Workout feeds "The Hunger Games" obsession

espnW's Amanda Rykoff takes on the latest fitness craze -- "Hunger Games"-inspired workouts.

Like most of America, I've recently become obsessed with "The Hunger Games."

I haven't seen the movie yet (I know, I know), but I did finish the first two books of the best-selling trilogy in a matter of days and lost a lot of sleep along the way. As I read about the tribute battles in the Capitol arena and pictured Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Melark in combat, I knew I'd never stand a chance if sent in as a tribute.

But thanks to New York Sports Club in New York City, I had the opportunity to test my fitness and survival skills when I ventured into the arena for the new "Train Like A Tribute" workout series. I am pleased to report that I survived. Barely.

Amanda Rykoff/espnW

What to do when a "Muttation" chases you? Climb a simulated tree, of course.

The weekly workout class debuted at the end of March (just after the blockbuster movie's premiere). The 50-minute class incorporates the books and movie into a demanding and rigorous circuit training workout highlighting the skills necessary for survival in "The Hunger Games:" archery, tree climbing, speed work, strength training and endurance.

The session I attended reached maximum capacity (18 tributes) and some late arrivals had to be turned away. Class creator and master trainer, former Marine Eric Salvador, wanted to design a fun but demanding workout to capitalize on the books and movie and reach out to a younger fitness audience. Salvador sported a signature mockingjay pin as he gathered the tributes in a circle and explained the workout.

First, we needed to sprint to the Cornucopia in the center of the studio to gather our necessary supplies. We had 45 seconds to retrieve a towel, mat, flat weight, bow and pair of free weights (nine pairs each of 5- and 7.5-pound weights). I had no problem with this task, although I did have to do a bit of pushing and shoving as we fought to gather equipment. If I had it to do over, I would have grabbed the lighter weights instead of the heavier ones left for me. Strategy had already given eight other tributes an advantage.

Next, Salvador explained how the equipment would be used in the workout. Each circuit consisted of 20 "Katniss Killers" (10 on the left side, 10 on the right), an exercise which mimicked the heroine's expertise with the bow and arrow. Once we finished with the bow, we did a set of 10 shoulder presses (dubbed "Peeta Presses") using the free weights. The hero is known for his strength. (I am no Peeta.) The 2.5-pound weight differential became more noticeable with each circuit. Next, a set of 10 "Capitol Crunches," sit-ups with the flat weight held over our heads. The final exercise, 20 "Jabber Jay Jacks," got our hearts pumping. After the final jumping jack, we each ran one lap around the studio and grabbed a riser to signify the completion of each circuit, which we placed in front of our stations.

After the first circuit, I could sense who was a "career," as a few competitors blew through the workouts with speed and efficiency. I hoped to keep up and stay alive. I didn't expect to win, but I didn't want to fall prey to the careers either.

Kerri Donnelly, a 22-year old freelance writer and "Hunger Games" aficionado, stood out early as she stacked up her risers. It wasn't a coincidence. Donnelly took the first class when a friend who knew about her obsession with the books and movie told her about it. She's returned each week. Donnelly won these games, racking up an impressive eight circuit completions. (I completed six, so technically I died in the arena.) As the careers before her, Donnelly used her previous experience to her advantage in the Games.

"None of the other careers showed up this time, so I kind of lucked out," Donnelly said, proudly sporting the mockingjay pin temporarily awarded to the winner. "But mainly I've learned to pace [myself]. You get so wrapped up in the competition and you want to blow past everyone, but you have to know to just stay at your own pace and you can handle it a lot better. Also, go for the lighter weights."

As we competed, the sound system blasted an inspirational, high energy soundtrack designed to pump us up and capture the spirit of the workout. A few highlights included Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," Asia's "Final Countdown," R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Knew It", Kelly Clarkson's girl power anthem "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" and Rihanna's "Love In A Hopeless Place." But then the music stopped.

What did this mean? We found out soon enough; the Gamemaster had declared a disaster. The Muttations (wild dogs bred to kill) were coming after us and we needed to climb high into the trees to escape them and save ourselves. How to climb a tree in a gym located in the middle of the city? Through TRX suspension training, of course. We mimicked the tree climbing motions by using our body weight to create resistance against the suspended bands. (Salvador even barked to emulate the Muttations.) And that wasn't the only emergency during the class. A later attack by killer Tracker Jackers forced us to our hands and feet for a bear crawl around the studio.

I noticed two women in the class with their hair braided in Katniss' signature style. The sisters, Amanda and Rebecca Baumer, traveled more than an hour and a half from Long Island for the class. Both sisters are huge fans of the books and did not leave the gym disappointed.

"I would totally recommend it to all of my friends. It was the coolest thing I've done and everybody should go," Amanda said. "I liked how well they emulated actually being in the Games and how you had a full body workout mixed with it. Especially because the trainer knew all the terms -- like 'The Tracker Jackers are coming after you!'"

The Gamemaster allowed a few breaks for much-needed water (as District 12 mentor Haymitch Abernathy reminded Katniss, water is critical for survival) and toweling off, but other than that, we worked hard for 50 minutes. (My shoulders and quads were still on fire hours later). The "Train Like A Tribute" class provided a fun, kick-butt workout. Is a sequel in the works?

"We got such great feedback from this," said Salvador, who also created NYSC's UXF (Ultimate Fitness Experience) classes. "Whenever you put a theme to a workout, people just love it. I think it's time to go back to the drawing board and create a 'Catching Fire' themed workout."

"Train Like A Tribute" classes are available through the end of April to members and non-members for free at New York Sports Club (86th and Lexington), Philadelphia Sports Club (Market Street), Boston Sports Club (Davis Square) and Washington Sports Club (Chevy Chase).

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