Women's Fitness is Flexing

From aerial fitness to climbing and boxing, Minnesota women’s bodies + minds are getting stronger and healthier

A silhouette of a woman flexing.

photo by kieferpix/fotolia


Due to science and fitness innovation, it’s a great time for women in Minnesota to make informed, fulfilling choices to maintain and improve their health.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week to target heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and other common concerns for women as they age. Within an explosion of workout options that meet these needs, the best choice really depends on the person.

“In general, there’s no single exercise we endorse specifically,” says Dr. Elena Jelsing, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and sports medicine at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Minneapolis. “Big picture, we encourage our patients and athletes to find an activity they enjoy. Because if  it doesn’t feel like a chore, you’re more likely to do it, and more likely to meet that [150 minutes] recommendation.” Any weekly regular exercise is better than none, she notes.

Throughout history, women have been told strenuous workouts aren’t good for them, but studies show this is incorrect. As a result, women are going beyond mere aerobic exercise and yoga to focus on strength, endurance, and agility. Whether it’s cycling, climbing, lifting, or punching, more strength-oriented workout options for women have opened up that benefit the body and mind.

“It is fairly proven that when people do strength training, things like posture but also self-esteem improve,” says Nicole Cueno, the endurance sports coordinator and race director for the YWCA Women’s Triathlon. “You feel healthier…and it’s not about losing weight and being smaller; it’s about being stronger.”

What’s at stake? Cancer is Minnesota’s most common cause of death overall. About two in five women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and nearly one out of every three cases is breast cancer. Studies show that active women have a lower risk of breast cancer. Heart disease is second in Minnesota, and strengthening the heart with aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure—and  heart disease risks. Also, half of women age 50 or older will break a bone due to osteoporosis, but increasing bone density through strength training has been shown to diminish the risk.

Mental health is at stake, too. Minnesota women tied with Maine women for the second-highest rate of depression diagnoses nationally at 8.1 percent, and posted  higher numbers in Minneapolis-St. Paul (8.6 percent), Rochester (9.0 percent), and Duluth-Superior (8.6 percent), according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index. How does exercise affect depression? Dr. Jelsing cites a release of neurotransmitters and endorphins, mental distraction, and community support as contributing factors.

“What happens in the middle is hard to figure out,” she says. “That’s why studies are  challenging. Everyone might benefit a little bit differently. One person, their mood is improved because of the neurotransmitter phenomenon. Another, it might be endorphins, and another, the support.”

Aerial Fitness

Women exercising at The Aviary.
The Aviary

photo by Jenn Neve


For Christine Longe, distraction has been the key to staying connected to regular exercise.

“I was the restless wanderer,” says Longe, owner of Minneapolis aerial fitness studio The Aviary. “I would take Pilates, barre, or group boot camp classes, but my attention span didn’t stick. I needed my brain engaged in something else in order to also do the workout.”

The Aviary’s aerial (strength-focused) and bungee (cardio-focused) fitness programs take participants out of their heads by lifting them off the ground—and in the case of aerial, upside down. In both cases, the use of aerial hammocks and bungee cords hanging from the ceiling cuts down on back and joint pain for participants, and targets improved flexibility. 

“What’s interesting about this type of workout is that the intensity is under your own control,” Longe says. “It’s your body weight instead of weights. How much effort you put in is going to control how much you get out of it.” Longe specifically schedules aerial and bungee classes back-to-back so members can balance out their workout needs in one visit, and is proud to provide a fitness option that works in a group dynamic.

“Women are looking for community,” she says. “They’re looking for something entertaining and enjoyable when they’re going in. They don’t want it to just be sweat and hard work and then go home. They want something more from it.”


Where to Fly

The Aviary Northeast

Aerial programs only at this location.

201 6th St. SE, Minneapolis

The Aviary West

Both aerial and bungee fitness programs offered.

118 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka


Boxing

People boxing at Lorenzi's Boxing.
Lorenzi’s Boxing

photo by Kevin Kramer


Formerly a bar, Lorenzi’s Boxing gym in Proctor, Minnesota, has red-and-black walls covered in predominantly male boxers, including posters of Muhammad Ali and a mural of 1930s-era boxers training in the old Proctor train depot’s basement. These masculine depictions don’t tell the gym’s whole story.

