Editor's note: A Daily News reporter writes about an experience at a local fitness class for this recurring personal fitness feature.

 

The warm-up

This month, I took three group classes at M3 in Fort Walton Beach. The name stands for Modern Muscle Movement.

M3 is a small, but well-equipped, fitness facility next to the Fort Walton Beach Tennis Center. It's not an open gym, and it incorporates indoor and outdoor workouts.

Co-owner J.P. Mikhael explained the fitness facility promotes a hybrid aesthetic and athletic training model that blends some principles from powerlifting, bodybuilding, gymnastics, CrossFit and more. The biggest misconception people have is that it’s an exclusively CrossFit gym, he said.

“We’re the first real hybrid facility that really blends the powerlifting aspect and bodybuilding accessory work and conditioning,” Mikhael said. “I feel like we’ve really captured having something for everybody.”

I took three days of classes, so I could get the full scope of workouts the facility provides.

Classes typically have five to eight students. M3 also offers one-on-one personal training and personal assistance training, in which one trainer works with up to three clients simultaneously.

All fitness levels are welcome to the group classes. While personal training is the most effective, Mikhael said the idea behind the group classes is to provide an affordable alternative to one-on-one training.

 

Day 1

I started on a Wednesday, which is a conditioning slash active-recovery day at M3. It was ideal because it gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the instructors, facility and overall atmosphere.

I loved it. It was intense, versatile and inspiring.

This is not an easy class. If it were easy, everyone would do it, said one of my classmates mid-workout.

I chose a 6 a.m. class because that’s around the same time I normally do cardio. Only three people were in my class, which was awesome because we all received personalized attention and encouragement from the instructor. My classmates were friendly, so I felt at ease working out beside them.

The class consisted of conditioning circuits. A circuit is a sequence of different exercises. Basically, you rotate through two to four different exercises and repeat … until the instructor says stop — no matter how far away that moment seems.

Some of the circuits included the rowing machine, a skier machine (new to me), farmer carries (aka forearm killers) — in which you carry weights on each side and walk — and weighted ball slams.

Sure, it was fantastic cardio. But, I’ll let you in on the muscle group it worked the most (and arguably the most important one): your mind.

The nonstop nature of the session gave you the big pushes of motivation you needed to get started, along with the ability to push through it. Before you know it, the class is over. I felt accomplished after.

I must rave about the instructor.

Kristen Sexton was energetic and encouraging from start to finish. I truly believe it was her optimistic vocal cues that brought each task to completion through my vessel of a body. She also kindly corrected my form throughout the workout, which I appreciated.

I played soccer for 10-plus years, so I respond well to coaching. Her positive reinforcement was incentive to return for Day 2.

 

Day 2

I liked my instructor so much, I attended the 6 a.m. class again Thursday. My classmates, however, were different. There were four other people in the class but, again, all were friendly and encouraging.

Every class starts with a warm-up. I noticed my other classmates beginning the sequence immediately, so I joined in. I like how they don’t waste any time getting to work.

We started the workout with squats. The other students used barbells, but the instructor suggested I use kettlebells for that day — which I fully supported.

We performed a circuit of squats. I did a set of goblet squats, increasing my kettlebell weight each time if possible. They did front squats with a pause, front squats with no pause and back squats — increasing weight each time if possible.

In the final set, we completed AMRAP (as many reps as possible).

This workout was a bit more partner-focused than my first day. Partners spotted each other during squats using the barbell, and we alternated during the following circuits to give each other small breaks.

Next, we did a circuit composed of a few different core-focused exercises using a medicine ball. These were called hamstring curls, V-ups and Russian twists.

This was quite similar to my standard core routine that focuses on engaging your abs in different ways. The main difference for me was I wasn’t used to using the larger medicine ball. It added an extra challenge of coordination I enjoyed.

And, from my own experience, I know this routine is effective.

The last circuit of the workout was the most challenging for me. It activated the arms, legs, back and core — so, basically, your whole dang body. I dig ending a workout with a burn.

The first exercise was a weighted reverse lunge step-up. Picture doing a reverse lunge while holding dumbbell(s) and then stepping up onto a platform. This required some coordination. It was a “slow and steady wins the race” type of movement.

Next was a dumbbell renegade row, which is essentially a plank combined with a bent over row. In English, it’s like lifting weights for your back muscles, while simultaneously engaging your core. Fun.

We completed the day with a few leg stretches. I liked how this was incorporated into the class because post-workout stretching can be the difference between being sore and not being sore, and can help prevent injury.

Day 1 and Day 2 were completely different. After completing this workout, I think one thing people will enjoy is the diversity. Nothing feels stagnant, which is ideal for pushing through plateaus.

 

Day 3

I completed my trifecta with another Wednesday conditioning class at 8 a.m. This day was the most group-focused.

Ten students showed up for this class, and it was quite diverse. It included men and women of all different ages and skill levels, and a couple of young soccer players.

What was interesting was how the workout managed to be a challenge for such a variety of people. I’m impressed with M3’s ability to curate workouts that can challenge fitness beginners and experts.

We started out with a warm-up jog outside, then went straight into the good stuff.

We first went to the parking lot for sled pushes, which I’ve always wanted to try — I’m a masochist like that. I was out of breath at the 11 minute-mark, and we pushed for 20 minutes.

Then we did a circuit inside using only body weight. It included pull-ups or assisted pull-ups, push-ups or bench push-ups and squats.

We finished the workout with a relay race on two stationary bikes. For the record, my team won.

But what made it fun was the team atmosphere. I’m traditionally not someone who likes working out in groups but, I have to admit, there is something appealing about the whole concept. If you win, you do it together. If you lose, you do it together.

When you’re dying in the middle of a workout, you’re not alone, and that’s comforting.

 

The cool-down

From my own research and experience, M3 is an effective place to workout if you want to lose weight, build muscle or both. It incorporates weightlifting, cardio, mental stamina, endurance and flexibility.

If you’re considering it, my main suggestions are to try it for at least a month — to get the full experience — and to decide what workout setting you enjoy.

Do you enjoy exercising with up to eight people (still a fairly small number compared to some classes)? I would compare this to working out with a sports team. You will get to know your classmates and develop a support system.

Or, do you prefer one-on-one, personalized attention? Personal training might be right for you. If that's not in the budget, the group assistance training is the next best thing.

No matter which route you go, coaching is part of the package.

Taking a group class was way out of my comfort zone, but it surprised me how much I liked it. I’m sure you’ve heard some version of the phrase “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I’m working on it.