Sunday, July 31, 2011

High Intensity Circuit-Training: A Review of TS Fitness

TS Fitness is one the latest boutique fitness studios to open its doors on Manhattan's Upper East side. Its location is a few blocks from my apartment so I really wanted to try it, especially since its recent glowing review on Vital Juice New York. A few weeks ago Lifebooker had a really amazing deal on classes at this studio ($9 for a class) so I decided to purchase a class and check it out.

Created by Noam Tamir, who is also the owner of the studio, the class is described as, "a fusion of cardio, resistance and flexibility conditioning, geared towards metabolic efficiency (fat burning), building lean muscle and keeping your body injury free in under 60 minutes."

The "TS" stands for "Total Sculpt."

Noam and two of his instructors gave a brief overview of the class before we started. The class was going to be circuit-style and we were going to rotate among five individual stations that had already been set up for us. During the hour we would use kettlebells, the TRX and SI bands. Kathy, one of the instructors, demonstrated each exercise that we would have to do at each station, where she emphasized the importance of proper form.

The class started off with a warm up where we did rotational movements at the wrists, elbows, hips and waist after which we quickly went into a small set of jumping jacks, push-ups and jumpbacks. We were then divided into groups of three and each group went to a station. Placards were posted at each station informing us of what exercises needed to be done. At each station we were to do one strength training exercise and one cardio exercise (both exercises were timed) before moving onto the next station.

The stations were as follows:

Station 1: Lunges with kettlebell and mountain climbers
Station 2: Lat pulldowns using TRX and step touches (jumping and alternating touching a step with our toes)
Station 3: Kettlebell high pulls and kettlebell swings
Station 4: Pushups and jumping jacks
Station 5: Hip lifts using the TRX and planks using the TRX

Completing all five stations constituted a circuit. We repeated the circuits three times!

In the last 10 minutes of the class we did abdominal work on the mat which was followed by stretches where we used the SI band.

Stretching with the SI band. Source

The class was very fast-paced  and Noam and his instructors moved along the stations, watching, making postural adjustments, gently reminding us not to move our knee forward of our ankle in a lunge, and providing us with more challenging ways to do an exercise if we were able to do it easily. For example, when I was at station 5 I was able to hold myself in a plank with my feet suspended in the TRX. Noam told me to bring my knees into my chest and then push them out into a plank and repeat that until it was time to switch to the next station. That definitely made it harder, and even if I was able to do something well in the first circuit subsequent circuits became more and more challenging. The fitness level varied quite a bit in the class so I liked that the instructors were personalizing the exercises to suit the needs and abilities of the class participants.

The Good:
1. The class: I liked the idea of different combinations of a strength training exercise and a cardio drill at every station. It's high-intensity interval training which is currently thought of as the most efficient way to burn fat.

2. The instructors: I liked that there were three instructors walking among us. In a class such as this where groups of people are doing different exercises at the same time it is even more important to be watchful of form so as to avoid injury. The instructors here did a great job with that.

3. The props: I am a fan of using props when I work out. It keeps things interesting. Kettlebells and the TRX in particular are great for developing core strength and I enjoyed using them in this class.

The Not-so-Good:
1. Infrequent classes: Currently there are only five classes/week which may be a deterrent for people interested in buying a class package.

I really enjoyed this class. This is high intensity circuit training at its best. Each class is different, with a new combination of exercises posted at each station, designed so that muscle confusion remains and the body is constantly challenged.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Depriving My Child

I took my little guy on a play-date recently. At that inevitable hour when all the kids decide to get fussy in unison the other moms promptly took out an array of cute and colorful toys. Unfortunately my 7-month old has not had any new toys since he was, I don't know, born?

Embarrassed, I pretended to forage in my diaper bag and found a small rattle that had been placed there months ago and handed it to him. He was not impressed. He wanted his friend's Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes musical toy whose buttons when pressed played excepts from Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi (pretty nifty!). But his friend would not have it and so a tug of war ensued on this poor little musical toy as I was left to wonder, hmm, am I a bad mom for not buying my child any toys?

