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Play Hard, Workout Hard: The Sweat Social

A fitness entrepreneur encourages tourists and locals to mix work(outs) and play in New Orleans through The Sweat Social.

sweat social bridge
Mohan leads a fitness class for The Sweat Social along the banks of the Mississippi River. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

The revelry of a New Orleans night can sometimes lead to a desperate kind of alchemy the next morning: a raw egg, a cold shower, maybe a few chugs of Similac. What visitor to this fine city (or, admit it, local) hasn’t at one time or another experimented with a dubious hangover cure? Rupa Mohan offers one that might be crazy enough to work, or at least fun enough to try again with a clear head: an intense leg-pumping/shadowboxing/sweat-dripping workout at the edge of the Mississippi River.

The Sweat Social, the group fitness class Mohan launched in June, caters to those “who are going to indulge,” she says, “but want to check it with a great workout.” Specifically, her classes, which cost $20 and are held seven times a day, seven days a week, cater to the growing class of “wellness travelers” who are seeking exercise options on the road. It’s a $500 billion industry that’s still growing, sparked by the public’s increasing awareness of nutrition and fitness.

Mohan, left, with a The Sweat Social participant visiting New Orleans from the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo via The Sweat Social on Facebook)

Mohan understands the draw. She spent the better part of a decade working on Wall Street, frequently traveling for her job and for pleasure and often feeling underwhelmed by the fitness options in the hospitality industry. “I hated hotel gyms,” she says, “or I’d be in an Airbnb where gyms weren’t an option. Being able to stay fit on the road is so difficult.”

The New York City native found her calling after leaving her job to spend a year touring Southeast Asia with her husband and The Sweat Social co-founder, Manoj. Mohan, a self-described fitness junkie, got certified for personal training and group fitness classes and started hosting workouts in parks and other public spaces while abroad, attracting fellow travelers looking not only to break a sweat but also make friends with like-minded people. Before long, she and her husband decided to bring her concept back to the States and, specifically, New Orleans. “We’d come as tourists for years and always talked about moving here,” she says. “Finally, we pulled the trigger.”

Fitness from a New Orleans P.O.V.

From the start, Mohan wanted to embrace the city’s unique, festive atmosphere rather than push against it. “We would always leave New Orleans a few pounds heavier,” she says, and her idea was to supplement that element with a fun but effective fitness counterpart.

Sessions feature elements of boxing, martial arts, cardio, and body-weight exercises broken up into high-intensity intervals during a heart-pumping 30 minutes. “We’ve found that wellness travelers look for quality, convenience, and efficient use of their time,” she says. Mohan welcomes clients of all skill levels and can modify exercises for beginners: for instance, a jumping leg kick can instead be a standing leg lift or, if you’re tired, you can always rest through an interval.

The Sweat Social customizes sessions for groups larger than five: a group workout in Lafayette Square, a bachelorette party/picnic in City Park, or even an indoor session.

Steamboats and sweat during a recent class. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Most often, The Sweat Social classes can be found under the gazebo overlooking the river in Woldenberg Park, rain or shine. Mohan prefers the outdoor setting because “it makes you feel a bit more connected to the destination.” She caps reservations, which can be made online, to 15 participants to preserve the intimacy of each workout. The Sweat Social provides everything participants need, though Mohan suggests bringing a towel and water. She also customizes sessions for groups larger than five: whether you want to do a group workout in Lafayette Square, a bachelorette party/picnic in City Park or even an indoor session for time-strapped conventioneers, “we’ll do all of that,” she says. She’s also developing partnerships with French Quarter hotels that have so far included a four-part session inside the W’s courtyard with $5 Eat Fit NOLA–approved cocktails provided by SoBou.

“Have fun with it”

The “social” half of The Sweat Social isn’t an afterthought. Mohan pictures her classes as a gateway to a more authentic, engaged New Orleans travel experience. She encourages participants to cheer for each other and mingle. Her classes start with icebreaker games or even local trivia sessions, are set to soundtracks that include everything from ’80s hair bands to Tupac Shakur, and feature raffles to local businesses such as St. Roch Market, Bacchanal Wine, and District Donuts. Everyone leaves with something, and it usually directs them to less-trodden destinations. “We obviously support a lot of business in the Quarter, but we really want people to check out the Bywater, the Marigny, Uptown, Mid-City,” she says. “For me, it’s important for travelers to be able to talk to a local and understand more about New Orleans than Bourbon Street.”

That doesn’t mean Mohan won’t cater to a partying crowd. She recently welcomed a group of worse-for-wear Michiganders looking to, she says politely, “sweat it out.” They’d found The Sweat Social online (Mohan’s building a presence on Instagram, Twitter, and TripAdvisor) and were seeking a productive workout in a friendly environment… and maybe a little absolution, too.

“We’ve all been there — it’s New Orleans,” she says. “I don’t want you to kill yourself to get through the class. Just do what you can and have fun with it. No matter what, you’re going to burn some calories.”

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