It’s January. The bars are empty and the gyms are full of people with good intentions. By February or March, of course, that situation will reverse, as new year resolutions begin to flag and it becomes increasingly difficult to justify that extortionate gym membership.
Like dieting, the biggest problem with getting fit is sticking with it over time.
That’s the problem Tokyo-based trainers Chris Colucci and Allan Wooding aim to solve with TokyoFit. Their classes, which I have been attending since 2013, are a far cry from those at the city’s typically pristine and pricey gyms: Held in a small park under a highway bridge in Hiroo, Shibuya Ward, students thrust barbells, swing kettlebells, and thrash battle ropes. Passersby are often surprised by the sight of grown-ups chasing each other to yank red velcro strips off their partners in a warm-up game called “Steal the Bacon.”
“We like to think of TokyoFit as ‘P.E. for adults,’ ” Colucci says. The fun and games have a serious objective: to make people fitter by stealth, and keep them coming back for more. When you’re crawling along the ground doing the “komodo dragon walk” as Trinidad-born Wooding blasts out his favorite carnival music, you’re less likely to worry about how much your heart is pounding.
Colucci, a long-term hockey player and certified strength and conditioning personal trainer, started TokyoFit in 2011 while working full-time as a physical education teacher at KAIS International School in Meguro. Wooding, a track star back in Trinidad who missed out on making the Olympic squad by a split second, joined shortly after.
Contrary to the way most people work out by focusing on just one aspect of fitness at a time, such as yoga for flexibility, running for cardiovascular capacity and weight lifting for strength, TokyoFit is designed to develop all the elements of fitness within a one-hour session. Participants don’t just run; they sprint, skip, shuffle and hop. They don’t just lift weights; they have you whipping 20-meter ropes around. And then there’s the circuit routines with creative concepts like the 12 days of Christmas (“and a burpee in a pear tree . . .”).
TokyoFit’s emphasis on varied and functional exercises is similar to the concept behind Crossfit, the workout craze that has swept the world in the past few years. But while Colucci and Wooding are both certified Crossfit coaches and incorporate elements of its philosophy, TokyoFit is not a Crossfit box and they eschew some of its practices.
Cross-training shows up the weak spots that most people conveniently forget about when making their own work-out schedules. When I first joined TokyoFit, I was cocky enough to think that my background in cross-country running and recent forays into barbell lifting would make the workouts a breeze.
Not so. I’d arrive to every session with a sense of trepidation, hoping for some of the weighted squats I’d grown so fond of, but instead I would get slapped with a dose of sprints, kettlebell swings and those darned double-under skips.
TokyoFit got me doing the very things that I always avoided when working out alone — the things I needed to concentrate on to improve my all-round fitness and tolerance for everyday tasks, such as running for the train. The workouts prescribed by the irrepressibly springy Wooding — part human, part amphibian if his jumps are anything to go by — made me glad for the others in the class, who helped me see the light at the end of 25 press-ups.
“We truly feel that group classes are the way to go,” says Colucci, who says that people are more motivated by a competitive urge to beat their peers than by being barked at by a single instructor. For me, it was as much the camaraderie and friendships that were forged over sets of sit-ups that kept me coming back for more every week as it was the first glimpse of my ab muscles in over a decade.
TokyoFit is like an antidote to the solitary and impersonal modern gym experience. With no treadmills or machines in sight and an array of colorful equipment to play with, the exercises feel a lot more satisfying. And while running around outside in Tokyo’s often steamy and occasionally snowy climate may sound intimidating — I saw my breath in the winter and wrung out a mug’s worth of sweat from my shirt in summer — it’s far more exhilarating than an air-conditioned and windowless gym.
“We have nothing against gyms per se, but when you think of what makes hiking, skiing, snowboarding, trail running and so on appealing for most people, it is the outdoors element. Why not bring that to your weekly training routines?,” asks Colucci, who has made it his personal mission to shake people out of sedentary lifestyles.
“Sitting behind a desk in a suit while staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day is not just unhealthy, it’s torture,” he says. “Unfortunately, if that is all a worker knows, then the torture becomes normal.”
For those who can’t make it to class on weeknights, TokyoFit also offers corporate classes that can be adjusted to employees’ goals and a company’s available space, whether a spare office room, a nearby park or even the Imperial Palace. Colucci said he’s had to get creative with more body-weight exercises for indoor rooms, but is glad just to be getting people out of their office chairs and moving.
The hardest part of any fitness routine, however, is starting — particularly in the grimly cold and dark days of January. But if you look into TokyoFit now, with any luck, you’ll be in good form by the warm months of July.
TokyoFit offers weekday classes from 7:15 p.m. and corporate training options for companies. Fees vary from ¥3,000 for a one-time drop-in to ¥27,000 for 12 sessions. For more information, visit www.tokyofit.com.