Boulder Movement Collective, 3280 Valmont Road, Boulder, 303-862-5844, bouldermovementcollective.com
Instructors: Matt Bernstein and Zack Finer, both of Boulder.
I met Bernstein last year, when I took his gymnastics class at CrossFit Sanitas. In February, he opened his own facility with Finer.
The Boulder Movement Collective is based on the movement teachings of Ido Portal, who is known for his bodyweight- and gymnastics-oriented strength and conditioning programs.
"Movement" is the key word here. The collective calls itself a "movement facility" that combines strength training, martial arts, acrobatics and performance arts.
Bernstein's background spans being a firefighter and ski patroller and CrossFit teacher, including at CrossFit's headquarters. He is certified in various CrossFit programs, from advanced gymnastics to mobility — but even though he has worked in CrossFit, this class was nothing like CrossFit.
Finer says he was not a lifelong athlete, beyond being a ski racer. He also trained with Portal and CrossFit, but he says the intent at the collective is different than at a fitness facility.
"There, the main thing is to come lose weight or look good naked. We don't discuss that or make it a priority," Finer says. "Our big focus is on quality and making people better in their bodies."
If you lose weight or feel good naked, that's a byproduct, he says, but that's not the goal.
What is the workout: All classes here are called Movement. Each class includes some aspects of mobility, gymnastics, strength work and hand-balancing. Classes may also incorporate coordination work, locomotion patterns, dance foot work and martial arts-style partner interaction.
"I find it really difficult to describe," Bernstein says. "The biggest thing we're doing is exploring how to be a really good, general mover."
Not fitness. Movement.
Classes are not focused on achieving a certain trick or goal. They teach a process of learning.
And that builds, day after day, in small increments — not major jumps. Bernstein says he encourages students to think three months to a year out. That means components of class may repeat day after day; what changes is you, how you execute the movement and then how you build on and deepen it.
"Most of these things aren't quick fixes. We're rebooting systems, and it takes time to do that," he says. "Classes are all different, but there is a lot of drilling and exposure to the same concepts."
What's different? This is the only facility of this type in the United States, Finer says. The next closest one is in Brazil.
"A lot of people come in here because they're wowed by the handstands or acrobatics or strength. They come in with a preconceived notion that this is like yoga or like gymnastics," Finer says. "That's not actually what this is. That's just a small part of the pie."
Unlike adult gymnastics classes, the students here are not gymnasts and many did not take gymnastics as kids, Finer says.
They point to their students as the proof of what makes the facility different.
"It's hard to find other groups putting out the same kind of quality among their students," Finer says.
Cost: First class is free for locals. After that, a one-time drop-in for the hour class is $20 and $25 for the 90-minute class.
Level: All levels.
I know you will see the photos and think, "Nope. A class with people doing 60-second handstands is not for beginners."
It is, though. Because the class is so process-oriented.
"The truthful joke we make is everyone who walks through the door is a beginner, even the people who think they're capable," Finer says. "A lot of people are intimidated by what's going on here, but most of our clients didn't have any of this, even a few months ago."
He says that he was not athletic as a kid.
"I was picked last every single time in dodgeball," he says. "We come from a background of raw clay beginners. We've been through the process and know what it's like to be the least coordinated, least strong, least elegant people in class. I always try to teach what I wish I'd been told in the beginning. What did I have to figure out three to four years down the line that I wish I knew on day one?"
I do not have a gymnastics or martial arts background, but I felt comfortable in class. Totally challenged to the max, but with no pressure — again, because of the logical way each movement is broken down into a process of specific steps. Just practice the step you can do.
Physically and mentally, the class was really tough — we're talking 10 out of 10 on so many levels — yet it was zero stress, zero pain, zero judgment.
That combination is rare and magical.
"We're not looking for talented people. We're unimpressed when talented people come in," Bernstein says. "How can you take a person who wasn't athletic, who didn't do this when they were a kid and give them the skills to do high-level stuff? One-arm chin-ups, and we're not climbers. Students who can pick up patterns but aren't dancers."
When: Check the schedule for classes every day: 90-minute classes in the morning and evening and hour-long one at lunchtime. I took a 90-minute class at 9 a.m. on a Thursday.
Muscles worked: "We're the physical ed class you never got," Finer says.
You will feel it everywhere, with an emphasis on spinal mobility, balance, core strength, yeah, OK, everywhere. It's not about doing more, better, faster. It's about quality.
"The way I felt for a long time was I watched all these amazing, talented gymnasts and acrobats and felt like they got handed a secret manual I didn't get to see," Finer says.
Now, he says, he can go to a dance class and understand the pattern because he was taught a process to do that. He can go to a climbing gym and he might not be the best climber, but he has the strength and mobility to participate.
"I have freedom in my body now," Finer says. "It's so satisfying and liberating."
What I loved: When you walk through the door, the first thing you see is a place to put your shoes and a sign that reads, "Check your ego here."
I think every gym, especially in Boulder, should have that sign.
It was so easy to be there.
I learned a ton about my body and had a blast. I felt like the teachers read me the intro in that secret manual on movement, and I didn't want them to stop.
I am intrigued by the philosophies taught here and delighted by the comfort of approaching difficult physical tasks with manageable steps.
"We appeal to nerds. We're just nerds who happen to move our bodies around," Finer says.
What I didn't like: That I had to leave after class was done to go to work. That was the worst part.
The biggest concern by other people is whether the class has a cardio component, Bernstein says.
"The answer to that is of course we do, but we do it in a different sense," he says. "We're not going to send people out on a run, just to simply attack cardio. We are never looking at it from just one perspective."
How I felt after the class: All. Jazzed. Up.
Also, I was sore for approximately ever.
Aimee Heckel: twitter.com/Aimeemay