While there may be gyms on almost every street corner in Santiago, if you find running on a treadmill a bit too run of the mill, the Chilean capital is kitted out with a huge number of alternative options to prevent the onset of couch-potato syndrome this winter.
Crossfit; Barrio Italia
In a small studio on a nondescript graffiti-covered side street in Recoleta, a tiny Colombian woman twerks with such energy and, surprisingly, elegance, that Miley herself would put up a white flag in surrender. This is a class in the art of vulgar grace. The instructor, tiny in stature but big in personality, repeatedly instructs you to stick your backside out further, but also reminds you to keep your belly in. She tells you to let go, to get loose and let your limbs do what they please and the reggaeton music wills, but also demonstrates how her insanely chiseled abs contract while she gets low (allegedly in the hope that my ab - the use of the singular is not a typo - will do something similar).
For anyone who has ever done a squat or a sit up; this reggaeton-esque, zumba-inspired, afrobeat class requires in essence doing both of these simultaneously. For those who have managed to avoid doing these exercises until now; may the Gods be with you throughout the class. My saying this should not serve as a deterrent, for this is perhaps the most enjoyable way to shape your form. You may not metamorphose into Beyoncé or Shakira after the hour is out, but you'll certainly be a little closer than you were before the class.
Where: Centro Cultural Anandamapu, Calle San Cristobal 508, Recoleta
When: Monday and Wednesday mornings, 10am
How much: $10.000 for 4 classes; $17.000 for 8 classes
Attire: You'll want to strip down to little clothing as is socially acceptable within five minutes, so even if it's cold out, wear layers that you can swiftly (or slowly, if despacito happens to be playing) throw off.
Advice: Use a very strong hairband and bring a very big bottle of water.
Casa Boulder; Barrio Italia
In a surprisingly spacious hall behind the unsuspecting façade of a grand house in Barrio Italia, bandana-wearing men and notoriously nimble women ascend and descend curved, slanted and tilted walls. The aforementioned attendees make seemingly easy work of swinging from rock to rock, but do not underestimate the difficulty of trying to reach for a frog-shaped boulder a meter away from you, whilst precariously hanging off what is essentially a pebble with your pinky alone. You'll make use of long-dormant muscles, and discover some you would otherwise forget you had (notably forearms; picking up your breakfast spoon the next morning may prove surprisingly tricky).
Strenuous workout and strength boosting aside, one of the best things about Casa Boulder is that it offers not only core enhancement, but also communal encouragement. When you find yourself stuck, very literally, between a rock and a hard place five meters up from the ground, fellow climbers down below will advise you as to which limb you should be putting where. Motivational cheers abound when someone is one boulder away from completing one of the trickiest routes. Climbers are constantly exchanging tips on how to reach that pink triangle in the corner. So not only does climbing engage more muscles than a treadmill, the incredibly open sense of community means you also get the chance to turn off that 'Top 100 Running Tracks' that you've exhausted your ears with and engage with like-minded lactic-acid-pumpers.
Where: Casa Boulder, Av. Italia 875, Providencia
When: Open 8am - 10pm daily. Off-peak: 8am - 4pm. Peak: 4pm - 10pm. (Note: head over before 9am to enjoy a discounted early-risers rate).
How much: Check the site (http://casaboulder.cl/precios/), as prices vary subject to age (under/over 25), day (weekday/weekend) and time (peak/off-peak). There are also a bunch of bulk-buy deals both for free-climbing sessions and lessons.
Attire: Clothing that a) allows for a lot of movement and flexibility and b) you don't mind getting chalky/dusty/sweaty.
Advice: You'll see people rubbing chalk on their hands and it's honestly worth getting a block for yourself, which you can buy at upon arrival at Casa Boulder, to get a little more grip when climbing.
Muay Thai; Providencia
In a sports hall behind a little local gym in Providencia, a broad, man-bunned male in small, silk shorts diplomatically instructs you to punch the person opposite you. This is not the Chilean edition of Fight Club, but a lesson in what is both a hard and hardcore combat sport; Muay Thai, a distinct and demanding martial art hailing from Thailand that tests both your cognitive and corporal strength. The class is not only physically demanding, but also hugely cathartic. I didn't realize quite how much I needed to punch something until I came out of the class and felt like I'd lost a little weight off both my hips and my shoulders.
This is a lesson in how to kick serious ass whilst also learning serious self-control. I was doubled over after the warm-up alone and left the class with red shins, fists and face. But there's no doubt this trumps huddling over a stationary exercise bike in the corner of a claustrophobic cube (see: gym). By letting your anger out and keeping your core in, this Muay Thai class exercises body and mind alike, and shows how disciplined defense and formal fighting can take the form of an art rather than act of aggression.
Where: Gimnasio Pablo Gaona. Av. Pedro de Valdivia 1985, Santiago de Chile (Note: classes are held in the back building behind the main gym).
When: Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, 10am; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, 9pm; and Saturday, 4pm.
How much: $40.000 for a class package
Attire: The most comfortable sportswear you have - you'll be kicking your legs up higher than you probably even realized you could.
Advice: Don't make the same mistake that a poor woman did on her first class and not have breakfast beforehand. You'll definitely need fuel in your engine to keep you going throughout the class.
If you are more of a cobra-poser or dead-lifter, here are a few more alternatives the capital to offer:
This does not, contrary to what I immediately and incorrectly assumed, involve doing downward facing dog in the aisle of a plane. Instead these classes, quite literally, simply take a standard yoga class to new heights, where you will assume all the positions you know (and some love) using bands hanging from the ceiling. This elevated addition is not merely to make touching your toes somewhat impossible, but actually forces you to engage your muscles significantly more and make use of your own body weight, which is arguably better than any sized dumbbell you'll find in the gym (this is not to call you fat but to praise resistance training).
Visit Apex Aeroyoga's Facebook page for details of class timetables and to request a free taster class.
Not a niche option, and certainly not one for the faint-hearted, but one known to reap results. You'll have your fat and muscle ratios measured (I have never more ardently supported the axiom that ignorance is bliss) and you'll be screamed at by a well-meaning but fear-inducing coach (I still maintain that only my mother has the right to shout at me like this). However my above hostility is in all honesty simply to disguise my awe and admiration for those who have the balls (or boobs) to pump such serious steel. I have not only heard countless accounts of the insane strength, both physical and mental, that crossfit builds and the incredibly supportive community in classes, but have myself seen this to be true as I watched a group of 50-somethings swagger into the studio and start doing something I can only dream of doing (namely, a successful squat). While I work on plucking up the courage to hit up a HIIT class, feel free to beat me to it and see for yourself whether the hype is worth its weight in, well, weights.
Acción Crossfit has two studios in Santiago, located in Barrio Italia and La Florida. Find out more at http://accioncrossfit.cl/, where you can also book yourself in for a trial class.