The next day I made a trip to the toy store, marveled at how expensive everything was and proceeded to buy it anyway.

Fun toys, no? I sure thought so. My son? Not as impressed. He spent a grand total of one minute examining the new acquisitions and them moved into greener pastures.....this...

An empty jar of my husband's protein powder that was lying on our kitchen floor, waiting to be disposed of.

Since the jar is providing so much entertainment in my little baby's life I have decided to delay its disposal.

Who needs Take Along Tunes when you can have a large jar?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Curious About Chiropractic: Madison Square Chiropractic and Wellness

Recently I received an invitation to come in for a chiropractic consultation at Madison Square Chiropractic and Wellness. Never having been to a chiropractor before, I was happy to oblige. I know several friends and fitness instructors who get regular chiropractic care and so I was curious to see for myself what it all entails.


Dr. Greg Shure, the owner of Madison Square Chirporactic and Wellness, has been a chiropractor for almost 10 years and has noticed the change over the years in his patient demographic. While the typical symptoms that bring patients to chiropractors (lower back, neck and shoulder pain) are the same, the patient population has become alarmingly younger. In fact, a lot of patients seen at this practice are in their 20s and 30s. This is an inevitable result of living a fast-paced life in the city that never sleeps. Most people sit hunched over at their desks jobs only to come home, and plop themselves down in front of their television or computer.

My visit started off with questions about my lifestyle. Exercise? Yes, daily. Sit at a desk? Yes, I spend a good deal of time online. Any new stressors? Yes, a new baby seven months ago. Suddenly I felt like the ideal chiropractic patient!

I was taken into the examination room where there was a long black table which is known as a flexion distraction table.

Flexion distraction table

Dr. Shure started by examining my neck and shoulders, quickly determining that I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders. My right shoulder was higher, tighter, and had less range of motion than its counterpart on the left. While this was a function of it being my dominant arm, it was also compounded by my carrying heavy shoulder bags and my young child on that side. To help release some of this tension, Dr. Shure started to do some active muscle release, where basically he pressed down on the muscle attachment at my shoulder joint and pulled my arm away from the joint, loosening it, in essence. He also did some active stretching in my neck and shoulders, repeating each stretch thrice and going deeper with each successive repetition. We then checked the range of motion in my neck. It turns out that I can turn my neck 65 degrees to each side. Unfortunately this is 5 degrees less than the 70 degree that I should be able to turn. Thanks, tight trapezoid muscle.

Documentation of the less-than-optimal range of motion in my neck

We ended the session with me lying on my belly on the flexion distraction table where the undulating movement of the table aids in stretching out the spine. I could feel my spine decompress.

We spoke about how regular chiropractic care would be beneficial for people that are both fitness enthusiasts, like myself or those with more vigorous training needs such as marathoners or triathletes. I learned that one does not need to be in full blown pain to benefit from a treatment. Regular chiropractic care can be used preventatively whether you are a runner who has tight hips, or a cyclist/spinner who has tight shoulders. It will improve your posture, allowing you to expand your lungs more fully when you breath, ultimately leading to greater energy levels and sense of well-being.

I was interested to learn that while a lot of fitness professionals see Dr. Shure (he consults at Real Pilates and David Barton Gym), he also sees pregnant and post-natal patients, helping them deal with prenatal issues like sciatic nerve pain and working with them to improve their posture which is often thrown off balance with the shift in their center of gravity.

As a physician I am a strong believer in preventative care. Every year I try to get a complete physical, a dental cleaning and maybe an eye exam. After this visit I do believe that adding a chiropractic visit, even if it's just a once-in-a-while fine-tuning, will add to my overall well-being, both as a mom and as a fitness enthusiast.

Note: I was not compensated for this post. I received a complimentary chiropractic consultation and examination at Madison Square Chiropractic and Wellness but was not obligated to provide a review. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Question: Have you ever been to a chiropractor? Have you found the treatments to be beneficial?

