921 SW Washington Street, Suite 318 Portland, OR 97205
Phone: 503-222-5144 • Fax: 503-227-8777
By Katherine Chew Hamilton, Dalila Brent, and Matthew Trueherz
A group fitness class at Knot Springs.
Image: Courtesy Knot Springs
depending on who you ask, exercise is either something to look forward to or something to dread. We think you can make it the former by picking the kind of workout that feels best for you. For us, signing up for a class and working out alongside others makes it easier to not only stick to a routine, but challenge ourselves. From pilates to pole dancing, we recently tried tons of group classes. These are our favorite group fitness classes in the city.
Portland’s homegrown boutique fitness chain, founded in 2008, now boasts more than 170 studios across the country, and there are nine in the Portland area alone. The classes mix elements of ballet, pilates, and yoga that results in a well-balanced workout, with cardio and strength and a little mindfulness, too. I was surprised how such small movements, plus a resistance band and squishy ball, can really make those quads and glutes burn. Downside: these classes are popular, which means they can get really packed at peak times, making it hard to stretch out and get full motion. Various locations —KCH
The low-lit Red Room at Barry’s is filled wall-to-wall with treadmills, platforms, and free weights.
Image: Courtesy Barry’s
This boutique gym chain, founded in 1998 in West Hollywood, is also where Kim Kardashian, David Beckham, and Harry Styles go to stay in shape, as our writer Matthew Trueherz noted. Opened in the Pearl last October, it’s one of the few boutique gym chains in town, along with places like Orangetheory and Barre 3 (there’s still no Equinox or SoulCycle in sight). In its glass window-lined lobby, $75 Barry’s shorts are for sale alongside Barry’s-branded water in sleek recyclable bottles, and the Fuel Bar lets you pre-order a protein-powder filled post-workout shake (cost: $10-12), that’ll be waiting for you after class. You’ll lock your belongings away in perhaps the fanciest gym locker room ever, with full-length mirrors that have messagers like “You’re, Like, Really Fit,” written on them, as well as Dyson hair dryers, and intoxicatingly fragrant Oribe hand soap that clocks in at $36 a bottle. That said, the pricing is fair compared to other boutique gyms—$29 for a single class, with the price per class dropping if you purchase a membership or package.
My instructor, Ace, showed me to my assigned treadmill in the dim red room blasting a killer playlist with lots of ’90s and mid-2000s jams, along with some more recent tracks (yes, complimentary earplugs are available). After just a couple minutes of walking, we cranked up the pace—to 5 miles per hour, then 6, then 7, then 7.5. Soon he was shouting for us to crank our speed up to 8, 8.5, if we were up for the challenge of sprinting. Then it’s on to your floor station, where you’ll grab dumbbells and bands and do all sorts of variations of squats, planks, chest presses, and push ups—then back to the treadmill to repeat the process all over. Ace is equal parts affirming and gently pushy, getting you to squeeze out every last squat you can within the 50-minute class time. You’ll need a nap afterward, at least after your first few classes. But it’s easy to see how the rush afterward can be addicting—other attendees I talked to were already fifty classes in. 1210 NW 10th Ave —KCH
Right across from Powell’s, this sunny, elegant size- and gender-inclusive studio feels like an oasis in downtown. It’s no surprise that pole dancing is a feat of strength, but what I didn’t know is that it’s also a feat of skin. Not only do you need to apply liquid chalk to your sweaty palms, but you also have to apply grip aids like iTac2 onto your inner thighs, shins, and knees. Within the span of a two-hour class, I learned to do the sacriligeously named crucifix, which involves using the shin of one leg and the thigh of the other leg to support your body while spreading your arms out to the sides. Your thighs, and the skin they’re encased in, will burn. Taster classes, which offer a sampling of various techniques in an hour, and beginner classes, which are two hours, are ideal for newbies, but seasoned dancers can also learn the likes of handstands and spinning pole combos. 316 SW 11th Ave #300 —KCH
Firelight just celebrated its eight-year anniversary in January with a slew of discounted, cheekily black-lit, glow-in-the-dark classes. But the day-to-day vibe at this relatively small North Portland yoga studio is a bit more nuanced. Teachers and staff are extremely accommodating and quickly learn names. “Take what you need from this,” they’ll tell you as class starts. From unheated restorative yoga targeted at deep passive stretches, to introductory and advanced hot vinyasa sequences, to HIIT and sculpt classes using free weights, it’s easy to find what you need on any given day.
Hot vinyasa is a great option for your first bikram class (but don’t think you won’t sweat!). Teachers put together their own sequences, which are different almost every time, keeping things fresh while providing a relatively consistent experience.
The studio is outfitted with basic locker rooms, complete with most of what you need, but nothing extravagant to drive up membership fees. Class sizes are medium-ish, hosting 34 in the heated “fire” room and 22 in the unheated “earth” room. Most classes are offered hot (104 degrees), warm, or unheated. If you do opt for a hot class, they all finish with the obligatory extended savasana pose and a complimentary cool eucalyptus towel. 1475 N Killingsworth St —MT
A yoga class at Knot Springs.
