Thinking Outside the Gym

Boutique fitness options are cashing in with millennials and are widely recognized as being the future of the fitness industry.
Cheryl Gerber
Mark Berger, co-owner of Higherpower Cycle | Yoga with Brian Baum, oversees two studios in New Orleans (514 City Park Avenue and 1000 Girod Street). The studios combine the popular indoor cycling trend with yoga.

Over the past few years, New Orleans has seen an increase in new, innovative exercise programs offered in ordinary and out of the ordinary locations. These options pay homage to the performing arts, circus acts, hula hooping, indoor surfing, rock climbing, paddleboard yoga, martial arts, and pole dancing, to name a few.

New Orleans, however, is only indicative of a growing nationwide trend. Included in the American Council on Exercise’s “10 Fitness Trends to Look Out for in 2016” was that “Experiences, not simply workouts, will become the norm … Boutique studios thrive because they create a catered fitness experience that surpasses the expectation of normal health club patrons.”

According to research from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) most of the growth in the $24.2 billion (in 2014) fitness industry has come from boutiques and small, specialized studios, the clients of which tend to be largely millennials.

Barre fitness is one example of this growing movement toward boutique options.

Taking the nation by storm over the past few years, barre cleasses have spread to and been embraced by the Crescent City. While New Orleans has about a dozen different facilities offering barre classes most days of the week, it boasts two gyms that are part of well-established franchises –Pure Barre and Barre3.

Each has two locations (as of the opening of Barre3’s Metairie location July 11) in the New Orleans area, but Pure Barre has close to 300 locations nationwide and Barre3 has almost 90 locations across the country. Barre classes are not only meant for dancers; they are intended for anyone, regardless of age, weight or fitness level. As the name implies, the classes are ballet-inspired workouts that intertwine elements of Pilates, dance and yoga.

Most barre classes follow the same basic structure, starting with a mat-based warm-up, then a series of arm exercises, and then a lower-body workout at the barre. The class often finishes with a series of core-focused moves at the barre or a short session on the mat.

“Barre 3 has been open in the New Orleans market since 2013 and we are about to open our third studio,” says Owner Kendall Carriere.  “We keep expanding to meet and accommodate the growing interest of our clients. Each studio we open has been larger than the last. Our first studio was built to hold 24 people per class, our second studio was built to hold 26 people per class and our newest studio will handle 30 people per class. The interest is definitely here in this city for Barre exercises.”


When one thinks of activities to do in New Orleans, surfing is not typically at the top of the list…actually, it isn’t on the list at all. Luckily for all those beach bums wanting to catch a ride on a wave, Becky Hardin has brought surfing to 5924 Magazine St. Last November she opened the independently owned, 2,000-square-foot City Surf Fitness studio — one of five of its kind in the country.

“We aren’t a conventional city, so why should the way we work out be?” says Hardin, who explains her growing client base by the fact that what she offers is something both unique and enjoyable. “Exercise shouldn’t feel like a chore, so when you find something that’s fun and that you can enjoy doing, you tend to stick with it,” she says. “An unconventional workout can do just that, by keeping your attention and making you forget that you’re working out. We have so many clients that say they normally hate working out but love City Surf.”

The surf-inspired workouts incorporate balance, yoga, barre, Pilates, strength training and cardio, all executed on a 6-foot-by-22-foot-wide stability surf board. The SURFSET RipSurfer X boards used during workouts were actually featured on the TV show “Shark Tank.” It was there where City Surf founders Mitchell Brown and Lauren McHenry saw them and came up with the idea of developing classes.

Just like surfing, however, there is definitely skill involved.

“There is a learning curve for sure,” says Hardin. “Working out on a surf board takes getting used to. It is a bit harder than it looks, but it is a lot of fun. You don’t have to be a surfer to participate, and everyone can work at their own pace.”

“We have so many clients that say they normally hate working out but love City Surf,” says Owner Becky Hardin. Hardin is shown here working out at the chain’s 2,000-square-foot location on Magazine Street that opened November 2015.

City Surf offers six types of classes seven days a week — Beach Body Boot Camp, Big Kahuna, Buddha Board, City Surf and City Surf Circuit, Pipeline and Rip Core. The studio houses 14 boards and employs 11 instructors, including Hardin.

“Each class and trainer has its own vibe to keep it interesting,” Hardin says. “The challenge has been educating the public in general. I mean, what is exercise on a surf board? We need to let people know the benefits of this workout in developing different muscles; we have to make it clear who and what we are and how this workout can help tone and shape your body.”

Sessions range in price from $22 for one to $360 for 20; a one-month unlimited membership runs $120; and a three-month unlimited membership is $315. Surf boards can be reserved before class at Private sessions are available by contacting the studio.