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Seven Links

The "My Seven Links" project has been going pretty strong for the past week or so. In a nutshell, its goal is to unite bloggers from all sectors in an endeavor to create a bank of posts that deserve to be re-read.

Rules are as follows: Blogger is nominated. Blogger publishes his or her 7 links on his or her blog. Blogger then nominates five more bloggers to take part. And the cycle continues.

What a fabulous idea!

Still being a bit of a newbie in this blog business, I was not expecting to be nominated. But Miranda from Working Mom Works Out nominated me and made my day, so here goes!

1. Most Beautiful post:
Cape Cod Adventures: I love New England
Visually I think this is my prettiest post. New England in the Summer is arrestingly beautiful and I felt that the pictures here were able to capture that.

2. Most popular post:
Plies and Rond de Jambs: Review of Figure 4 at Pure Yoga
This post is by far my most viewed post. I get a lot of Google traffic searching for 'Figure 4 reviews' and I suppose this post has landed me a lot of new visitors!

3. Most controversial post:
Not The Bees Knees: My Running-Related Injury
This category was hard for me. I don't really have any controversial posts.....yet. I have chosen this one because it generated a lot of comments. Which unfortunately you cannot see right now because my commenting software has hidden comments on all old posts and I cannot seem to fix it. Gah! Regardless, by sharing my injury I was able to connect with a lot of readers who had either encountered something similar or had some advice or tips to offer.

4. Most helpful post:
Winging It: The Five Things I Have Learned As A New Mom
Lists are always helpful and this post was my attempt at sharing some insight into the trials and tribulations that came with my becoming a new parent.

5. A post whose success surprised me:
What is your All-Time Favorite Book?
I should have known that most bloggers love to read. But that did not occur to me when I wrote this post and so the overwhelming number of comments really surprised me. I loved reading all the discussion among the commenters and thanks to them I have a long list of books that are begging to be read!

6. A post I felt did not get the attention it deserved:
Shaming A Smoker Into Submission
In this post I describe reacting irrationally and with anger and so I do admit that I was hoping to see more dissent in the comments! The post did have a lot of views and was retweeted a fair bit so part of the problem could have been that my commenting software briefly acted up and people were unable to comment.

7. The post I am most proud of:
A Refined Morning: My Review of the Refine Method
I started this blog primarily as a fitness blog because I am passionate about fitness and despite being a new mom I still wanted to take and review NYC fitness classes. This was one of my first reviews and it is special because after I wrote it I had so many friends and readers express an interest in taking this class. A few have even become regulars! My review is my opinion and if someone reads it and is even slightly influenced then I am humbled by that.

Now I am going to pass on the torch and nominate the following lovely ladies:

Sofia @ Insightful Appetite
Ameena @ Fancy That Fancy This
Lauren @ Foodtrainers
Amy @ Second City Randomness
Sarah @ The Stroller Ballet

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Artsy Sunday Afternoon at the Dia:Beacon

I love Manhattan but once in a while I feel cabin fever-ish and need to get out of the city. Today was one of those days. The temperature was still in the high 80s so the idea of doing anything outdoorsy was quickly scrapped.

When I was little my father would always take us to the major museums in whichever city we were visiting. As a result of this practice I love museums and make it a point to visit a few whenever I am in a new and unfamiliar city.

Many years ago I went to see the Dia:Beacon with some friends and so I decided it would be fun to revisit it and expose seven month-old baby Z to some contemporary art. I kid- it was because the museum is super stroller-friendly and that has become a key feature in determining where all we can go together as a family!

The Dia:Beacon is a museum located along the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, NY, a 90-minute drive from New York city. It was once a box-printing facility and since its conversion houses a wildly interesting contemporary art collection from the 1960s to now.

The museum has a strict 'no photographs' policy with regards to the exhibits and so out of fear of being yelled at in public by the museum guards (I always chuckle when I see it happening to other people!) I did not take any of my own pictures. I do want  to show some not-to-be-missed highlights and so I am linking back to the museum's website. I am not an art critic so there are no deep explanations on what each piece means. I just liked them so I have listed them!


