When I walked into River West Fitness at 664 W. Hubbard Street, I was struck by how quaint and clean everything was. Not in the sterile sort of way, rather in the I-care-about-my-business-and-I'm-going-to-keep-it-clean sort of way. I showed up a few minutes early to take a small group pilates reformer class. Heidi Milby, owner of River West Fitness and our small group instructor, was just finishing up with a client. I looked around and saw several reformers, a Cadillac, a couple Gyrotonic towers and a separate room that looked like it was dedicated to boxing. In terms of appearance, and before I even had a chance to talk with anyone, I was really impressed by how the space was used. Nothing felt crowded, everything had a place and I felt completely welcome.
Class got started at 6:30pm. The other women taking class were regulars, and requested more of a cardio-style pilates class. Since I was just along for the ride, I was more than game. I've taken plenty of pilates classes in my day, but had never participated in one that focused on cardio, so I was anxious to see what class would be like. If you're not familiar with pilates reformer classes, they're somewhat different than mat classes in that they're done entirely on a dedicated piece of equipment called, of course, a reformer. A reformer looks like a long table with lots of ropes, pulleys and springs. If you like pilates and have never taken a reformer class, I recommend them. If you're injured, tight or need help with body mechanics, a reformer class can be helpful with those things, too.
Heidi started us with a warm up of several lower body exercises. Standing in front of the group of us, she cued us with where we needed to place our feet as we pushed and extented long on the reformer. Working all big muscle groups in succession, from glutes to calves, my heart rate went up and stayed up for quite a while. There are a lot of ways you can "cheat" in pilates. Heidi was great in making small corrections throughout class to ensure we all got the most from our workout. That's probably one of the things I love most about small group classes like this. When you're working with a good instructor, particularly it an area like pilates, it's so important to keep good form. Heidi really knew waht she was doing.
Nearly an hour on the reformer flew by before we started cooling down with some deep stretches and foam roller work. Originally from Louisville, Heidi moved to Chicago in 1998 to pursue dance at Columbia. After a career in dance, and as an instructor at East Bank Club, Heidi opened up River West Fitness five years ago. Along with several other personal trainers and pilates instructors, River West Fitness offers, private training, pilates, Gyrotonic, boxing and massage. Small group classes are offered as pilates reformer, pilates mat and yoga classes.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more cool thing about the space that houses River West Fitness. It's location, 664 W. Hubbard St., is one of the few buildings that survived the great Chicago fire. Prior to becoming a fitness facility, the building was a juice factory. There space still has a functional, very old school, freight elevator. Painted in bright orange, that's how River West Fitness receives all their equipment. It's rare that you find a gem like this in Chicago. If you're looking for a place that offers great classes and need easy parking - River West Fitness is definitely a place you need to check out.
For more info on River West Fitness, visit their website or call 312-738-3334.
Traci D Mitchell is a Chicago-based health and fitness writer and spokesperson. She's on-the-go everywhere trying out new and healthy things with a Chicago appeal. You can reach Traci through ChicagoNow or www.tracidmitchell.com.