Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hardest Workout in Town: Review of the Tonique Method

This week I got 'owned' by an exercise class. Really, I have never experienced anything like it.

The class is the Tonique Method and its creator is Sylwia Wiesenberg. In a city with a burgeoning fitness scene it has become hard to keep track of the latest studio, which is why many of you may not have heard of the Tonique Method. I first learnt about it late last year, and after finally trying it out, I can assure you, this is one tough class!

Sylwia Wiesenberg, a former trader at an investment bank with a strong background in gymnastics and a passion for fitness, created the Tonique Method seven years ago, more as a way to get back into shape after having a baby. She decided to develop her own routine rampant with squats and lunges. On seeing her amazing results neighbors started to inquire about her "secret" which she gladly shared by offering free classes  in her building's gym. This was four years ago and through word of mouth her classes gained popularity. She obtained a certification in personal fitness training and group exercise, along with a specialty training in women's fitness (women are her primary clientele) which allowed her to understand the different health and fitness challenges faced by the whole female spectrum, including adolescent females, pregnant mothers, postpartum women and menopausal women, and provide appropriate modifications.

The class soon had to move out of her building's gym and currently is being held thrice a week at Complete Body and Spa in Chelsea.

Her website provides the following description of the class:

 "Tonique method draws on the toning and strengthening powers of dance, gymnastics, and running to challenge and improve your entire body."

"The method’s unique combinations of moves are designed to achieve three important goals - develop strong and lean muscles, strengthen your cardiovascular system and improve your overall fitness level. The method builds core strength and trains your balance which is critical to achieving the desired results."

"Tonique method combines constant repetition with gradual progression."

I was very intrigued. As I waited outside the group exercise studio located inside Complete Body and Spa, I watched as women started filtering in. They all seemed like regulars and were all in fantastic shape. Sylwia warmly greeted me and told me I should get a pair of light weights (2lbs) and a small mat.  Prior to class I had been warned me that although the class is two hours long I am free to leave after an hour and a half. I won't lie, I was intimidated by the prospect of a two hour class! Loud pop music started booming on the speaker and the class began.

The class started with a 'warm up', which was more like a cardio drill, full of jumping jacks and running with high knees. This immediately segued into what forms the backbone of this class, lunges and squats. I kid you not, we did every single lunge and squat variation you can think of for the next 90 minutes, a lot of which also involved simultaneous use of the hand weights.

Curtsy lunges, curtsy lunges with kicks, curtsy lunges with bicep curls, forward lunges with an overhead press, diagnonal lunges with boxer punches. Tired yet? I have merely scratched the surface of the lunge variations we performed. Then there were squats: squat jumps, squats with front kicks, squats with side kicks, squats with an overhead press.

Repetitions are what drives this class. Each move is repeated 30-40 times. At times, just when I thought the set was ending Sylwia would add 10 more reps. I wonder if she noticed the glares I was giving her during class!

There was a lot of 'progression' involved. Let me give you an example. We did a set of curtsy lunges consisting of 30-40 repetitions. We then repeated the curtsy lunges but this time we lifted the non-working leg upto our elbow ("Carving Curtsy"-see picture below). Another 30-40 reps. We then repeated the curtsy lunge and kicked out the non-working leg, while keeping it straight. You guessed it, another 30-40 reps. After said 90-120 reps we just moved onto the next lunge or squat exercise. It was really intense. My butt and legs were screaming for mercy. This was up there in the ranks as the most intense class I have ever taken.

Sylwia doing the Carving Curtsy. Source: Fitness magazine

After 90 minutes of this non-stop action we were asked to move to the floor onto the mat. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking we were going to be mat work. No such luck. We started the dreaded mountain climbers and jumpbacks and the Thigh Trimmer (see picture below) which progressed into harder and harder variations.

The next 15 minutes were a choreographed cardio dance sequence which involved a lot of jumping, lunging and kicking, and the final 15 minutes were done on the floor. The floor work in every class is different and in this class we started off on all fours and did donkey kicks and fire hydrants. This progressed into lifting the leg, pulsing it off the floor while keeping it straight and then into an interesting move where we swung the raised leg in front of us into a lunge and then swung it back again. After a few moves targetting the lower abs we stretched and we were done. Wow, is all I can say.

Sylwia demonstrating the Thigh Trimmer. Source: Fitness magazine

I spoke to some other women in the class, all were moms and had been taking Sylwia's class for a few years. Most take the class a few times a week. While they all seemed to know each other the vibe was not cliquish at all and at no point did I feel marginalized. They marveled at how I had stuck it out for the whole two hour duration. Apparently people have walked out of the class after 30 minutes. I could see that. This class requires an intermediate to high level of fitness and endurance which not everyone has.

Sylwia was nice enough to speak to me after class. Talking to her I was immediately struck by how passionate she is about fitness and her clients. She is focused on getting all women to be fit, healthy, strong and happy with their bodies. "It is not about being skinny over here," she said. She is not concerned about a fancy gym setting, a celebrity endorsement or being the next 'It' fitness studio. As such, the class is not advertised much - her clients are all there through word-of-mouth. For her it is all about delivering results to her clients whom she genuinely cares about. Even now she is teaching two free classes/week in her West Village neighborhood. As if reading my mind, concerning monetary incentive, she said, "I have my DVDs - that is my main business." Although she does hope to move her class to its own space someday with more than one class per day. When asked if she has taken classes at other boutique fitness studios, she said she has not because it is so easy to get inspired by other methods. Instead she finds inspiration for her classes by watching athletes, in a tennis match, for example.

