Health/Fitness » Fitness

Working It Out On The Gym Dance Floor: Interview with DC’s Fitness Mistress Heather Cohen

by Robert Doyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Nov 18, 2009

How many times have you found yourself at the gym-in a group fitness class, let's say-and you're wondering where went the energy you possessed last night at the club? Why isn't this body conditioning class as high energy as you and your posse cavorting on the dance floor? Of course, if you've ever been in one of fitness guru Heather Cohen's House Beats Spin classes, then you realize how much a group fitness experience can replicate the energy of a good party.

During the past ten years, Cohen, who earned her BBA from George Washington University and currently teaches group fitness at Vida Fitness as well as at Washington Sports Club, has earned the respect and adulation of devoted fitness groupies who follow her wherever she teaches her signature high-energy classes. Her personal training roster includes several prominent political figures, professional athletes, and A-list celebrities.

One of the Hottest Fitness Celebrities of 2010

Now, with her new brand, Haute Fitness, Cohen has embarked upon a mission to ensure that group fitness will be as much fun as last night’s party. Heather’s signature class, Core House, is a 30-minute core workout, with music mixed exclusively for Cohen by internationally-renowned DJ Saeed Younan-and soon to become a six-part multi-DVD series.

Not only is Cohen preparing for a national tour of her Core House class, but she is also set to film a national television series. Because, the truth is, Cohen’s group fitness classes are the kind where it’s only a matter of beats before everyone is singing with the divas-which makes for riveting reality t.v. Move over, So You Think You Can Dance-make room for Core House with Heather Cohen.

Recently, we sat down with Cohen to find out more about her latest venture-and her reputation for being the fitness mistress of D.C., as well as one of the hottest fitness celebrities of 2010.

Interview with Heather Cohen

Meet DC’s Fitness Mistress

EDGE: First of all, Heather, you have a whole bunch of acronyms alongside your name-like AFAA, NASM, BBU and CPR/AED. What do all those honorariums mean?

COHEN: AFAA is the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. NASM stand for National Academy of Sports Medicine. BBU is Balance Body University. CPR/AED is the CPR and Automatic External Defibrillator certification from the American Red Cross.

EDGE: So glad we asked.

COHEN: [laughing] Really, all this means is that I’m qualified to kick your ass in a number of different formats.

EDGE: We’ll take you on your word. Let’s talk about Haute Fitness. What are your goals for 2010?

COHEN: Haute Fitness is about creating designer workouts for the jet-set crowd, the busy professionals, and all those looking for a fun and challenging change to their existing routine. We are launching some fierce, new high-intensity workouts done to an exclusive music set by DJ Saeed Younan. We’ll be releasing a series of DVDs to this effect and are in the process of filming a fitness television series! In 2010, we have a national tour scheduled that includes stops at some of the world’s most renowned destination spas as well as selected gyms and Lululemon stores.

Core House: Taking You Out of Your Home and into the Club for an Amazing Workout

EDGE: Busy woman. You were recently named an ambassador to Lululemon Athletica, with more than a hundred stores all over the world. What does that mean to you?

COHEN: Being an ambassador for Lululemon is an honor bestowed to unique individuals and leaders in the fitness community. I’ve worn their clothes for the past ten years-even before they were available in the U.S.

EDGE: You trendsetter.

COHEN: I found a pair of their pants in 1999 and loved how fabulous they made my ass look. I called their headquarters in Canada and had six pairs sent. Lululemon has been really supportive of all of my ventures and I’m looking forward to going on tour in 2010 to promote the DVD Series and television show in some of their stores.

Fun and Killer Workouts

EDGE: Tell us more about Core House. What makes it different from all the other fitness videos out there?

COHEN: My goal with the DVD is to create the same experience and energy I have in my classes. This DVD takes you out of your home and into the club for an amazing workout. Seriously, it’s filmed in a club.

EDGE: Get out!

COHEN: I know that the people who attend my classes are those who are constantly on-the-go and one of their concerns is staying shape. Many have worked very hard to get where they are. I want people to know that you don’t have to go to the gym to sweat. Also, since the music is so amazing, the DVD will allow the user to pick which song or workout s/he wants to do. Each song is a complete abdominal workout. Kinda cool.

Training the Best of the Best

EDGE: Definitely cool. You recently held auditions for Core House. Any potential superstars we can look out for? Any interesting stories from auditions for your first DVD?

COHEN: [laughing] You would ask. I actually wore out an Olympic athlete who trains under Lance Armstrong! She came in with incredible confidence, but after the audition she said, "I train with some of the world’s best athletes and I apologize, but I can’t believe how hard that was. I just couldn’t keep up!" She did say it was fun though and she would do it again. It’s all about making them want to come back. Even the most conditioned athlete can be challenged with a change in routine.

EDGE: How do you think group fitness has evolved since the days of Richard Simmons, himself a fitness guru of his time?

