Time to bust out of a workout rut? These exercise options can take your fitness level in a newer, leaner direction
photographs by Gus Cantavero
New Year, New You. Geez, how many times have you heard that one? And each year you vow to make it true. You work hard to stay fit. You work hard to keep trim. You work hard to look and feel good. Work, work, work. Where’s the fun in that? This year, why not resolve to enjoy the process of body sculpting? Take that same-old exercise routine and infuse it with something completely different. Here are four options to consider.
“One of the biggest trends in fitness right now is functional training,” says Suzanne Ponticello, who is the fitness director at the Darien YMCA, which is fresh off a $9 million facelift and boasts a brand-new 2,000-square-foot studio. “It’s an awesome workout, and it addresses numerous muscle groups at one time.” Kettle bells, tractor tires, fire ropes, sandbags, a football sled, medicine balls – they line the walls around the studio and are the perfect props for an all-around workout. The Darien police are training here under Ponticello’s direction, and so are many local teams and teens.
“Functional training classes are all the rage,” says Ponticello. Consider a policeman at work, she says. He may drive around in the same position for hours, but in an instant has to dash out in response to a call. So many muscles spring into action at once. A treadmill might aid his cardio endurance during pursuit of a criminal, and weights could help him hold a guy until help arrives, but what about all that happens in between–all the dashing and the jumping and the hoisting? Functional training uses the aforementioned props, which are pulled, tossed, dragged, thrown and lifted, to help a person work several muscles at the same time. The goal is to get that person, whether he’s an elite athlete, a dancer or a first-responder, to excel at daily activities by improving how the body moves as a unit, rather than by singling out one muscle over another.
This fitness philosophy is employed at Sono Ice in Norwalk, too, where the old Nash engineering building has been transformed into an NHL-sized ice rink, a smaller rink and a fitness center. Here, New Canaan native Eric Lind and Ryan Hughes train elite hockey players, as well as athletes of all sports, ages and abilities. In addition to using functional training props, athletes can work multiple muscle groups using Keiser functional training pneumatic machines, just like those in the locker room of the New Jersey Devils.
Personal training isn’t new, of course, but the right trainer can be just what you need to infuse a ho-hum workout with more energy. Tom Holland drives from his home in Darien to Westport, navigating winding roads until he arrives at the twenty-one-room residence of the Donovan family in Westport. With six kids and a slew of volunteer responsibilities, including work as an EMT, Nicole Donovan has her hands full as it is without trying to figure out how to keep her fitness routine fresh. She doesn’t need to, though, because Holland–a twenty-one-time Ironman, national fitness expert, exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer–has figured it out for her.
“We’re going to warm up first,” Holland says, pushing the buttons on the treadmill in the Donovans’ glass-enclosed basement studio, a clean, neat, bright space that contains all manner of fitness gear, from rowing machine to bike to elliptical trainer to Cybex machine. Donovan steps on and gets moving. An hour later, she’s red in the face, having moved at Holland’s directives from the treadmill to pushups, lunges, pulls, curls, weights and more.
“OK, now squats,” he says, pulling out a Bosu ball.
“Seriously?” says Donovan, who has been working hard and is dripping with sweat.
“You’re paying me for seriously,” Holland responds.
Donovan is a former dancer and gymnast whose exercise routine came to a halt after knee surgery. “I was sick of being a ‘former gymnast.’ I wanted to get fit again,” says Donovan, 44, who now runs road races around town and has a six-pack for abs. She works with Holland three times a week, in her gym and outside. “Sure, most of what we do I could do myself, but for some reason I don’t seem to do it when he’s not here,” she says. “Working with Tom helps me get a workout done and get it out of the way.”
Automated Personal Trainer
You know those gyms that go on for acres, offering a sea of machines that you step, run, lift, push, pull or bike on month after month, until you can’t stand dragging yourself to the club anymore? If you appreciate good equipment but you’d like to mix things up, work more muscles and pay closer attention to your progress, then consider the Automated Personal Training program. Yes, we thought that was an oxymoron too, until we checked it out at Koko FitClub.
