The morning after 25-year-old Nicki Bonebrake’s recent bachelorette party, she could barely get out of bed. The problem wasn’t that the Gaithersburg, Md., resident had stayed out all night with her friends — although she had. It was that her body was still dealing with the fact that she’d spent the previous morning learning the art of flying trapeze.
“I couldn’t lift my arms. I put on deodorant and it hurt,” says Bonebrake. “It was the good kind of sore.”
That was exactly how she envisioned the run-up to her big day. She plays volleyball three times a week, spends weekends with her coed flag football team and recently took up yoga, so it was important to Bonebrake to have an athletic component to the festivities. She’d been begging her friends to join her for a class at Trapeze School New York’s D.C. location for years with little success.
But when you’re the bride, you get to decide. And these days, many women are eschewing or supplementing the typical drunken revelry with something that helps them work up a little bachelorette sweat.
Pretty much all pole-dancing studios do a brisk bridal business. That was what Bonebrake’s sister, Katie Nugent, selected for her bachelorette party two years ago. “It’s fun to step outside your comfort zone before you get married and do something adventurous and crazy,” the 31-year-old says.
Although Nugent sat out on the trapeze lesson because she’s pregnant, the venue offers other circus arts, including silks and juggling, that are appropriate substitutes. Manager Beth Manning attributes the school’s popularity among bachelorettes to the fact that there’s bound to be an activity for everyone. “People want something unique, and they don’t necessarily want to go drinking,” Manning says.
There wasn’t a drop of liquor at Jessica Nicholson’s party at the Bar Method in Washington three weeks prior to her November wedding. Surprised? So were a few of the 33-year-old’s friends, who didn’t realize that the name of the establishment referred to a ballet barre workout. If you walk out stumbling, it’s because your thighs are still shaking from the intense toning exercises.
“I didn’t want to feel terrible the day after my bachelorette party,” says Nicholson, an avid runner and triathlete who’s become a regular at the Bar Method. She appreciated that the group didn’t just strengthen their muscles, but also their bonds. There was no way to split into cliques, Nicholson says, when everyone was facing the same challenge.
Jessie McPoyle was also looking for an icebreaker to kick off her day of bachelorette fun. So the 27-year-old from Doylestown, Pa., arranged for a visit last summer to Go Ape, a ropes course in Rockville, Md., scattered with zip lines, wobbly bridges and very tall ladders.
“I was worried about the clashing of personalities, but the automatic human response is to be there for each other, even when it’s people who didn’t know each other before,” she says. Wearing matching tank tops (“Jessie’s taking the leap, so we’re going ape”) and cheering helped the group get comfortable together before transitioning to an evening of dinner and drinking. “This was an activity they can remember,” McPoyle says. “It’s not a spa treatment they’ll forget about.”
Bachelorettes weren’t part of the original business model, says Dan D’Agostino, Go Ape USA’s managing director, who just launched a second location in Williamsburg, Va. But wedding parties now represent 5 percent of the company’s sales. “I’ve been told by visitors that it’s the one healthy activity everybody can do. You don’t have to be a great golfer or know how to ride a mountain bike,” he says.
It’s also an activity men are willing to do for bachelor parties. Ben Prosser, 29, who lives near Baltimore, had no clue what his friends had in store for him. “But they know me pretty well. I’m a gym rat, a runner and I like the great outdoors.
“A typical bachelor party wouldn’t do it for me,” says Prosser, who was psyched to have a morning with his buddies flailing, making fools of themselves and hollering like Tarzan.
“Then we took off for Dewey Beach and did more typical bachelor party shenanigans. But I didn’t have to lie about one thing,” he says. “My wife was thrilled.”
Guys looking to please their fiancees may also want to explore rock climbing. Earth Treks, a climbing gym with locations in Maryland, used to see one booking a year for climbing classes for bachelors and bachelorettes. Last year, it had five. “Some of them think it’s an original idea and they’re surprised to find out they’re not the first,” says programming coordinator Amy Gounaris.
Given that rock climbing involves learning how to belay — helping hold the rope so your partner doesn’t fall — it’s good preparation for marriage, says Lillian Chao-Quinlan, president of Sportrock Climbing Centers in Northern Virginia. “Since you’re expecting your wedding party to do things for you, it’s not a bad test,” she says.
Other fitness facilities sensing an opportunity to attract bachelorette parties include Epic Yoga in D.C. Studio director Emma Saal has been coordinating a deal with a nail salon so it’s easy to do both activities. And indoor cycling studios Revolve and ZenGo in the D.C. area have clients setting up their first bachelorette events.
“I’ve turned 30, I’m getting married, I want to be in shape,” says Kelly Weaver, who heads to ZenGo three times a week. “This is important to me — it’s what I do with my time. I want everyone to reap the benefits and feel good, and maybe I’ll jump-start a friend’s fitness routine.”
Or at least have a good party.
Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.
See more photos of recent bachelorette parties at Trapeze School New York, washingtonpost.com/wellness.