DC: Toolbox Pilates Art Studio

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Crash CourseToolbox Pilates Art Studio offers a powerfully beautiful classical Pilates experience to Dupont Circle. The reformer class works deep into the core and moves gracefully between exercises, focusing on strength and form rather than speed. With relaxing music, exposed brick, and art everywhere, the studio’s environment creates an experience well worth the money. In addition to reformer classes, Toolbox also houses a room for mat Pilates, yoga, and Zumba. Visit the Toolbox website to book your class or set up a private session.

[line] [left]where: 1627 Connecticut Avenue, NW | Dupont (enter via an alley on 19th Street between Q and R)

bring: your beautiful self

perks: gorgeous bathrooms with showers, free water bottles

sweat score: 7 out of 10

[/left][right]wear: spandex crops or pants, socks or bare feet are fine

instructor: Carlos

class: Intermediate Reformer

cost: $99 5-class pack for new students and $40 drop-in (less for mat classes)[/right][line]

When I first searched “Toolbox Pilates” on Google after hearing about it, I was surprised to see “Toolbox Pilates Art Studio” as the first result. Skeptical that I’d found something entirely different (people holding Pilates poses as art? impressionist paintings of Joseph Pilates? the mere idea of Pilates as a lens through which to view sculptures made from Mardi Gras beads and freshly cut grass?) I clicked through.

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To my delight, this was in fact the Dupont Circle studio I was looking for, it was just better than I’d ever imagined! A cross between an art gallery and a Pilates studio, the founders aimed to create a beautiful environment so that students might find that elusive mind-body connection. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that it’s also used as an event space.

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I’ve been to many chic boutique fitness locales, but this easily shot to first place in the Best Looking category. High ceilings, exposed brick, gorgeous natural wood, glass, metal wires, and of course, art, intermingled throughout the space. I went at night, but I can just imagine the natural light flooding through the windows during the day. And yes, I did start planning where my bed and furniture would look best in this studio, with designs to move in as soon as possible.

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The first floor houses the front desk and an expansive room full of art that serves primarily as an event space. Walking up the wood stairs suspended gracefully by wires and enclosed in glass, you’ll find two bathrooms and cubbies straight ahead, a room used for mat Pilates, yoga, and Zumba on the right, and the reformer and chair Pilates room on the left.

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I checked out the bathrooms to see if a crasher could comfortably get ready here before work, and as with the rest of the space, they floored me. Textured gray walls, modern toilets and sinks, two mirrors (the other side of the door is a huge floor-length mirror), and the piece de resistance, a shower with a rain-esque head and pebbled floor.

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Eventually, I stopped obsessing over interior design and changed my focus to the workout ahead. I signed up for the Intermediate Reformer class with Carlos Urrely. I’ve taken a number of reformer classes before (Pilates ProWorks in Oakland, [solidcore] in DC, and Equinox in DC), but never with the Allegro reformers featured at Toolbox.  Very attractive (are you surprised?) with white, gray, and wood elements, these reformers seemed more traditional than megaformers, but not as old-school as some all-wood machines I’ve seen in the past. Once I got settled into one, I found the experience as smooth as the aesthetics suggested.

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With only six students (the maximum size for reformer classes), we all got plenty of attention from Carlos. We began with our shoulders against the headrests and a few light springs hooked on the reformer, and “jumped” back and forth. This serves as a great leg exercise, and also warms up your core for the rest of class. After a few variations on these jumps, we moved into more difficult core work.

I thought Carlos did a really fantastic job of creating and/or choosing exercises that reached deeper into the core than a traditional mat class can. Certainly, I’ve wanted to die during mat Pilates before – those moves can set you on fire. But the Allegro reformer allowed for certain positions that a person can’t achieve otherwise, and thus the muscles you reach can be different and deeper.

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The core work focused on strength, balance, and focus. Rather than the rapid-fire changes you make in a barre class, and even in [solidcore], often the difficulty in our Toolbox routine came from having to slow down – actually having to hold the position and steadily move into a different one rather than letting momentum do it for you.

I really appreciated this, both because it took a ton of strength, but also because of the relative peacefulness this style provided. I forgot how nice it can be to put your body to work while letting your mind rest. No screaming, soft music, presence in the moment.

While we never stopped training our core muscles, we did do some very difficult arm exercises using the ropes. Biceps, triceps, shoulders, and other parts of my arm that were apparently not muscular enough to keep me from snapping back a few times. But, that’s why we get ourselves out to these classes, right? To find a sad, lost muscle and turn it into a happy, well-oiled machine.

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The hour went by quickly, and despite the deep burn I felt in my body during class, I didn’t leave the studio feeling completely broken down and exhausted the way I often do after a tough bootcamp. Again, I found this really refreshing. Toolbox is the kind of place I would be excited to go to in the morning before work, or happy to leave a little early to attend after.

Both the space and the instructor made the experience so pleasurable that it felt more like an indulgence than a battle. At least for me, it’s important to have that type of exercise as part of your routine. I think a mindful, enjoyable exercise experience often leads to better food choices throughout the day, not to mention better emotions. This is not to say I won’t be back at a sweaty spin studio or doing treadmill drills in my near future, but I do think I’ll be making Toolbox part of my normal repertoire and reminding myself to slow down more often.

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I would be remiss not to mention how kind everyone who worked at the studio, and the students that I talked to, were as well. That absolutely confirmed my desire to go back regularly.

Reformer classes at Toolbox are not cheap, but the package options make them reasonable for this kind of equipment-intensive, very small-group experience. A drop in class is $40, an unlimited month pass is $285, and new students can get a pack of 5 classes for $99.  As I alluded to above, the studio also has a room for mat Pilates, yoga and Zumba, which cost much less with a single class at $18 and an unlimited month at $120.

I’ll leave you with this: my abs looked so much more defined the morning after class than they did before that I almost took a selfie to send my extremely competitive, muscle maniac little brother. I didn’t, but getting that close tells me Toolbox is a keeper.

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Toolbox provided this class free of charge in exchange for The Fit Crasher’s honest review – all opinions in this post come directly from my very sweaty personal experience. Thanks for reading!

Liz, (unbelievably for DC) a lawyer, just moved to Georgetown and hails from San Francisco. She’s spent time fit crashing in DC during two summers, in addition to SF, LA, and Chicago. Finally settled, she can’t wait to become a regular part of the DC fitness scene. She achieved a life goal recently when she got her husband to attend SoulCycle with her, and looks forward to similarly epiphanic experiences in the future.

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