Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Best of NYC Fitness

The fitness scene in 2011 really exploded in NYC with many new studios opening all over the city. I was lucky enough to try many new classes, including some of the best in NYC. Here are  my top 5 for this year:

Soul Bands

5.  Soul Bands class at Soul Cycle with Laurie Cole:
-Yes, I know Soul Cycle is great and all that jazz. But have you tried Soul Bands? Now that's a really fun class! The stars must have been shining down on me when I found that I was able to get into uber-popular instructor Laurie Cole's Soul Bands class (I did eventually make it to her, rather awesome, regular Soul Cycle class too afterwards but I'll leave that for a future review). Laurie = great energy and great music! This is a spin class with simultaneous upper body work, courtesy of the two sets of resistance bands. I felt almost every single upper body muscle work as I pulled down at the bands, in perfectly synchronized unison with the rest of the class. The synchrony is a trademark of a Soul Cycle class so don't bother sitting in the front row if you choose not to follow the choreography!

Figure 4. Source: NY Times

4. Figure 4 at Pure Yoga  with Kate Albarelli:
- So many barre classes hit NYC this year but Figure 4 stands out thanks to its bubbly and energetic creator Kate Albarelli. Once she steps into the studio the sweet demeanor fades and she is there to make sure you work! The class throws you off with the intense thigh work at the beginning of the class. Then are the number of repetitions. Those killed me in this class. I love the class' fast-pace and the different props Kate has added into the mix of this class, such as the Pilates magic circle. Classes now take place at both Pure Yoga locations so east-siders no longer need to make the trek across the park.

3. Flywheel Sports with Jessie Alexander/Danielle Devine (Tie):
-I have been spinning for years but taking my first Flywheel class was humbling, to say the least. Each bike has an attached monitor and the instructor informs you what resistance and speed you should be at so there's little room to cheat. Throw in some amazing remixes courtesy of Scott Melker, resident DJ, and you will have more than just a spin class. You will have an all-out experience. I have tried a few of the instructors (all of whom are excellent) but I always find that I gravitate towards either Jessie or Danielle. Each has their own particular brand of music (Jessie-hip hop; Danielle- pop with some blasts from the past) but both lead incredibly inspirational rides that push you without it ever getting annoying. I can't pick a favorite here. Love both! I have to add that my husband, who has always hated group exercise classes, is a total spin-convert thanks to Danielle, and now cannot wait for his weekly spin class!

Source: Physique 57

2. Formula 57 at Physique 57 with Chanelle Lagace/Alicia Weihl (Tie):
- Physique 57 really upped the ante with this class. The brainchild of Chanelle Lagace, this class packs the core strengthening work of Mat 57 (Physique 57's pilates class) with a more fast-paced version of the signature Physique 57 class. "Compound movements" are the theme here with each exercise hitting at least two different muscle groups. Think shoulder presses with oblique crunches and a leg extension thrown in for good measure. Both Chanelle and Alicia give the class their own unique spin so it feels like a completely different class, all the while keeping it fresh and fun. Both teach a fantastic class and so this will also be an instructor tie. Be warned: you will be sweating bucket-loads!

Refine Method. Source: Well + Good

1. Refine Method with Brynn Jinnett:
-Refine Method burst onto the scene late last year with its high-intensity circuit training classes. The anti-barre class! Despite being a barre aficionado it completely won me over and it gets my number 1 slot for the best of 2011 NYC fitness. I leave each class feeling a little bit stronger, whether it's because of those extra ten seconds I held a plank or because I substituted the heavier kettlebell for part of the lunge series. Classes are small at 12 people and that allows enough personal attention to make sure all exercises are performed correctly and without any injury. In this one short year Refine has built up a fiercely devoted following and won a New York magazine award. No small feat. All due to its innovative creator, Brynn, who is constantly improving and further honing her method.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior Fitness Bootcamp, Core Fusion Cardio, Ki Power Vinyasa Yoga 

Question: What were your favorite fitness classes this year? Any recommendations for me to hit next year?


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Laduree in NYC: Macaron Heaven!

When I heard that Laduree, the famous Parisian patisserie, was opening shop a few blocks north of my apartment I was thrilled to bits! Their macarons (not to be confused with macaroons), the little cakes made by compressing two soft macaron shells with gooey ganache in between are heavenly! After trying them in Paris many years ago I have searched high and low for the perfect macaron in New York and have always felt like there's something missing.



I waltzed over to Laduree the week it opened and the line extended out of the store and onto Madison Avenue! I begrudgingly stared at all those people and decided upon Plan B: Wait a couple of weeks and come back.

I gave it more than a few weeks and went by again recently. The 12-person deep line was not as intimidating so I joined in. Fifteen minutes later I was in front of the colorful counter and making the rather difficult decision of picking flavors. One of each please?



Standards like vanilla, chocolate and pistachio were joined by the more exotic salted caramel and rose petal. So many choices! Interesting tid-bit: The macarons come in directly from Paris once every two days.

After much going back and forth I narrowed it done to eight different flavors.

Success!
The hubby and I have since been slowly nibbling our way through this box. My favorites, I have to say, were coconut and vanilla!

Question: Have you ever tried macarons? Ever been to Laduree? 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pure Barre-NYC Review

The ever-expanding NYC barre scene has a new addition: Pure Barre. Although it has been around since 2001, when Carrie Rezabek Dorr first opened her studio in Michigan, since 2009 it has become a franchise and there are now locations nation-wide in over 20 states. I do admit a mild obsession with barre workouts and so was excited to give this one a try.