1. John Chamberlain's scrap metal sculpture installation.


2. Dan Flavin's fluorescent light installations:


3. Richard Serra's Torqued Ellipses steel sculpture:
This one is really interesting. You can actually walk inside the sculpture where you see the opening. In some cases there's a sculpture within the sculpture so it's a bizarre, almost vertigo-like feeling as you are walking inside, the varying tilts throwing you off-balance a little.


4. My Favorite: Louise Bourgeois' sculpture installation
The first time I saw her work I found it odd, bizarre and disturbing. But when art evokes that sort of reaction in me it means that I am intrigued. And intrigue, for me, equates with liking it.


Even if this type of art does not rock your boat, the space is very cool and worth checking out. I always find it fascinating how these former industrial spaces get converted into museums. The expansive space really showcases all these exhibits, a lot of which are sculptural installations that would not look quite so grand in a small Manhattan gallery.

So that was my Sunday.

Question: Do you like museums? Which is your favorite? If museums are not your thing, what did you do together as a family on trips?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

apifeni Activewear Trunk Show

Pregnancy really does a number on your body. That strong core you worked so hard to attain? Pretty much turns to mush after you have the baby and stays like that for a while. Consider yourself warned. I learned that the hard way, thinking it would not happen to someone like me. Someone who exercised regularly throughout her pregnancy. Someone who ate relatively well. But it did. This fact became even more apparent the first time I donned my yoga pants after having a baby. My formerly flattering yoga pants were not quite so flattering anymore. In fact they accentuated my desperately-seeking-tone belly. Had someone told me about apifeni Activewear it might have spared me a few frustrating months.

apifeni Activewear is the revolutionary activewear that was born out of Danielle Dobin's vision to meld activewear together with shapewear. Danielle, a former lawyer, fitness enthusiast and mom of two, had her "apifeni" (pronounced "epiphany") after having a baby when she realized that there was a dearth of activewear that was both functional and flattering, especially for moms and women over 30 who prefer a little more coverage. So she created her own!

Danielle. Source

All the apifeni bottoms utilise the ShapeTech waist technology, a nylon/spandex/elastane blend that provides compressive support from the hips to just below the sports bra, making the core appear a whole size smaller!

SoftTech  (a supplex nylon/lycra blend) is the high performance fabric that is used in these activewear bottoms.

So whether you are just getting back into shape after pregnancy or just having a bloated day these are the pants for you. Additionally, they maintain the flexibility to move in whatever direction you do. No more worries about exposing skin while bending over a barre or doing a yoga inversion.

I had the chance to attend the apifeni Trunk show earlier this week at Equinox and chat with Danielle who was at hand to give me a personalized fitting. There were a host of gorgeous, colorful tops. I tried on the Sporty Tank in, what Danielle told me was a color made specifically for her line, the apifeni pink. I loved the top! I found it to be very flattering, lightweight and comfortable.

Next, I wanted to try the bottoms and see what this revolutionary ShapeTech technology was all about. I tried the Vinyasa capri pants. The compressive ShapeTech fabric came right upto my ribs and gave me a smooth, seamless silhouette, with no bumps visible underneath my top. Also, I found that the pants did a great job of holding everything in around the hip and thigh area.

Modelling is clearly not my forte!
The pants were lightweight and comfortable, even around the belly. The real test would be to see how I would fare wearing it while exercising. I did express my concern about how hot it would get with the added coverage around the belly. Danielle assured me that it has great moisture-wicking abilities.

I can't wait for my own pair of vinyasa capri pants to arrive so that I can put them to the test and report back. I fell in love with the Sporty tank and bought one on the spot and am quite happy with the purchase!

For those of you in the NYC area there are two additional trunk show dates where Danielle will be available for personalized fittings.
Where : Equinox, 2465 Broadway at 92nd Street 
When  : Tuesday, July 26th: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
            Wednesday, July 27th: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m

For those who are unable to make those dates, be sure to check out apifeni's online store, which also provides free ground shipping in the US.