Surfing is not just for the young, Hardin says. “Our typical clientele are young professionals,” she says, noting the studio’s large following from Tulane and Loyola universities and that they rely heavily on social media for their marketing. “But we have our fair share of 40- to 50-year-olds as well.”

While Hardin says the studio is too young to be able to share any solid growth numbers, she says, “We are comfortable with the level of people that are coming in to work out and feel that we are on pace to be where we want to be.”


With an extensive background in ballet, yoga and Pilates, along with a passion for aerial fitness, Alexandria White founded Crescent City Aerial Arts two years ago. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the facility recently moved to a new upgraded studio with higher ceilings and more floor space at 4430 Euphrosine St.

“I have been performing for two years in theatrical productions, community events, festivals and corporate events,” White says. “I got started in the aerial arts with a friend six to seven years ago when I went to my first class and loved it. So I started training and became an instructor. I am passionate about aerial arts and love sharing that passion with people and seeing them spark with learning something new.”

White explains the classes as “a combination of dance and theatrical movements executed while being suspended above the ground on apparatuses.” She says that aerial workouts are designed to build core strength, flexibility and enhance aerobic endurance.

“When most people think of this genre, what immediately comes to mind is Cirque du Soleil acts, or more recently the singer Pink’s Grammy performances,” she says. “The best thing about that kind of recognition is that people can experience firsthand what the stars and performers are doing while getting fit.”

LEFT- “People can experience firsthand what the stars and performers are doing while getting fit,” says Alexandria White, who founded Crescent City Aerial Arts on 4430 Euphosine Street two years ago. RIGHT- The classes are a combination of dance and theatrical movements, all conducted while being suspended above the ground.

Crescent City Aerial Arts has four instructors who teach a variety of suspended, anti-gravity classes that include an introduction to aerial arts, trapeze, aerial hammock and silk, aerial yoga, aerial hoop, and aerial jam. The center also offers kids classes for ages 7 to 13, as well as private and semi-private parties.

Again, unlike just walking into a gym and hopping on a treadmill, there is some training involved. White said that students are strongly encouraged to take an introductory class prior to scheduling any of the other classes they offer.

Students can register online for classes. Three classes run $70; five classes are $110; and 10 classes are $200. One month of unlimited classes is $200. For the kids, a drop-in fee of $25 per class applies or $80 per month.

White says educating the public about the studio’s existence and its fitness benefits is the company’s main struggle.

“We’re not only for gymnasts, we’re for anyone, any size or shape,” she says, but notes that a majority of her clientele is currently women in their 20s through 40s. “We use social media and our website to market ourselves quantitatively, but qualitatively speaking it is best to let those who experience it spread the word to others,” she says.

“Currently, we have about 1,000 people in our database and see anywhere from 8 to 10 people on average per class on the weekdays, depending on the instructor.”


Just like City Surf, New Orleans Boulder Lounge is finding success by introducing a form of outdoor recreation not naturally possible in the city.

Last August, Eli Klarman, Daniel Bressler, Garret Mortensen, Kelsey Confreda, Andrew Weekes and Andrew Dreis decided to bring the mountains to the Big Easy. The crew opened New Orleans Boulder Lounge in a 125-year-old warehouse located at 1746 Tchoupitoulas St. The facility serves as the first and only climbing gym in the city in more than 10 years.

New Orleans Boulder Lounge is an indoor bouldering gym, fitness center and community space whose mission is to create an environment that appeals to everyone.

“NOBL was developed to provide a climbing destination in New Orleans and a home for the local climbing community,” says Confreda. “We decided to do an all-bouldering gym in order to make climbing more accessible and more social as we reintroduced the sport to New Orleans.”

Confreda says that prior to NOBL, the rock-climbing community had to drive five to six hours away for a place to climb. “We had an underground community here that traveled great distances to climb, so we took a shot in the dark and opened a location here to fill that void.

“Climbing is a great way to stay in shape and add another component to cross training or other fitness activities,” she adds. “Climbers are passionate about this sport, and we want the sport to grow in the community and to enrich the lives of the people who want an alternative fitness option.”

Because climbers scale walls between 12 and 14 feet tall without harnesses or ropes, the prospect of bouldering for the first time can be quite daunting. As such, this sport requires a considerable amount of focus, patience and dedication to ensure a safe, fun and rewarding experience.

LEFT- New Orleans Boulder Lounge (NOBL) at 1746 Tchoupitoulas Street is the first and only climbing gym in the city in more than 10 years. RIGHT- (Left to right) Kelsey Confreda, Garret Mortensen and Eli Klarman are three of the six founders behind NOBL, which currently has more than 400 members.

