By: Alexa Tucker
What do I have in common with Karlie Kloss, Kelly Ripa, Shakira, and Hilary Duff? Pretty much nothing—except now, we’ve all sweated it out with celebrity trainer extraordinaire Anna Kaiser. OK, so I may not be a private client, but I did get a taste of just how challenging it is to be on Kaiser’s impressive roster when I went on a weeklong Anna Kaiser retreat in Austin. I’ve never worked out harder in my life.
Even though celebs often have the cash, support, and access to clock time with top-tier trainers for top-tier results, ultimately, they still have to put in the work—and so did I. During the six-day retreat, our group of about 25 people pushed through two high-intensity 90-minute workouts a day, which is more than she typically has her clients do.
“This is like a rev-up for one week so I can get you back to a program that is sustainable,” Kaiser told me. “Five days a week for an hour a day is going to feel like a dream compared to this.” (She wasn’t wrong.) Kaiser says that’s all you really need if you’re working hard and incorporating cardio and strength (even if you’re a celebrity), but the goal for this week was to amp up the intensity for a total fitness reboot. Full disclosure: Pure Protein, the retreat’s title sponsor, gave me the trip gratis; a solo room at the Austin retreat costs about $4,600, all-inclusive, minus airfare.
I went into the week feeling ready to take it on. I already had a routine of working out for about 45 minutes a day, four to five days a week, but I’d hit a wall. I stopped seeing results and improvements from my go-to mix of indoor cycling, running, and group strength workouts, so I knew that I needed to do something different.
This was the perfect opportunity to take my fitness to the next level with some celeb-caliber workouts. I sweated, I laughed, I (almost) cried…and I definitely got what I came for.
The 90-minute two-a-day classes completely redefined high intensity for me.
Just a couple of hours after I landed in sunny Austin, it was go-time. That night and the next morning, Kaiser took the group through her Mixer class, which combines elements from four of her other signature classes at her AKT In Motion studios in New York City: Sweat Dream, Happy Hour, Tone, and 4Play. This was designed to gauge the group’s strengths, weaknesses, and see how hard she could push us. (As it turns out, very hard, IMO.)
From then on, we started focusing on just one or two class formats in each session. We’d start our day with a cardio-driven Sweat Dream or Happy Hour class (or a combo of the two). Sweat Dream was a circuit-based interval class in which we’d switch off between a few songs of cardio moves holding light weights (think nonstop jumping jacks, grapevines, and punches) and a few songs of targeted strength work, alternating between upper body, core, and glutes exercises. I thought I might never walk again after the insane number of donkey kick variations we did every day.
Going back and forth kept the 90 minutes feeling surprisingly fresh, and it was efficient, too. “Your heart rate is still going, so you’re still continuing your cardio when you’re doing the strength,” explained Kaiser. The Happy Hour class followed a similar format, but the cardio was straight-up dancing with some sneaky curtsy lunges and mini squats thrown into the choreography.
The evenings were more varied. We did two of her Tone workouts throughout the week, which involved mainly low-impact strength exercises with Pilates and barre influences. These were my favorite, quite possibly because we were on a mat almost the entire time. We also did a class called One Night Stand, where we put all the choreography we learned during Happy Hour to work in one big dance party. All right, maybe those sessions were my favorite—I looked like an idiot most of the time, but man, it was fun.
While I found myself loving several of the classes, the most brutal, what-have-I-gotten-myself-into workout happened a couple of nights in. It was a HIIT class called 4Play, and it consisted of four circuits of four functional strength exercises. At under an hour, it was our shortest workout by far, and also our toughest—at one point I might’ve actually teared up. (Even Kaiser admitted that she thinks it’s the hardest class.) It was as much of a mental fortitude challenge as a physical one.
One thing they all had in common, though? So damn sweaty. Even the merciful yoga-inspired Restore class, which was an active recovery workout.
These were the same types of workouts she has her celeb clients do, too.