The Good:
1. The workout: I think squats and lunges are the two of the best exercises one can do to lose weight, and build endurance and strength. With the constant repetition and multiple variations of these two exercises, this class is killer. Sylwia is not wasting your time. Every move is cost-effective, from the cardio-drill based warm-up all the way to the floor series at the end.

2. The instructor: Sylwia is very passionate about her method which she wants to be accessible to all women. She wants women to be fit and strong all the way into their 40s, 50s and 60s. She was motivating and did not make me feel bad about taking the many many breaks I took. Even though she was doing the exact same routine as the rest of the class she was watching everyone's form in the mirrors and jumped out of the sequence to make adjustments to her clients.

3. The music: Music is important to this class and flowed very well with the choreography. Most of it was pop.

The Not-so-Good:
1. The class length: Two hours is a long time to dedicate to a class for most people. Although, on the flip side, a lot of yoga classes are 90 minutes long and two classes-in-a-row are not uncommon at spin and boutique fitness studios. But I like that she gives the clients the option to decide if you would like to be there for 90 or 120 minutes.

2. Lack of stretching: There is no stopping in this class. The only break comes right at the end. What about stretching? Sylwia explained that stretches are of two types: Static (the ones we normally do at the end of a class) and Dynamic (the way a tennis player will stretch his inner thigh while side-lunging with the opposite leg - a move she has incorporated into her class), and that in her class she likes to utilise active dynamic stretches which are done as part of the workout. That way not a single moment goes wasted.

3. No microphone in class: There is a reason for this. Sylwia explained that she likes to maintain a congenial atmosphere in the class. She does not want to separate herself as the instructor. She is one of us, doing the same moves and the same number of reps. Also she does not like to call out on people in class and I noticed that she would go up to people individually to correct form. The room is mirrored and so I do not think the lack of microphone made it difficult for me to follow along.

4. Inconveniently timed class: The classes are only offered once on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 930am. Not incredibly convenient for people that need to get to work. Hopefully if she gets her own space Sylwia will be able to offer more classes at different times.

This was a really hard  class but I really enjoyed it. I found that I was working harder here than any other class I have ever taken. But if it's results that you are looking for then this class is for you. Its hard-core nature may not appeal to everyone but it is effective, as could be witnessed by the 8-pack abs on display at this class! At one point I felt that I could not handle it anymore (a first for me!) and considered leaving. Instead I used that time to walk out of class, fill my bottle of water and regroup. I am so glad I did that, because once class was over the endorphins rushed in and I couldn't wait to do it all over again!

Classes are $25 and take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 930am at Complete Body and Spa at 22 West 19th Street in New York city. Call before going as the summer schedule will change.

Check out classes in July and August at B-East Studio in Amagansett, if you are going to be in the Hamptons this Summer.

For those who are unable to take a live class there are currently 4 Tonique dvds, with a new one coming out this summer!

Question: What is the hardest exercise class you have taken? Or what exercise do you find to be the most difficult to do? 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Attune Foods: Uncle Sam Honey Almond Cereal - Review and Giveaway!

For years I skipped breakfast. A cup of coffee would be my sustenance till lunch-time.  A terrible practice, I know. Even worse, considering I am a doctor. But you would be surprised at all the terrible habits we pick up at medical school. Breakfast came back into my life when I first started to exercise regularly. There was no way a cup of coffee would satiate me till lunch especially after an early morning run or a particularly grueling  Physique 57 class. Cereal is what I usually like to have every morning. So when Annelies from Attune Foods contacted me to ask if I would like to review their Uncle Sam cereal I immediately said yes!

Uncle Sam cereal has been around since 1908. It is an all natural cereal with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Its main ingredients are winter wheat berries with whole flaxseeds. There are currently four available flavours: Original, Multi-grain, Strawberry and Honey Almond. I love almonds in my cereal so I chose to review the Honey Almond flavor.

The cereal contains the following ingredients: Toasted whole wheat berry flakes (whole wheat kernels, salt, barley malt), sliced almonds, whole flaxseeds, evaporated cane juice, honey, natural flavor.

I poured myself a bowl with soy milk. It's delicious. Even though the toasted wheat berry flakes are small in size they are incredibly crunchy. I love how every bite contains sliced almonds that are delicately sweetened with clover honey. The cereal is not that sweet, something that I was worried about due to the addition of the word "Honey" in 'Honey Almond." The honey taste is not overpowering at all - in fact, I think it blends very well into the taste of the cereal. I found that one bowl was quite filling. An excellent source of fiber, one serving size has 6 grams of fiber and also 6 grams of protein.

I also felt I could use it as in place of granola (its more high-caloried cousin) as a topping for yogurt parfaits. So, overall, I thought Uncle Sam's Honey Almond cereal was great- a definite addition to my breakfast of champions!

