I Worked Out Like a Parisian and It Wasn’t What You’d Expect

When it comes to Parisians naming their fave hangouts, you might hear about where they like to shop, eat and party. But despite their reputation for being slim, there’s not much talk about their fitness regimens. That’s because the secret to a French woman’s slender physique really is—get this—a secret. Their gyms are hidden, and they don’t want anyone to know about them. The health spots don’t take up second levels of office buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing rows of treadmills and steppers, but don’t expect a hole in the wall either. After sending a bunch of emails and almost cyberstalking the proprietors, I finally booked my spots at Midtown Studio and Studio Kinétique. Let’s just say these two classes were just as difficult to do as it was to find them.

Midtown Studio

Tucked within a few helical turns of the Champs Elysées is the barred-up Midtown Studio. Emmanuel Pothier, the instructor and owner, looks like he just stepped out of a romantic subtitled movie rather than a gruelling gym. Trained in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, he decided to bring the boot-camp, HIIT-style of fitness to France but with a twist that even I—a seasoned health editor—didn’t expect.

The gym isn’t well lit, unless you count the glowing fluorescent boxing bags and blue light, and the music blares at 7 a.m. But if it’s good enough for Karlie Kloss, it’s good enough for me. At the start of the class, Pothier gives us a head’s up that we’ll be doing treadmill work and using kettlebells and steps. The Workout of the Day (WOD) includes: Alternating between a one-minute sprint at a 15 per cent incline while carrying a 15-pound weight bag on my shoulders with one minute of burpees (repeated five times). Then, we head back on the treadmill, where I run 400 metres as fast as I can, do one minute of box jumps on a step and one minute of kettlebell swings (repeated five times). The workout is then finished with two minutes of split jumps.

Did I like it? Sure. I was just glad I had a few days left in Paris to walk off the lactic acid instead of sitting on an eight-hour flight back to Toronto.

Studio Kinétique

Climbing the steps to get to Studio Kinétique is part of the workout. Hidden on Rue de Sentier (in the 2nd arrondissement), you’d think you were visiting a designer’s atelier. Instead, I’m greeted warmly by my instructor Moriama Gaetmank, a trained dancer, yogi and physiotherapist with two masters degrees (in cognitive behaviour psychology and movement therapy). Gaetmank’s fitness style is a mix of different types of physical training, including Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis, Pilates, Garuda, Anma-ampuku, massage, naturopathy, reflexology and shiatsu. She even offers clients luxurious Italian wellness getaways.

While I’ve done Pilates before, my training did nothing to prepare me for this one-on-one session with Gaetmank, who also works at the Opéra de Paris training its dancers. She is a sought-after trainer, especially with those in the fashion industry (clients include editors, publicists, photographers and designers, like newly appointed Chloé designer, Natacha Ramsay-Levi, who trains with her twice a week).

For starters, we do crunches in ways I never thought possible. Instead of just sitting on a mat and curling up off my shoulders, I’m in a Cadillac trapeze, which kind of looks like a daybed from Fifty Shades of Grey. My feet are strapped in, while my hands push bars and my torso responds with different levers as I try to keep my balance. Then Gaetmank has me do hanging pull-ups, bar V-ups, kick-back hip extensions and more. And you cannot cheat in this class. Prior to the workout, Gaetmank warns me that she’s a very hands-on instructor—literally. She squeezes the muscles that are meant to be working, and if you don’t engage them, prepare to feel her pinch.

An hour passes and there is not a muscle that isn’t worked. Compared to other Pilates classes I’ve taken, this is obviously the most intense. Results? I feel taller and more elegant. It’s like every exercise pushed me to such physical precision (proper form is queen here) that I suddenly understand why dancers move like they do. However, I do not look forward to the stairs afterward.

So, what’s it like to work out like a Parisian? It’s not a walk in the Tuileries. It’s like being a secret spy, with covert directions to find your way to an underground event. It was fun. And hard. But it’s worth every macaron, plate of cheese and pain au chocolat.