I should have known my Rise Nation class wouldn’t go well. The Knox-Henderson studio uses “choreographed climbing” to get a full-body workout, and, well, I can’t climb. I knew this class would be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be such a disaster.
I arrived 15 minutes early to learn the workout for my Level 1 class. However, the moment I walked into the studio and found my machine, I knew I was screwed. Rise Nation uses versaclimbers in its workouts. The intimidating machine is like a tall, vertical elliptical. You put your feet into pedals, grab onto handles, and pump your legs in a climbing movement at a slight incline. But unlike a stair-stepper or treadmill, it doesn’t run on its own. As you move, you are literally pushing against your own body weight to climb up.
I stared at the machine, realizing I might not even be able to attempt this. I began to panic. Then the instructor came over to show me how to get into the machine. I could barely hike my leg up the two-ish feet into the higher foot pedal. Once I was completely off the ground, with both feet in the pedals, I had this sinking feeling I was going to fall backwards out of the machine. That fear wasn’t unprecedented: I fell and hurt myself at another workout, and I’ve been hospitalized for falls in the past. All that trauma and fear about my abilities rocketed to the surface, and I felt fight or flight kick in.
I asked the instructor if we could angle the machine forward more. No, she said, it was bolted to the floor. I asked if they had a strap or harness or something that I could wrap around my body and physically attach myself to the machine. They didn’t have that either. Then my instructor had to start class, so she grabbed another Rise Nation employee to help me.
That woman led me out into the hall to talk. I was in a full-blown panic attack at this point. I explained my issues to her. Understanding, she said we could try to do the class, but if it wasn’t working, we could stop at any time. I awkwardly asked her if she could stand with me during the class and hold a hand on my back—basically spot me so I wouldn’t fall. She said yes. She got me into the machine, helping me hike my foot up into the pedal, and I started to climb.
It was hard. I struggled to pull myself up the two-foot distance using the strength of only one leg. Every movement was awkward. The long strides were near-impossible. I’d climb a few paces, then my leg would give out, and I’d have to pull myself all the way up again. It was easier to take shallower steps—only pumping my legs about five-ish inches—and to move faster, letting momentum propel me. The arm handles were useless to me. They only made me feel more unstable, so the woman told me not to use them. Just hold onto a bar halfway up the machine. Eventually, she removed the handles all together.
I had to take a lot of breaks. Sometimes, I just balance up on the versaclimber, my feet parallel. Sometimes I had to completely dismount, take a sip of water, and stare at the machine, questioning whether it was worth it. I almost quit multiple times. That panicked feeling never went away. But the woman always helped me remount the machine and she stayed spotting me the whole time. She was supportive throughout the 30-minute class, which I deeply appreciate. If it weren’t for her, I probably would’ve just picked flight and left the studio.
Because I was so focused on just being able to climb the versaclimber, I didn’t pay any attention to the actual class. I heard a lot of “reach, reach, lift!” and “reach, reach, reach, reach!” It seemed like the class varied between long steps, faster shorter steps, and resistances. It looked like everyone was enjoying it. But it was intense—that much I could tell. And by the time the class was done, we were all sweating.
After the class, the instructor led us through some stretches then came over to debrief. She asked me how it went, and how we could modify future classes so I could actually feel safe and comfortable enough to follow along and have fun. To be honest, I’m not sure there’s anything that could be done to help, but I thanked her and the woman who spotted me profusely for their support. I was impressed by their attention toward me throughout the class.
Rise Nation embraces the club atmosphere. There’re blackout curtains over the windows, pumping music, and a grid of strobing lights on the ceiling, which sometimes go out and you’re climbing in the dark. The studio also leans into aspirational imagery: Outside the bathrooms, there are large, moody black-and-white photos of a nude man and woman (somehow, no R-rated bits can be seen) on the versaclimber. Both are greased up and super fit—not a speck of cellulite on them—this could be you! … if the models don’t intimidate you, of course.
This is an intense HIIT-style class. You’re working against gravity and your own body weight to climb up the machine. The class is only 30 minutes, but it feels much longer. Be prepared to sweat and for your body to cramp up. My feet were cramped almost the entire time—the woman spotting me said it was normal for the foot to fall asleep in the machine.
You can’t take this class if you aren’t able-bodied in all your limbs, which I am not. The machines are nailed into the floor and hard to modify for different abilities, and it’s a high step up into the pedals. However, I did appreciate the effort that my instructor and the studio’s staff took to make me feel safe. That hasn’t always been the case. I don’t think I could have gotten through the whole session mentally without the staffer standing behind me to spot.
The Cost of it All
A single drop-in class is $24. But if you pay just a little bit more, you can get three classes for $30 in the “Learn To Climb” new client special, which isn’t a bad deal at all. Memberships begin at $59 a month for four classes and go up from there. Members also get certain perks, like guest passes, discounts on retail, and more.
Would I Go Back?
No. While I think there is definitely an audience for this type of workout, it’s not for me.