Bond trader and Ironman Steve Powell opened Koko FitClub in Darien. This fast-growing franchise promises customized workouts with quantifiable results. The key to the center’s success is literally that: a key, a little flash drive that fits on your keychain and contains your personalized workout. Members start with a strength assessment, a body evaluation and a goal, such as losing weight, improving athletic performance or toning the body. Then the Koko Fit technology designs a program for your specific needs. Members plug their Koko key into a Smartrainer machine and follow a real-time demo on the touch screen. The machine evaluates your form and even counts your moves for you. If you’re doing something wrong, if your seat is in the wrong spot or if the weights aren’t quite right, the video on the screen will alert you and tell you how to fix it. One machine can take you through ninety-eight exercises that work different muscles. The system logs and follows your progress and when you return, it remembers what you did last time and moves you up a notch to gradually increase the difficulty of the exercise and get you closer to your fitness goal.
“At a typical gym your muscles plateau because you’re doing the same thing over and over again,” says Powell. “Here you have a more thoughtful workout; and we quantify things that a personal trainer can’t.” Powell’s club has just a dozen machines, but that’s all it needs because customers do a whole workout on just one.
You’ve tried Pilates, but you’re starting to feel that its lengthening and strengthening is so yesterday. Kickboxing was also on your fitness agenda for a while until the moves began to feel redundant. Now here’s a twist. How about doing them both at the same time? That’s the gist of Piloxing, a workout that combines the body sculpting benefits of Pilates with the cardio advantages of boxing. Piloxing was started in Los Angeles by Swedish bombshell Viveca Jensen and spread like a wild fire once Hollywood beauties started baring their Piloxied bellies in national magazines. Now, it’s in Darien. At Flair Fitness Studio, about a dozen barefooted women strap on weighted, fingerless gloves and get moving. While the music blares, the exercisers throw jabs, uppercuts and hooks, twisting their torsos to work on their core. They combine little bursts of cardio training totaling forty-five minutes in all, followed by ten minutes on the mat working glutes, thighs and abs. Calories melt away with the stress. “It’s a total body workout,” says Martha Guttuso, a certified Piloxing instructor at Flair Fitness. “It also allows you to let out some aggression and really feel your own strength.”
These targeted workouts will get you into that gala gown. While overall fitness is a terrific goal, sometimes you just want to look great in a knockout dress. We asked Suzanne Ponticello, fitness director at the Darien YMCA, for tips on how to target key muscle groups.
Dress Style: Sleeveless
This one’s easy, Ponticello says. To show off your arms, go with the high plank. Do one push-up and just hold your body up there. Keep yourself in a straight line, from ankles to butt to shoulders to head. Aim to stay that way for a minute, if you can. If you want to intensify the move, pick up one hand and tap the opposite shoulder, then keep alternating hands.
Dress Style: Drop Waist
Because this style accentuates the hips and waist, Ponticello recommends the squat. Plant your feet a little bit wider than hip width apart. Keep your heels on the floor. Using your legs and core, lower yourself as if you were sitting back in a chair. Go as far down as you can without letting your knees pass your toes. Then raise yourself and do it again. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you at chest height.
Dress Style: Mermaid
For better or worse, this oh-so-clingy goddess-style gown hugs all you have got to show. The best way to look good in a mermaid dress is to tone your middle with a low plank. It’s like the high plank you do for a sleeveless style, but instead of holding yourself in a push-up position, you hold yourself up on your forearms. This works your core, your butt and the back of your legs. The goal is to be able to stay up there for a minute. To make it more intense, do a drop hip plank. While you’re up on those forearms, drop your right hip bone to the floor then rotate and bring the left one down, going back and forth for a minute.
Dress Style: Strapless
This gown highlights the back and shoulders, so go with a row. Either spend some time on an actual rowing machine, or do a standing row. Put a dumbbell of the same weight in each hand, bring arms to a 90-degree angle at the elbow with palms facing up, align feet under hips, and squeeze your shoulder blades together, making sure to hug elbows alongside your body. Repeat slowly as many times as you can.