So you think you’ve done all of Toronto’s best fitness classes? I’ll wager you haven’t. Not unless you’ve already happened upon the one-of-a-kind, temple of training known as Judy’s Group Fitness. That’s right; on the basement level of an uptown retail plaza is this studio like no other!

Less Is More

Forget the frills and trendy studios you may be used to. This kickboxing studio at Bathurst & Lawrence is a simple space that’s as straight up as the woman behind it. To start, you won’t find a spacious change room filled with shiny fixtures and amenities. The single bathroom, accessed with a key on a stick, is painted with quotes and empowering handwritten messages that will get your mind right before class.

Bypass the bathroom and you’ll still get a massive dose of motivation from the red studio wall adorned with the big bold words: DARE GREATLY.Β The studio itself, which rivals the size of my two-bedroom apartment (or so I like to believe), is stacked with fitness accessories including the rows of Body Opponent Blockers (B.O.B’s) we’d be using in that morning’s signature Kick Boxing B.O.B class.

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Wait, What?

I joined the group of women in the studio. They were all suited with fingerless combat gloves (so badass, I love it) and standing face-to-face with their rubber B.O.B’s. I was ready. Or so I thought. When studio owner, Judy Romanti, bounced in and kicked things off with a surprise playlist and our first set of instructions, I was totally thrown for a loop!

The warm-up choreography, backed by a stream of classic dance hits, was reminiscent of a 90’s aerobics class. I’m talking grapevines and jumping jacks, people! As odd as it was, it made me smile. Then came the punches. Then the kicks. Once they started, they never stopped.

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For the next 30 to 40 minutes, the 54 year-old warrior woman led us through a high energy dance party meets combat class. Each workout set included a sequence of jabs, hooks, front kicks, side kicks and calisthenics focused around our rubber opponent. Judy, with her headset and big curly hair, bobbed through the B.O.B.s, shouting, smiling and correcting our individual form as she danced and jabbed around us.

In our most impressive moments, twenty B.O.B. heads sprung forward and back in sync with the beat of the music and our own laboured breaths. My legs ached and my sweat-stung eyes burned but I kept going. Kicking that rubber body in the ribs felt AH-mazing!

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Plot Twist

With about fifteen minutes to spare on the clock, and no more oxygen to spare in my lungs, the gloves came off, and, are you ready for it? We conga danced around the studio! I kid you not. All of us grown-ass women conga danced party-style around the room before finishing with a round of core work, stretches, restorative poses and savasana. Well, all of us but the one woman in the front corner who stayed in her own world beating her squishy-faced man while we danced. We just stayed out of her way, LOL!

The core work, stretches and yoga poses were brilliant. Though they may seem an odd follow-up to kickboxing, it not only worked, it worked well. Dancing was a great way to release the tension built up through the upper body, while the restorative poses were specifically included to relax the spine, legs and pelvic area which get worked to the bone with all those kicks. Then the meditative elements of the cool down took me to a spiritual place that sent calm, consciousness and gratitude through my still body. I was left with a wonderful feeling of peace and rejuvenation.

A Rare Breed

There’s a lot to appreciate about Judy, the class, and the community that she’s created in that basement studio. With fifteen years of group fitness experience behind her, she’s developed a signature class that draws on both her martial arts and Stott Pilates background. This holistic approach to fitness is both intelligent and refreshing. And what really works is Judy’s ability to infuse a high level of spirit and fun without sacrificing form and function.

While the sweat was still fresh on my everything, I had a chance to chat with Judy one-on-one about the women who attend the Friday morning class. Word of mouth has attracted locals, many entrepreneurs, in their mid 30’s to 50’s. The supportive community and combat style class lends itself well to those in need of an emotional boost. Women who are dealing with break-ups, grief, and serious illness find their voice and power. “It’s literally therapy with a kick”, says Judy.

Ready to try it? Here’s the one thing you need before you sign up – an open and willing spirit. Leave your expectations at that black basement door and be ready to throw caution to the wind. Judy will guide you all the way, and throw in a few fun surprises to keep you on your toes. For more information, visit http://www.judysgroupfitness.ca/.

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