“I was selected for this opportunity by High Line Media on behalf of apifeni and received a complimentary item of my choice to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed herein are my own.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cupcakes Will Be The Death of Me

I just got back from a lovely lunch with two of my favorite bloggers, Ameena from Fancy That Fancy This and Lauren from Foodtrainers. If you don't already read their blogs you really should! It being the first time I was meeting either in person, I was too excited and engrossed in conversation to think about being a good blogger and take any pictures. Oh well!

After enjoying a nutritious and healthy lunch consisting of the stuffed  avocado salad with quinoa, zucchini, cucumbers and toasted pumpkin seeds at Candle 79, I decided to walk back home. That turned out to be bad idea. Why? Because it involved passing by Sprinkles Cupcakes. I lurked around the entrance before deciding to make a quick stop and pick up one cupcake. Sigh, I should know myself better. When have I ever bought just one cupcake? Answer: Never.

They had some seasonal flavors today which included salted caramel and summer cherry.
I decided to pick up four cupcakes: one red velvet, one salted caramel, one chocolate coconut and one dark chocolate. To share with my husband once he got home from work, ofcourse!!!

Alas, this is what the box looked like a mere 15 minutes later...

Hopefully the hubby wasn't hoping to try a bite of the chocolate coconut (bottom left corner, now deceased).

I am a fitness blogger, really, I promise. See?

Question: Obviously baked goods are a weakness of mine! What are some of yours?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Few, The Proud, The Marine Workout: Review of Warrior Fitness Bootcamp

Lately I have been wanting to try workouts that are out of my comfort zone, and since that category would most certainly include military-style bootcamps, I decided to check out Warrior Fitness Bootcamp!

Warrior Fitness Bootcamp, as it's name implies, is a hard-core bootcamp which includes running, circuit training, free weights, calisthenics and a complete obstacle course designed to ensure that you are trained like a marine. You know they are not kidding around when you discover that your instructors will be former marines Alex Fell and Ruben Belliard.

I arrived at it's midtown location early and signed a waiver. I started to laugh when I came to the line stating that 'death and dismemberment can occur.'

The receptionist, noticing me laugh, assured me, "Nothing like that has ever happened." I kept chuckling as I signed my life away.

I spent the next few minutes surveying the space. It was remarkably clean. When I think "military bootcamp" I think grungy, and dirty, but this place was nothing like that.

I then saw the monkey bars...

Hmm. I moved on.

Next up? Some hurdles, arranged in ascending height order, that looked like I would have to vault over very soon. And some tall-ish walls which looked as if they would require some scaling shortly....


There was also a climbing rope...

A stack of tires...

And an area containing free hand weights, medicine balls and body bars.

In between the weights and the body bars there was what appeared to be a large, green backpack...which looked rather heavy.

This was not looking good, and, admittedly, I was a little nervous! To ease my nerves I chatted with the other bootcamp participants. It was a small class and there were five of us in total. All the others were regulars and told me that while this was a really hard class, they loved it. Okay, I thought, let's get this party started.

At 930am on the dot, Alex, our instructor, came in and told us to start running laps around the obstacle course.

Bootcamp was in session.

In the next hour I did many laps around the obstacle course, at times sprinting, at times side-stepping and at times bear crawling (this was brutal). I also ran up 10 flights of stairs (twice!), scaled some walls, one of which must have been a little more than 6 feet high and traversed two sets of monkey bars. In between these endeavors  the group would gather on an area demarcated for floor-work and we would do sets of jumping jacks (30 or 40 reps/set) where we would have to loudly count each repetition. We would repeat the pattern when we did push-ups (25 reps/set), jump-squats and mountain climbers, counting each repetition out aloud as we struggled and grunted.

At one point we lay on a large tire and did overhead chest presses using the free hand weights. Later, we were partnered with each other and had to do 100 sit-ups simultaneously, facing each other, while passing a medicine ball back and forth between us. Good times!