Pure Barre is located conveniently off Columbus circle on the third floor of a high-rise. Upon walking in, I was surprised at how small the space was but it was immediately warm and inviting. Two curtained stalls in front of the reception desk constitute the changing rooms. There are cubby-holes for belongings in one corner  of the reception area, along with fitness apparel (and Pure-Barre's grippy socks) for sale in another corner. There is one studio whose mauve hues had quite a soothing effect on me.

The studio

My instructor was Leslie Coakley, who is also one of the two owners. I got to the studio super-early and so I chatted with her prior to class. She had been teaching the method for four years in Nashville, before the move to New York. She gave me a quick run-through of what props I would need: a set of 2lbs weights, a set of 3lbs weights, a small medicine ball and a stretching band.

The props

It was the day before Thanksgiving so the class was small (I was one of 3 clients).

Overall, the class reminded me a lot of Core Fusion albeit with some new moves that I had not done before. For starters we plunged straight into a rather intense burst of ab work right after the warm-up. I'm not complaining. I thought it was great- it just caught me unaware. We held a plank and did something rather unusual....pelvic tucks while holding a plank. At first it was terribly awkward but as the class went on and we did pelvic tucks in various other barre-class moves I started to get the hang of it!

After the initial ab burst we did a set of arms using just the light hand weights. I usually prefer going much heavier than 3lbs but the arm section here was quite humbling. Small movements in a continuous state of contraction =  major burn! After this shock to my abs and arms I was pumped for the rest of the class. Unfortunately the thigh section which came next left me wanting more. We did three exercises at the barre; all involved slow movements with sustained contraction. So while I was definitely feeling a burn I wanted more reps. The thigh section usually leaves me spent after barre classes but that did not happen here. Not to worry. The seat section totally made up for it! We did do a set of thigh dancing with pelvic tucks while holding onto the barre. Again, a little hard initially but the learning curve was steep.

Abs were classic Lotte Berk, similar to the format at The Bar Method and Core Fusion. I am not a fan of the round back and flat back version of these abs as I always feel it in less in my abs and more in my hips. Leslie was great at correcting form, especially when she saw my lack of agility in this part of the class. "It's more mind-body than anything. It takes a few classes to master," she added encouragingly.

All in all, I liked it. The pace of the class is slower than what I normally prefer but the small movements and sustained contractions led to a super burn  and I left feeling sufficiently challenged.

The Good:
1. The class: I love how there are so many barre classes and yet all of them have their own unique elements. Pure Barre definitely has added its own variations including the pilates-inspired abs section at the beginning of the class, the pelvic tucks interspersed among other class exercises for added core work and a surprisingly tough arm workout!

2. The instructor: Leslie seemed a little shy in person but once she started teaching she commanded the room. She emphasized correct form and adjusted us all throughout the class. According to one of the "regulars" I spoke to, Leslie's class is the toughest. I could tell she had put a lot of thought into the choreography.

3. The space: Despite the small space, the studio has a cool vibe about it which I liked a lot.


The Not-so-good:
1. The class: I felt like the thigh section could have been tougher. Maybe I'm just a thigh warrior but I wanted more repetitions.

2. Not enough cardio: This class is more about toning and less about cardio. I barely broke a sweat.

3: Music: The music was not memorable. Music is key to my workouts and I love it when classes are choreographed to the beat of a song. Making the music a part of the actual class choreography will  give this great class a lot more oomph!


Overall:
Pure Barre is classic Lotte Berk, with lots of slow and sustained movements. I definitely liked it, especially  the upper body and core work. It's a great addition to the NYC barre scene and I have no doubt it will find a loyal fan base very soon. There is currently a newcomer's special: $150 for one month unlimited.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Intensati for Mommies

I wanted to let you all know about a great event taking place next week that I shall be attending.

Jolynn Baca, a nationally certified fitness instructor and personal trainer, has organized a weekly Intensati class specifically tailored to moms and those that want to be moms someday. "Intensati for Mommies" has been created in conjunction with Lucky Lil' Darlings who will provide childcare for your little ones while you can work out!

Intensati is an exhilarating workout combined with spoken affirmations.

The class is described as follows:

"We are building a community of moms and those who want to be, who can learn from and help each other, get a fantastic workout and have someone watch their little ones while they do it! EVERY week we will have a one-hour intenSati workout focusing on inner and outer strength...burning serious calories while speaking positive affirmations helping us focus on creating the life we've always imagined. (Of course we will offer movement modifications for those expectant mommies.) At the end of each month, we will have a 30-minute "Mommy Talk" that will focus on topics relevant to motherhood....how to get pregnant, how to feed that growing baby inside of you, where to go for childcare once it's here, how to find balance once your baby arrives, prenatal acupuncture and so much more! Wait, it gets better...as the mommies work out, the fantastic professionals at Lucky Lil' Darlings entertain your little ones with crafts, healthy snacks and games.



On Wednesday November 30th right after the weekly Intensati class is a 30-minute "Mommy Talk" where acupuncturist Alyssa Proujansky, L.Ac. will discuss the benefits of acupuncture for increased fertility, ease of delivery and recovery.  Blue Print Cleanse will also be at hand to provide delicious juice samples and cleanse discounts. 


This promises to be a really fun event and I would love it if you would join me!
Date: Wednesday November 30th, 2011
Time: 930am-11am
Location: Ripley-Grier Studios, 131 West 72nd St., Studio 2R, New York, NY


Prices are as follows:

One hour class for $20
One hour class AND childcare for one child $25 (RSVP required for childcare)
One hour class AND Mommy Talk $30
One hour class, Mommy Talk AND childcare $35 (RSVP required for childcare)
USE CODE: momatthebarre 

To reserve: Email: jolynn@jolynnbaca.com


CYBER MONDAY SPECIAL: $20 for class and Mommy Talk if booked on Monday 11/28!

