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Christine Van Dusen

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The Refinery, a new boutique gym, uses tech to take circuit training to the next level

Biocircuit The Refinery Atlanta
Inside the Refinery

Photograph by Steve Fellmeth

In the 1990s, Curves was a big hit with moms, including mine. Every week she’d put on comfy shorts and a big T-shirt and make her way around the fitness studio’s resistance machines, set up in a friendly circle and interspersed with rubberized mats where she’d walk in place or march. I, with my aerodynamic spandex and gym-rat overconfidence, would gently tease her about her “Curves Girls” and how they’d spend their workouts chit-chatting about family dramas or lunch. But I was really glad she’d found a gym that wasn’t intimidating, a place where she could be active, get stronger, and stave off bone loss without feeling judged.

Those studios are still around, though the company has lost some of its luster amid financial losses, legal dramas, and donation controversies. Today a similar kind of personalized circuit training is making a comeback in Atlanta—and it’s hoping to attract people like my mom and me.

Biocircuit The Refinery Atlanta
Inside the Refinery

Photograph by Steve Fellmeth

At the Refinery, a new boutique fitness studio on the Westside, you can find the only BIOCIRCUIT machines in America. As at Curves, the Refinery’s machines are set up around a circle and don’t use plates or racks. But BIOCIRCUIT takes circuit training a step further, in terms of intensity and technology.

First, you download the Technogym app and use it to create a profile. Then a trainer at the Refinery takes you through initial strength tests on the machines and helps you find your settings. They’re stored on the app, so every time you check into the BIOCIRCUIT, the machines auto-adjust for your needs and strengths. The full workout—which typically includes periods of hard work on treadmills, stationary bikes, and weight-training machines (like the chest fly and hamstrings curls), followed by short periods of rest—is two laps around and lasts about 30 minutes.

Experts typically agree that circuit training can be effective. But a lot depends on you, and how hard you want to work. The key, according to studies, is to keep your heart rate elevated.

That’s the idea in Refinery’s BIOCIRCUIT. They stress that it’s a workout for everyone, and a complement to the other high-end offerings at the 12,000-square-foot, astroturfed, “industrial-luxe” studio. Think calorie-blasting personal training sessions and small-group fitness classes guided by in-person coaches as well as on-screen demos and countdowns. There’s a big metal rig in the middle of the room, with straps and monkey bars and the like.

Biocircuit The Refinery Atlanta
Inside the Refinery

Photograph by Steve Fellmeth

So it’s not quite the unintimidating beginner’s haven that Curves was and is. But my mom doesn’t go there anymore anyway. She’s gotten into some weightlifting. So maybe we’ll try the BIOCIRCUIT together the next time she’s in town. If we’re not entirely out of breath, she can talk about her HOA, and I can keep my judgmental mouth shut.

About $28 to $45 for a single class, $99 to $349 for a monthly membership. refineryfit.com

Think you could be an American Ninja Warrior? Meet 3 Atlantans who competed this season.

American Ninja Warrior Atlanta
Tyrone Poole competes on American Ninja Warrior.

Photograph courtesy of NBC

Have you ever watched an episode of American Ninja Warrior, the obstacle-course competition series that airs every summer on NBC, and thought, “Oh, I could totally do that thing where you hold on to a bar and use momentum to jump the bar up, rung by rung, and then I could totally do an unnecessary and ill-advised backflip before tackling the next obstacle?”

No, me neither (and I’ve been known to try some fairly outlandish fitness classes and challenges). But there are some Atlantans who are a different breed. Many of them showed up at Mercedes-Benz Stadium recently to compete in the American Ninja Warrior 2019 Atlanta City Finals, which will air as episode eight of the show’s upcoming 11th season. (The season premieres with the Los Angeles City Finals on May 29 at 8 p.m.)

American Ninja Warrior Atlanta
Atlantan Mindy Hylton competes on American Ninja Warrior

Photograph courtesy of NBC

They are people like Mindy Hylton, a 40-year-old marketing director, actor, and voice-over artist who lives in Atlanta and has a daughter who will turn three in June.