Often people are turned off by the yelling that goes on at bootcamps. Yes, there is some yelling in this class but it was all very good-natured and motivating. I never once felt singled out. Alex, our instructor, was like a personal trainer. He kept an eye out on every single member and provided individual modifications, making things tougher for the more experienced and easier for the newbies like myself. I also really liked the other class participants. Even though it was my first time there I felt such a camaraderie. Everyone was cheering each other on. We were all on one team and were in it together.

The Good:
1. The workout: I think this is a fantastic workout. You will go through intense cardio drills, lots of resistance training and learn to build endurance. Whether you are looking to lose weight or just gain strength, you will find it here. It's also a lot of fun, and the workout is switched up a little in every class so you will not be bored!

2. The instructor: I thought Alex was great. He was tough, but encouraging and tried to push us to our maximum ability without it ever being too much. I also really appreciated how he watched over everyone, whether it was to adjust someone's form or encourage someone else to push further.

3. The space: The studio is very clean. Also, it's in a very central location, smack in Herald square so it's easily accessible.

The Not-so-Good:
1. Expensive: It isn't cheap but you are getting what is practically a personal training session at a fraction of that cost.

I enjoyed this class a great deal. It was hard as hell but I absolutely loved it!  The hour flew by without me even noticing and I left with a huge endorphin rush. In the past I have always shied away from military-style boot-camps for a number of reasons. The yelling. The drills. The fatigues. I just never found it appealing. I am so glad I decided to throw out all my preconceived notions and try this class. Because for one hour I was working out like a marine and it was awesome!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Running Mojo is Back!

Okay, I probably just jinxed myself with that title but I can't help it!

This Saturday I ran the Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park 4-miler. Although it was a gorgeous day, for the purpose of running it became very hot very soon. Luckily there were plenty of water stations dotted along the race course, along with a rather popular misting station where us runners were sprayed with jets of cold water. Despite these ameliorations I decided I was going to listen to my body and not push myself too hard in this weather. To my surprise, for the first time this year (since having my baby) I ran a sub-10:00 pace! My official time for the 4 miles was 38:28 at an average pace of 9:37/mile. I really should invest in a Garmin so that I can record my splits but I was thrilled nonetheless! I still need some work in order to get back to my former pace but for the time being I am happy. I won't lie, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get any faster. Hopefully this is an indication that, yes, we are moving along the right track!

The next day I met up with some of my favorite food and fitness bloggers! Jess, Ali, Melissa, Sofia, Leslie and I had a delightful brunch in the Great Lawn at Central Park. After telling everyone we would be meeting in the northeast corner of the lawn, I proceeded to park my picnic blanket in the northwest corner and wait for everyone to come and find me. I am so directionally challenged. Sorry, bloggy friends. Thankfully we all found each other without too much ado!

Check out the lovely spread!

And the even lovelier dessert!

We are a happy, well-fed bunch of bloggers!

Yes, we are!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Core Fusion Bootcamp at Exhale Spa: A Review

I have come to the end of my two-week unlimited class Exhale Spa certificate and I must say it has been fun. I tried a whole new bunch of classes, spent copious amounts of time in the spa-like changing rooms and met a new workout buddy (Hi Cameo!).

The final Exhale class that I will be reviewing is it's newest (it debuted last month), Core Fusion Bootcamp.

This class is described as "combining signature moves from all the core classes to present you with the ultimate strength and cardio challenge, which also includes a full 15 minutes of ab work."

I went down to the uber-stylish Gansevoort Hotel location of Exhale Spa down in the Meatpacking district to take this class. I was surprised to see the number of people in class considering it was the evening of July 4th! A lot of people were, like me, taking the class for the first time. Not surprising since the class is so new. Our instructor (Micaela) told us the format of the class. This class takes elements from Core Fusion Yoga, Core Fusion Sport and Core Fusion Cardio. The props we would be using would include: a yoga mat, a medicine (weighted core) ball, a smaller playground ball, one heavy hand weight, and a set of lighter hand weights.