Here are some nutritional facts:
*Serving size: 3/4 cup
*Calories: 230                Calories from Fat 50
*Total Fat 6g                       9% daily value
-Saturated Fat 0g                 0% daily value
-Trans Fat 0g
*Cholesterol 0mg                 0% daily value
*Sodium 105mg                   4% daily value
*Potassium 75mg                 2% daily value
*Total Carbohydrate 37g     12% daily value
-Dietary Fiber 6g                  24% daily value
-Soluble Fiber 2g
-Insoluble Fiber 3g
-Sugars 5g
*Protein 6g

Uncle Sam cereal is available at Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's. Check out Attune Foods' website for other store locations.

One lucky person shall win one box of Uncle Sam Honey Almond cereal, courtesy Attune Foods in one of the following ways:

1. Leave me a comment telling me how you like taking your cereal. Out of the box? With soy milk? With Greek yogurt?

2. Tweet the following: @momatthebarre is giving away a box of Uncle Sam cereal:
(Make sure you leave me a second comment. This shall count as a second entry)

3. Add my blog to your reader or subscribe via email and leave me a comment telling me you did so. This shall also count as a separate entry.

You have till 10pm EST next Monday (July 4th). I will announce a winner on Tuesday July 5th.

*This giveaway is open to readers in the Continental US only.

Thank to Annelies from Attune Foods for allowing me to sample a box of Uncle Sam cereal.

Note: I was not compensated for this post. I was provided with a complimentary box of Uncle Sam Honey Almond cereal to sample and review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A weekend of Pride: Pride Run 2011 and a Flybarre class

This past Friday marked an historic occasion in New York - the passing of the same-sex marriage bill. Unrelated to this, I had signed up to run the Front Runners New York Lesbian and Gay Pride Run a month ago.

Source: NYTimes
Some of you may know of my recent running-related injury. I was diagnosed with ilitotibial band syndrome and asked to refrain from running and undergo physical therapy once a week.

I bought a foam roller. I tried to be diligent about stretching regularly. And most importantly, I refrained from running. I (along with my physical therapist) decided that four weeks is a decent amount of time to allow my knee to recuperate. The next race would be the Pride Run and, despite not knowing how my knee would fare at that time, I signed up for it.

So glad that I did! Because of the bill there has been an air of jubilation this weekend in New York city, with the passing of the bill this Friday, the Pride Run on Saturday and the annual Pride parade earlier this afternoon on Sunday. I knew the race would be extra special this year because of the heightened spirits so I was really excited to be a part of it.

Look at the sea of people in the corrals!

The race was sold out, and you could tell as much as you entered Central Park on 102nd street on the east side. There were so many people, and there was so much visible color. It seemed as if everyone had donned their brightest t-shirts. I myself was wearing hot pink! I saw quite a few people in rainbow-colored socks and leg warmers. There were a few women festively head-dressed in mini wedding veils. One man was wearing simply a pair of shorts and had colored streamers hanging off his wrists! I'm kicking myself for not having taken a picture!

I opted not to race this run, especially since it was my first run since completing my course of physical therapy. I started off slowly and began to pick up my pace after the first mile. It was then when the humidity hit me and I developed a side cramp, which often happens when I am dehydrated. Crap. I tried to re-hydrate frequently but also ended up taking a few brief stops to walk. My time for the 5-mile race was 51:46, which corresponded to a pace of 10:22/mile. Nothing stellar, but nonetheless, I was excited to be part of the race and glad I was there. Best part? My knee behaved! Physical therapy works! Who knew? ;-)

I did lots of this! Source:

I don't want to jinx it as it's possible that my knee may misbehave at my next race. But I was happy that I was able to run the 5 miles without irritating it.

This morning I woke up with sore legs but I had committed to take the free Flybarre class that Melissa had organized at Flywheel Sports. The annual Pride parade was taking place at that same time in Flywheel Sports' vicinity and luckliy I gave myself enough time to navigate through the crowds to reach my destination on time.

Pride parade 2011, Source: NYTimes

Flybarre is an awesome barre class that I have written about before. This was my second time taking the class and even with a different instructor (Kolina), I loved it. There are a lot of short and fast movements, especially involving the arms. The 'dynamic' arm series was killer. Lots of short punching and jabbing movements holding 3lb hand weights, and such intricate choreography.


This class uses a resistance band looped around the barre for concurrent abdominal and arm work. One move involved us lying on the floor, head facing the barre with our arms holding onto the ends of the resistance band. We then had to raise our hips up and tap the barre with our toes while pulling the resistance band and then lower our legs to our point of control and then repeat! Wow! Holy sore abs! I love using the resistance band and I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy this class so much. The music was pretty amazing also. A mash-up of Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and Blink 182's "All The Small Things"? You wouldn't think it would work, but it does! Loved this class.

I also loved seeing the other bloggers who were in attendance including Cameo, Sara, Kristene and Ashley. I'm so glad to have been able to meet so many NYC bloggers in the past few months. They are such a wonderful group of smart, funny, and talented women and I feel so proud to be part of this awesome community.

Thanks, Melissa and Flywheel Sports! I hope to be back!

Does your city have parades? What is your favorite annual city parade? Mine would have to be the Village Halloween parade!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vino Y Yoga Event at Pure Yoga East: Ki Power Vinyasa Yoga

A few weeks ago I sent out a tweet asking other fitness-lovers for yoga recommendations in the city. One of the recommendations I received was for Isauro Fernandez's Ki Power Vinyasa class that he teaches at Pure Yoga and also at the 'hot yoga' studio, Earth Yoga. Out of sheer inertia on my part, I did nothing further. So I was thrilled when Sofia, who writes a great blog called Insightful Appetite, invited me to the Vino Y Yoga event that was taking place at Pure Yoga East. The class was going to be 60 minutes of a Ki Power Vinyasa class taught by Isauro, followed by a 30-minute guided wine-tasting focusing on wine regions throughout Spain.

