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Madonna’s Hard Candy Fitness more than just eye candy

When you think of a gym created by Madonna, you might picture personal trainers in cone-shaped bras, her discography playing on a loop, maybe even Kabbalah bracelets instead of membership cards. And while all of that sounds enticing, (before you get too excited) it’s not quite what Madonna’s own Hard Candy Fitness is selling. But don’t fret, because what the gym does offer is a solid alternative to what appears to be GoodLife’s monopoly on the local fitness scene.

On her 2008 album Hard Candy, Madonna sings, “Don’t stop me now, don’t need to catch my breath, I can go on and on and on.” Fittingly,  five years later, that’s still true. In between touring the most successful concert of 2012, fighting for world peace with Secret Project Revolution and raising four children (five if you count her current boyfriend), she’s somehow found the time to create and open eight gyms around the world, with no sign of slowing down.

The latest location, which soft launched last month, hides away on the 4th floor of the eerily tall Aura, what will be when completed Canada’s tallest residential building at Yonge and Gerrard streets. The grand opening is slated for early January 2014 where President and CEO Annick Marcoux is confident that Madge herself will make a special appearance. This isn’t just another random project for the pop star. “The brand is her passion and her lifestyle,” she says, “You look at her at age 55 and she’s gorgeous, she has arms of thunder. Hard Candy is luxurious and it’s who Madonna is. It’s a $6 million gym. She has high standards.”

And luxury doesn’t come cheap. You’ll find that a membership here is more expensive than any of the six GoodLife Fitness spots down the street, setting you back around $99 a month, plus an initiation fee. But the question is, are you going to get what you pay for here, or should you just stick to blasting Confessions on a Dance Floor in your free condo gym?

At first glance, it’s clear that great attention to detail has been paid to keeping a cohesive theme throughout the venue. Aesthetically, the open, airy space is beautiful. Wall to wall murals of Madonna surround in all her airbrushed glory; the workout equipment is painted a tasty, candy apple red; even the locker room soap smells like something Willy Wonka would’ve invented. Want a “Like a Prayer” smoothie? Hope you like almond milk.

The weights area is on par with any other gym in Toronto, and the state-of-the-art cardio equipment is quite impressive, but the group fitness classes seem to be where your money is really going, as they’re unlike any other you’ll find, at least in this town.  Director of group exercise Lori Kirwan is most proud of their signature Addicted to Sweat class, created by Madonna and her personal trainer, Nicole Winhoffer. Says Kirwan:  “It features actual choreography from Madonna’s videos and world tours. It’s a workout that she actually does. If you’ve seen her live, you know she can jump around on stage for hours and hours, and the way she stays in the shape that she’s in is by doing this class.”

Another class to help get you that Blonde Ambition Tour type of body is “Strength and Heels, which, yes, is cardio in stilettos. “I’m from the athletic part of fitness,” says Kirwan, “so when I first heard of that class, it didn’t appeal to me right away. But throughout training, it ended up being one of the most fun classes I’ve ever done.

You let loose and let go of any inhibitions you might have. Our instructors, both male and female, help bring that out in you.” (Gentlemen, please note that it’s BYOH.)

Another highlight is the cycling studio, which looks similar to a night club scene straight out of the Hung Up video, with dim lighting, glowing bikes and a live DJ spinning on various nights throughout the week.

From the 10-foot tall Madonna posters, to the disco-style spin class, you’ve probably guessed that their target market is well, you know, us. And with the gay village only a block away, Hard Candy’s location is no accident.

But Marcoux and her partners had the space at Aura before deciding on a gym to fill it. Says Marcoux: “It could have been branded something else. We had a lot of other names to choose from, but because of the proximity to the gay village and how strong of a following Madonna has in the gay community, we decided it was the best brand to bring to this space.” When the idea of opening the first Hard Candy in North America on Yonge St. was brought to Team Madonna, apparently it was an easy “yes.” Marcoux continues: “Before launching Hard Candy in 2010, Madonna sat with her team and went through a list of cities around the world where she wanted to open a gym, where she was most welcomed and most successful with her tours. They had a list of 12 cities and Toronto was on it. So the connection was easy.”

At the end of the day, if Madonna’s personal opinion matters to you, it should be known that she has put her own stamp of approval all over the Toronto location. “She has seen photos of everything we’ve done,” says Marcoux, from the reception desk to the chairs to the photos on the walls. She’s had to approve everything with her team, so she’s been very involved. She’s even approved every single Addicted to Sweat instructor we’ve hired.”