“Every time I watched the show, I would think, ‘I can do that!’” Hylton says. “The more I watched it, the more I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Hylton was already very active, but in the four weeks leading up to the competition, she got even more serious, particularly about her nutrition. She cut out alcohol, increased her intake of fish and chicken, and generally ate cleanly, “which isn’t that easy with a kid who wants you to try all of her food,” she says. “When I’m on the go, my go-to is a Spinach Slam smoothie from Arden’s Garden. They fill me up and give me tons of energy.”

She trained three days a week at Ninja Quest in Marietta—a must, she says, as other workouts can’t prepare you for the show’s unique and torturous obstacles—and on other days did plyometrics, abs, and chin-ups at home. “I couldn’t believe how much of a difference I saw in my body within the first two weeks,” she says. “I hadn’t been that focused on me in a long time.”

What surprised her most about the ANW course? “Honestly, the sheer joy I was experiencing,” she says. “Every time I completed an obstacle, I got more and more excited. I was almost in disbelief that this dream of being on ANW was really coming true.”

American Ninja Warrior Atlanta
Tyler Gillett competes on American Ninja Warrior.

Photograph courtesy of NBC

Before his run on the course in Atlanta, Tyler Gillett and a friend built obstacles in his Newnan backyard. “I learned about American Ninja Warrior when I was 14, flipping through the TV channels with a friend,” the now-23-year-old barista says. “I was hooked. From then on I was determined to be on the show. I waited and trained for years before I was eligible to apply.” (Contestants have to be at least 19 years old.)

Also running the course in Atlanta was Tyrone Poole, a LaGrange-born and Atlanta-based self-employed speaker, author, and actor who was an NFL defensive back and first-round draft pick in 1995. He played 13 seasons with the NFL and earned two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. A father of four children, the 48-year-old’s weekly pre-Ninja workout schedule included three days of lifting and three days of cardio, with Saturdays off.

American Ninja Warrior Atlanta
Tyrone makes his entrance on American Ninja Warrior.

Photograph courtesy of NBC

“You don’t have to be a very big or very strong person to do well,” he says. “But you do need upper-body strength. There is a lot of pulling.”

Maybe you’re feeling inspired by these words. Or maybe your fingertips ache at the thought of hanging from them. Poole’s advice for all of us?: “Remember that the people you are watching just started in the same square. Don’t give up.”

8 things Atlanta’s top trainers think while they’re coaching

When you’re in a fitness class, do you ever wonder what the instructor is thinking? Do you marvel at her motivation techniques, relentless energy, and mercilessly sunny attitude? As a fitness instructor who has coached for 12 years, I can tell you: There’s a lot going on behind my lunatic cheerleader smile. Here are some of my innermost thoughts, along with those of some of Atlanta’s top trainers and coaches.

What a fitness coach wants

Show up early
Especially for your first class. “If you’re late, at least ask if it’s okay to hop in,” says Allison Gately, a trainer at MADabolic. “Clients walking in late can be distracting to others and disrupt the flow of class.”

What a fitness coach wants

Instructors have feelings too
You might dream about failing a test; we dream about screwing up a class. Sometimes our headsets malfunction, the stereo goes on the fritz, or we repeat an exercise. “We have bad days and good days, just like you,” says Megan Armstrong, creative director and master instructor at SculptHouse.

I once had two students yell to each other, during class, about how much they hated my technique. I smiled through gritted teeth. Another brought her own headphones to class so she could tune me out entirely.

What a fitness coach wants

It’s okay to stumble
We know new moves are tough. And we know that sound wasn’t an air pocket under your back, says Adam Gil, a trainer at KoloFit Personal Training Studio. “We won’t call you on it.”

We love a hard worker
And we can’t stand a faker. Yes, we know when you’re cheating. “And we see the client who drinks water after every exercise set,” says LaVar Merrell, an associate trainer at Sweat Equity.

