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Instructor Mimi Au, centre, leads, from left, Alexa Mensen, Vanessa Gravina, Keren Kurtz and Annika Greve in the hangover cure workout at Urban Playground Fitness Inc. in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Instructor Mimi Au, centre, leads, from left, Alexa Mensen, Vanessa Gravina, Keren Kurtz and Annika Greve in the hangover cure workout at Urban Playground Fitness Inc. in Toronto on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

Can a workout really cure a hangover? Add to ...

The first rule of The Hangover Cure is not to show up hungover. I arrive at the Sunday mid-morning class – held at Urban Playground Fitness, a small, women’s-only exercise studio in downtown Toronto – expecting a gentle stretching session. Instead, after filling out a detailed waiver and discussing my fitness level with instructor Mimi Au, I embark on an intense hour-long, full-body, strength-training workout. As I lunge and blast jump alongside seven other twenty and thirtysomething participants, I’m thankful I only indulged in a third glass of wine the night before. (Wild, I know.)

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“We like to trick our clients a little,” Au admits after class, when I express my surprise at the hardcore nature of a workout marketed to those not at the top of their game.

The idea for the class came about as a joke of sorts, after some of the studio’s Sunday morning participants mentioned they were exercising to atone for the sins of night before. (So much for a greasy breakfast.) But what exactly does it cure? Aside from burning off the previous evening’s pomtinis and poutine, Au notes that exercise of any sort promotes circulation, increasing blood flow to the brain and promoting mental acuity – something most of us desperately need more of the morning after.

Research on whether physical activity can curb hangovers is largely non-existent, contends Heather Ray, an exercise physiologist and assistant professor of physical education at Mount Royal University in Calgary. “Ethically, it’s really hard to bring someone in, get them intoxicated and ask them to perform exercise,” she says.

However, Ray confirms that improved circulation may enhance alertness, while the attendant endorphin release can obviously improve a low mood. (That said, she notes the idea of “sweating out” the previous evening’s toxins is likely unnecessary: “If it’s 12 to 14 hours later, the majority of the alcohol is already out of your system.”)

Back in the studio, Pitbull encourages us to give him everything tonight (“cause we might not get tomorrow”) as we launch into the workout: four sets of 15 reps of every move, alternating between two sets of one exercise and two sets of the next, which I find especially daunting on the more difficult moves. (I challenge you to 60 plank rows in short succession, while slightly hungover, without wanting to cry.)

First up, lunges with weights, then the aforementioned blast jumps – basically jumping as high as you can – then bridge holds (using our hamstrings, butt and core to hoist our hips off the ground), and finally, a very Buns of Steel-esque series of hip adductors performed on our sides on our mats.

Glutes burning, we move on to arms: the dreadful plank rows and a rotating overhead press that Au calls the “robot.”

A word to the shy: This is not the type of class you can fake your way through, hiding out in the back of the room. Au knows everyone in the single row of exercisers by name and aptitude, and is quick to offer modifications if she thinks you’re struggling or – as in my case – slacking. (“Those 10s look good on you!” she says after calling me out for only using five-pounders for the robot.) As a result, both the hungover and the hardbodies in attendance seem to be getting an equally good workout.

We end the class with various iterations of the crunch, and I exit the studio far sweatier than I expected. (And also far more energized than after a plate of eggs and bacon.) Not unlike a night of excess, I feel the class’s aftereffects – primarily in my glutes and thighs – for the next 24 hours.

 

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