Image: Courtesy Knot Springs
Most Portlanders might know Knot Springs for its spa, complete with a bubbly hot tub, cold plunge, steam room, and sauna. But the gym, albeit relatively small, is also a draw, with tons of options for group studio and fitness classes each day. I tried the strength and conditioning class, a no-nonsense circuit workout incorporating medicine balls, resistance bands, barbells, and dumbbells. The class only had four participants, so the instructor was readily available to help with modifications (including for my stubborn knee injury) and give cues for correcting form. I also tried a restorative aerial yoga class, the more relaxing counterpart to the semi-acrobatic active aerial yoga class, and found it pretty relaxing to just softly sway in a big silky hammock. Next on our list to try at Knot Springs: the kundalini sound bath. 33 NE 3rd Ave Suite 365 —KCH
Hosford-Abernethy & Hillsboro
While Pilates, originally founded in the 1920s, has been becoming increasingly popular over the last few years, the phrase “feeling the burn” is timeless. Put the two together and you have MegaBurn Fitness, a high-intensity workout that blends strength training and balance, executed on a modified reformer (a megareformer). While classes like Abs + Arms target the upper body only, the Full Body class targets legs, arms, abs, core, and most importantly your mental toughness. DON’T expect to see a Pilates ring or that dreaded Pilates chair. DO expect an up-tempo flow (and music). So, bring a towel and your confidence to one of their two studios (Southeast Portland and Hillsboro). You got this! 1100 SE Division St #110, Portland & 1874 NE 106th Ave, Hillsboro —DB
Prism Move’s setup includes rowing machines, air bikes, SkiErgs, free weights, and weight racks.
Image: Courtesy Prism Moves/Wiley Image
Prism Moves is a nonprofit gym whose tagline is “Inclusive Fitness,” and true to its name, it was the most welcoming, non-intimidating, and empowering gym I tried. I was nervous about trying my first class, Lift and Move, but any fear I had melted as soon as I stepped into the room. The class of just six was mostly women and non-binary people, my instructor was a woman, about half of the attendees were BIPOC, and all participants introduced themselves with their names and pronouns. You can take your pick of a rower, air bike, or even a ski erg for the cardio portion of the workout. When it’s time for strength training, you can easily adjust the difficulty with different bands or weights—or just your body weight—making for a truly beginner-friendly workout. Bonus: BIPOC attendees get one free class of their choice each week. What’s more, other attendees are friendly and happy to welcome newbies to the studio. 18 N Shaver St —KCH
A dance class at Pulse PDX
Image: Courtesy Pulse PDX/Jennifer Alyse
Pulse PDX offers all of the joy of dance, without the beat-by-beat choreography nitpicking you might get in a traditional dance class. The music is much better than your average Zumba class (though Zumba classes are also offered here), the dim yet colorful club lights provide a welcome escape on a weeknight, and the smooth sprung wooden floor makes fast-paced moves much easier. I tried the hip hop fitness class, a fast-paced workout with choreography that’s challenging, yet doable (the instructor, Nick, assured me that I’d learn the moves within a few weeks). Music runs the gamut from “Close” by Nick Jonas to Post Malone’s “Wow” (G-Wagon, G-Wagon, G-Wagon!). 3602 NE Sandy Blvd —KCH
Portland might not have SoulCycle, but Revel is its homegrown counterpart, delivering a club-lighting, music-blasting, dance-infused indoor cycling workout on the ground floor of a luxury apartment building in the Central Eastside. Classes include shoes for you to clip into your bike, and while the bikes don’t have computers for you to track your stats, in my case it helped me stay focused on my workout and pushing myself to my max. What makes it particularly tricky, though, is the rhythm-coordinated dance movements, which involve getting in and out of the saddle on every beat of fast-paced songs, to lifting dumbbells to the likes of “Candy Shop” remixes and SZA’s “Kill Bill.” 585 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
Tucked away near Baby Doll Pizza and the Goodfoot, this gym offers a handful of wittily-named classes, from “Butts and Guts” to “Gainz” to “Jacked.” The gym is divided into several exercise areas, bright and well-stocked with equipment. There’s also a $10 happy hour class offered a few times a week, plus personal training and massage offered on site. I tried the Jacked class, which promised to be appropriate for beginner and advanced lifters, and while I had to call my instructor over for help lots of times, all the exercises could be easily adapted to my skill level by changing the weight. I was able to cram a satisfying, challenging workout, accompanied by pumping music and friendly fellow lifters, into an hour that left me in desperate need of a nap (and maybe a slice of pizza) afterward. Newbies, note that the $30 intro package is a killer deal—it includes three classes and a personal training session. 2839 SE Stark St —KCH
09/08/2022 By Matthew Trueherz
02/28/2023 By Tony Perez Photography by Jason Hill
08/30/2023 By Jacob Fenton
02/20/2023 By Sam Stites