The class started off with stretching and then the first part of the class consisted of sun salutations that progressively became faster; a mini-version of Core Fusion Yoga. The next section was the Core Fusion Sport-inspired set which involved doing jumpbacks while holding the medicine ball, along with one-handed push-ups with the other hand holding onto the core medicine ball. This portion also involved maintaining chair pose while holding onto one heavy weight as well as lunges performed while holding the medicine ball. As I have described in my review of Core Fusion Sport, the jumpbacks and lunges are done at a slow pace.

The third section, the Core Fusion Cardio-inspired set involved a dynamic arm series, with lots of punching movements done while holding onto the light set of hand weights, followed by a set of 64 mountain climbers. The last 15 minutes were spent on the floor doing abdominal work while in a curl. In this section we held the playground ball between our thighs for added inner thigh work and held the light weights for additional resistance.


The Good:
1. The class: It flows very well. Even though there are three different segments from three different classes it does not feel disjointed.

2. The music: Like all of the Core Fusion class I have been at the music is excellent. I want to know who is responsible for choosing it!

The Not-so-Good:
1. The class: The class is not a "bootcamp" if that is what you are looking for. While it is still a good workout, with a good amount of strength training, the burn is more a yoga-burn. Also, I would have loved the Core Fusion Cardio segment to be longer as it is my favorite of the Core Fusion classes.

Truth be told, I was disappointed with this class. When the word "Bootcamp" is attached to a class' name, I expect to have my butt kicked and to be working at my maximum capacity. I did not feel that way in this class. I did get a workout but what I felt was similar to how I feel after taking a challenging yoga class. I did feel my thighs work when I held the chair pose, my upper arms when I was doing the dynamic arm series and my abs when I was on the floor in curl.  But I was able to do it comfortably, not breaking into too much of a sweat, The class is heavily inspired by Core Fusion Sport, a class which I found too slow for my fitness style. Had it been called something like "Core Fusion Yoga/Sport" (or something a little more inspired along those lines!) I may have enjoyed this class more because I would have gone in with different expectations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shaming A Smoker Into Submission

Some friends of mine are visiting from out of town and so I decided it would be fun to meet them for breakfast. After a lovely meal at Alice's Teacup where I attempted to finish a bowl of Alice's mauritius tea-infused granola with vanilla yogurt (the bowl is huge!), we started to walk along a particularly pretty tree-lined street on Manhattan's Upper east side, facades of brownstones looming down upon us, when something happened.

Friend A reached inside her purse, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Friend B. She turned to me and said, "Would you like one, Sam?"


I stared on in they both proceeded to light their cigarettes anyway. Maybe I am being overly sensitive but I was seriously ticked off that no one asked me (a non-smoker) whether I was okay with inhaling their second-hand smoke. I may have said yes, but the fact that I was not asked really irked me.

"You don't smoke, Sam?"

Me (already a little miffed): "No. I think it is a terrible and disgusting habit."


Me, still bothered, continued: "In fact, do you know that in New York city it is against the law to smoke in parks and public beaches?"

Friends: "What? But those are public spaces!"

Me, clearly on a roll, in my fury: "Because there are studies that have shown that even second-hand smoke in those settings can be damaging! Just like I am inhaling your second-hand smoke right now!"

Silence again.

Friend B put out his cigarette and said, good-naturedly, "Way to rip into us, Sam."

Suddenly, I felt terrible. I had shamed my smoker guests into submission.

This is a free country and people do have the right to smoke. I fiercely value my freedom and love that this country, unlike many that I have lived in, supports free speech and respects civil liberties. Plus, I grew up in a city where the malls are littered with ashtrays! Smoking  is so deeply-entrenched into the culture in that part of the world and yet, growing up, I never batted an eye-lid.

So why did this encounter evoke such a strong reaction in me? I am still not entirely sure.

I think it's partly because of the training I have undergone over the last few years, in order to become a pathologist, and because I have seen, first-hand, and examined the ugly tumors that erode angrily from the surfaces of entire lungs, bladders and colons that have been surgically removed from the bodies of smokers.

And also because I spend too much time and energy in trying to be healthy to throw it all away by passively inhaling someone else's cigarette.