What a fitness coach wants

We get creeped out, but we keep going
There was that time when I only had one student in an indoor-cycling class, and he refused to follow any of my cues—or break eye contact. Never have I wished more that my bike wasn’t stationary.

What a fitness coach wants

Listen up
“It’s really important to pay attention,” Armstrong says. If you hear us saying, “relax your shoulders” or repeating for the fifth time that your knees shouldn’t come out over your toes in a squat, please heed our warnings. “Put your ego away, listen to what we have to say, and implement it,” says Gately.

Bragging drives us nuts
You were in the gym for three hours yesterday? That’s nice. Don’t try to prove anything to us; you’re here, and we’re glad. “A new, too-cool-for-school client is the worst,” says Brandon Lacey, a coach at Solidcore. “Don’t be that person.”

Please don’t talk
But feel free to yell. To carry on a loud conversation while we’re teaching makes us feel disrespected, but do hoot and holler. We love spontaneous displays of enthusiasm. “It makes us want to work harder,” Lacey says.

This article appears in our June 2019 issue.

Who willingly works out inside a 125-degree box? I did.

Hotworks AtlantaWhile holding a two-minute squat against the wall inside a small, overheated box, I couldn’t help but think of the 1967 Paul Newman film Cool Hand Luke.

Them clothes got laundry numbers on ’em. You remember your number and always wear the ones that has your number. Any man forgets his number spends the night in the box. These here spoons, you keep with ya. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.

That’s what Carr, the Florida prison camp’s “floor walker,” says to the inmates upon their arrival. In my case, I hadn’t been sent to the box for losing my spoon. But I’d maybe lost my damn mind, given that I’d willingly stepped inside a 125-degree infrared sauna for a 30-minute isometrics class, led by an instructor on a screen.

This is just one of the many workouts you can sign up for—day or night, alone or alongside as many as two other people—at HOTWORX, a Louisiana-based studio which recently opened its fifth 24-hour location in metro Atlanta. The company says that exercising in heat and infrared energy raises core body temperature and heart rate, allowing you to burn more calories in less time.

As I recently learned when I tried Perspire, hot boxes—or tents or other heated chambers—have been used as a form of therapy for thousands of years, starting as early as the Mayans. Finland, it turns out, is particularly big on saunas; there, one in three people use them. Some studies suggest that the dry heat of infrared technology can increase circulation and flush out toxins.

Typically, in these saunas, you’re lying very still in a pool of your own sweat. But at HOTWORX, you’re moving. In addition to the Hot Iso class, I tried the 15-minute cycling session. Though I didn’t love the instructor and her two on-screen classmates—who looked to be as bored as I was with the generic music—the class definitely felt like a fast-forwarded version of an unheated Spin session, getting me to a calorie burn at a quicker rate. And the shorter duration kept me from feeling sick from the heat.

So if you’re looking for a super-sweaty but quicker fitness fix—and don’t see spending time in the box as hot, cramped torture—you’ll likely enjoy the calorie-torching sessions at HOTWORX.

A better babymaking business? Georgia-based sperm bank Xytex promises greater transparency after controversy

Xytex Cryo transparencyOne year after Atlanta magazine investigated what a court has since called the “repugnant” alleged business practices of Xytex Cryo International, the Augusta-based sperm bank—one of the largest and oldest in a largely unregulated industry—is promising to change.

On Wednesday, the 43-year-old company announced it would become the first United States sperm bank to limit how many births can come from new donors. Xytex also said it would prohibit anonymous donors, expand genetic carrier testing for more than 280 conditions, and provide more adult photos of donors.

This comes in the wake of the revelation that a mentally ill man named Chris Aggeles, also known as #9623, donated sperm at Xytex over a period of 14 years, fathering at least 36 children. On his application to Xytex, he had denied any history of mental illness. But the truth—according to court records—was that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with “significant grandiose illusions.”