“Before anyone climbs for the first time, we have them go through a safety orientation so they are familiar with everything,” Confreda says. “Really, anyone can climb. there is no prior experience needed.”

Again, millennials are the primary clientele. “We get a lot of kids at NOBL in their 20s and 30s, both male and female, but anyone is welcome,” she says. “Right now we have over 400 members, and we look forward to continued growth.”

Day passes and memberships are available at NOBL and range in variety and price based on activity and duration. A one-day usage fee is $16 for adults and $12 for students and kids, and a prepaid membership may cost $70 per month, $195 for three months, and $330 for six months. Family memberships are also available.

Climbers don’t need much equipment. Rock-climbing shoes are required and can be purchased at the gym for $75 to $125 or can be rented for $4 a day.

In addition to regular workout classes, NOBL offers specialized programs such as climbing school, youth teams, private trainers, a boulder league (competition teams), student night, summer camps and climbers happy hour. They also offer a yoga program and have a small fitness facility on-site.

“People don’t naturally think of New Orleans as a fitness destination because of all of the food and beverages and partying that it is known for,” Confreda says. “But in reality there are a lot of fitness options here – something for everybody. The thing with climbing is that people either love it or hate it – it is challenging but worth it. People stick with it because of the whole ambiance and camaraderie.”


If you want to know how popular indoor cycling is right now, take a look at SoulCycle, the company that started the trend over 10 years ago in New York City. Led by 38-year-old CEO Melanie Whelan, the company’s cult-like following includes multiple celebrities like Nicole Richie, Kelly Ripa and Lady Gaga, and topped $112 million is sales in 2015. As of this reporting, there are currently 62 studios in the United States, but none in Louisiana.

Higherpower studios, opened in 2014 by co-owners Mark Berger and Brian Baum, offers a little twist on the cycling craze — combining yoga and cycling together to bring New Orleans a new workout option. The combination pairs high-intensity pedal sessions with the mental and physical discipline of yoga postures. Today, the duo oversees two Higherpower studios, the first located at 514 City Park Ave. and a brand-new location downtown at 1000 Girod St.

“We stress the importance of not only physical health, but mental and spiritual well-being,” says Berger. “Our philosophy implements an East-meets-West approach that combines rigorous physical activity with yoga and meditation. We strive to create a welcoming atmosphere that brings balance to people of all ages and skill levels.”

Berger says he’s witness to the fact that the industry as a whole is moving away from large, impersonal gyms and toward specialized studios like his, and he’s betting heavily that the trend will continue.

“Brian and I put our last penny into starting this venture,” he says. “We didn’t have any investors in the beginning and just kept putting everything back into the business for improvements — that’s how much we believed in what we were doing. We feel strongly that it is important that there is consistency at the studio, that all of the instructors teach the way that we want them to, and that everyone that comes through the door feels welcome.”

LEFT- Erin Huber, cycle instructor RIGHT- Co-owner Mark Berger says that approximately 4,000 people have passed through Higherpower’s doors since its 2014 opening. 

Higherpower offers classes for beginners to more advanced students in yoga, cycling, TRX E.P.I.C. (a training system that combines interval training concepts with full-body strengthening) and Bicycling Buddha (the signature fusion workout combines 30-35 minutes of heart-pumping indoor cycling with 30-35 minutes of Power Vinyasa Yoga).

“Everyone can do yoga, and it is so beneficial on so many levels,” he says. “Whether you are a beginner or an experienced yogi, Power Yoga is an all-level, full-body, heated workout. And our high-energy, fun and euphoric cycling classes are a mix of nightclub atmosphere and a real outdoor cycling experience. Each bike is equipped with a console displaying your metrics, a smooth carbon belt drive, and light fly wheel. Our leader board will give you real-time statistics that are all sent back to you via email to better help you track your workout performance.”

Berger estimates that approximately 4,000 people have come through Higherpower’s doors since its 2014 opening. To date, the studio has marketed itself primarily through social media and has worked diligently to build and maintain a client list that they stay in touch with through weekly emails.

Drop-in rates for a cycling class are $20; a five-pack of classes is $90; and a 20-pack is $320. For yoga classes, a drop-in class is $16, five-pack is $70; and a 20-pack is $240. Monthly packages start at $65 per month.

“We are all about attracting all demographics from in and around the city to come to the studio; we do not cater to one age group or gender — we are an equal opportunity workout center and want to encompass New Orleans in its entirety,” Berger says, adding, “Our clientele is currently 75 percent female and consists of mostly young professionals to baby boomers. Yet, don’t let that stop anyone: My mom is in her 70s and she is here weekly for yoga classes.”


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