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The 2014 Fittest City in America: Portland

In our nation’s Fittest City, 86% of the population gets regular exercise—but physical activity is just part of what makes Portland No. 1.


Portlanders are famously outdoorsy, despite a decidedly damp climate that features 164 days of precipitation a year. “There’s no such thing as bad weather,” goes one variation of the local boast, “just bad rain gear.” But I’m not local, so on the morning of my Wildwood run—when it’s still gray and pissing down rain—I head indoors to sample the local gym culture at Firebrand Sports.

“I could bring LeBron James down like a baby,” brags Firebrand owner Sara Stimac, whose 10,000-square-foot fitness studio is part of a new crop of boutique gyms in the warehouse-rich Pearl District. Her threat sounds a touch hollow to me, especially considering that the “addictive, total-body, shirt-drenching, muscle-shaking” class I’ll be taking is Pilates-based.

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But by 7:03 a.m.—exactly three minutes into Stimac’s 50-minute “Pyrolates” session—my legs are quivering like Jell-O. I’m perched on a Megaformer, a giant, tricked-out Pilates machine that looks sort of like a medieval torture device, performing painfully slow, controlled lunges that are working my muscles to failure with alarming efficiency. Right when I’m having my Bambi legs moment, Stimac, who’s been cheerily prancing around the studio making subtle form corrections, tells the class to “pulse.” The women respond by coolly lowering into a deep, sustained lunge, while a middle-aged guy cries out like a wounded animal. The sweat pours from my brow, but I manage to squeeze out a few pulses. Looking slightly amused, Stimac tosses me a towel.

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Unlike cities where “people think fitness is hard, it’s not fun, it’s drudgery,” Stimac tells me after class, Portlanders tend to incorporate it into their beloved outdoor activity, regardless of the miles they’re logging or the dismal weather; so there’s not a huge gym culture here, as there is in Long Beach, Oakland, or D.C. (which have as many as five times more health clubs per capita). Stimac discovered the Megaformer—an invention of Hollywood fitness guru Sebastien Lagree—in gym-crazy L.A., and is trying to persuade more locals to come indoors to exercise. As for me, I hobble out of there, confident that all too soon I’ll be regretting that I did.



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