Upon arriving in the country of Georgia for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, I feel stellar.
In fact, I can say, at this moment, I have never been in better shape than I am now. And I owe it all to my new six-day-a-week workout schedule, courtesy of ClassPass (pre–price hike, of course). In my First World, leisurely life as a New York City resident, I have been able to break a sweat with top-tier trainers at high-intensity fad classes; indulge in steaming, perpetually bleached showers; and, in general, be at one with luxury boutique fitness, which has begun to completely consume my life. On top of that, my diet is painfully healthy, mostly organic, farm-to-table bs that is becoming all too expensive. In other words, I have become a HIIT-cycling-yoga addict with a rising credit card bill and slightly defined butt.
In Georgia, though? This former Soviet country sandwiched between Turkey and Russia? Well, I’m not in a techno-soundtracked Flywheel class, nor am I delicately patting sweat off my body with a plush eucalyptus-scented towel. Instead, a smoky gypsy cab has just dropped me off at a small park to meet a group of boys. Yes,boys. It sounds sketchy at first, sure. But these boys are buff. Still sound sketchy? Try again: These ripped young men, who range in age from 15 to 25, are members of a Tbilisi-based street workout team called Bar Warriors.
For those who are unfamiliar, street workout is a pared-back exercise regimen, a mix of calisthenics and gymnastics, which requires little equipment except for a stray pull-up or monkey bar. There are lots of freestyle takes on repetitive push-ups, handstands, and pull-ups. It’s popular throughout Eastern Europe, from Ukraine to Russia to Moldova. I am told by one of the boys that it was widely popular during the days of the Soviet Union, but has become a rekindled trend over the past several years—possibly due to a struggling economy, which makes gym memberships or buying sporting equipment more difficult. Street workouts are, after all, free: You just need your own body weight and lots of dedication.
“Street workout is the real workout,’” says 25-year-old Saba Khizanishvili. “A real workout starts in the street, not in the playground.” Noted.
Another reason the phenomenon is spreading may have to do with social media: Search Instagram for the hashtag #StreetWorkout and more than a million videos and images pop up. There are hundreds of thousands of YouTube views on videos set to DJ Khaled tracks, which include sights like a guy balancing on a pull-up bar with his neck, or B-boy variations on the chin-up, or the Bar Brothers, two otherworldly men who have taken the street workout to a testosterone-doused level, which is guaranteed to give anyone not just a six-pack, but a mean—even freakish—eight-pack.
So what does this “real workout” look like? First, the boys do their warm-ups, starting with rapid swimming motions to loosen up their arm and back muscles. One young lad, 20-year-old Lasha, starts doing pull-ups on the monkey bars, seamlessly flipping himself into a plank, and performs a push-up while still on the bars—several times. There are more moves on the bars, like minute-long handstands, smooth flips, and one-arm pull-ups. Overall, everything looks alarmingly difficult but insanely cool.
We then move to a more isolated area, which looks like a postapocalyptic construction site. The boys don’t mind, though: They start doing synchronized headstand-meets-push-ups on ledges. I look over and spot our photographer snapping a shot of 17-year-old Amiko curling his bicep to hold up his friend, 15-year-old Tornike—who is laterally balancing on Amiko’s arm. For a moment, they look serious, with stone-cold expressions. But after Amiko lets Tornike down? It’s all laughs—and monstrous muscles. Turns out, in Tbilisi, you don’t need much to have a fulfilling—and fun—workout after all.