Before Tabata. Before Spinning. And definitely before pole dance classes.
"If you take everything away," says David Siik of Equinox Fitness, "every barbell and dumbbell and even the building this club is in, all you have left at the end is the run."
Even though running is the most natural thing in the world, Siik says it's gotten lost in the fitness shuffle and is underrepresented in most gym offerings. There are exceptions — including Barry's Bootcamp, which has workouts based on treadmill routines, and Crunch's Tread N' Shed classes.
"On the professional side, we have all this pressure from the media to create the next new craze, the coolest thing that people will tweet about, will Instagram about," he says. And in the process of trying to find the shortcut — the most exciting, fun, electrifying way — so many times we forget to put the 'work' into workout.
But Siik, who reveres the "Prefontaine black-and-white days" of the sport, is on a quest to bring running back to the fore, rooted in his own days as a champion middle-distance runner, as a coach and as author of "The Ultimate Treadmill Workout," due out in December. Steve Prefontaine, the record-breaking American runner, is credited with helping to inspire the 1970s running boom. He died in a car accident at age 24.
"I'm a super-sentimental person, I wasn't a popular kid, I didn't have a lot of friends, but I was good at running," Siik says. "It was the one thing no one could take from me as a kid. It changed my whole life."
Running seems ripe for a comeback considering the current discussion in fitness circles on how hard you really need to work out. Though all exercise has benefits, studies like a recent one from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida indicate that the release of biochemicals such as adrenaline and norepinephrine that affect muscle development and endurance only happens when you ramp up the intensity.
"The thing about running is that it's work," Siik says. "People say, 'Oh, I hate running. Oh, I hate running.' That's because it's hard. It's one the hardest things. It requires so much energy. You have to use everything — your neck, your shoulders, your arms, your core, your legs. There's no shortcuts. Running is going to be work, and the people that don't avoid that, that don't look for that shortcut, those are the people who can have whatever they want."
Siik's vehicle is a treadmill interval class he developed for Equinox called Precision Running, born out of frustration with fitness class preoccupations with calorie counts.
"I see it in people's eyes, when someone's been obsessing about calorie counting in their Spinning classes and any other classes for a decade now and they're counting, 'I've got to burn 600 calories in this class' and to tell them we don't do any calorie counting," he says.
It's a given that a one-hour interval class will burn a lot of calories, but Siik wants to discourage people from focusing solely on that.
"When you base a treadmill class on 'the burn,' you have gutted it," he says. "You've gutted it of everything that makes running great, that makes it enjoyable, that makes it inspiring, even electrifying. The calorie burn is a side effect. That's all it is."
Siik reached back to his own experience as a half-miler to fashion his interval program.
"You have to run fast but not as fast as a sprinter. You have to endure, but not as much as a distance runner. You have to combine speed and endurance, and you have to smash it together. What that creates is less impact on the body and an elevated burn. That's what this program is."
So a class might begin with a series of intervals on an incline that increases after a certain amount of time, then a series of runs that increase in speed and then putting the two together for an increase in speed and incline for each interval.
In contrast to the flat-out sprinting and slow-walking recovery intervals of many high-intensity training classes, Siik, who teaches in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, calls his approach "cushioning": bringing down the maximum speed and bringing up the recovery speed.
"What that does, well, my knees don't hurt. My back doesn't hurt. I'm tired, maybe. I burn a lot calories. I'm lean and tight. But I'm not putting that impact on my body."
"You should finish the class feeling the electricity in your body, and that's the endorphins," he says. "Running releases so many endorphins, and they've done studies about the 'runner's high.' People don't talk about the stair-stepper high."