I have been hearing so much about Intensati recently and am really excited about finally trying it out! I will report back next week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Date Night in San Francisco

I was in the Bay Area for a wedding this past weekend. After six grueling hours on the plane where I was constantly thinking up of ways to entertain my very curious toddler, I was quite relieved to finally see the tarmac at San Francisco airport. My mother, seeing me drenched in exhaustion took pity on me and quickly offered her babysitting services so that the hubby and I could get some quiet time. It had been a while since we had had date night so I swiftly accepted my mum's offer.

We had a car fully equipped with a GPS (how did we ever get anywhere before the GPS???). But where to go? Should we do the touristy thing and hit up Fisherman's Wharf? Be a culture-hound and go to the SF Moma? Drive around aimlessly and look for a whimsical coffee shop? Ultimately we decided none of the above and instead I succumbed to my inner cupcake-lover! I remembered that Elizabeth Faulkner (a constant fixture on the Food Network) owned a cake shop in San Francisco. After a quick Google search we were on our way to Citizen Cake!

As we approached Citizen Cake I saw a long lIne snaking outside a neighboring pizza joint. This piqued my interest. A line outside a restaurant is usually a good sign! 


 Pizzeria Delfina was quite a find! It had a laid-back, hipster vibe but, at the same time it had an inviting aura about it. 


The hubby and I shared two pizzas: The Clam Pie...


and the Porcini Pie..


Can you tell we enjoyed them?

Next stop was Citizen Cake!


We were told the restaurant was fully booked and so were seated at the bar. Not a problem. Except that the restaurant was two-thirds empty when we got there and stayed that way for the remainder of our time there. Anyhow!

The center of the restaurant housed a glass case containing an assortment of exotic sounding desserts..


..which included, but was not limited to, the Retro Tropical Shag! A rum-soaked genoise with passion fruit and mango mousse!

Yum!

The hubby felt like getting a sundae, so we chose the Red Forrest sundae: Chunks of red velvet cake sticking out of a mound of vanilla ice cream, and dribbled with chocolate sauce and cherries.


It looked pretty good but the verdict? Disappointing. The cake felt dry and did not go well with the vanilla ice cream. Next time I am trying the SF Sourdough sundae. Grilled sourdough ice cream anyone?

Question: What is your favorite thing to do or favorite place to eat at in San Francisco? Next time we are going to come a little more prepared!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Hunger Games

Firstly, I am so embarrassed by the lapse between my last post and now. My life has been a whirl of midterms, term papers, and homework. Life is busier than ever and has to come to a standstill with regards to anything non-academic. I have friends I have not seen in months. The hubby and I are long due for a date night. I cannot even remember the last time I stepped into a movie theater. And ofcourse I am not getting to workout as much as I would like to.

Sigh. My four-week winter break is looking mighty appealing right about now.

On the plus side, my daily commute involves walking along Central Park South and so I have been getting to see scenes like this a lot recently....



Pretty. No?

What I am getting to do, however, is spend some time with the little guy. We celebrated our first Halloween last month and now that, at almost 11 months, he is a whole lot more responsive, we took in our first trip to the American Museum of Natural History and the Central Park Zoo (both are such treasures!).



The other thing I have managed to do is sit down and read a book. The Hunger Games. I am hooked. I must be the last person in the world to be reading it so I shall spare you a review. Is this book really targeted to middle school children?

Anyhow, the official movie trailer came out today and it looks amazing! I cannot wait to go see this in March!

Question: What did you read while in middle school? I will admit that I was going through a major Sweet Valley High phase...  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Working Out while Pregnant

I am a huge supporter of exercise during pregnancy, provided there are no medical  or surgical contraindications, ofcourse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends getting in 30 minutes of exercise most, if not all, days of the week. The prospect of going to the gym most days of the week may sound outrageous but what a lot of women don't realize is that you don't need to follow a crazy and, perhaps, unsustainable workout schedule. Something as simple as walking for 30 minutes a day is good enough. And if that seems like a lot, walk for however long you can. Just get moving! Not only can exercise during pregnancy give you great muscle tone, it has also shown to help with sleep, posture, energy, and mood levels as well as providing for a smooth labor process. Just be sure to get your doctor's okay before you start an exercise program while pregnant.

Source

I worked out throughout my entire pregnancy, upto the day before I gave birth. Despite my  legs resembling two tree trunks, thanks to all the swelling, I continued pulsing and plie-ing my way through my favorite barre class. At that point it obviously was not about the burn. My reason for doing it? I felt great! I had oodles of energy and unlike other pregnant friends I did not suffer from back-aches. Labor, unfortunately, was not so easy but hey, three out of four ain't bad!

Physique 57 was my workout of choice while pregnant. The fact that it is low-impact and has the capability to provide lots of variations made it the obvious choice for me. If you are currently pregnant be sure to check out their prenatal workshop this Saturday, November 5th at Physique 57's upper west side studio. It will be taught by Alicia Weihl and Kim D'Agnese, two wonderful instructors, each of whom has prenatal Pilates certification. The 90-minute class is described as follows:

"In addition to learning all of the variations which can be applied to a regular Physique 57 class during your pregnancy, this workshop will teach you the key exercises for you to implement in the weeks immediately following childbirth to ensure a quick, optimal recovery. Time will be allotted to answer all of your questions. Moms-to-be in all trimesters and of all experience levels are welcome."

Details: Saturday November 5th, 315pm, at Physique 57's 72nd Street studio. For more details and to sign up click here.


