes, you have to sign up early to get a spot, which can be a challenge. This is why I prefer to do the 10-class pass instead, which means it's much easier to get a spot since I'm going directly through the fitness center and not a third party.

Whatever you choose, here's the low-down on what to expect from some of the most popular boutique fitness trends around. I hope this motivates you to try something different!

Indoor cycling

Indoor cycling classes, like those offered by FlyWheel, Torq, SoulCycle and others are the most popular of the boutique fitness trends. Maybe it's because they hit the trifecta of a fun, group workout along with a relatively short duration and a smidge of competition. Cycling classes also torch calories — it's not uncommon to burn 500-600 calories in a 45-minute class, and cycling is pretty accessible to almost anyone. Some classes include a bit of arm and core work, but it depends on the teacher.

Orange Theory

This is a group interval fitness class that incorporates all the gym machines you are already familiar with, including treadmills and rowing machines, and adds TRX suspension training and free weights to create a 60-minute workout that's designed to "keep heart rates in a target zone that spikes metabolism and increases energy," according to the company.


Barre classes have a few different iterations: There's Bar Method, Barre3, Physique 57, and more, and each has its own take on the practice. The gist of all of them is to combine ballet-training moves with Pilates moves and strength training. Barre exercises are designed to create long, lean muscles, and to tighten and firm. You can read about why I'm such a fan of barre here.


SurfSet classes came about when the founder of the company, Mike Hartwick, wanted to keep his "surf body" year round. (As the name implies, he got in his best shape in the summer, when he was surfing.) The workout combines surf movements and uses modified boards, to get in shape. How? According to the SurfSet site: "Paddling builds shoulder definition, strengthens the lower back muscles, and increases cardiovascular fitness. Duck-diving through waves builds arm strength: tricep strength in particular. The pop-up maneuver engages the core and pectoral muscles, and helps to build explosive power. And the actual process of standing and riding the wave increases leg strength, flexibility, and engages all the postural muscles."

Aerial Fitness

This has been described as Cirque du Soleil meets Pilates meets ballet. Using yoga mats and hanging-from-the-ceiling hammocks (these are NOT the kind for napping in), the workout is a low-impact, core-focused practice and stretches and tones. Since you're hanging from the hammock in many of the movements, you can access muscles and stretch in ways that are impossible to do while you're standing or sitting on the ground.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

5 boutique fitness trends that are gaining steam
General gym memberships are out, and focused exercises are in.