It’s rare I talk about fitness and diet on my blog. Let’s be real: if you’ve read any of my travel blogs, you know that I’m a huge proponent for indulging because, well, YOLO.
But for these past few months, as I’ve taken a brief hiatus from planes, trains and more planes, I’ve gotten really serious about my workout routine again. Because, well, all of that YOLO’ing.
Enter my latest obsession: CHI50.
CHI50 is the newest Pilates studio in Bucktown, Chicago and it’s without a doubt one of the most challenging and comprehensive full-body workouts I’ve ever experienced. The studio, which teaches the Lagree style Pilates with those crazy looking “mega reformers,” feels more like an airy loft apartment than it does a gym. Owner Cheri Byrd has styled the no-fuss space with original art murals, mid-century furniture and enough succulent plants to make any Millennial girl smile. But it’s Cheri’s own down-to-earth vibe (and that of her teachers) that makes this not just a place to get your booty beat, but a true community.
I’ve gotten to know the teachers at CHI50 really well. (That happens when you hit the studio 3x a week…so will #abs.) See below for a recent pic I felt daring enough to post in my Snapchat…
I digress. I sat down with Cheri and team from CHI50 to get their take on why they love this style of Pilates so much, and particularly for Cheri, what inspired her to take the leap to launch her own business, (I was so happy to learn that traveling around the world had something to do with it!) along with some incredibly valuable lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you opened Chi50?
Cheri: Before I opened CHI50 I was working as a manager for lululemon. I was with the company for close to 5 years and it has definitely been a huge influence in what I have brought to the studio with my focus on community and people.
What was your inspiration for starting Chi50?
Cheri: From my time at lululemon I was able to take classes at studios all over the city. I came across the Megaformer a few years ago and instantly fell in love. That machine hit muscles I never knew I had and every single class was different so I never knew what to expect. A couple years ago I took some time off to travel and figure out the next step in my career. It was through that time where I was able to attend classes at studios in other cities in the US and abroad that I truly saw what the potential of my own studio could be. After sitting down with one of my good friends to review my business plan it finally came down to her saying: “If you don’t go for it will you always regret it?” So I took the leap and I couldn’t be happier about the decision I made. I think what makes CHI50 special is that it truly is a labor of love. I teach classes, take classes and am at the studio 90% of the time, not because I have to, but because I truly love the space and community that we have created. I have an awesome team of instructors who also love the studio and our clients, and it makes for a very welcoming and fun environment.
What is Chi50 and how is different from other Megaformer classes?
Cheri: CHI50 stands for Core High Intensity,and the class if 50 minutes= CHI50. We are a Lagree Certified studio that offers 50 minute classes on the Megaformer machine, giving you a total body workout. The workout and machine itself offer you a low impact but high intensity workout that will work muscles you have never tapped into before.
Why is CHI50 different than other Megaformer studios?
Cheri: At its core it is the same. That is something that you can trust with Lagree method is that the machine and workout will always give you a challenging workout that is accessible for new clients but allows our regular clients to keep pushing the limits. How our studio is unique- we truly operate on a community.
Your studio is absolutely beautiful. It feels like someone’s personal loft. How did you come up with the design for the space?
Cheri: It definitely came together slowly throughout the entire buildout. What the space looks like now is not a vision I had from the beginning. I knew that I wanted to find an industrial style space and then wanted to make it feel very warm and comforting. There’s nothing worse than being in a studio in the dead of winter and having it feel cold or dark. When I found the space for the studio it was the perfect fit, so a lot of it was just trying to build off of what was already there and then to just make it our own. I definitely had a lot of help from my good friends in deciding on color and layout. And my best friend Marley was there for a few shopping trips to Target and online to help finalize those last touches.
Why do you feel the boutique gym movement has become so huge and how do you keep up with the competition?
