Learning the Ropes at Santa Barbara’s Bond Fitness
Our Cardio Confidential Columnist Is Welcomed into the West Carrillo Street Circuit Training Center
Popular fitness programs are a bit like cults: the charismatic figure at the center, the devoted followers, and the dramatic changes in behavior that result. Happily, the outcome in the fitness world is usually improved cardiovascular health and toned muscles, not lawsuits and police raids. Curious about the loyal following of Bond Fitness, where a co-worker and neighbor are both dedicated members, I decided to find out what inspired such allegiance.
Bond Fitness began as the Jenny Schatzle Program. The famously voluble Schatzle still looms large over the enterprise as a co-owner, but she changed the name of the business to take the focus off herself and to emphasize relationships. “Bond” refers to the connections she wants members to form with themselves, with each other, and with the many instructors.
The light-filled studio is well-stocked with equipment, but don’t plan on breezing in after work or on a weekend morning for a solo workout. The Bond philosophy is that working out in a group is the key to fitness success, so Bond offers only classes: specifically, 50 minutes of circuit training. Although the classes are high-intensity, Schatzle underscores that the Bond studio is a judgment-free zone, with workouts accessible for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Schatzle boasts that a Bond workout is different every time. All the equipment in the studio can be moved except for the treadmills stationed in the front window, which allows the instructors to vary the routines.
The classes I took did follow a basic pattern, though: two or four circuits, with each circuit made up of at least six equipment stations. Cardio was integrated into the circuits, and sometimes a cardio interval was interspersed between circuits: mountain climbers, jumping jacks, or — in a throwback to middle-school gym class — a jog around the block.
The instructors circulated during class, correcting form, bumping fists, and suggesting modifications for those like me who avoid jumping or who have injuries or other limitations. Although we were encouraged to sprint at times when on the bikes or treadmill, no one got shamed for choosing a more moderate pace. I was impressed when Kate, a three-year member who was 29 weeks pregnant, handily converted the seated rowing machine to a stand-up ski machine. “My belly’s too big for the rower,” she laughed, noting that she usually sees at least one other pregnant woman in class.
Most of the equipment was familiar to me, except for the fabric-covered ropes anchored to the back wall. Deceptively simple in their analog design — just weighted ropes that you whip up and down as if in a chariot race — they quickly turned my arms to lead. Instructor and co-owner Chito Elias likes to pair them with a bosu ball for a balance challenge, an especially fiendish combination. And the day I unknowingly chose the 40-lb. ropes (the rest are 20 lbs.), my knees wobbled so much I wasn’t sure I’d stay upright.
Even on days when I didn’t accidentally use twice the weight I intended, I found Bond workouts to be intense. Although I’m a regular gym-goer, my pecs, traps, and abs were sore after my first Bond workout. (Cari, a regular at the 5:30 a.m. weekday class, told me she’s a Bond devotee because she used to belong to another gym but had no muscles to show for it.) When I went after work, I was wiped out for the rest of the evening and slept very well.
But intense workouts are available in many places. What about the connections Schatzle highlights as central to the Bond experience?
Schatzle insists she “never wanted to start a gym. I wanted to start a community.” And I did feel welcomed into the fold. I was asked to arrive early for my first class so I could get an orientation to the studio and tutorials on the bike and treadmill. As a newbie, I had my photo taken and was introduced to the rest of the class.
The classes themselves are often structured to facilitate connection. One day, Schatzle had us pair up in pods, with pod partners alternating activities at each station on the circuit. After two circuits, we were assigned to run around the block with our pod partners and given a list of questions to ask each other. It turned out my pod partner Susan and I both work in education and are transplants to Santa Barbara. Since joining Bond five years ago, Susan has lost 20 lbs., is much more toned, and has taken up running.
I decided that’s what keeps people coming back to Bond — not just the results you get, but the encouragement to try something new and the insistence that you’re capable of more than you think you are. I reflected on the people who had come up after class to tell me, “Good job,” when I didn’t think I’d distinguished myself in any way. But after all, I managed to move those 40-lb. ropes and not fall off the bosu ball. It was more than enough; it was a triumph.
Regarding COVID safety: Like many fitness studios, Bond had to pivot during the pandemic (hosting workouts on Instagram Live and in parks, and moving the studio outdoors for a while) and has implemented some lasting changes, like capping classes at 36 participants. In the classes I took, I was the only person wearing a mask — a common occurrence as COVID recedes. Wipes are provided, and each person is expected to wipe down the equipment they use before moving on to the next station. The studio is professionally cleaned twice a day. Proof of vaccination is not required.
Bond Fitness is located at 211 W. Carrillo St., where about 10 classes per day run from 5:30 a.m.to 6:30 p.m., pre-registration required. Towel service included. Cubbies are provided for storing personal items and there are bathrooms and sinks but no showers. Lot and street parking available. Membership includes access to an on-demand library of virtual classes. Call (805) 845-6700 or visit bondfitness.com.
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