When she joined the gym, Amy Lemenager and one woman trainer were its only female members. But in recent years, Lorenzi’s has attracted more women than men for classes and training.

Lemenager started boxing in eighth grade, both to help her become a better hockey player, and also because she struggled with body image. “I have a disease called hypothyroidism,” she says. “It makes it so hard to lose weight.”

Boxing became her main focus after an injury sidelined her hockey career. She’s ranked nationally as a fighter, but she also loves coaching and teaching classes at the gym. “Whether it is fitness, or they are getting their anger out, or they just want to try something new, it’s great to see other women in there,” she says.

Even for folks who aren’t interested in competition, boxing has huge benefits. “If people use the safety gear and use common sense, then it can be a great aerobic workout,” says Dr. Jelsing. Not only is boxing an intense upper-body blast that builds strength, it helps with coordination and balance. Plus, the intensity required to box seeps into other areas of your life. Alissa Boltz, another boxer at Lorenzi’s, says she feels she’s in the best shape of her life after starting to box just over two years ago. “I just feel like I make healthier decisions and have goals to work towards,” she says. “I keep my focus toward good things.”


Where to Box

Lorenzi’s Boxing

Boxing, cardio boxing, kickboxing, and more, with programs for women and kids.

408 3rd Ave., Proctor, MN | 218-393-0524 | lorenzisboxing.com

Uppercut Boxing Gym

This woman-owned gym has adult classes and a teen program, along with competitions and personal training.

1324 Quincy Ave., NE, Minneapolis | 612-822-1964 | uppercutgym.com

The Cellar Gym

Owned by wife-husband team of Jen and Chris Cichon, this gym offers boxing, kickboxing, mixed martial arts, and much more.

2828 Anthony Ln. S., Minneapolis | 612-355-2259


Community Exercise

Women riding cycles at a spin class at Cyclebar.
CycleBar

photo by Stacy Beng Silverberg


Over the past decade, more fitness groups and clubs for women have formed—both inside and outside gyms. “Whether that’s a high-intensity interval training activity, a strengthening activity, or a running club, it’s for the same principles,” Dr. Jelsing says. “It’s for community, accountability, and all of that support. Anecdotally, more of my female patients are doing these activities.”

Cycling and running, long associated with group training, have fallen into this trend. In more than a dozen Minnesota cities, Moms Run This Town is a national movement focusing on both fitness and friendship. “Our hope is that we can provide a fun club for moms (and really any woman—not just moms) to get together, run/walk/jog, and socialize,” writes “head mama” Pam Burrus.

Grease Rag Ride & Wrench is a Twin Cities bike community with online forums, skill-sharing workshops, group rides, and camping trips for women and those who identify as “femme.”

“The bikes are a tool that can bring us together,” cycling enthusiast Julia Winkels says. “And that act of community and friendship to me is health.”


Join a Running or Cycling Group

Cycles for Change

With classes, apprenticeship programs, groups rides, and more, this organization focuses on uplifting marginalized youth. It’s also a great place to get your bike repaired.

2010 26th Ave., Minneapolis | 612-787-7433

712 University Ave. W., St. Paul | 651-222-2080 | cyclesforchange.org

CycleBar

Two Metro-area CycleBar locations (one coming soon in Ridgedale) focus on keeping spinning affordable ($12/ride and up) and varied when it comes to instructional style. 

2927 Girard Ave. S., Minneapolis | 612-404-1948

265 Radio Dr., Woodbury | 651-448-2186 | cyclebar.com

Fly Feet Running

Indoor treadmill running training with a group component.

15 South 5th Street #100, Minneapolis | 612-333-3786

881 Lake Street East, Wayzata | 651-412-8273

Grease Rag Ride & Wrench

Here, you’ll find community events, skill-sharing classes, camping, and an online community geared toward femme, transgender, and women.

greaserag.org

Mill City Running

This accessible organization hosts running groups for all levels.

