“Excuse me, but can you tell me your name?” I ask, breathing heavy and dripping with sweat. “Liz, why?” the toned, spandex-clad brunette answers with a slight smile. “I just wanted to know the name,” I reply, “of the girl who totally kicked my ass.”

That, ladies and gents, is the very first conversation I conducted at The Fhitting Room, a relatively new, super-progressive New York City gym that’s at the forefront of the current fitness movement. It’s a little misleading, however, because over the past five months, not one but many TFR classmates have totally kicked my ass.

But the truth is, I needed it. While I’ve done loads of biking, snowboarding and soccer playing over the past few years—and even run a couple marathons—I’ve also done loads of, you know, eating and drinking. And now that I am in the latter half of my mid-thirties and rocking a sluggish metabolism, I can’t continue on this path if I’d like fitted shirts and straight-leg jeans to continue to be staples of my wardrobe.

If fitness were easy, we’d all be rocking six-packs instead of beer bellies. But if you stick with a commitment, down the road you’ll be able to look back with a sense of pride, stronger muscles, a clearer head and a slimmer waistline.

So late last year, I asked my friend Amy for help. She’s the kind of person who looks like she could bang out a hundred burpees in her sleep, and she recommended TFR. Gritting my teeth, I dug some moisture-wicking garments out of a closet, signed up for a 6:30 p.m. class at their Flatiron District location, and a few days later, there I was, getting whooped by Liz and friends.

It was pretty hellish for the first month or so, but I grew to grudgingly love it, and now I feel like something of a proselytizer for high-intensity training (the “h-i-t” in the gym’s name). If you’re looking to get back in shape—or just take sadistic glee in one man’s struggle to do so—read on for seven lessons I learned on this truly transformative journey. Then check out these awesome FHIT workouts we worked up with head instructor Eric Salvador to try it for yourself.

1. It can be a real struggle at first.
Seriously. Transitioning from what I would call a “casual fitness” regimen into pulse-pounding 50-minute classes three times a week is a straight-up beyotch. Sure, 50 minutes may not sound that long, but that’s where the high-intensity comes in: Throughout the warm-up, strength training, and FHIX (functional high-intensity mix) phases of the workouts, you’ll be in nearly constant motion, with just enough break time to catch your breath, towel off and sip some water. As you’ll probably gather from the photos in this piece—plus the video below that TFR made in support of a Movember initiative—some of the moves are rather gnarly.

It’s a lot of bodyweight, kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls, plus challenging moves like wall handstands, plyometric jumps, burpees and mountain climbers with your feet in stirrups. These moves awakened muscles I never knew I had/never knew could hurt so damn much. No wonder the notes I made on my phone after my first few sessions include: “Like Private Pyle, I am in a world of shit.” “Freshman nerd in gym class.” “Long time since I’ve felt this remedial.” “God I need a massage.” And simply “Puddle of mud.”

2. Glimmers of hope can keep you going.
When I decided to try TFR, Amy said something like: “If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to really commit to it. Go a few times a week for several weeks and see how you feel.” So even as my body was screaming in pain—and my eyes were obsessively checking the clock on the wall—over those first few sessions, I made up my mind to drop the ego, stick with it and push forward. And lo and behold, about a month in, I made my first somewhat positive phone note: “Actually felt like I didn’t totally suck today. Friggin’ squat jumps.” Small victories, people. Small victories. (That being said, listen to your body. A few weeks in, I overzealously did three workouts in quick succession and promptly threw my back out in a Sunday soccer match. Only lots of Advil, ice, a bit of whiskey and several visits to an excellent chiropractor allowed me to get back on track.)

3. Great trainers make a huge difference.
I’ve never really been the personal trainer type, but lately getting motivated to work out by myself has also been tricky. That’s where group fitness comes in quite handy, and where I really like TFR’s approach. Classes are typically one trainer, 10 students or two trainers, 24 students. That means just enough one-on-one attention to keep you working hard without feeling like you have someone watching your every move. I’ve really grown to adore people like Eric, Jason, Amanda, Daury, Carlos, Julia, Emily and Farouk. But based on notes like “Daury and Farouk are evil” and “Julia can totally kick your ass with a smile on her face,” it’s clear that hasn’t rendered them unable to really push me when I’m dogging it.

bosu ball dumbbell press

4. Classes equal structure.
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is, much like Ulysses lashing himself to the mast to navigate past the deadly Sirens, you’ve got to set yourself up to succeed. And that’s where just signing up for shit really pays off. I quickly realized that simply putting my name on the class list for Tuesday and Thursday nights, plus one weekend session, forced me to head in the direction I wanted to go. As sort of a double bonus, it also meant that at least two nights a week, I wasn’t hanging out at Manhattan press events, drinking booze, eating sliders and expanding my waistline like usual.

5. Nutrition is critical.
Back in the day, I worked for Men’s Health and Muscle & Fitness, and one thing I heard from experts time and time again is that when it comes to getting lean, diet matters just as much as, if not more than, your actual fitness regimen. So a few weeks after getting started with TFR, I reached out to the Vitamin Shoppe for tips. Certified Nutrition Specialist Brian Tanzer came back with excellent advice like: “Try to avoid diet soda and replace with water or flavored seltzer. You should make sure you are well hydrated for effective training. Drink water all day, especially on the days you train.” And “Avoid rice, pasta and other refined grains. Replace with higher-fiber veggies and quinoa.” And “Eat a high-protein breakfast or make a high -protein smoothie if you’re in a rush.”

Additionally, they hooked me up with a couple of awesome supplements that I highly recommend: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre Workout powder and BodyTech Whey Tech Pro 24 Rich Chocolate protein powder. No question, changing my diet and incorporating these supplements really boosted my energy and maximized my gains.

plyometric jump

6. So is a sense of humor.
Let’s be honest, you’ve got to be pretty serious to commit to a regular fitness program. At the same time, when you take a step back, the whole process of putting on special clothing and paying people to yell at you and make you sweat is worth a chuckle now and then, too. During one of my classes, I must have been really laboring, because trainer Amanda looked at my very snazzy adidas Springblade shoes and asked, “Do you think your shoes are keeping you off-balance?” I could only laugh, shake my head and reply, “No, I think I’m just naturally off-balance.” Moment of levity reached, I buckled down and got back to work.

7. And then one day, it all clicks.
As you might have gathered from these lessons, when it comes to high-intensity training, I’m hardly a natural. And the truth is, unless your name is Arnold Schwarzenegger or maybe Kacey Catanzaro, not that many of us are. If fitness were easy, we’d all be rocking six-packs instead of beer bellies. But if you put your head down and stick with a commitment—be it high-intensity training or any other regimen—down the road you’ll be able to look back with a sense of pride, stronger muscles, a clearer head and a slimmer waistline.

Two phone notes from much later in the process stick out to me here. “When this started I could barely do one burpee. Tonight I did 30.” And “Great to look at another dude in class and think, that was me two months ago. Being good, getting better actually motivates you to kick even more ass.” Going from getting your ass totally kicked to actually kicking a bit of ass yourself? That’s a journey that’s always worth taking, no matter how many toned, spandex-clad brunettes named Liz are ahead of you…

eric steve jason

Photos by Sloan Symington Smith