Question: Would you exercise while pregnant? And if you have exercised while pregnant what was your workout of choice?



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Inner Warrior Class with Nadia Zaki + Zobha - Juice Generation Event at Equinox

As I am sitting here writing this I am sipping on the "Essential Green" juice from Cooler Cleanse, a concoction of cucumber, celery, spinach, parsley, and kale, among other healthy greens. It was one of the many goodies I amassed at a fabulous event at Equinox this morning. The event was primarily to preview trendy athletic-wear company Zobha's new Performance Tech line, and to celebrate the opening of the new Juice Generation bar at the 63rd street Equinox (which officially opens this Saturday). But first there was going to a private Inner Warrior class taught by Nadia Zaki.

Source

Inner Warrior is a blend of yoga and martial arts. Before class Nadia explained that this class contained elements taken from both hapkido, the Korean martial art form, and capoeira, the Brazilian martial art form. The first half of the class was a traditional vinyasa sequence with a good number of  balance poses. The latter half of the class was when things became more dynamic. Nadia taught us a short martial art sequence, by progressively adding on martial art moves once we had semi-mastered the previous moves. A lot of athleticism was required in this part of the class which Nadia demonstrated with such dancer-like grace. The sequence involved a mixture of punching moves, high kicks, squats and gliding movements with our feet. We ended the class by repeating the complete sequence ten times. It was a lot of fun but most of the class was done without any music. Nadia did play music for parts of the class and the energy level would shift significantly at those moments so I do wish more music had been played.

After class I chatted with some bloggers as we picked up our Zobha gift bags packed with beauty products, gift cards and of course an item of Performance tech Zobha clothing.


The Performance tech line is designed for high impact and strenuous activities and provides a compressive fit. I tried on my Performance tech compression capri pants as soon as I got home and immediately fell in love with them. They are extremely comfortable and very flattering.

Source

As we headed out we were handed an insulated cooler bag which we could fill with an assortment of Cooler Cleanse juices. I chose the Essential Green, Watermelon and Lime and the Almond nut milk.  There was also a delicious raw/vegan yogurt parfait made from coconut meat topped with hemp granola.


I am glad Juice Generation is opening up so close to where I live. I anticipate many coconut meat-hemp granola parfaits in my future!

Dislaimer: I was not compensated for this post. I received a gift bag from Zobha and samples from Cooler Cleanse but was not obligated to provide a review

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Things I Could Do Without on the Subway

With my new (rather long) commute I have come to spend a good amount of time on the subway and it has been quite interesting. Often, I see scenes like the one depicted below which bring a smile to my face. At other times it's a different story.

Source
Here are some things I could do without on my morning commute:

1. Watching a Lady Trimming her Cuticles:
Two weeks ago I was thrilled to nab the last seat on a subway car. My delight was short-lived when I realized that the lady sitting next to me was trimming her cuticles, complete with manicure scissors and some sort of tweezer. Talk about unhygienic. Completely disgusted, I had to swerve over to the opposite side to avoid flakes of dead skin landing on my shoe.

2. Flossing:
I don't know what it is about me getting stuck in cars with people that love to groom themselves but this really happened also. Last week, a man sitting in front of me started to floss. Did I mention that we were on the subway? He did this for a good five minutes. Five minutes. Really. Wait, it gets better. He then pulled out a mini toothbrush (slight digression: I should really get one of these for my baby) and started brushing his teeth. I wish I were making this up. I stared at him for a while and then joined the other straphangers in their nonchalance.

3. Early morning Mariachi bands:
A lot of the subway performers are really talented but a loud mariachi band first thing in the morning can be quite jarring.

4. Listening to Sermons:
The express trains are a haven for preachers. Nothing like proclaiming your message to a subway car full of unwilling people who have no means of escape until the next station.

Aah, I love New York.

Yup, could do without seeing these two also
Source

Question: What is the strangest thing you have ever seen on the subway?

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Heartwarming Scene at the Apple Store

As I was walking along the Upper West side this morning, I saw this heart-warming display outside the Apple store....


A sea of post-it notes amidst flowers and, my favorite, the signed and bitten-out apples. I stood there for a moment and then joined everyone around me by pulling out my IPhone and snapping a photo. How apt!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hot Power Yoga at Pure Yoga and Detox Retox Yoga Beach Retreat

I am not usually a fan of working out in a heated room but when I was invited to take one of Kay Kay Clivio's classes, the hot power yoga class was the only one that fit with my schedule.

Source

Kay Kay is one of the senior instructors at Pure Yoga, and for good reason. She counts Bikram, John Friend, Baron Baptiste and Ana Forrest, all big names in the yoga community, among her teachers. Her classes are known to be highly popular, which I evidenced at the Hot Power Yoga Hour class I attended on Friday afternoon.  As I opened the door of the hot studio I was met with a blast of hot air.



People began lining up their mats. I decided to wait outside until it was time for class, and enjoy this gorgeous view instead!



Within the next few minutes the room became full. Kay Kay introduced herself to everyone taking her class for the first time (always a nice touch when teachers do this), and we began.

The 60 minute class was full of power yoga sequences, plenty of balance poses and a good measure of shoulder and hand stands. Kay Kay gave the most eloquent instructions. I could not see her all the time (as she was walking around the class)  but I knew exactly what to do. It was the first time I heard a teacher tell the class that in the baby cobra pose you should be touching the ground with only eight points of your body. Apparently I had been doing baby cobra incorrectly all these years! She also gave me some great postural adjustments, especially with "the bridge" where she told me to lift my back higher and pull my shoulder blades closer together, opening my chest much more fully. So this is what a bridge should feel like!

I really enjoyed the class and to my surprise, the heat did not bother me at all.