Isaura Fernandez, also a practicing lawyer, created Ki Power Vinyasa, which according to his website is 'fusion of the movement and breath of vinyasa yoga with the grace, focus and physical intensity of martial arts." A dynamic and athletic style of yoga? Sounded like my kind of work-out.


Prior to starting class, Isauro spoke about his love for wine and his affinity for Spain (the home of his parents) even though he's originally from Queens. We then began the class with a tranquil meditation where Isauro asked us to dedicate the practice to someone. Before I knew it, the pace suddenly sped up, charging head-on into a fast-paced vinyasa flow which we repeated many many times. Interspersed into the sequence were balance poses like so...

Um, nope, I did not even try to attempt this. I know my limitations!

 ...shoulder stands, and  martial arts-inspired moves. The latter half of the class focused on abdominal core work including crunches, oblique crunches, reverse crunches, all done slowly, intensely magnifying the burn.

The class was amazing! It was just what I needed. I had had a few tough work-outs in the days prior and I really needed something to stretch me out and yet also be challenging and Ki Power Vinyasa did the trick. I felt completely stretched, leaving class with my shoulder blades pressed back, my neck long, my back straight. It was rejuvenating and also such a fantastic work-out. Isauro encouraged us to work at our own pace and to take a break if we felt it was needed. His calm demeanor, hands-on correction, and phenomenal music (oh, the music!) choice really makes this class.

The music is what really stood out for me! Classic rock staples such as Aerosmith's 'Dream On' and the Rolling Stones' 'Play with Fire', melded beautifully with guitar-strumming flamenco instrumentals. It was divine. It really transported me to another place. Music can really make or break a work-out for me and this Ki Power Vinyasa class really nailed it for me!

After class, I chatted with other bloggers, old faces and new, including SofiaAli, Melissa, Jess, Dori, Leslie and Danielle. Always fun!

Top (l-r): Dori, Danielle, Leslie, me, Ali
Bottom (l-r): Jess, Sofia, Melissa

Subsequently, Alex Elman from Alex Elman Wines led a tasting of wines from Spain's various regions. There were four flights; the first was a cava, followed by a rosé and then two reds. Before each flight Alex would give a brief introduction about the wine, its composition, where it was from and what to pair it with. To go with the wine she also brought some delicious hor d'oeuvres including roasted artichokes, manchego cheese, olives, tortilla espanola and dark chocolate. Yum!

Alex and her assistant

Good work-out. Good eats. Good conversation. All components of a great evening! I am so glad I was able to try out Ki Power Vinyasa. It is something I would love to incorporate into my life, and if you have not tried it yet do it now!


Thanks so much to Sofia for inviting me to this event and to Isauro, Alex and Pure Yoga NYC for arranging such a lovely event.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Core Fusion at Exhale Spa: A Review

I love my barre workouts. Although my workout of choice is Physique 57, I'm always on the lookout for that killer burn, and have slowly made my way around the 'barre' circuit of New York, making pit stops at The Body NYC, Nalini Method, Bar Method Soho, Flybarre and Figure 4All of the major barre studios, I think. All, except one, the one that has evaded me thus far, Core Fusion.

Core Fusion was created by Fred Devito and Elisabeth Halfpapp, and was the first of the Lotte Berk-inspired studios to open its doors in New York city. Fred and Elisabeth, both former star instructors at the original Lotte Berk Studio, left the studio in 2002 to create their own version of the method which they debuted at Exhale Spa on the upper east side of Manhattan in 2003. Although their workout, Core Fusion, takes its main inspiration from the principles of the Lotte Berk Method (the concept of using your own body weight as resistance), it fuses it with elements stemming from pilates and yoga, and mixes things up with some added interval cardio training. The results (long, lean, and strong physiques) speak for themselves, and for that reason Core Fusion's popularity has spread far and wide. In addition to the six studios in New York city there are studios in Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and California, along with one international location in Turks and Caicos. Those who do not live in the above-mentioned locales can also partake in the Core Fusion mania thanks to the availability of their eight dvds!

Needless to say, I was highly intrigued in trying this out so when Fred Devito invited me to take a class with him I moved things around my own schedule to make it work!

Excited, I went to the studio at Central Park South to take my first ever open-level Core Fusion class.

The classes take place at Exhale Spa and because of the spa's proximity the reception area exudes a calm, serene and incredibly zen vibe; the smell of fragrant oils subtly permeats the air; light jazzy music plays in the background, softly audible. Just being there is relaxing!

In addition to the fully functioning spa, the location also sells fitness wear...

...along with all eight of the Core Fusion dvds..

Blueprint Cleanse juices are also available to quench your thirst after class...

I made my way to the changing room and saw this at the entrance...

A subtle reminder to please leave your cellphones in the lockers. Amen to that! I hate it when people bring their cellphones into classes. Don't they realize how disruptive it is to their fellow class-goers?

The locker room had lots and lots of lockers, all with attached keys. Win for Core Fusion.