When I asked Kaiser how what we were doing differed from what her high-profile clients do, she answered without missing a beat: “It’s not different! It’s exactly the same.” What we were getting wasn’t Anna Kaiser Lite—this Anna Kaiser retreat was the real deal, and at least three hours a day of it.
All of the workouts were meant to complement each other for a balanced and effective week, and the same goes for her private clients: It’s all about smart programming. That’s where a good personal trainer makes a huge difference. “There’s a very specific strategy to it. It’s not just about walking into the room and getting a good sweat and leaving, but really making the most out of the time that you dedicate to your fitness,” says Kaiser. This means the right balance of strength and cardio, and working in types of exercises and movements that are going to help you reach your personal goals—and don’t make you miserable, either. Kaiser takes into account not only what her clients need, but also what they like.
“Karlie [Kloss] is very strong and loves sports training more than dance, and she loves doing shorter intervals of cardio with more strength. So like a 4Play/Sweat Dream mix,” Kaiser says. Kelly [Ripa] is a dance girl, and she loves isolating specific muscle groups so she’s really aware of what she’s working. Like Tone mixed with Happy Hour.” (So maybe I do have something more in common with Kelly Ripa.)
Even when we weren’t sweating it out, I noticed some surprising physical side effects of working that hard.
In addition to getting a first-hand look at how one of the biggest names in fitness puts together her workouts, I also discovered how that much exercise affects you, mentally and physically. For one, I was effing starving. Fuel was paramount: Pure Protein, the brand that invited me on the trip, put up a plant-based smoothie bar after every session to help our bodies refuel and recover, and meals of lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of veggies kept us going in between, too.
With that much intensity, my body demanded that I listen to it, and it felt really great to respond to it by giving myself what I needed: lots of water, rest, nutritious food, and sleep. Pushing myself to the brink everyday was an awesome opportunity to reconnect with my body and really understand what it needs.
Another unexpected observation: I didn’t feel sore all week, which shocked me. This was another benefit of Kaiser’s strategic programming, even though I fully expected that the intense workouts we were doing would leave my muscles screaming (even though soreness isn’t necessarily an indicator of a good workout). “You should never feel like you can’t walk down the stairs, or you can’t sit down,” Kaiser told me. “Your muscles and your body should feel tired, like you’ve been working really hard.”
As physically demanding as the week was, though, it was even more mentally challenging—and more rewarding in that way, too.
Rolling out of bed in the morning for another 90-minute workout wasn’t easy every day, nor was doing that last push-up or holding a plank for 30 more seconds. But as the week went on, I started to feel more disciplined, more capable, and more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Ninety minutes actually stopped feeling that long, because mentally, I felt like I could settle into the workout without counting the minutes until we were done. Even on “endurance day,” when the workouts were two hours long, I was OK with it. And that was one of the many things I felt proud of that week.
After a week of two-a-days, I’m more excited about fitness than I have been in a long time.
I learned a ton from my week with Kaiser. First, packing for 12 workouts takes up a lot of suitcase space. Second, a glass of wine never tastes better than it does a few hours after you think you’ve taken your dying breath during a circuit workout. Third, I may not have the abs of Shakira or the legs of Karlie Kloss, but working that hard made me feel incredible about myself and what I was capable of. I never thought I’d be sad to leave behind 90-minute two-a-days, but the group stretch after our final workout was definitely bittersweet.
Training with Kaiser also showed me the cracks in my fitness routine. Even though I went in knowing that something needed to change, I left with a more clear direction. I realized that I had been gravitating toward workouts that I felt familiar with, and even though they weren’t “easy,” they also weren’t ever outside my comfort zone. I hadn’t been truly challenging myself, because honestly, I was unaware that I could even work that hard. Who knew?
I left the retreat feeling reinvigorated, excited to try new classes, and ready to keep pushing myself to new fitness levels. I’ve let fear of failure hold me back from trying different workouts before, but now, I’m more confident than ever that I can step into any workout and surprise myself with what I can do. After all, I did it for a full week with Anna Kaiser. So bring it on.
Want to join Anna on the next retreat? Stay tuned as we announce our next adventure! aktinmotion.com/retreats