COHEN: Richard Simmons’ focus was on losing weight, which as you know, is truly a problem for many Americans. Over the years, however, we’ve learned that working out is not something to do just when you need to lose weight, but it is something we do to take care of ourselves. My goal is to engage everyone at every level whether you’re at my class to lose weight or maintain your six-pack.

On Motivation

EDGE: You’re qualified and certified to teach almost every kind of group fitness class. Which classes are the most strenuous? What is your favorite?

COHEN: The most strenuous classes are the dance classes: House Dance or Hip Hop. You can’t fake it. During a conditioning class, you can get away with lessening the weight, or in a spin class, you can turn down the resistance on the bike and no one will know. But dancing? I’m gonna bring it with each move.

EDGE: No cheating with Mistress Cohen.

COHEN: My favorite classes to teach are the spin classes. A good spin class starts with good music. The lights are dim, energy is high, and when the music starts blasting, it’s hard not to have a good time.

EDGE: Even for those dedicated to working out, it’s sometimes difficult to get to the health club-and particularly in inclement weather. As a group fitness instructor, how do you motivate yourself every day?

COHEN: Working out isn’t just physical, it’s mental too. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting to the gym. There are going to be days when you don’t feel motivated, but that’s when you have to just suck it up and get it done. Those are the days when having a workout partner, trainer, or fun class to look forward to can help.

EDGE: Wise counsel: suck it up!

"You don’t have to go to the gym to sweat"

COHEN: I teach for one reason: the energy. I can be dragging, but the energy from the people in my class is what gets me going. If they made the effort to get to the gym, I’m going to kick their ass and we’re all going to have a fun time while I do it. As for my own workouts? It’s the music. The only way to get through a 45-minute cardio session is with some killer House music. There’s no other way.

EDGE: What do you see as the biggest challenge in addressing the obesity epidemic in the United States?

COHEN: I think the challenge is getting people to understand that you don’t need to join a gym to stay fit and healthy. Be active, get out and do things. I think there’s a misconception that to truly be healthy you need to have a gym membership. One of my favorite sayings is "You don’t have to go to the gym to sweat." Do whatever! Dance, run, bike, go speed shopping! Speed shopping, by the way, is when you try on as many outfits as you can in a specified amount of time.

EDGE: Speed shopping! KILLER! What a kick-ass workout! Meetcha in the dressing room.

COHEN: [laughing] It’s exhausting.

Designer Workouts Tailored for Each Individual

EDGE: Years ago, Jane Fonda’s workout swept through the culture like a typhoon. What is it about Haute Fitness that has relevance to the national moment now?

COHEN: The metaphoric meaning of "haute" is "fashionably elegant or high class" and I used that word because I take each individual’s unique set of circumstances, preferences, and abilities into preparing a workout. I take all of these things into consideration, and come up with more than a workout. It’s more a plan that is both consistent and fun. I read somewhere that only four percent of people think working out is fun. That’s insane. I want everyone who takes my classes or trains with me to enjoy themselves. It’s the only way they will come back.

EDGE: You have students who have attended your classes religiously for years. What do you think keep people coming back?

COHEN: The group exercise class isn’t for the instructor; it’s for the members. I cater to each student in my class on an individual basis, as well as taking into consideration preferences of the group. I mold each class to individual needs to fit a group setting: Music preference. Skill level. Intensity. I also speak with my students on a one-on-one basis to best understand their goals.

EDGE: A fitness therapist, that’s what you are!

COHEN: Students come to my class to clear their minds, sweat it out, and forget that they’re even exercising. If I can make them laugh, which I try to do often, I know they’re alive and breathing.

Consistency and Keeping It Fun

EDGE: Tell us about your own group fitness break-through. What happened that most propelled you on your current path?

COHEN: I think I took my first group exercise class when I was thirteen years old. What propelled me? The instructor was a hot mess, and I thought I could do better. Seriously. I like the concept of a group exercise class: A well-planned workout to great music. Having a good instructor can take that concept and bring it to the next level by having kick-ass music, keeping the exercises or choreography easy to follow but challenging, and creating an environment where the students are there not just for the workout but because it’s fun. That last element is probably the biggest determining factor in consistency. Consistency at the gym is crucial.

EDGE: Have you ever considered jumping aboard an Atlantis cruise-and work those circuit boys?

COHEN: [laughing] I know you all take your shirts off and the least I can do is make you look good-or even better before you board the ship.

EDGE: Work, Heather! Thanks for taking the time. Look for us in your House Beats class!

For more information, visit:

Long-term New Yorkers, Mark and Robert have also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center, Mark is a PhD in American history and literature, as well as the author of the novels Wolfchild and My Hawaiian Penthouse. Robert is the producer of the documentary We Are All Children of God. Their work has appeared in numerous publications, as well as at :


Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook