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Cardio-Tone's Rachel Aram Will Make You Feel Like a Rockstar

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Photos by Patricia Chang

The paint is barely dry at Rachel Aram's newest Cardio-Tone studio in Noe Valley, but you'd never guess she just moved in judging by the packed Sunday morning cycling class. When a latecomer discovers that all the bikes are taken, Rachel gives him the instructor bike. That's just her style.

A former TV news anchor, Rachel opened her first studio in Noe Valley at 3813 24th Street in 2010. A year later, Cardio-Tone had outgrown the spot. After three years of searching for and negotiating the perfect space, Rachel now offers cycling, circuit, and TRX at 1747 Church Street, plus yoga and barre classes at the original 24th Street location. We asked Rachel about the secrets to her fitness business success, and learned that motivation is just as important as perspiration.

Tell us about your past life in broadcast journalism.
"I worked as a TV news reporter (the girl in the hurricane telling you to stay inside) and anchor (the girl behind the desk with unmoveable hair), covering everything from presidential races to American Idol. Being on TV gave me an incredibly thick skin, and the ability to mispronounce multi-syllabic words with absolute confidence."

What inspired your transition from journalism to fitness?
"My son and daughter were born about a year apart. While pregnant with my daughter, I covered a gruesome murder of a little girl near San Francisco. I'd covered worse crimes, [but] I couldn't emotionally handle the gory details. Once my daughter was born, I sought a challenging career which would allow me to provide for my children while still being a hands on mother… I opened with 15 bikes and taught nearly all the classes myself for the first few months. Four years and 15,000 classes later, I think it has caught on!"

There's a distinct feeling of community among your clients. What is it about your studio that fosters that sense of community?
"Community is our product. There are many, many places to get a great workout. My business follows one principal: Make people feel great. We are not about how you look, or how many TRX push-ups you can do. We are about making sure you feel like a rock star when you walk out the door. I only hire instructors who want to learn your name, your injuries, and will celebrate your improvements. I am never happier than when I see a woman enduring chemotherapy hold a plank longer than her husband, or a new mom fit into her pre-baby jeans before a high school reunion. We get results because we care about individual goals and celebrate individual successes. In our second year of business, I watched a woman awaiting a liver transplant vomit in class, then get back on her bike, and everybody cheered. Achieving a healthier body makes you live longer and enjoy each day more. That's what we do, and we do it together. "

Cardio-Tone has a babysitter during a number of classes, which is unusual for a boutique fitness studio. Was childcare always part of your vision?
"When we opened, I had a 6-month-old daughter and an 18-month-old son. I wanted them to be at work with me, so I hired a babysitter. When other moms wanted to exercise, we split the cost. Four years later, my kids are in school, but our wonderful babysitter Elizabeth still offers babysitting 15 hours per week so parents can get a worry-free class in."

People tend to hit the gym after New Year's and taper off by the end of January. Do you have any advice to help people keep their fitness resolutions?
"Go slow. Try one class per week in January, then two in February, and three in March. If you get addicted, add a fourth, fifth, or sixth. Starting with more than three classes per week is guaranteed to leave you crabby and sore."

You offer classes ranging from indoor cycling to TRX to yoga. What produces the fastest results?
"Combining classes is the best way to change your body quickly. If it gets easy, it's not doing much good. Ideally, I like folks to do two [cycling], two TRX, and two yoga per week."

You have two locations in Noe Valley. Do you have plans to expand to other neighborhoods?
"I don't know. My priority has always been to have a job which allows me to raise my kids hands on. I'm not greedy. I know the years where my kids think I'm the coolest thing in the world are numbered. If I can keep the balance, I'd love to have more studios, but only if my kids get all the time they need. We will see what the future brings!"

Now for the lightning round!

Barre or Yoga?
"Yoga. Flexibility is as important as strength."

Diet or Exercise?
"Both. Eat, drink, and spin."

Favorite workout song?
"Anything from K'Naan."

Morning workout or evening workout?
"Morning! I haven't slept past 6 in a decade!"

Most surprising aspect of running your own fitness business?
"Grown men miss the toilet as much as little boys."
· Cardio-Tone [Official Site]
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· Meet the Company That Trademarked the Word 'Spin' [Racked]