There is no federal law that requires sperm banks to do background checks or cap the number of births from one donor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration—which provides the only oversight of the sperm bank business—requires that banks test samples for communicable diseases like HIV and some genetic conditions. In the last year the FDA added one more rule: Banks must seek out “relevant medical records” from donors. So sperm-banking is, largely, an unregulated business. And a business it is; though Xytex and its competitors look like medical providers, they are primarily engaged in the buying and selling of a product.

Aggeles’ mental health condition was mistakenly shared in 2014 by Xytex with some of the purchasers of his sperm. This set off a series of more than a dozen lawsuits, all of which have been settled or dismissed.

In a February opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, three Circuit Court Judges said they were “deeply troubled” by Xytex’s alleged conduct and described it as “reckless, reprehensible, and repugnant”—but not illegal.

The Court reiterated earlier court findings that the lawsuit was a “wrongful birth claim,” which is not recognized in Georgia. Typically, a wrongful birth claim alleges that a medical professional’s negligence deprived a mother of the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to carry a baby to term—or to get pregnant at all.

Xytex did not reference any of this in its new press release, which described the company’s new Transparency+ program as “unparalleled” and “groundbreaking.”

The company is “excited to be driving the standard of sperm banking both in the United States and across the globe,” Dr. Joan Diamond, Vice President of Clinical Operations at Xytex, said in the release. “A pledge like this has yet to be seen within the sperm banking industry, and we fully stand behind not only our promise of transparency but also the unrivaled quality of our product.”

Do you have a story to share about the sperm bank business, Xytex, or Donor #9623? Please contact the author at cvandusen@atlantamagazine.com.

Torch Fitness’s “First & 10” football-themed workout was squat-heavy but fun

Torch Fitness W Midtown
The First & 10 workout had plenty of energy.

Photograph by Christine Van Dusen

Do football players need to do a lot of air squats to get ready for a game? I mean, I know that when they’re assembled in a line and waiting for the whistle, they’re frequently crouched, spring-loaded, with one hand on the ground. Maybe they bend their knees a little when they huddle? As the previous sentences likely reveal, I do not really know the rules or lingo of football, so it stands to reason I might also not know whether football players do a lot of squats without weights when they work out. My guess is that they don’t.

This didn’t stop Torch Fitness and 10 of its trainers from directing a room full of fitness fans in a ballroom at the W Atlanta-Midtown to do a remarkable number of air squats during “First & 10” on Super Bowl Saturday. At the free fitness event, part of a series at the hotel, each trainer took turns leading the whole room through a series of exercises. Squats, as I said, featured prominently. So did hopping up and down and lunging. But the lack of creativity and variety in the workout didn’t faze the 100 or so people who showed up to sweat. They screamed when DJ Sumo played “Apes–t” by the Carters and seemed downright gleeful to be doing yet another set of lunges or high knees.

To be fair, the team at Torch—a 12-year-old personal training and group fitness company in Atlanta—was leading a class that included all fitness levels and all ages. And what the trainers may have lacked in inventiveness they definitely made up for in energy. In matching black shirts, each emblazoned with the coach’s nickname, they ran through the room and made sure to bounce higher and squat deeper than everyone else. One trainer even dropped the mic after her segment.

Torch Fitness W Midtown
One of the instructors leads a workout at the First & 10 Workout.

Photograph by Christine Van Dusen

That energy kept my mind off all of the squats, and bouncing squats, and squat jumps. And it kept me going for 44 minutes, during which time I burned about 404 total calories. So it was effective and fun. Football-related? Tenuously, maybe. But definitely fun.

MADabolic fitness studio in Old Fourth Ward wants you to give it a rest

Resting during workouts
Sometimes it’s good to take a break.

Photograph by PeopleImages via Getty Images

Maybe “rest” and “relaxation” are two of your favorite words. Maybe just reading those two words conjures, for you, a cozy wonderland of blankets and pillows and semi-conscious bliss. Or maybe you’re a different kind of person, the kind of person who thinks “rest” sounds like a dirty word.

I’m talking to the people who laugh knowingly, perhaps even haughtily, at the meme that says, “Where is my ‘rest muscle,’ and how do I train it?” We feel guilt, or FOMO, or anxiety about losing gains. So we hit the gym every day, or more than once a day, never giving our bodies much of a break. But going without rest is nothing to #humblebrag about, fitness experts say.