The Good:
1. The instructor: Kay Kay gave great direction. The instructions were clear enough even for somebody taking yoga for the first time.

2. The class: I loved the flow of the class and how variations were provided to allow all fitness levels to participate. I am still not entirely convinced of the link between a heated room and increased muscle flexibility, but I will say that there was something detoxifying about it.


The Not-so-good:
1. Mats too close to one another: This is not a criticism specifically of this class but of yoga classes in general. Classes try to pack in as many people as possible and as a result you are brushing elbows with your neighbor who is sweating bucket-loads in a hot yoga class.

Overall:
This is a fast-paced and very fun class set to great music. Pure Yoga really has some incredible instructors, and Kay Kay was no exception. I have a taken class with three Pure instructors so far and after each class I always promise myself that I shall incorporate more yoga into my life.

Detox Retox Yoga Beach Retreat:
For those yogis in need of a rejuvenating and detoxifying weekend you can experience Kay Kay's technique in a much more immersive setting as she, along with acclaimed yogi Tanya B, is holding a Detox Retox Yoga beach retreat at Eau Spa at the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach, FL from Nov 4-6. Participants will be able to take six classes over the three days, ranging from the more vigorous Core Flow yoga to the more restorative Yin yoga. Price is $1100 per individual per room. Check out the schedule below. For reservations call: (561) 540-4811.






Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was invited to take a complimentary class with Kay Kay Clivio at Pure Yoga and was under no obligation to provide a review and was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own.


Monday, September 26, 2011

SLT: A New Fitness Studio

SLT stands for Strength Length Tone and it is a brand new workout that its owner, Amanda Freeman, (co-founder of Vital Juice, the popular healthy living daily email) brought over from California, where it goes by Pilates Plus or SPX Fitness. Last week Amanda invited me to try a class and I was excited to learn more about the method.

Located in a one room studio on 57th Street, in midtown Manhattan, this 50 minute class revolves around the Megaformer, which is the evolution of the Pilates reformer. It is designed using a number of springs and pulleys that can be adjusted to vary the resistance. The Megaformer has a stationary platform and a moving platform and most of the exercises in this class used the instability of the moving platform to provide a killer workout.



The class size is small. When I went there were four other ladies present, although up to ten clients can be accommodated  Before the class began our instructor, Kristeen, gave us a brief introduction to the Megaformer and how to manipulate the springs during the class. This was important because we varied the springs (and resistance) frequently during the class. We started off doing lunges with one leg on the ground and the opposite leg bent on top of the moving platform, using the strength of the standing leg to glide the moving platform back and forth. Trust me that this is much harder than it sounds!

Source

Other exercises included standing on top of the Megaformer with one leg on the moving platform and the other leg on the stationary platform and doing squats. The instability of doing squats on the moving platform made my inner thighs feel like they were on fire.  We did donkey kicks with pulleys looped around our feet for added resistance. We also utilized the pulleys for arm work, doing lat pull-downs and triceps extensions. While there was no specific abdominal section, core strength was emphasized throughout the class. The "mermaid crunch" was a particularly brutal exercise where we held onto the handlebars while keeping our body in a side-plank and then proceeded to glide the moving platform back and forth. Holy obliques!

Mermaid crunch- source


The Good:
1. The class: This class is very different from anything I have taken before. The movements are slow but the resistance work allows for great strength training. The class had elements of cardio, Pilates and strength training and it was challenging from start to finish.

2. The instructor: When working with equipment it's imperative that the instructor keep an eye on the clients. Kristeen was constantly making hands-on corrections (which all of us newbies needed).


The Not-so-Good:
1. Requires a learning curve: The Megaformer is not intuitive and there were times I was frustrated when I could not adjust the handlebars or found myself positioned incorrectly. This is to be expected given it was my first time. I am sure this would improve on subsequent classes.

2. The class layout: The set up of the Megaformers is not newcomer-friendly. We are supposed to follow the instructor but her Megaformer was in the same row as mine, two over. Which meant I couldn't really see her which added to my frustration. Maybe having the instructor's Megaformer positioned at the head of the class so that all clients can see the instructor may be more helpful, especially for beginner-level classes.


Overall:
This is a really challenging class and once I got the hang of the Megaformer I really enjoyed it. I loved that this class incorporated both cardio and strength training. My legs and upper back were sore for the next two days. Exercises are switched up in every class. My class was more lower-body intensive. I do wish that we had done more arm work but the intense thigh and seat work totally made up for it! First-time clients can try a class for $20.

Thanks very much to Amanda Freeman for inviting me to try this class!

Disclaimer: I was invited to try a class free of charge but was not obligated to provide a review. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Edging Closer to the 2012 NYC Marathon: The Fifth Avenue Mile

The past two weeks have been a blur of activity. With grad school and the never-ending amount of reading I have to do, spending time with the hubby and little guy and finding time to catch up with friends, this blog has been suffering from some serious neglect.

I am slowly finding my groove and shall return to writing more regular posts very soon, so please do stick around! I have been trying some new fitness classes also so stay tuned for the reviews in the next few weeks.

This weekend I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile. Fifth Avenue was blocked from 80th Street all the way down to 59th Street so that runners could get a chance to run their fastest mile. Central Park on your right, stunning townhouses and pre-war buildings to your left-this really is a special race. This race is also a NYC Marathon qualifier so it's an easy way to make up the requirement of nine New York Road Runner (NYRR) races in order to be eligible for the following year's NYC marathon. I have been trying to complete the nine NYRR races for the past few years with not much success. But hopefully this will be the year!