There are two studios, one for yoga and one for the core fusion classes. The space is beautiful and bright. Sunlight streams in from the atrium-style roof and ricochets off the mirrored walls.

One side of the room is lined with various props including red rubber balls, yoga mats, kettlebells, hand weights and yoga blocks. There is also a small basket containing yoga straps.

As I was waiting for class to being, Fred walked in and introduced himself. He was incredibly warm and so down-to-earth and we spoke a little bit about barre classes and how Core Fusion differs from the others. He then asked me to spend some time hanging from the stall bar prior to the class and to obtain two sets of weights (5lbs and 3lbs, a yoga strap and a mat).

The class began with leg lifts to warm up the body. We then moved straight into a set of 20 push-ups. These were performed slower than what I am normally used to and I started to feel the heat being created in my body. Following this set we were asked to hold a 90 second plank. While this is a long period of time (I think) for a plank, Fred kept speaking to us, saying words of encouragement, and when he said, 'last 30 seconds' I was surprised at how quickly it had passed - I thought we still had a ways to go. After this was another set of 20 push-ups, again performed at the same rhythm as before. I was really starting to feel the burn now. Core Fusion prides itself on its "Strength in Stillness" philosophy and Fred mentioned this a couple of times during class. I now understand exactly what that means and can vouch for its effectivity.

The arm series was performed using a set of hand weights. I chose 5lbs weights and we did a lot of moves targeting the deltoids and upper arms. The series involved pauses and holds and slow pulses. Again, the pace was slow but the burn was intense.

Thigh work at the barre was next. We placed the rubber ball between our thighs and started off with the chair pose (you hold onto the barre with your arms straight and your body is positioned as if you are sitting in a chair). Slow pulses. Hold. Slow pulses. Hold. My thighs were on fire and beads of sweat started to collect on my forehead. After a few more thigh exercises we moved onto the floor for 'seat' work. The 'pretzel' was going to be the weapon of choice. I hate the pretzel. Basically it is performed like this: you sit on the floor facing the barre, holding onto the barre with both hands, and keeping one leg bent at a 90 degree angle in front of you, you swing the other (working) leg behind you, with your heel close to your butt and you start pulsing it off the ground. This move is killer. If you are doing it correctly (and for the longest time I was not), you really feel it in your butt. Fred was moving around the class, ever watchful of form. He noticed my 'pretzel trouble', came over and eased me into the proper position. Made a huge difference! After repeating this on the other leg and doing an interesting standing split that also involved grabbing the foot of the lifted leg with the opposite hand and performing a mini-balancing act, we moved onto abdominal work.

The first set of abdominals was performed sitting up with our back flat against the wall and our legs stretched out in front. In this position we were asked to raise one leg at a time, then pulse both legs up together and then hold both legs up for a few seconds.I often feel this move in my hips and after class Fred explained that I should contract my abdominals more; that way the other muscles like the hip flexors (in my case) will not be compensating for the lack of adequate abdominal contraction.

The next abdominal set was round back where we slouched down a little from the previous position so that our lower back was on the floor and we performed moves such as raising both legs all the way up, and keeping them straight. I had the same problem again, feeling it more in my hip flexors and less in my abs. We then did a set lying down with our toes on the barre and began crunching and pulsing up.

The last abdominal set is the 'curl.' This is my favorite abdominal section in a barre class and in this series I really felt my abs working. This section is done lying on a mat with your shoulders raised off the mat and your legs slightly bent, resembling a curled position. The class ended with a stretch.

Fred and Elisabeth doing the 'curl'

I really liked this class. While it is slower-paced than other barre classes I have taken, not once did I feel like I was not being challenged enough. I felt my heart rate elevate, my muscles burn and I was sweating. As far as I am concerned, all the signs of a great workout. Sure, there is not a lot of cardio, Fred acknowledged, 'but for that we have other classes like Core Fusion Cardio and Core Fusion Bootcamp. This class is for building strength and flexibility.'

I asked Fred about variations to do instead of the flat back and round back section which I was having a hard time with and he said that he tries not to give variations. The key is to make you strong enough to do the exercises as they are meant to be done. Agreed.

The Good:
1. The Studio: A calm, serene oasis in the middle of a noisy and bustling city.

2. The Instructor: Fred is so knowledgeable. He has been doing this a long long time and it shows. He kept the class challenging, provided gentle corrections and and was very aware of everyone's form.

3. The workout. The "Strength in stillness' philosophy really resonated with me. As someone who has always worked out 'hard' I was pleasantly surprised to note that even with a slower pace I was still able to get a good workout.

4. Locations: There are six studios in New York city so whether you are an east-sider, west-sider, down-town gal or Hamptonite, there is a Core Fusion studio near you. The same goes for dwellers in Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles.

The Not-So-Good:
1. Price: Like all other barre studios, classes here are expensive at $35 a pop. However, I was looking at the unlimited monthly membership and it is less than that at other studios. Plus you get to try a whole variety of other Core Fusion classes including Cardio, Sport and Bootcamp, along with a few different styles of yoga.

2. The workout: This particular class does not have a lot of cardio so if that is what you are looking for you may not find it here.

3. The abdominal section: I had a hard time with the abdominal section  (other than the 'curl' which I loved). This is less a critique of the class and more just frustration on my end at being unable to do it properly. I am going to try Fred's tip on contracting my abdomen further while doing this series in subsequent classes.

