I gritted my teeth, mopped the sweat from my forehead and, in the small Fifth Avenue workout studio, prepped myself for another round of eight squats, eight frog jumps and eight tuck jumps. This might have been a standard Manhattan bootcamp class, except that when my team and I were done the 24-move routine, we would be racing to get our hands on a cluster of rubber dodge balls lying in the center of the room.
My longtime best friend, competing on the opposing team on the other side of the room, got a round of squats, frog jumps and tuck jumps done before me. She grabbed a dodgeball and whipped it into my ribs (thank goodness it was lightweight as a beach ball). One of our “coaches,” Brian Gallagher, informed me of the only way to get back in the game: three burpees, of course.
This was Throwback Fitness, the team-based workout that’s part high school gym class, part ’80s and ’90s nostalgia trip. The classes are sure to evoke any millennial’s inner child—from warm-ups set to the tunes of Destiny’s Child and early Britney, to workouts inspired by playground classics like dodgeball and capture the flag. And as with phys-ed class, each Throwback Fitness session has participants working together in partners and small groups to achieve common goals—like winning a stair-running relay, or being the first team to log 1,000 jumprope revolutions.
“[Teamwork] helps push you a little bit further than having an instructor barking orders at you,” Throwback Fitness cofounder Mr. Gallagher told me over the phone a few days later. Having that accountability to a partner or team tends to make people work harder.
Mr. Gallagher cofounded Throwback Fitness with Ryan Wilke, a friend from the days when both men worked in finance (they since have quit their jobs to run Throwback Fitness full-time). Frequent workout buddies, they enjoyed motivating each other through friendly competition. Unfortunately, they could never find that fun, competitive element in any of the fitness classes they tried. So they decided to do it themselves.
After a series of trial pop-up classes, the pair moved Throwback Fitness into its Fifth Avenue digs last year. The classes, Mr. Gallagher promised, will “take you back to your days of gym class and recess.”
“Any games we played as kids, we try to put an exercise twist on them,” Mr. Gallagher continued. “We come up with new ones as often as we can.”
In addition to the aforementioned dodgeball game, my class featured a trivia-based warm-up, where participants had to guess whether a slew of songs were from the ’90s or early 2000s. We communicated our guesses via exercises—squats for ’90s, mountain-climbers for 2000s. If we answered wrong? More burpees.
I took a couple of things from my Throwback Fitness experience. For one thing, it was totally exhausting. My friend called me the next day to inform me she’d missed her morning train due to difficulty negotiating her legs, aching from squats, down her apartment building stairs.
I’d recommend doing Throwback Fitness with a friend, because the other thing the workout delivers is a great bonding experience. (“Yeah, because you both couldn’t walk the next day,” Mr. Gallagher joked.) At some point during the partner rowing machine race, I’m certain my friend and I found ourselves wildly professing our love for each other as a desperate form of motivation. Perhaps Throwback Fitness’ nostalgia factor is contagious, but it seemed to me the same sort of bonding she and I experienced back in actual high school, running softball drills at 7 a.m. before the morning bell.