Source

The Fifth Avenue Mile was my seventh race this year-so only two races left till this wannabe future marathoner can officially call herself a future marathoner!

The race was a lot of fun despite the crazy amount of humidity! It being only one mile meant a lot of ladies were trying to PR and so were pretty aggressive about pushing ahead! Yup, I actually got pushed. I, on the other hand, was a little more relaxed with my goals, aiming to run the mile under 9 minutes so I was quite chuffed to realize I ran it at 7:42! Was nice bumping into Jess and Erica also!

As part of the NYRR NYC Marathon eligibility program there is also a volunteer requirement. In order to complete that I woke up bright and early at 4am today so that I could get to the NYRR office by 515am to distribute race bibs for this morning's 18-mile Marathon Tune-up. Waking up at 4am on a Sunday is beyond brutal, especially with the kind of schedule I have been having. But luckily I only had to stay right till the race began (which was at 7am today) so by 730am I was back home. I wore my " I <3 Sweat" t-shirt which was quite the conversation starter. For those of you who don't know this t-shirt is in support of Ali who ran the Hamptons Marathon yesterday (Congrats, Ali!) to raise money for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America.



So seven races down and one volunteer requirement fulfilled. NYC Marathon 2012, here I come!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall Fitness in NYC

Fall is my favorite time of the year. And this Fall some of my favorite fitness studios have some new and exciting things in the works!



1. TS Fitness:
I loved this high intensity circuit-style workout when I first took it. Starting Tuesday, September 20th, TS Fitness is launching the Train Strong Program, their 6-week weight loss competition program. It will include 10 interval circuit classes, and one nutritional seminar with follow-up coaching.
Price:$325 for the 6-week program.

2. Physique 57:
My favorite barre class is offering a weekend retreat at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. New England is sublime in the fall and from October 13th-October 16th you could enjoy daily Physique classes with the Tanya Becker, the head instructor, along with freshly prepared gourmet meals and a spa allowance.
Price: $2,270 (single occupancy), $1,780 (double occupancy).

3. Flybarre at Flywheel Sports:
Flybarre, Flywheel Sports' kick-ass barre class has just undergone a major studio renovation. Larger space, new floors, additional lockers. They have also added more instructors so if you have not been this is the time to check it out!
Price: $30 (single class)

4. Exhale Mind Body Spa:
On Thursday September 22nd Exhale is celebrating National Yoga Month and is relaunching their yoga program. In honor of those two things they are offering free yoga classes on that day. Check out more information here. The good news is that this offer is valid at ALL Exhale locations (not just NYC locations).

And ofcourse there's always running in Central Park. The crisp air of the Fall. The leaves changing color. There's nothing like running in the Park in the Fall!

Question: Do you find yourself slacking off fitness goals now that the Summer swimsuit season is over?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tonique Method DVD Giveaway Winners!

Thanks so much to everybody who entered the Tonique Method DVD giveaway. I loved reading about everyone's fitness goals. So inspiring!

Here are the winners! (Note: I used random.org to generate the winning numbers)

1. Andrea from Andrea's Wellness Notes
2. Amber M
3. Kim from My Inner Chick
4. Mary T
5. Jill from Glamamom

Congratulations! I'll be sending you all an email to get your mailing addresses so that I can send the DVDs out to you as soon as possible!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review of SpringTONE Class at Real Pilates

Over the past few months I have been hearing some buzz surrounding a brand new style of a Pilates class. The class is called SpringTONE and its creator is Alycea Ungaro. Alycea is a sort of a rock-star in the world of Pilates  She has trained celebrities like Madonna and Uma Thurman, has written lots of best-selling books on Pilates and is the owner of Real Pilates, the popular Pilates studio located in Manhattan's Tribeca neighbourhood.


The SpringTONE class is described on Real Pilates' website as:

"Our all new, high intensity spring driven class. Work out in timed circuits that cycle through your body and train your muscles with our uniquely effective springs. Upper body and lower body circuits will raise your heart rate and your body heat – all while sculpting you a brand new shape. No one else uses springs quite the way we do!"

When I got to the studio I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who asked me to fill out some forms and then directed me to the lower level studio where my class was going to take place. The studio has two levels. On the top level I saw many clients working with trainers on reformers and various other Pilates apparatus.

The lower level studio has ten stations set up with Pilates Towers and corresponding mats (a maximum of 10 clients can take SpringTONE at a time). The Pilates Tower is, in essence, a metal tower that has loops located on its sides at different heights where coiled springs can be attached. The Towers in this class HAD two arm springs, two leg springs and one waist-level wooden bar that was attached to the Tower with springs.



We started class with a warm up, bringing our knees first to our chest and then out to our elbows. We then grabbed a set of light hands weights and did a series of squats while doing overhead raises with the weights. The squats were done slowly and held for a few seconds so the burn started almost immediately during the warm-up. 

We then started the SpringTONE section of class, and it was non-stop for the remainder of the 45 minute class. We did exercises like the Pilates 100 except we would be pumping our arms while holding onto the arm springs which surprisingly had a lot of resistance. Alycea told us how to increase resistance (move further away from the Tower, tautening the springs) or decrease resistance (move closer to the Tower, allowing the springs to become looser).  We then inserted the loops of the leg springs onto our feet and again, while lying on the mat, our feet in the Pilates stance, we slowly pushed our legs in and out, in a frog pose, against the resistance of the springs, holding in between repetitions. We kept our legs straight and made circles with our heels and then pulsed the weight of our legs down against the springs. There was no distinct separation of an arm and leg series. The exercises were all done in short circuits. We did chair squats while holding onto the arm springs, hip lifts with our feet pulling down against the leg springs, stomach curls while holding and pulling down on the waist-level bar which also added resistance from its attached springs. We packed a lot of different exercises in the 45-minute class, all utilizing the intense resistance of the Tower's springs.

