RVA’s boutique fitness business boom

Several local businesses are getting Richmonders to think outside the big box gyms.

Squeezed into a packed gym, surrounded by the glisten of sweaty flesh, the clamor of clanging weights, and a funhouse supply of mirrors isn’t everyone’s ideal way to exercise.

That’s one reason why several independent fitness boutiques have sprouted up across Richmond. From surf yoga, ballet, cycling, to CrossFit, fitness boutiques provide close-knit classes and personal attention that make big box gyms seem more like factory farms.

“A gym’s main goal is to sign up members, it’s not necessarily to help people reach their fitness goals,” said Shannon Greenwood, co-owner of Boho Cycle Studio at 714 N. Sheppard Street in the Museum District. “[In] these boutique smaller businesses, people know their customers. They know who you are, and they want you to succeed.”

Greenwood and friend AnnMarie Grohs attended many different cycling classes in small cycling studios in D.C. and New York City. They noticed some studios had lines out the door and thought: why couldn’t there be a studio in RVA? “I was surprised there wasn’t one here already,” Greenwood said. The pair opened Boho last October.

“I think people in Richmond are very into fitness and health,” Greenwood said. Not only that, but she said the rise in these indie boutique fitness businesses are also because of Richmond’s support of local shops. “I think people are more and more sensitive to wanting to support local businesses,” she said.

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Greenwood said one of the first speciality businesses in Richmond was CrossFit RVA, which began in 2008 in the backyard of Jake Rowell’s Fan home. CrossFit RVA is now located at 900 W. Leigh Street, where it’s been since 2011.

General Manager and Head Trainer Jamie Sulc has trained people for over a decade, including a stint at a local American Family Fitness. He says smaller boutiques are better equipped to help customers reach their fitness goals than their big box counterparts.

“I think it’s the accountability,” Sulc said. “A lot of people…need something to keep them accountable to their fitness goals.”

“So many times folks go to a Gold’s [Gym] or an American Family Fitness, or any other big box gym, and they have no idea what they’re doing. They just kind of go in, wander about aimlessly for about an hour-and-a-half, do a couple of machines, go on the treadmill, and then go home. And six months later, they realize, well hell, I’m the same size or I haven’t lost any weight or I haven’t met my goals.”

“That fact that when any member comes into [CrossFit RVA] and they know exactly what the warm up is…we lead them through an instructional period for the workouts, the movements that we’re doing that day, and we coach them along the way,” Sulc said. “So we take out all that guesswork.”

CrossFit trainers devise “programs” (workouts) that are typically 15–20 minutes long, very intensive, and performed under a running clock or points system. The workouts vary, with most not repeated in a 1–2 month period.

But Sulc cautioned that new members (regardless of fitness ability) won’t be scared away. “We’re not going to crush the new member right away,” Sulc said. “We want them to be here for a long time.”

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If CrossFit seems a bit too intense, you might consider becoming a yogi. One of the city’s newest yoga studies, Shockoe Slip Yoga, offers the Hindu spiritual practice on a surfboard.

For years, its owner Rose Maghdouri, wanted her own business, but couldn’t think of what to offer. Some time later, she became a yogi, making the 40-minute round-trip drive to Short Pump to take yoga classes.

“One morning I woke up, and I really wanted to go to the class but didn’t feel like driving,” Maghdouri said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can open a yoga studio downtown.’” Months later, she did, becoming the owner of the first full-fledged yoga studio in the area.

Not only is the 1307-A E. Cary Street yoga studio the first of its kind in Shockoe, it’s the only studio that supplements traditional yoga classes with Surf Yoga.

Made and licensed by Surfset Fitness, the stationary surfboards rode a national publicity wave by being featured on the ABC show Shark Tank, which is how Maghdouri discovered them.

“When I had decided to open a studio, I wanted to offer something different from other yoga studios here in Richmond,” she said about the boards. “They’re geared more to fitness. They’re not traditional yoga, but we do a lot of yoga poses on them.”

The balancing required to stay on the boards works core muscles and increases the user’s heart rate, in addition to the benefits of traditional yoga positions. The pairing of surfing and yoga has paid off for Maghdouri. She said the classes have been one of the most consistently popular.

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If you’re not interested in shaka brah-ing your way to fitness, Barre Boutique in Carytown offers ballet-inspired fitness classes.

“I exercised because I knew it was important, but not something that I enjoyed,” said Barre Boutique founder Katie Gilstrap. “I started the Barre Boutique because I was someone who was committed to exercise, but who had tried many different types of exercise and not found anything I really looked forward to.”

“I took my first barre class in New York City and walked out feeling stronger, leaner, and just happier. It was just such a great experience,” she said.

Like the owners of Boho, Gilstrap sought barre classes beyond Virginia, including Los Angeles, Miami, and D.C. She later connected with dancers through a friend who worked at the Richmond Ballet, and in January of last year, opened Barre Boutique at 2820 W. Cary Street.

She classifies the workout as a combination of ballet, yoga, and Pilates, but with the motivation of music. “It’s a great fitness exercise no matter if it’s brand new to you, or if you are an expert athlete.”

Gilstrap’s not surprised that boutique fitness businesses are booming.

“I think health and wellness are becoming a bigger part of people’s lives,” she said. “And I think the great thing about Richmond, there’s a place for everybody…I think it’s really about finding the workout that works for you.”

photo courtesy of Shockoe Slip Yoga

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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