This is a great class. I feel really lucky to have taken my first Core Fusion class with one of the co-creators. The choreography flowed seamlessly, and the cues were spot on. While there was not a lot of cardio, I felt constantly challenged. I am planning to go back to try their other classes thanks to a certificate I bought off Gilt a few months ago which I have yet to redeem. Also, they have a great special for first-timers in New York: $40 for one week of unlimited core fusion and yoga classes; and the price goes down to $30 for the Core Fusion-curious in LA, Dallas, Boston and Chicago. Check out their website for details.

A big thank you to Fred Devito for inviting me to take his class, which I enjoyed thoroughly!

Note: While I was provided with an invitation to attend this class the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Have you taken Core Fusion? If so, what has your experience been like with the abdominal series and do you have any tips for me? 
If you have not taken Core Fusion what is your favorite ab exercise?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My New Favorite Granola: Product Review of Purely Elizabeth Granola

Confession: I am a granola fiend. Come to think of it, that would have been a great title for my blog, The Granola Fiend. Oh well. I digress. My love for granola knows no bounds. My husband and friends can attest to the fact that I love ordering granola whenever I am out for brunch.

"Why don't you try today's egg special?" my exasperated husband will ask.

"Why are you always ordering granola?" my best friend wonders.

"Look at you, eating healthy," the waiter might say.

I have heard all these comments, really, I have. And I would like to personally respond to each.

Hubby: I don't want eggs, the granola here is awesome!

Best friend: I order it all the time because I friggin love it!

Waiters: It's actually not that healthy. Do you know how calorific granola can be???

So now that my love for granola is out in the open you will understand how thrilled I was when I won Foodtrainer's Purely Elizabeth granola giveaway!

Purely Elizabeth makes gluten-free, certified vegan granola without any refined sugar and instead utilizes ingredients such as raw virgin coconut oil, chia seeds, amaranth and quinoa.

I was super-excited to win the giveaway and even more thrilled once the package arrived.

I received three boxes, each, a different flavor: Original, Pumpkin Fig and Cranberry Pecan.

The Pumpkin Fig intrigued me the most so I poured myself a bowl of coconut milk and dug into that first.

I am a granola connoisseur, I think we have established that, and I thought it was excellent! I can't think of any other word that would describe it aptly enough!

The granola was outrageously delicious. I tasted sweet and salty at the same time and the toasted oats provided a delicious crunch. There was no overt pumpkin flavor - I think that the raw pumpkin seeds provide all the 'pumpkin' in this cereal. The figs added a nice jamminess though.

I moved onto the Original flavor next and it was just as amazing. The granola is the same-it's just missing the extras (figs etc).

The Cranberry Pecan was my least favorite. Don't misunderstand me-it's awesome also but I am not a fan of cranberries in my cereal and so it was my least favorite of the three.

My favorite? Definitely the Original! So if you like granola try it out, you will not be disappointed.

The nutritional content of the Original flavor is as follows:

One serving size: 1/3 cup (30g)
-Calories: 130   Calories from fat 50
*Total fat: 6g                    (9% daily value)
 -Saturated fat: 3.5g          (18% daily value)
 -Trans fat: 0g
*Cholesterol: 0mg             (0% daily value)
*Sodium: 115mg               (5% daily value)
*Total carbohydrates 17g  (6% daily value)
 -Dietary Fiber: 2g             (8% daily value)
 -Sugars: 6g
*Protein: 3g

Check out Purely Elizabeth's website to find locations where it is sold. A case of 6 boxes is available for $45.54 on

Note: I was not compensated for this post. I received three boxes of the Purely Elizabeth granola in a giveaway and was not asked by Purely Elizabeth or Foodtrainers for a product review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Question: What is your favorite breakfast item? I think we already know mine.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Dancer in Another Life

In another life I think I would have been a dancer. At least that's what I tell myself whenever I am sitting in the audience, captivated by a particularly scintillating dance performance. The muscular lines of a dancer's body, the controlled precision with which they move, the smooth grace with which they carry themselves all make me think what if...

Alex; Source: Lois Greenfield Photography

I recently went to see my friend and Physique 57 instructor Alex perform, and those feelings resurfaced. Alex dances for the Amy Marshall Dance Company, a modern dance company going strong in its 11th year. The performance was held at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, home of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Walking past the theater you can see the Ailey dancers rehearse, the windows of the dance studio looking out onto the street. You would think that this would make them self-conscious but the dancers don't bat an eye-lid at the passers-by gaping in. It's called being professional, I suppose!

The company; Source: Lois Greenfield Photography

The performance was beautiful. Modern dance has such a carefree and whimsical quality to it. While I love classical ballet and I danced for a few years when I was younger, I really love going to see modern dance performances. The choreography that night was fun, highly inspired and very athletic. The dancers made everything look so easy as they effortlessly lifted each other high above their heads and landed gracefully after high jumps.

Obviously that was the moment that jolted me back to reality. No, Sam, you cannot be a dancer; but you can still live vicariously looking at captured moments like this...

My dancing heyday

Question: Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to go back and do it again? Would you choose the same career?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fitness NYC-Flywheel Sports-Hint Water Event

I am relatively new to the health and fitness blogosphere but I have been reading blogs for some time now. Fitness NYC was one of the first blogs that I started reading regularly.