After class I asked Alycea how this class differed from a typical Pilates Tower class. She told me that typically those classes are partly done on a mat and partly using the Tower. This particular class which she developed utilizes springs exclusively and can pack in many more exercises where the springs can be creatively used as compared to a regular Tower mat class.

Alycea Ungaro

The Good:
1. The class:  This class updates traditional Pilates by giving you a workout that is heavy on the resistance-training. I really enjoyed using the springs. I started doing mat Pilates almost 10 years ago and stopped once I felt like I plateaued. The elements in this class will make it harder to plateau, especially since you can vary the resistance by adjusting your own position.

2. The instructor: Alycea is great. She is funny, down-to-earth and is really passionate about both Pilates and her signature SpringTONE class. The mid-morning class I attended was full, a testament to her popularity. 

The Not-So-Good:
1. The class: With the exception of the warm-up there is no real cardio element in this class. You will be working hard but it is almost purely resistance training.

2. The class length: The class is 45-minutes long. By the time I got the hang of the springs the class was over! I would have liked the class to be at least an hour long.

Overall:
Resistance training is what this class is about. You will be working in mini circuits alternating between exercises targeting the arms, legs and core, all the while using the coiled springs as your method of resistance. While I did enjoy the use of the springs and did feel challenged, I am more of a cardio junkie and like the feel of my heart racing when I exercise. Having said that I would love to go back and take another class at some point. 

Also, if you have not entered my Tonique Method DVD giveaway, this is your last chance! I will announce the 5 winners on Tuesday.





Monday, September 5, 2011

Tonique Method DVD: Review and Giveaway!

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. I certainly did. Classes officially start for me this week so it was nice to have one last hurrah before the intensity strikes. Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. 

Earlier this summer I tried a sculpting and strength training class here in New York city which humbled me. The class was the Tonique Method and I called it "the hardest workout in town." You can read my review of the live class here. The class is currently offered on a limited schedule but luckily there's a whole set of DVDs available for those unable to take a class!

Sylwia Wiesenberg, the creator of the Tonique Method provided me with a set of her DVDs, 2 of which (the original Tonique Premier and the newer Tonique 2) I am going to review today.



TONIQUE PREMIER

This DVD was the first of the Tonique Method DVDs. It is broken down into five main sections:
1. Drills: Jumping jacks, jogging in place, lunge jumps  (Total time = 5 minutes).
2. Squats: Ten different squat exercises including the basic squat, basic squat with front kick, basic squat with side extension, squat jumps, one-legged squats and more (Total time = 15 minutes).
3. Lunges: Ten different lunge exercises including the basic backward lunge, backward lunge with front kick, skating lunge, side-to-side lunge and more (Total time = 19 minutes).
4. Mat exercises: This section starts off with some cardio drills to elevate the heart rate and includes mountain climbers and jogging in place, before beginning the mat section which include donkey kicks, fire hydrants, hip lifts, one-legged hip lifts. It ends with stomach drills which include a pilates-style full teaser and side to side leg extensions (Total time = 17 minutes).
5. Cool-Down: Dynamic active stretching, including plies, and the warrior three pose borrowed from yoga.

Overall:
The DVD, like the class is very challenging. Luckily, there are breaks between the sections. You can add a set of light dumbbells (1 or 2lbs is recommended) to assist you with added upper body work. It is filmed in a loft-like space and Sylwia is doing all the exercises herself. The voice-over is done by somebody else so at times it feels a little disjointed because there is a disconnect between the instructions and the actual movements. Each exercise is performed with a high number of repetitions (30, usually) and I found myself stopping to take plenty of breaks, at times completely out of breath. I felt great afterwards though! It is a complete body work-out that can efficiently be done in an hour.



TONIQUE 2:

This set is made up of 2 disks. While both discs are heavy on the squat/lunge formula that is the hallmark of Tonique, the first disk is described as being predominantly for sculpting while the second disk is more cardiovascular. Each disk is slightly under an hour and contains even more variations of squats and lunges compared to Tonique premier. Again, a set of light handweights is recommended for added upper body work that is performed in combination with the lower body work, such as a side lunge with an arm extension or a squat with a side-step and an added bicep curl.

The second disk contains also exercises such as diagonal knee lifts (lifting the knee to the opposite shoulder) and punching from side to side, movements which will elevate the heart rate. In addition the squat/lunge exercises are performed more dynamically, jumping from one repetition to the next, making it all the more harder (and relying more on cardiovascular strength than the first disk). Further, the second disk contains some arm exercises like triceps extensions and straight arm extensions.

Overall:
The DVDs can be performed on their own (will take about an hour) or one after the other (taking up two hours). I liked Tonique 2 more than Tonique Premier for a few reasons. Firstly, the voice-over has been eliminated and Sylwia is the one giving actual instructions. There is a music-only option in the set-up if you prefer not hearing the cues. Secondly, the squat and lunge exercises are combined, rather than having separate squat and lunge sequences, as in Tonique Premier, which can get monotonous. I also liked that there was a split-screen for a few of the exercises so you can see the exercise done from different angles and adjust accordingly.

There were a few things I did not care for - one being the blue and white, slightly psychedelic backdrop, which I found distracting. I also did not care for the music, although, because of copyright issues that is a problem with most exercise DVDs. This DVD contains many repetitions of an exercise, and while I don't find that to be a short-coming some may.

