A few months ago during an interview, our friend Rachael Wang told us: "I find New Yorkers tend to use sports as an end in itself (...) I think of New Yorkers as gym rats, grinding away on cardio machines after work, which to me is sort of joyless."

People are not only working out more, they are also seeking to maximize efficiency, like burning more calories over less time. A trend that is spreading across the globe.


Thanks to our smart phones, the pace of our days is getting faster, we are solicited non-stop and our working hours seem to stretch ever further. We constantly feel overwhelmed, overworked, lagging behind on emails...as well as our Instagram feeds. As a direct consequence, our free time seems to vanish, and physical exercise, an essential part of our day, needs to be more compact, more agile. Efficiency has become the ultimate keyword!

In parallel, the concept of enjoyment in exercise means that paradigms are start to shift: as nightlife starts to lose ground, physical activities need to be fun, often group-oriented and with carefully curated playlists.

Skinny Bitch Collective workout

Our days of doing hatha yoga to the sound of the gong and practicing ballet to Chopin’s Waltz No. 7 are numbered. Instead, enter “Très Intense Hip Hop Yoga”, cardio-dance, “Encore” spin-classes (extended formats of 60 or 120 minutes), the 12 minutes workout as conducted by The Skinny Bitch Collective, and army-style training. Cardio is back in a major way, along with a 150 BPM playlist. As good an occasion as any to take a closer look at the different activities that make it harder, faster, stronger, and… more fun!

Challenges of all shapes and forms came about, starting at 30 days, quickly turning to 365 days, as a way to really push boundaries.

At the beginning, there was High Intensity training, with a simple premise: cardio-heavy interval training. Then a slew of apps came along, such as the 7 Minute Workout trainings (loosely based on Tabata’s training), Keelo, and even Old School Coach, in which a PE teacher literally screams at you to complete push-ups. After that, challenges of all shapes and forms came about, starting at 30 days, quickly turning to 365 days, as a way to really push boundaries. These trends mainly targeted gym aficionados.

Today, the trend is gaining ground in the world of dance and yoga. For example, Clotilde Chaumet’s Paris yoga classes are not called "très intense" for nothing: an hour of vinyasa and quickly-paced asanas, accompanied by one of her trademark hip-hop playlists. The young teacher aims to push her students further and harder, so they can let go totally, and explore their own limits and capacities, in an atmosphere where fun is all-important. Take a look at her new website and discover her (already sold-out) clothing line!

More recently, the semantic field of war and armies has invaded training practices in France, bringing the “bootcamp” tradition to Europe. The “armies” present in the US have started developing here too. Akin, a charismatic teacher of spin and bootcamp-style training, has simply named his class "Akin's Army Killer Legs and ABs." His classes at Studio B in New York are always fully booked. It’s a far cry from Mud Day, but the very name of the class brings up an image of hardcore, fast-paced training. Akin’s promise is that his students will “explore their limits, and create chaos” to become “the best version of themselves”. John Martins in Paris follows along similar lines: after having taught bootcamp and spin, he is building his “Armée de John”.

We started getting a little worried, and wondered whether fun was still a part of the equation.

Akin's Army

We started getting a little worried, and wondered whether fun was still a part of the equation, so we decided to survey our community. And the results were… surprising!

Some talk about their coach's “contagious good spirit;" others told us of the “uplifting endorphin high;” the teacher’s kindness; “the support of the group;” and “the celebratory feeling of surpassing your limits.” In other words, nothing traumatizing! Akin’s videos substantiate these claims: the teacher’s smile is constant, and he raises his voice only to dispense rhythmic onomatopoeias, sounding more like an MC than a military instructor, something that the students endure with smiles on their faces. These volunteers discipline themselves, and their motivation and determination doesn’t stem from a hysterical teacher’s obsession for hardcore training, but from the group’s energy and enthusiasm, guided by a benevolent presence. In the end, it's a radically different approach answered our question. One can seemingly suffer and still have fun.