Last year, Portlanders watched the construction of a 21-story building on the east side of the Burnside Bridge with mixed opinions. Was the dark glass building a hideous behemoth that dwarfed its neighbors? Or was it cool and modernistic? Good for a housing shortage, or only catering to rich renters?
Whatever you think of The Yard’s aesthetics, buying a day pass to Knots Springs, its onsite gym and spa, gives you exercise, relaxation and a chance to nose around inside this notable new addition to the Portland skyline.
I started my visit with a TRX class taught by Brad Boggs, the programming director in charge of fitness. There were only four of us in the challenging but realistically-paced suspension training class. Granted I usually work out at a neighborhood community center, but I was very impressed with the gym’s high tech heart rate monitoring system. Boggs offered each participant a heart rate monitor to strap around our chests. After a few pieces of data entered into the computer – age, weight, gender – our circular heart rate avatars popped up on a big screen we could watch during class. These digital medallions estimated what percent of our maximum heart rate we were working at, and changed colors as we moved through different difficulty zones. We spent most of class time in the orange and red zones – obviously, nobody was slacking. I wish all fitness classes featured this system. If instructors could see you were already at 97 percent of your maximum heart rate, maybe they’d stop yelling at you to work harder when you already feel like throwing up.
Boggs got involved with Knot Springs when the owners asked his company, Benefitness, to design the gym. He and business partner Gina Neal took the limited space into consideration. “We wanted more functional and open space, and equipment you can use in different ways,” he said. So instead of hulking weight machines, the design focuses on smaller multipurpose equipment. The space has two separate studios, one for more active classes like TRX, and one for quieter classes, like yin, aerial and restorative yoga.
After building out the gym, Knots Springs asked Boggs to stay and manage the fitness program and for Neal to be general manager. A personal trainer for 15 years, Boggs loves the holistic nature of Knot Springs. “You can get your butt kicked and then go soak,” he said. There are 13 massage therapists and four personal trainers on staff. Since the building opened in September, about half the apartments have been rented. “We’ve built up a pretty good membership base from the building,” Boggs said. Members also come from the neighborhood. Non-members can buy day passes for classes, a dip in the springs, or a package including some combination of gym, springs and/or massage.
After getting my heart pumping about as fast as it would ever want to go, I was ready to check out the springs. Spa director Alli Lurie gave me a tour. One spacious room overlooking the city houses three pools – hot, tepid and cold – a steam room, dry sauna and relaxation area. “We wanted to bring in elements that felt like we were bringing a hot springs right into the city,” Lurie explained. Special Portland-centric amenities include an enormous black walnut log that serves as a bench, brightly striped Pendleton towels, an intricately macraméd ceiling art installation that took artist Emily Katz six days to create on-site, and signature spa products crafted by local vegan apothecary Midnight Collective.
There’s a scientific method behind relaxing at Knot Springs. And the health benefits involve leaving the delightfully hot water for a cold plunge. Lurie helped design the Springs’ 10 Steps to Relaxation, which are posted several places around the facility for easy reference. You start with an exfoliating shower, then sit in the tepidarium, caldarium (hot pool), cold plunge, dry sauna, cold plunge, steam room, cold plunge, tepidarium, then relax and drink some water.
Lurie, a massage therapist who taught at East West College of the Healing Arts for 16 years, is a big believer in hydrotherapy. And she urges people not to skip those cold plunges, which constricts blood vessels and stimulates blood flow to internal organs. “The first time you go in, it’s a bit of a shock,” she admits. At 52 degrees, the cold pool is about the temperature of the Pacific off Oregon. I’ve been to the coast plenty of times, so those words do not reassure me.
However, I’m a journalist, so I was determined to follow the 10 steps and gauge the results. Including three plunges into the mini Pacific.
As predicted, the parts that involved sitting in warm and hot water were a cinch. It felt decadent to relax in a pool of hot water while watching the city rush around – people walking over the Burnside Bridge, the MAX toiling over the steel bridge, and thousands of cars hurtling down I-5. Unfortunately, highways pretty much obscure any views of the Willamette. Then came time for the cold plunge. It got a little easier each time, and my third try I was able to keep my shoulders under while slowly counting to ten.
The ten steps to relaxation worked for me, especially paired with the TRX class. By the time I left, I was so relaxed I slowly walked two miles home in the rain. I’m already dreaming of my next trip, perhaps a package that includes a massage. It’s pretty pricey, so will probably be for a celebration.
If you go
At press time, a two-hour pass to the springs cost $55. Add a class for $65, or pair a half-hour massage with one hour of springs time for $75. Memberships and other package deals available.
All photos courtesy of Knot Springs