Overall, though, this is a killer workout. Like with Tonique Premier, I stopped to take many breaks. It is really hard but it as close to a live class as you are going to get, especially if you do both disks one after the other (the actual class is 2 hours long!). It will work you to the point of exhaustion but as Sylwia explains in the afterword, "Stay focused and stay positive and you can always go beyond your limits." For me, the endorphin high made it all worthwhile!

*GIVEAWAY!!!!!
Now for the fun part! Sylwia is very generously giving away 10 copies of her DVDs, which means that 5 lucky readers will each receive one copy of Tonique Premier and one copy of Tonique 2!

To enter, all you have to do is leave me a comment telling me what your fitness goals were this year and how close you are to achieving them, whether it was to run a 10K or to improve your tennis game or do a full-form push-up. The deadline to enter is 10pm Monday Sept 12th and I will randomly choose 5 winners and announce them on Tuesday Sept 13th.

*Open to readers in the Continental US only.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back To School!

Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday marked the first day of my return to school! Registering for classes, meeting my fellow comrades, orientation. It's all very odd, and yet exciting.


The last time I was in a structured learning environment was when I was at medical school, and I graduated from there ten years ago so this whole back-to-school vibe is not as familiar as it once was. Before you start doing any mental math to try to compute my age, let me assure you that I am not as old as the preceding sentence posits. Having graduated from an international medical school meant that I went there right out of high school (as is the case in most countries around the world), thus bypassing the whole undergraduate experience, and earning the distrust of all my early patients thanks to my youthful appearance! In fact, when I was working in the internal medicine ward at a hospital in Queens, one of my first jobs out of medical school, patients often looked at me at with dismay when I introduced myself, saying, "How can you be my doctor? You look like you are 17!"

But back to the topic at hand. For those of you that do not know, I have gone back to grad school to do my Masters in Public Health (MPH), focusing on health care management. Health care and its (mis)management are a hot topic these days and I felt that this was the perfect time for me to do my MPH. I have spent the past few days poring over the courses, my excitement gaining momentum after reading the description of each course I will be taking. Yes, I am a nerd.

This is an exciting new chapter in my life but I will admit, though, that I am slightly scared at balancing it all. The course work promises to be intense. Plus I now have a 45-minute commute. Both are things that will cut into time spent with my baby boy and the hubby, making plans with friends, writing my blog and ofcourse taking exercise classes  (old favorites and new). I am a great multi-tasker so hopefully I will get into the groove soon! I also have some fun new classes I will be previewing next month, along with a great giveaway so stay tuned - I have no plans to disappear on you!

Question: What are you most looking forward to this Fall?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Delusions of Grandeur: Baking Misadventures

So we had a hurricane this weekend. Sort of. It was more like a torrential downpour. Regardless, like everyone else in the city, I stayed cooped up at home. After twiddling my thumbs for a while I decided that I felt like baking.

So I pored over websites looking for some kind of inspiration, something that would work with ingredients that I already had lying around. I had a lot of coconut flour lying around. Plus I had a ton of baby carrots that promised to go bad very soon.

Enter a recipe for Coconut Carrot Bread.

Granted this recipe called for the use of 2 cups of all-purpose flour. I, however, high on the success of my last baking endeavor, and feeling pretty darn invincible, decided that I was going to substitute the two cups of all-purpose flour with one cup of coconut flour and one cup of whole-wheat flour. I fancied myself quite the bakeress. I would soon learn the error of my ways - my delusions of grandeur.

I popped the concoction into the oven and 60 minutes later had this...



Hmm. Not too bad, I suppose?

Except, once I took it out of the bread pan, it looked like this...


Um, it looks a little crumbly, no? Maybe it would not crumble once I cut into it.

Alas, it did.

Gah!

Next time I am sticking to the recipe. Or I will read the label on the pack of coconut flour which clearly says to substitute only 20% of a recipe's flour with coconut flour. Not 50%.

On a happier note, it tasted amazing! The crumbly bits actually went went really well in a bowl of milk.

Question: Do substitutions in recipes always work for you? What's the worst substitution-related disaster you have had?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

From Punky To Parenting: Soleil Moon Frye - Diva Mom Book Launch Event

Punky Brewster was a huge part of my childhood, especially when it came to fashion. I donned the brightly colored vest over my shirt. I tried to pull my short hair into two side pony-tails. I tied the bandanna around my knee. The mismatched high-tops were slightly more difficult to pull off in my household- my mom had to draw the line somewhere!


Soleil Moon Frye, who played the sassy and spirited Punky, has matured into a beautiful mom and an entrepreneur who runs a successful children's clothing line. She has just written a book called "Happy Chaos" that chronicles her adventures in parenting. Divalysscious Moms threw a book launch party for Soleil last night which I was able to attend.

The party was held at a stunning and very tastefully decorated model apartment at the Azure, a high-rise on the upper east side of Manhattan with the most breath-taking views of the city.

The Azure

I chatted barre workouts with Lyss Stern, the lovely founder of Divalysscious Moms. Turns out she was a former barre-fly herself!

with Lyss

After a brief presentation by the realtors of the Azure, it was time for the book reading.


We were already excited to be meeting her but Soleil, nonetheless, charmed everyone further. She was incredibly warm, funny and with a total lack of airs. She read a hilarious chapter from her book that described the cluelessness that ensues immediately after delivering a baby. 


After the reading we had a brief Q&A with Soleil, where we learned that she and Cherie Johnson (who played Punky's best friend on the show) are still in touch, and that Punky's personality was very similar to her own. She also provided parenting tips drawn from her own experience. The event ended with a signing and I got to chat with the gorgeous Soleil, where I was able to tell her what a major influence she was in my fashion choices as a seven-year old!  


Question: What was your favorite 80s tv show?