Fitness retreat inspires women to live healthy

Courtesy of Kathryn Bertine

World class triathlete Chrissie Wellington, right, encourages women to give it all they have in spinning class.

Chrissie Wellington is yelling at me. The four-time Ironman champion is telling me to go faster. Because of her acumen, she could command every female triathlete on the planet (and about two-thirds of the men).

Luckily for me, we are not on an Ironman course. We're on spin bikes, set up on the shady patio of the Shore Club on Miami's South Beach district for the two-day Muscle Milk Fitness Retreat. From yoga to strength classes to running and cycling, the mission is to provide a variety of daily fitness opportunities to educate and inspire women to live a healthy lifestyle. The sun is shining, the ocean waves are crashing, and a group of athletic enthusiasts are atop stationary Cannondales, dripping with equal parts southern humidity and physical effort. This is not a bad place for one to be yelled at, especially when the words are encouraging. "Come on now, you can do it! Sprint for 15 seconds..."

Having never been to a fitness retreat, I had a few questions. What exactly is a fitness retreat? And what exactly is Muscle Milk?

Courtesy of Kathryn Bertine

Paddle boarding was one way women at the fitness retreat could flex their muscles.

Muscle Milk makes protein supplements and beverages designed to help athletes recover and sustain their workouts. The name, however, has struggled to attract women. "With a strong name like Muscle Milk it's important to break down the barriers to the female consumer and educate them on the importance of protein," Muscle Milk representative Shane McCassy said. "Women need protein just like men so we see this event as a great way to tell that story in an authentic way."

As for the retreat itself, creating nutrition awareness and fitness go hand in hand. "We created the Muscle Milk Fitness Retreat three years ago to give women access to some of the top athletes and trainers in the world, and to elevate what they think is possible," McCassy said. "Our goal is to pass on as much information to the guests giving them tools to lead happier and healthier lives."

Much information indeed. The syllabus given out upon arrival indicated we would be participating in five exercises classes daily, wearing free outfits, glasses and swimsuits from Oakley and given access to a make-your-own smoothie bar. Well. Twist my arm. I guess I'd manage.

Who exactly attends fitness retreats? Pro athletes? Mere mortals? Celebrities? Yes. In attendance at the Miami retreat were champion athletes Wellington, Aussie pro wakeboard champion Amber Wing, U.S. surf star Erica Hosseini, Olympic trainer for the U.S. snowbarding team Paul Hinicker, and YOGathletA founder Cat Haayen. On the celebrity roster were dancer Karina Smirnoff of "Dancing with the Stars," actress Dania Ramirez of the new film "Premium Rush" (she plays a very fit bike messenger), Marysol Patton and Christy Rice of "The Real Housewives of Miami," and Canadian film and TV actor Shaun Sipos.

Between the stars and the podium toppers were the rest of us; regular fitness enthusiasts looking for new and inspiring workouts. Wellington, who is taking a year off from competitive racing and on a book tour to promote her memoir, "A Life Without Limits," has a passion for getting women involved in sport. "The advantage for me is that the retreat enables women of all backgrounds, experience and interests to come together in an informal, relaxed environment where fitness is the axis. I met journalists, MBA's, yogi. Also, it's non-competitive. A retreat is just that -- it is about health and wellness, not flexing our muscles.

Which brought me to my last question: I imagined retreats are fun, but does one actually become a fitter person?

That question was answered on the plane home, when after taking 10 of the retreat's fitness classes in 48 hours -- nine classes of which had nothing to do with cycling -- my body throbbed with aches and pains of long neglected non-cycling specific muscles. That, and my metabolism was so revved up I ate everything in sight for a good 24 hours. So, yes, retreats put on as professionally and knowledgably have quite a physical and educational effect. Simultaneously, one may gain life-altering knowledge in fields not anticipated, but greatly appreciated. For example, I now know there is a smoothie protein powder made in the flavor of cake batter. My life has been permanently altered.

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