Cheri: I think the boutique gym movement has grown so much for a few reasons. When you go to a gym you are forced to push yourself and sometimes that can be really hard, and can also become really redundant. Group classes have allowed people to find studios where they know they can step in to a class and not only guarantee they will get a good workout, but they will also be pushed by someone to get through that class and can find the motivation more through that instructor and group mentality. I think it also holds people accountable more to sticking to a workout when you sign up for a class and you can’t cancel it. That way when it starts to rain or you just aren’t feeling up to it, you are forced to go to class and you always feel better after you just get there and get into it. I also think the group class format is really encouraging for a lot of people because you are working out with other people, it pushes you to work harder. And some people just come because they enjoy having that community of a familiar face to see every day. As far as competition, I honestly just try to focus on our studio and people and creating the best experience for everyone. What’s great about our studio is that every class is different including the music so it keeps people from getting bored or stale in the workout. Having only 10 machines also keeps it really close where you have a good group of people working out together but you can actually get to know them too.
What have been your biggest challenges launching (and running) your own business?
Cheri: Working on other people’s timelines. Throughout the entire opening/buildout process of the studio it all went much slower than I anticipated. I opened almost 8 months later than I had originally planned for due to delays in permits and other obstacles. It can be really frustrating to have a plan and see it not stay on course. But the biggest thing I learned early on was to stay flexible and to always be prepared for the unexpected. There is so much that goes into opening a business you can have what you think is the most seamless plan and there will still be surprises. If you let those throw you off, you’ll never be able to keep your head above water. The key is to just stay focused on the end goal and deal with things as they come up.
What have been some of the biggest “highs” of running this business?
Cheri: The people. I absolutely love my team and look forward to seeing them every single week. I think they are such a unique group of people and it’s been really fun to grow together as a group. Everyone gets along so well that they look forward to team meetings and are always trying to take each other’s class. I feel so lucky to have such a great group of people to work with. I also have a wonderful community of clients that come into the studio every single day. It’s amazing to see how already in just a few months we have regulars who not only know our teachers but each other and come to class early just to chat and catch up. I get to meet so many new and inspiring people on a daily basis it makes me look forward to coming to work every single day.
What advice would you give to someone who has never taken a mega reformer class and feels a little intimidated?
Cheri: If it’s your first Megaformer class I would say to definitely show up about 10 minutes early so you can meet the instructor and thoroughly go over the machine. The biggest mistake new clients make is showing up right before class starts and they don’t have a chance to go over the machine and method first, which sets them up to be really confused from the beginning. Don’t be afraid to use your neighbor. We tell every new client to utilize the person next to them to help see what the positions look like (since the instructor isn’t physically on the machine). Everyone has been the new person in class so just remember that your neighbor is more than happy to help assist, that’s the best part of the class, it really is a great group mentality of working together! And to not be hard on themselves. Your first time on the machine really is a learning curve just getting used to it. So take breaks when you need them and just be proud of yourself for getting into that first class. We promise the second time will be much easier because you will know what’s going on!
I chatted with a few of my favorite instructors, Ashlee Wozniak, Glenn Snellgrose and Elia Covina, to get their take on why THEY love CHI50 so damn much, too.
What are some of the results you see your students achieving?
Ashlee Wozniak: Since we’ve opened in May, I’ve seen multiple students really lean out. Body fat turns into muscle and it’s usually noticeable first in the arms and mid-section and then makes its way to the legs. Muscle tone pops through where extra body fat or skin had been.
Why do you love this particular style of Pilates with the mega reformer over others?
Elia Covino: The intensity and RESULTS! Before I was introduced to the Megaformer, I avidly worked out on the Pilates Reformer but would still crave those kick-your-butt workouts. We call the Lagree method ‘Pilates on steroids’ because it incorporates Pilates fundamentals but it’s amped up and is truly a strength training workout. It will leave you feeling fatigued, yet seriously accomplished after only 50 minutes. It’s also amazing how quickly you start seeing your body change- how you look and how strong you get!