“It’s time we address the overwhelming population of fitness enthusiasts who push (and often cross) the line between ‘healthy’ and ‘excessive.’ Excluding professional athletes and elite competitors training for their respective sports, the practice of skipping rest days or implementing two-a-days is not only unnecessary, it’s damaging,” reads a blog post on the website of MADabolic Inc., a fitness studio in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.

Recovery, the post says, is just as important as the workout itself. “Many people incorrectly assume that muscle growth, PRs, and weight loss (or whatever the goal may be), occur during the act of exercise,” MADabolic says. “But after seeing all too many clients come through our doors seven days in a row, or having come straight from cycle class, or planning to ‘squeeze in’ a 10-mile run later, we (not so) apologetically feel obligated to correct this assumption.”

Muscles grow “when they’re not expending intense bouts of energy,” it continues. “Thus, we undergo the training-related changes we seek when we are not exercising.”

And it’s not just about rest days. Like an increasing number of fitness studios, MADabolic builds rest intervals into its high-intensity workouts. They call it “metabolic conditioning,” or “met-con.”

Part of a nine-location chain, MADabolic offers 50-minute classes (with an appealing $10-for-the-first-10-days deal) crafted around structured intervals of work and rest. These classes, which typically start with about 10 minutes of instructor demonstration and warm-up, keep to one of three themes: Momentum (focusing on athleticism and endurance), Anaerobic (speed and power), or Durability (“a grueling display of strength and stamina”).

Depending on the day and the workout—scrawled on a white board and led by instructors who pay close but kind attention to form and execution—you might go from powering through kettlebell squats at 70 percent of your maximum level of exertion, then rest before moving on to agility ladders, windbikes, or free weights. Then you might go through the circuit again at 80 percent, then 90 percent. Every workout includes multiple stations; boxing is always one of them. The music is loud and motivating. The scene is very sweaty.

Resting during workouts
The author working out at MADabolic in Old Fourth Ward

Photograph courtesy of MADabolic

MADabolic says this approach torches calories and makes you stronger. Indeed some science backs up that claim—research from Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that met-con training can increase muscle function and metabolic performance in women. Those studied in the research saw increases in squat endurance, aerobic power, and anaerobic capacity.

So maybe it’s time for the fitness freaks among us to adjust our approach to relaxation. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we gave it rest.

Inside the Rolling Stone Live: Atlanta Super Bowl party at the Goat Farm

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIIIIn the half hour before the official start of the Rolling Stone Live: Atlanta party on Saturday night at the Goat Farm Arts Center, the scene looked a little bit like a sad prom, with a disco ball spinning above an empty dance floor while a DJ hit the air-horn sound (“FEH-feh-feh-feh-FEH”). You’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe this Super Bowl party was going to stay decidedly un-lit, given that some tickets were going for the price of a Mitsubishi Mirage. But as soon as 9 p.m. struck, the velvet ropes were pulled aside, the wristbands were handed out, the room filled up, the dance floor filled out, the selfies started, and the phalanx of security guards in front of the stage perked up.

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Brian White, Essence Atkins, and Robin Givens

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Taran Killam and Ty Burrell

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

The Goat Farm Art Center is a 12-acre complex of 19th-century industrial warehouses. They’re usually populated by artists, but on Saturday, the Bravo-lebrities took over. There was Brielle Biermann (Don’t Be Tardy); NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Tanya Sam, Marlo Hampton, and Kenya Moore (Real Housewives of Atlanta); Luann de Lesseps (Real Housewives of New York); and Scheana Shay (Vanderpump Rules). Also in attendance were musician CeeLo Green and actors Merle Dandridge (Greenleaf), Robin Givens (Riverdale), Ser’Darius Blain (Charmed), Taran Killam (Saturday Night Live), and Ty Burrell (Modern Family).

