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Sweating in a Studio

Boutique fitness studios offer full body workouts.

Story by Hallie Martin

Getting fit and healthy and losing weight are among the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But if the sight of a treadmill makes you tremble and the thought of lifting weights makes you weak in the knees, a traditional gym might not be the solution to your healthy resolution.

Luckily, the Lowcountry is full of boutique fitness studios that will help you break a sweat and stay in shape. Here’s a look at a few of the offerings.


The Skinny: Also known as “hot yoga,” each 90-minute class is a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees and 35 percent humidity. “Bikram Yoga is a sequence of simple movements that work safely and effectively on the body,” said Brandon Irvin, owner of Bikram Yoga studio on Hilton Head Island. “The goal is to hold the posture (stillness), breath steadily (without interruption), and rest in between. The resting position is where the majority of the changes take place.”

Your body will: Besides increasing flexibility and strength, Bikram yoga can detox the body, is good for your skin and defines muscles. “We. . . work every single part of the body so that nothing goes untouched,” Irvin said. “This is time well spent.”

Need to know: You’ll need a yoga mat, a towel, water bottle and wear something you can really sweat in. During classes, you’ll hear “lock your knee,” which means stacking your knee above your ankle and your hip above your knee and contracting your leg muscles without holding your breath.

Why we love it:
“I am much leaner and very strong! I have also been able to decrease and eliminate prescription drugs. I love the way the practice has given me so much confidence, taught me patience and allows me to be in a very peaceful state on and off the mat. This practice keeps you young and helps to detox the body.” – Eileen Mulligan, 64, Hilton Head Island, practicing Bikram for 4 1/2 years

“It transforms you literally from the inside out. . . mentally, physically and spiritually you experience growth. Even though the dialogue remains the same for every single class, you take away something new in each class. I’ve learned about strength and flexibility and I reach new plateaus regularly. I’ve grown a half of an inch, my skin is exceptionally hydrated and my body is stronger.” – Sheila Thomas Benson, 56, Hilton Head Island, practicing Bikram for 3 1/2 years


The Skinny: It’s not just a spin class. It’s a low-impact, cardiovascular workout in theater-like studio. The class soundtrack has riders moving to beats. “CycleBar is a premium indoor cycling experience that offers a high-energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere,” said Katie Knowles, who owns the Hilton Head Island studio. “We incorporate a weighted bar into a small section of the class for a total body workout.”

Your body will: Indoor cycling is a high-intensity aerobic workout that will get your heart pumping, which has a huge range of benefits including weight loss, endurance and other general health benefits.

Need to know: All the equipment (shoes, towels, etc.) is provided. Classes range from 45, 60 and 75 minutes, and there are themed rides, concert series, endurance rides, performance and classic rides offered.

Why we love it:
“My aunt wanted me to try it with her. I was hooked after the first class. I love the class atmosphere. . . . Also, a little friendly competition helps push you! I have lost around 30-plus pounds doing CycleBar. . . . My blood pressure, cholesterol and mental well-being have all improved.”
– Aggie Schmidt Lawson, 31, Hilton Head Island, riding since the studio opened in 2017

“I love how I feel after a workout. I have been an avid runner for years, however, while enjoyable, is hard on my joints. I do not have the pain in my joints after taking classes at CycleBar. The changes I have seen in my body include (about 15 pound) weight loss, increased energy and overall body strength.” – John Simpson, 56, Hilton Head Island, riding for 6 months


The Skinny: Swap your ballet shoes for sticky socks at barre classes. “The Pure Barre technique focuses on tiny (or isometric) movements that lift, tone and tighten the body,” said Kara Raehn, who owns the Pure Barre studios on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. “We utilize a ballet barre in class, but Pure Barre is not ‘dance-y!’ In contrast, the technique is very athletic.”

Your body will: Classes focus on arms, abs, hips, buttocks and thighs, areas that Raehn says women struggle with the most. “We move quickly burning out a targeted muscle group, then follow it up with a stretch to create long, lean muscles without bulk,” Raehn said. “Every class is completely different, so you’ll never get bored and your body will never hit a plateau.”

Need to know: There’s a lingo (such as “tuck” and “pulse”) to the 50-minute Pure Barre that takes a few classes to get used to. Sticky socks are required, but no other equipment is needed.