Melissa, the writer behind said blog writes with subtle humor and an honesty that makes her instantly relatable (and she's super-sweet in real life too!). Her detailed workout reviews, great restaurant recommendations coupled with her knack for taking the most gorgeous, coffee-table worthy pictures make for an extremely fun-to-read blog! 

Thankfully the spotty wireless internet connection at the Cape Cod bed and breakfast I was staying at a few weeks ago was functioning when I decided to catch up on my blog reading for the evening, and luckily I was quick enough to secure a spot at a spin class event she was hosting at Flywheel Sports along with Hint Water. The response for this free event must have been pretty overwhelming as there was a wait list also. 

A free spin class is not an easy thing to pass up. And especially not if it's going to be held at Flywheel Sports! One of the ways this studio sets itself apart from its competitors is the stadium seating set-up. No one's behind will obstruct your view here!

Source: Flywheel Sports

I got to the studio last night fifteen minutes before class and it was packed! After obtaining my free pair of shoes I looked around trying to spot familiar faces. 

Free spinning shoes, in all sizes. Source: Flywheel Sports

A lot of fitness bloggers and fellow fitness enthusiasts were going to be at this event and it's always hard to recognize people from Twitter pics. Luckily there were some familiar faces including Melissa, Dori. KristeneEllen, and Kate,  along with some that I met for the first time (Hi Ali and Emily!). 

A representative from Hint water was distributing bottles of the flavored water in delicious flavors like blackberry and honeydew-hibiscus and pomegranate-tangerine. I chose the watermelon flavor to hydrate myself during the ride. I liked it-it had a mild flavor and was not too sweet. I would love to try some of the other flavors.

Source: Hint water

Jesse led this class and it was so much fun. A 45-minute ride packed with sprints and climbs. A lot of moving forward and backwards and side-to-side on the bike while riding. And then there was the super upper body workout thanks to Flywheel's very own arm series using 2lbs and 4lbs body bars. I have spoken before about how important music is to me and Jesse's playlist did not disappoint. Kanye, Bon Jovi, and Prince all helped keep us focussed and motivated.

It was a great night! While the class was amazing, I especially loved meeting everyone. The health and fitness blogger community in NYC is composed of such an amazing group of women and I have really enjoyed getting to know them these past few months.

A big thank you to Melissa, Hint Water, Jesse and Flywheel Sports for a really great event!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Music and Motivation: Michael Jackson Vs Prince Duel at Flywheel Sports!

When my favorite spin studio, Flywheel Sports, announced that they will be having a Michael Jackson Versus Prince themed spin class, I kid you not, my heart started doing somersaults!

I am a child of the 80s. If you scroll through my Ipod playlists you will see a musical timeline from the decade of big hair and shoulder pads. So I think my response/over-reaction was entirely within reason. How can anyone who calls themselves a child of the 80s not love Michael Jackson and Prince? And both of them? Back to back? In one class? They had me at "Michael". The hubby saw the crazed look in my eye and quickly offered his babysitting services for the night before it got ugly!

The class was awesome, completely exceeding my expectations! It was my first time taking instructors Jesse and Danielle and they were amazing, really complementing each other's teaching styles.

Jesse and Danielle setting us up for a fun class!
We sprinted to "Let's Go Crazy", climbed to "Dirty Diana", maintained a steady rhythm to "Kiss", leading up to the final song of the night, the 'piece de resistance' and in Jesse's words, "the greatest song ever," "Billie Jean." My night was complete.

I left feeling so pumped, on such a high. This doesn't happen after every spin class, especially not those where techno is the name of the game. Ugh! I hate those classes. Happens often when I try out a new instructor. I always leave those classes feeling so mad, more at myself for not having stuck to the tried-and-tested instructor whose playlist works for me.

This got me thinking about music and how it can be such a motivator for exercise.

Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist from Brunel University in London, has studied this phenomenon extensively and has shown that music not only affects motivation but it can also improve athletic performance upto 20%. Specifically, synchronization of music to repetitive exercise like running or cycling regulates movement, thereby prolonging athletic performance.

The Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, who holds the world record of 2:03:59 at the 2008 Berlin Marathon, has credited listening to "Scatman" with setting several world records. "Scatman," a song with a tempo of 135 beats per minute (bpm) perfectly matched Haile's target stride rate, and helped him establish and sustain a steady cadence.

For best results, the tempo must concur with the preferred work rate. I found the following rather interesting table. It's from a study and gives examples of motivational music suitable for the different components of an exercise's training session.

Personally, I love running or cycling to remixes, especially 80s remixes. I find that the key here is that the song style (80s) appeals to my musical aesthetic and a remixed version switches the song up so the tempo aligns with my rhythm.

A sampling of my favorite running/spinning songs:
 Kid Cudi Vs Michael Jackson (Working) Day and Night Mashup

Wanna Be Starting Something- Akon ft Michael Jackson

Hollaback Girl Vs Give It To Me (DJ Hero mix)

Come on Eileen-Dexy's Midnight Runners

Man in Motion (St. Elmo's Fire)-John Parr

Notice a theme?

Question: Does music motivate you? What style of music? Any favorite songs you'd like to share?