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
NeNe Leakes, Marlo Hampton, and Cynthia Bailey

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Kingston Green, CeeLo Green, and Shani James

Photograph by Rick Diamond for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIIIRolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIIIFace value for a general admission ticket was $650, and that got you cocktails, as well as passed crab cakes, meatballs, spanakopita, other finger foods, and the opportunity to gawk skyward at the VIPs leaning over the upstairs balcony. (This reporter wasn’t allowed to go up there, so I have no idea whether they got bigger crab cakes for their $900 tickets. Or $10,000 tickets, if they reserved a table.)

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Young Thug

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Lil Keed

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Ludacris

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

On stage was Young Thug, Gunna, and Lil Keed, followed by Ludacris and a DJ set from Questlove. The last artist on that list has been quoted as saying, “I don’t have friends, and it’s hard for me to make new friends.” Normally, you’d think a party like this, with its economic hierarchy fully on display and fans of rival football teams drinking—a lot—in close proximity to each other, making new friends would indeed be difficult. But instead, New England Patriots fans danced next to Los Angeles Rams fans, who danced next to people who had to look up who was playing in the sportsball tournament this year. Rolling Stone brought us all together.

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Megan Thee Stallion

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII
Questlove

Photograph by Rick Diamond for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone party Atlanta Super Bowl LIII

Test Drive: Sweating it all out at Perspire Sauna Studio in Buckhead

Prespire Sauna Buckhead
Ready to get sweaty?

Photograph courtesy Prespire Sauna

You want me to shut myself inside a glass box that’s heated to 185 degrees? I’m sorry—are you trying to kill me? Don’t you know that I sweat in the wintertime, at cocktail parties, and at work? That I’m the fitness freak who avoided hot yoga for years because I didn’t want to turn my mat into a Slip n Slide?

Yet, despite all that, I still chose to shut myself inside a hot glass box at Perspire Sauna Studio in Buckhead.

Humans have seen sweating as a form of therapy for thousands of years, starting as early as the Mayans’ sweathouses. Finland is particularly big on saunas; there, one in three people use them.

Perspire is a long way from an old-school sweat lodge or a communal schvitz; it’s clean and modern, with a boutique fitness studio vibe and easy-to-use, private, self-serve rooms. Just book your time ($39 for a single session of 40 minutes, which allows for a five minutes of stripping down and then, at the end, another five for re-dressing) and sit inside a glass box with a wood-slatted bench, a cushion for your head, access to TV, and colored lights overhead that supposedly carry their own health benefits.

Prespire Sauna Buckhead
One of the sauna booths

Photograph courtesy Prespire Sauna

Perspire’s sauna technology, known as infrared (IR) sauna or far-infrared sauna, uses light to create heat and is said to produce “a deep sweat in comparison to a traditional sauna that produces a surface-level sweat,” according to founding partner Ken Arsenian.

Far-infrared energy “is most beneficial, penetrating the skin and increasing circulation to help rid the body of harmful toxins,” the company’s website says. “Using our IR saunas helps to remove impurities from your cells, specifically the cells inside our fat where our body stores waste and harmful toxins such as cholesterol and heavy metals.”

I’m always a bit skeptical when the word “toxins” is thrown around, but there’s some science to back up the sauna’s benefits. There’s evidence to support the use of infrared saunas for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and chronic pain, says Dr. Richard Beever, a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of British Columbia. One long-term study of middle-aged Finnish men found those who spent time in a sauna two to three times a week saw a 23-percent decline in their risk for fatal heart disease.

Prespire Sauna Buckhead
You can opt to sit and relax inside the booth.

Photograph courtesy Prespire Sauna

Naysayers complain that what’s lost in a sauna is just water weight that will come back after you rehydrate. Perspire acknowledges this but goes on to say that “the calories burned are real. As you relax in the gentle heat of our saunas, your body is actually hard at work pumping blood (increased heart rate), increasing circulation, and producing sweat to cool you down. This results in a caloric burn.”

