Hurts So Good: SweatBox Delivers Pain and Pleasure in 50 Minutes


There I was, feet in stirrups, sweating, grunting, struggling, suffering great pain. I cursed my foolishness, thinking I could get through this as my head pounded and another wave of nausea overtook me. But my deliverance came much quicker this time, albeit with less of a reward at the end, since this was a fitness class at the new SweatBox on U Street and not the maternity ward at GW Hospital.

As anyone who has been in D.C. for more than a few years knows, U Street is not what it used to be. Now you’re more likely to see up-and-coming millennials in expensive shoes heading to bars to sip $14 cocktails instead of the hookers and heroin addicts who populated the neighborhood not so long ago.

Livin’ La Vida Bonita

Situated among bars, restaurants and Starbucks locations, Vida Fitness has been catering to the beautiful and fitness-minded for five years (before that it was Results Gym for 15 years). D.C. has no shortage of high-end fitness clubs, and Vida is in its heyday.

With locations sprinkled throughout the area, U Street boasts the largest Vida space, at 60,000 square feet. Also in-house are the Penthouse Pool and Lounge, a rooftop hotspot where you can get cool and be cool; Aura Spa, for when you need a massage, buffing or waxing; and Bang Salon, a full-service hair salon. If you are not already beautiful, just keep showing up to this place until you are. You can see from looking at the employees that it works.

The owners must have thought this formula for perfection was lacking somehow, because they’re adding something new: SweatBox, which officially opens May 4th. SweatBox is Vida Fitness’s answer to CrossFit — an intense, timed workout that mixes up cardio and strength training. And you don’t have to be a Vida member to attend — you can join separately and pay monthly or per class.

bike sweat

Workout in the Limelight

Upon entering, I almost mistook it for one of the many nightclubs in the famed U Street corridor, as I could barely make my way to my station through the darkness. Once my eyes adjusted to the spotlight situated over my bike and my ears adjusted to the throbbing electronica, I began to enjoy myself.

I listened to directions for programming the bike, a piece of equipment seemingly sophisticated enough to monitor my vital signs through major surgery, if need be. “This will be fun!” I thought. After all, even though I’m closer to 50 than 40, I’m still in pretty good shape. I run. I lift weights. I’ll be fine!

Getting the bike going took a few minutes, but was not complicated, and instructors were on hand to help, should anyone need it. One interesting feature of these Matrix IC7 bikes is how the screens change color as your heart rate increases and you get into your zone. I watched my screen turn from white to blue to green as the instructor yelled encouragement.

Then I watched it turn back to blue again as she screamed, “OK, now let me see YELLLLOOOWWW!!!” What? I was running out of steam. My colors were wrong. Thirty more seconds? You must be joking.

Workout 2

L on Your Forehead

It was at this point I looked up, and to my horror, I discovered it was not just my screen that changed colors, it was the entire mechanism, which meant all of our bikes had what basically looked like a colored headlight at the front that advertised to the entire class whether you were able to keep up or not. Pedaling frantically, I looked around the room to see if anyone was as big of a loser as I was, but I couldn’t tell. I was getting dizzy, confused, forgetting whether you were MORE OF A LOSER the closer you got to red or LESS. Some people’s lights were green, others blue, some white — wait, which were good and which were bad?

I happened to have gotten the bike next to ripped D.C. fitness instructor Sharita Jennings, who was kind enough to at least sweat a little (perhaps just for comradery’s sake) as she zipped through the rainbow. (Check out her take on the class here, and her blog getfitlikethat.)

Every so often the instructor would kindly stop at my bike and point out that I should be trying to get to the number 56 in the box on the right, as if my problem was that I merely didn’t understand what to do and not that my legs muscles were on fire, threatening to up and quit and go out and get a drink by themselves. I would nod and smile at her as if to say, “Oh, now I get it!” when actually I was thinking, “I wonder if these towels they furnish in this handlebar contraption thingy can be used if I need to throw up?”

workout sweat

This Won’t Hurt a Bit

One exercise I excelled at was getting my feet into the stirrups on straps dangling from the ceiling and flipping over into the elevated plank position. A few of my fellow classmates who likely have not yet experienced the joys of epidurals and episiotomies may have lacked familiarity with such devices.

Holding still went well. The push-ups were more challenging. Fearing everything would be waaaaaay outside of my ability zone, I used only the lightest weights (12 pounds) for the resistance portion of the program, but I was able to get through this without as much pain and suffering as the other portions of the class. Clearly I should have used the 15s. But then I may have needed the towel …

As the class came to a close, a beautiful young woman began circulating, cheerfully handing out neatly rolled, icy cold towels with a pair of tongs, reminiscent of the treatment you’d get in first class on an airline, back when they used to have that sort of thing. I snatched up my towel greedily and pressed it to my face, relief washing over me not because of its cool sensations, but because it signaled that the 50-minute class had come to an end.

As I hit the street, I welcomed the brisk night air and marveled at how most of the other class participants hopped on their bikes and sped off into the night while I slowly climbed into my sexy ’06 Crown Vic and plotted a course back to suburbia.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably at least somewhat into fitness, so I think you should give SweatBox a try. You’ll likely get through most of it without too much trouble, and even if you don’t, all the hard bodies, ropy veins, dazzling white teeth and perfectly coiffed hair you get to gaze upon while you’re there will make it all worth it in the end.

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