IT smells a little musty when you open the door to the SweatShop Urban Gym, perched above downtown's Franklin Street. As you walk up the stairs, you expect to find Sylvester Stallone banging away on the speed bag.
Instead, you get hit with a faint whiff of perfume as you turn the corner to find six women, their hands wrapped like boxers, stretching on the mats.
"Just getting loosened up," Christine Myers explains. "Are you ready to sweat?"
Myers is the 34-year-old owner of the downtown Tampa workout spot of choice for busy professionals who want a tough workout. She doesn't have Rocky Balboa's biceps, but she could give the Italian Stallion a workout to remember.
"I've got one ex-University of Florida football player who comes here," she says. "I can make him cry."
The women gathered at this second-story, open-air fitness gym know Myers isn't kidding.
"When I first started here a year ago, I could barely keep up," said Sara Boswell, a 39-year-old courtroom deputy who works at the nearby federal courthouse. "Now, I love it."
Heavy bags and hand wraps
Cardio-kickboxing is nothing new. Most fitness clubs offer classes in which students mimic traditional kickboxing moves, throwing punches and kicks in the air. Those programs get the heart and lungs pumping, but Myers takes it to a different level.
"In our classes, we punch and kick a heavy bag," she said. "That resistance makes all the difference. You go as hard or as easy as you like."
At this noontime class, Myers starts her students, many of them professionals from Tampa's downtown legal scene, with a brief stretching session before she turns on the dance mix and unleashes them on the floor-mounted heavy bags.
"Punches . . . one, two, right left," she yells, eyeing her stop watch. When the seconds hit 60, she adds, "Now throw in a roundhouse kick."
The workout du jour consists of six, five-minute blocks of kicks and punches. The combinations change at a rapid pace, every minute or so, with no break in between.
Students learn quickly to pace themselves so they can make it through the 30-minute kickboxing routine.
"If you're experienced . . . in the martial arts or boxing . . . the tendency is to go out hard and blow off a lot of steam," said Myers, who studied kung fu for 11 years before opening the SweatShop. "But you will burn out quickly."
Just five minutes into the workout, sweat stains begin to show on the backs of the six women gathered around the heavy bags. At the 10-minute mark, a couple of them are showing signs of fatigue.
"It is the combination of arms and legs that does it," Myers said. "When you get done here, you know that you have had a workout."
After the heavy bags, Myers takes her students back to the mat for pushups and abdominal work. A few of the women duck out quickly so they can shower and get back to work.
For Raequel Tomsich, "lunch" at the SweatShop is part of her daily routine.
"Sometimes, if you're having a really bad day, it is nice to hit something," said the 40-year-old attorney.
Myers admits that SweatShop Urban Gym is not for everybody.
"We have showers, but they are not sexy," she said. "This is an old-school, bare-bones kind of workout."
Yes, the gym is in the same block as the Tampa Theatre, and right above the Hub, one of downtown's favorite watering holes. But Myers says her workouts generally leave students in no shape to party afterward.
With no air conditioning, just big, industrial-size floor fans, the SweatShop gets steamy in the summer. And in the winter? Regulars call it the "Ice Box."
But Myers has a large and loyal following of both men and women
"I just love the variety," said Susan Rothstein-Youakim, another 40-year-old attorney in the class. "Every workout is different. I never get bored with it."
Myers relishes making the SweatShop live up to its name.
"We have a workout for everybody," she said. "People hear cardio-kickboxing and they think it is girly . . . but this is anything but."
"That's the great thing about kickboxing," Myers said. "You can always go faster, harder . . ."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at email@example.com.