Why we love it:
“What I love most about Pure Barre are the results. . . . I enjoy the camaraderie of the class participants before and after class. During the class, you are in your own work zone, pushing you to your greatest potential. In my early 50s, with the onset of menopause, my body type turned into that of a endomorph, tending to store body fat. I tried Pilates for two years, then yoga for two years with unsatisfactory results. Results from Pure Barre came very quickly. It has turned my body type more toward mesomorph, enjoying long lean muscles, higher metabolism and responsive muscle cells. I have lost many inches and have gone down several clothing sizes with no change to my life except attending Pure Barre.” – Kathi Plomin, 59, Hilton Head Island, “tucking” since March 2015.

“(Pure Barre) really is for everyone. All ages, all shapes and sizes, and people from all walks of life can do this. I have done many types of workouts in the past several years since I started my fitness journey (everything from Zumba to CrossFit style boot camps) and this is definitely the most challenging but also most rewarding. Everyone from the teachers to the clients are so welcoming, encouraging and non-judgmental! Being a big girl, I am always a little hesitant to try a new workout in front of other people (especially when they already look fit) but I have never once felt too big or out of shape for this group of women. It’s amazing. The biggest change I have seen or felt in my body is my strength. . . When I first started I struggled so much with nearly everything, and even though I still struggle with certain things in class, the amount of things I can do now is really amazing.” – Amy Kay Hargrove, 30, Hilton Head Island, “tucking” for 2 years.


The Skinny: Yoga is a series of poses designed to connect the mind and body. But it’s more of a lifestyle than a workout, a practice of “mindful movement and breath,” said Jean Rioux, who owns the Jiva Yoga studios on Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. “It is a powerful tool for self-transformation,” she said. Most classes range from 60, 70 or 90 minutes.

Your body will: Yoga increases balance, strength, flexibility and range of motion. Every level – from the beginner to the conditioned athlete – can reap the benefits. “If you are an athlete. . . you can increase strength in your muscles’ full range of movement, which will allow you to excel in your sport,” Rioux said. “Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.”

Need to know: There are at least a dozen variations of yoga with more subcategories to each. Jiva Yoga offers Vinyasa based classes that focus on breath and movement, and other therapeutic classes. “Om” is a mantra you’ll hear in classes no matter the level or type. “As we chant ‘Om,’ it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing,” Rioux said. A yoga mat is helpful for classes.

Why we Love it:
“(Jiva) made a real family of friends for all of us. It’s beyond the yoga itself. As a boy through the YMCA, I was taught the value of body, mind and spirit. Practicing yoga covers all three. I am a cancer survivor, age 75, and I can’t imagine a life without Jiva Yoga and my yogi friends.” – Paul Landry, 75, Hilton Head Island, practicing yoga for at least 7 years.

“I timidly started (yoga) with zero knowledge and grew into a complete nut trying to absorb as much as I could about the benefits. Yoga is a time for me. The energy in the room allows everyone to feel free to practice at their own pace depending on how they feel that day. What yoga provides is an inner change as much as a physical transformation. . . I feel far stronger today than any other time in my life. Not only physically but mentally. Depending on the class I have chosen to practice that day I am able to go full throttle and push myself combined with a beautiful sweat or I can make slower movements, which help strengthen my whole muscular body.” – Anne Polhill, 57, Bluffton, practicing yoga for 4 years.


The Skinny: Focused on the body’s core, Pilates is a series of movements and a full-body workout designed to increase flexibility and strength, according to the United States Pilates Association. “Pilates gives you longer and leaner muscles,” said Esmeralda Flores, owner of Esmeralda’s Massage Therapy & Pilates Center. “It also helps with injury prevention, stress relief, back pain and improved balance and coordination. It’s effective for post rehabilitation and gives self confidence.”

Your body will: The precise, controlled movements will encourage long and lean muscles rather than bulking up, and the exercise will increase flexibility and mobility.

Why I love it:
“I never had been good at other exercise programs. This is the first exercise I have stuck with. It was my gift to myself at age 60 because I wanted to maintain my balance. . . (Better posture) was one of the first benefits that other people noticed about me just weeks after I started. (I definitely have) an increase in core strength. Pilates is a really good workout but not stressful and pounding. Breathing correctly is part of the Pilates program so at the end of an hour session I feel relaxed and my muscles feel aerated. And I love being with the other women in the class!” – Jean Meaney Wheatly, 74, Hilton Head Island, practicing Pilates for 14 years.