411 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis | 612-378-6001 | millcityrunning.com

Moms Run This Town

This free national running club for women has local chapters all around the state. Through Facebook, you can connect with other women of all different levels to share advice, meet up for runs, and race together at local competitions.

momsrunthistown.com

Pedal Wild

This spinning gym takes bicycling to the next level, with bikes that move with you, working out your upper body and core while you get your cardio workout.

1865 W. Wayzata Blvd., Suite 105, Long Lake


Climbing


Twin Cities bouldering: Vertical Endeavors

photo by Vertical Endeavors


Nate Postma, who owns the Minnesota-based indoor climbing chain Vertical Endeavors with his wife, Pam, says when he was first getting into climbing many decades ago, it was mostly men. “It’s almost equal now,” he explains. “I’m really surprised. Sometimes it’s more women than men.”

Among the physical benefits: an intense ab workout and increased overall muscle strength. “Climbing is all about body control,” says Noal Ronken, Vertical Endeavors training and business development manager. First-time climbers “discover new muscles that they didn’t realize existed. In climbing, it doesn’t really matter if you’re tall, if you’re short, if you’re heavier, if you’re lighter, everyone figures out their own way.” 

At four Twin Cities locations, and one in Duluth, Vertical Endeavors provides classes focusing on technique for beginners up to more-advanced boot camp-style training. Research has shown that climbing improves cognitive skills and alleviates depression.

“For me, it’s one of the few physical activities I can do that actually requires me to be in the moment,” says Tina Cho, a regular at Vertical Endeavors’ Minneapolis location on Nicollet, which has the dizzyingly high, cliff-like climbs.

“You’re always getting yourself prepared,” Ronken says. “It’s not possible for me to do a climb and think about how horrible that meeting went earlier in the day.”

Vertical Endeavors’ new Twin Cities bouldering gym focuses on workouts that are closer to the ground than perpendicular climbs, but often have angles that create more-intense muscle work. “Bouldering uses those muscles that so often we don’t use in our culture when we’re on computers and on phones and creeping forward with everything,” says musician and photographer Sarah White, who works out at the Minneapolis Bouldering Project. “It really is an opener of the chest. It helps to find those muscles in your upper back, just to get a better natural posture.”  

For the group dynamic, Vertical Endeavors runs an Adult Climb League, which consists of team competition in six-week stretches throughout the year. And with optional automatic belays, there’s no need to worry about partnering up for novices.


Where to Climb

Vertical Endeavors

The oldest climbing business in town, VE has locations around the metro and Duluth, offering lessons, leagues, a climbing boot camp, programs for kids, and other fitness and yoga classes.

9601 James Ave. S., Bloomington | 952-881-1110

2540 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis | 612-436-1470

855 Phalen Blvd., St. Paul | 651-776-1430

Twin Cities Bouldering: 2550 Wabash Ave., St. Paul | 651-330-8661

329 S. Lake Ave., Duluth | 218-279-9980 | verticalendeavors.com

Minneapolis Bouldering Project 

Climb on colorful bouldering in a beautiful, wide-open space. Yoga and strength and conditioning classes are also available, as well as kid areas.

1433 W. River Rd. N., Minneapolis | 612-308-2800 | minneapolisboulderingproject.com


The Gym 2.0

Two girls passing a medicine ball back and forth at Twin Town Fitness.
Twin Town Fitness

photo by Zoe Prinds


From CrossFit (a high-intensity branded regimen) to boot camp programs and the Ninja Warrior gym phenomenon, the high-variety, strength-building workout is still alive and popular. Orangetheory Fitness, which has more than a dozen Minnesota locations, even adds a heart monitor projection as a motivating tool for its mix of running, rowing, and weight training.

The popular CrossFit brand brings together disciplines like gymnastics, weightlifting, running, and rowing in a social, class-based atmosphere.

CrossFit gym Twin Town Fitness is equipped with rings hanging from the ceiling for gymnastics movements, boxes for box jumps, bar bells for weight lifting, and rowing machines for a mix of whole-body strengthening and cardio. Forty-year-old theater artist and mom Katie Kaufmann has discovered muscles where she didn’t think she had them, and she’s standing taller. Even with chronic back pain and a lot of injuries, she can still pick up her 7-year-old daughter and swing her around.