Note: The information from this blog post was gleaned from the following articles/references:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Carnivore's Delimma

The last few weekends with their excesses and indulgences have left me wanting to turn over a new leaf and do something radical with my diet. I love food too much to partake in juice cleanses. So the next best thing (for me) is to try being a vegetarian for a few days. I am toying with the idea of eliminating dairy also while I conduct this experiment but I'm still on the fence with that, and till then I shall consume all the cheese I want!

So now that I have reconciled with eliminating meat for a few days, how to approach to my meat-loving, veggie-hating husband that we are about to embark upon a 3-day vegan adventure? I decide to skip sugar-coating the facts and just inform him.

We are eating organic vegetables for the next three days.

A look of horror on his face.

Okay, two days, I proffer.

Still some reluctance on his face.

Okay, can we just try it for today, please? 

Okay, he says, let's see how this goes.

So then began the process of choosing a recipe palatable enough to not remind the hubby that anything is lacking.

Carnivores love burgers so I decided to make a veggie burger. I got a bean burger recipe from Kath's amazing website and tweaked it a little, throwing in my own additions. I also decided to make Kale chips as a side. Here are the recipes.

Bean and Pea Burger

Ingredients (Makes 3 burger patties):
1 can of Pinto beans
1/2 can of peas
Whole wheat flour-3 Tablespoons 
Salt (a dash)
Pepper (1/2 teaspoon)
Garlic (1/2 teaspoon)
Red pepper flakes (I overdid this by adding 1 teaspoon. It gave it a real kick, which I liked, but please use less if you do not like food to be too spicy)
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce

1. Mix the beans, peas, flour and spices using a grinder/food processor 
2. Heat a skillet with medium heat and spray some cooking spray.
3. Make patties and place on the skillet.

4.Cook for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for another 5 minutes.

They should look like this

Place it in a hamburger bun and add whatever garnishes you prefer. I added a slice of lettuce and some ketchup.

They were delicious. Even the hubby agreed! 

Kale chips

Bunch of kale
Salt to taste
Shredded or powdered parmesan cheese (you can avoid this if you prefer-they still taste amazing)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Wash kale and dry it well. Use a salad spinner if possible. I do not have one and so I employed the meticulous use of kitchen towels. Spoiler: It worked out!
3. Tear the leaves off the stem into chip-sized pieces
4. Spray some cooking spray into a cookie sheet and place the kale chips on to it.
5. Put in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the edges get brown


These were amazing and the real winner of our meal. The hubby polished off the first batch before the burgers were even ready and so I had to make a second batch. They were that good!

So now that I have shown the hubby (and myself) that we can indeed eat enjoyably and nutritiously without the use of animal products, and Veggie-Day was such a hit, I am already planning our next meal!

Although the hubby did well with this one-day experiment I shall not subject him to any further dietary restrictions! Who knows how long I can keep this up. I know I am not converting into a vegan or a vegetarian any time soon but I do think there is something to be said about how good I felt all day today.

Question: Have you ever gone out of your comfort zone to try a new diet/way of eating? Were you successful or did you soon revert back to old eating habits?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finally. Date Night. A Success: Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel

I am slowly getting more comfortable with leaving my baby boy with a sitter. I'm a little obsessive-compulsive and a tad bit of a control-freak, so it's no picnic for my sitter either. It's bad enough being stressed about leaving your six-month old with a complete stranger but it's even worse when the date-night dinner you had been so looking forward to culminates with mediocre food.

The last few restaurants the hubby and I have been to had been hyped up but we left feeling disappointed. This losing streak changed last night when we were finally able to snag a table at Maialino!

Maialino is the impossible-to-get-into Italian restaurant that is part of Danny Meyer's culinary empire (of Union Sqaure Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and ofcourse Shake Shack-fame, amongst others) located at the Gramercy Park Hotel.

We got to the restaurant at 910pm for a 930pm reservation, and found it to be at almost 50% occupancy. I was elated since that meant we were seated sooner but puzzled as to why I was unable to get an earlier reservation. Could there have been that many last-minute cancellations?

Anyhow, by 930pm the dining room had filled up and the place was popping.

Source: NYTimes

The decor is very 'Roman trattoria'. You walk past the bread and salumi station...

Source: NYTimes get to the dining room where there are wooden floors, oak wainscotting and white on top of blue and white checked table cloths.

Source: Mailino
The place did get packed but the noise was not a bother. I hate going to restaurants where you cannot hear yourself think and this wasn't the case here.

The food was amazing! We started off with the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe- ribbons of pasta prepared with pecorino and pepper. So simple and yet so delicious!

For our entrees we shared another pasta dish, this time the Garganelli- tube shaped pasta (similar to penne) with braised rabbit, green olives and rosemary; and the Pollo alla Diavola: Half chicken with black pepper and pickled chili.

Pollo alla Diavola

Everything was superb! The pasta was cooked just right and the flavors were not overpowering. The portion sizes were great too. Some people have complained that the portions are too small-I disagree, I think they are just right.

For dessert we opted to have the gelato, trying the trio of olive oil, straciatella and tiramisu flavors.

All in all, it was a perfect evening. Good food, great ambiance, excellent service. Date night is back with a bang!

Apparently had we been there a few hours earlier we may have caught a glimpse of Lady Gaga who was staying at the hotel!

Q: What is your favorite date-night spot?