I wore my Apple Watch during my 30 minutes in the box, to track how many calories I burned by just sitting there and trying not to drown in my own sweat or panic in the enveloping heat. And indeed, I saw some benefits in the data: Even though I was mostly lying down the bench, meditating and deep breathing, my average heart rate was 111 BPM and I burned a total of 194 calories, about the same amount as you might burn speedwalking for that amount of time.

Maybe it’s the perfect thing for a day when you know you should get your cardio on but you don’t really feel like moving. So long as you’re okay with sitting in a swamp of your own making, you’ll be ok with Perspire.

Fit for a queen: A RuPaul’s Drag Race alum talks fitness, nutrition, and self-care

Alaska Thunderfuck RuPaul's Drag Race
Alaska Thunderfuck was runner-up of season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race and winner of season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars.

Photograph courtesy of Producer Entertainment Group

It’s hard out there for a drag queen. Dancing in sky-high stilettos, flopping to the floor for a “death drop,” performing night after night? It all takes a toll on the body. So what’s a drag queen to do? We asked Alaska Thunderfuck—runner-up on season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race and winner of the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars—about her fitness regimen, nutrition, and thoughts on body image. The performer and recording artist otherwise known as Justin Andrew Honard will be the headlining performer at Saturday’s Peep Show, hosted by Wussy Mag for Pride weekend at Deep End.

Can you describe for me the physical parts of your performances?
I’m not a huge dancer onstage. In fact, I like not moving at all if I don’t have to. But even just standing up for any given amount of time in 6-inch heels ends up leaving me feeling like I’ve been cracked in half like a rag doll after a few shows.

How do you start your day? Can you share with me what a typical morning (or afternoon) looks like for you, when you start your day?
My perfect day starts with putting on the teapot. Then I have tea in my favorite Golden Girls mug and watch The Daily Show. Meditation is essential. I try to start each morning with a focus on the breath and three things I’m grateful for.

Your performance calendar looks really busy. How do you prepare, physically, for your shows? What kind of workouts do you do?
I just try to rest a lot. I try to lay flat whenever I possibly can when I’m on tour. Also I heard once that stretching is the fountain of youth, so stretching has always been a part of my life. As far as working out, I hate gyms so I work out at home. I have a few 25- and 35-pound dumbbells, and I just got 45-pound kettlebells I use for various light weight-lifts at home.

Alaska Thunderfuck RuPaul's Drag RaceWhy do you do those particular workouts? Are you trying to achieve a particular look? Is it also about stamina so that you can make it through all of these shows?
I like eating, and tearing down my muscles periodically lets me eat a lot to supplement the workouts. Plus it makes me feel better mentally. Working out grounds you in your body and in the moment so if I’m ever feeling fuzzy headed a workout always helps check in with the moment.

How often do you work out?
If I’m home, two to three times per week. If I’m on the road, not nearly enough.

Any workouts or fitness trends you avoid or hate?
I don’t like gyms. I like privacy and alone time. Also, I don’t care for cardio.

What do you do for self-care, otherwise, post-shows?
I have a great facial care specialist—Brandon at 360 Skin in San Francisco—and he makes my skin look and feel great. I also like massages to counteract the crooked positions I find myself in on airplanes.

What kind of nutrition plan do you follow, if any? How important is nutrition to the way you look, feel, and perform?
I don’t eat meat or fish and I avoid gluten. I went vegetarian as an experiment nearly 15 years ago. My body felt so good and healthy, I never looked back.

Do you find that the standards for beauty are very high for you? Is there a particular body type that performers strive to achieve? Or is there more openness to different body types in drag?
I feel very fortunate that the [ideal] body in drag is pretty much fake. Everything you see is manipulated in some artificial way. Also I don’t think the drag community is extremely hung up on mainstream ideas of beauty or aesthetics. We find beauty in everything and in everyone. I’m glad to be a part of this community.

Is fitness a big part of the drag community? Is the gym a big part of the culture?
It differs from queen to queen. I think some queens’ main form of fitness is dancing and bucking and twirling onstage, and that’s a type of fitness I fully support.

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