“Because I’ve had back problems for a long time, I’ve shied away from lifting heavy things,” she says. “Now I feel like I can do that because I know what I need to brace when lifting something up. I have a better sense of where my limitations are and less fear about hurting myself.”

Beth Walser likes Hopkins-based boot camp gym Envision Fitness for its welcoming atmosphere for all kinds of people and bodies—she’s a plus-size woman—and the workout. The small space has room for classes, with yoga balls, weights, and bungees.

“You definitely work hard, but it doesn’t feel like hard work,” she says. “You always feel really good.” With the gym’s boot camp-style training, each day is a little different. One day the class will focus on arms, the next legs, and the next core. It’s a mix of cardio and weight training that’s high intensity the whole time. “I definitely feel stronger and better, and see results,” she says.


Where to Train

Twin Town Fitness

Bulk up with a fun community at this CrossFit gym in the Wedge neighborhood in Minneapolis.

3400 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis | 612-822-3344 | twintown.com

Orangetheory

Locations in Apple Valley, Burnsville, Chanhassen, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Edina, Maple Grove, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Shakopee, and St. Cloud.

orangetheoryfitness.com

Solcana Fitness

CrossFit classes and yoga, all with a fun, open, community-focused atmosphere.

1915 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis | 612-888-1765 | solcanafitness.com

Art of Strength

With classes and training that focus on making functional fitness fun, this Edina strength training oasis will have you growing in all different realms of fitness, getting stronger, more limber, and in better shape. From handstands to kettlebells, the team of mostly women coaches focuses on your whole health.

7501 Washington Ave. S., Edina | 952-500-9552 | artofstrengthmn.com

Envision Fitness

The gym’s homey atmosphere also includes boot-camp style classes and personal training.

7000 Excelsior Blvd., Hopkins | 612-405-8414 | envisionfitnessmn.com

Fitaholic Fitness

Started by Damion Meyer, previously a franchise owner at Farrell’s eXtreme Body Shaping, this boot-camp style gym puts the focus on community and fun.

1352 Aberdeen St., NE, Ham Lake | 763-400-7929 | fitaholicfitness.com

In Motion Fitness

Positioned as a more personable alternative to big-box gyms, this smaller boutique gym offers strength and conditioning classes, plus personal training options.

3764 Dunlap St. North, Arden Hills | 651-756-8930 | inmotionfitnessmn.com

Noir Elite Fitness

Two working mothers— certified Zumba instructor Valerie Turner and body builder Sandifer, offer a variety of fitness classes, including kick boxing, Zumba, strength and conditioning, and boot camps, at a variety of locations, including the North Market grocery store and the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis, as well as parks, community centers and fitness clubs in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Fridley, and other locations. They offer fun, accessible classes particularly aimed at African American women.

651-373-0543 | noirelitefitness.com

Five Star Ninja Warrior

Part of a swath of new Ninja Warrior gyms around Minnesota, this one offers an open gym and classes, complete with an obstacle course and playground atmosphere.

2500 Cleveland Ave. N., Roseville | 651-321-7111 | fivestarninjas.com

YWCA

With a mission to empower women and eliminate racism, the YWCA puts intersectional feminism at the forefront of its health-oriented model. Visit YWCA.org to find a location near you.

ywcampls.org, ywcaofstpaul.org, ywcaduluth.org, ywcamankato.com, and many others throughout the state.


Getting Started

“It’s important to note that from an injury prevention standpoint that you have appropriate form and technique,” says Dr. Elena Jelsing, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and sports medicine at Mayo Clinic’s Sports Medicine in Minneapolis. “A lot of the injuries come when people go from zero to 60. It’s a little bit too much, too fast. Making sure you have the fundamentals of whatever skill it is, and doing a progressive increase in that activity will help prevent injury.

“Certainly if someone has knee or hip osteoarthritis, I would generally recommend they participate in lower impact activities. It decreases their pain level and potentially lets them participate in the activities longer.”

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