But I still feel bad. I am not proud of making my friends feel like crap. It was obviously not their intention to antagonize me. They could not smoke in their hotel room. They could not smoke at Alice's Tea Cup. So could they be blamed for wanting to smoke outside on the street? I don't think so but I maintain that I should have been asked me if it was okay.

So what do you all think?

Did I over-react? What would you have done? Have you ever shamed a smoker into submission? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yoga for Barre-Flies: A Review of Core Fusion Yoga at Exhale Spa

Are you getting sick of my Core Fusion at Exhale Spa class reviews yet? I don't blame you if you are. Hang in there, I still have another week left in my two-week Exhale class pass, and a few more classes I have yet to try!

Core Fusion Yoga, is one of  the classes I tried this week. This one in particular, intrigued me because, even though there are overt yogic elements in Lotte Berk-style classes, I was curious to see how the two fitness styles would collide, as the name of the class suggests. Pretty seamlessly, I learned.

This class is described as:
"..inspiring guests with a combination of yoga asanas that raise the body's heat and increase cardio endurance, intense core functional training to strengthen and tone the core, Qi Gong circular movements, and stretching to move energy and produce a state of inner calm and balance."

The class is like a traditional yoga class however there are some Core Fusion twists. Let me explain.

There are a lot of sun salutations.

You are going from mountain pose, jumping back into a high plank, lowering down into a low plank, rising up to Up dog and then going into your Down dog. Then one leg flies up behind you into a down dog split and you start pulsing the raised leg repeatedly, trying to raise it higher and higher. These small, pulsing movements are the essence of the Lotte Berk method. We do the same thing when we hold a Warrior III pose; again, pulsing the raised leg, activating our seat muscles.
Warrior III Source
Prior to the start of the class, our instructor, Barbara, explained how Core Fusion Yoga differs from a regular yoga class and during class each time we would do a Core Fusion variation, she would point it out. I liked that she did that because it highlighted what we were doing differently.

Another example of the added barre-burn was when we held the chair pose. Once settled into the pose, we were asked to raise both our heels high and again start pulsing up and down repeatedly. Yup, this burning sensation in my thighs was familiar, as I thought back to the countless barre classes I have taken.

Some of the moves we did were straight out of a Core Fusion class, like holding and pulsing in a wide plie and the 'pretzel' which is a killer move for the seat and outside of your thigh.

The Pretzel. Source

We ended the class with a short abdominal curl series for some final core strengthening

Since yoga is not something I do regularly I went into this class with a completely open mind. This worked well because I really enjoyed the class. I loved how the barre-class moves seamlessly melded with more traditional yoga positions. What I absolutely loved about this class was the music! We moved to John Lennon's "Instant Karma", "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees and meditated to a mash-up of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth". I know I should have been trying to keep my mind clear during this portion but I was totally bopping my head to the beat. What can I say, music's my meditation!

The Good:
1. The music: I don't know if this was because of my particular instructor or if all Core Fusion Yoga classes follow a similar play list, but it was amazing and was a reason why I enjoyed the class.

2. The class: Nice flowing asanas coupled with core strengthening ensures that you leave feeling both calm and lengthened as well as leaned out.

The Not-so-Good:
1. Instruction: I felt that the instructions could have been more precise. On a few occasions I would have to look around the room to see if I was doing something correctly because the pose was not explained fully. For example, when we were pulsing our leg in Warrior III, I was not sure if my raised leg should have been parallel to the floor or turned out. A minor point, I know, but I like to know if I'm doing the move correctly so that I can get the most of it.

I really enjoyed this class. If you like barre-based classes and are interested in bringing more yoga into your routine then this is a fun class to embrace. Or vice versa - it's also a great class for the experienced yogi who is barre-curious!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What is your All-Time Favorite Book?

I have not been attending my book club meetings of late. I can't even remember the last time I read a book. Actually, that's not true. I can. It was this past January, while bed-ridden after an unpleasant C-section experience. The book was Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", which, if you have seen the sheer size of the book, kept me occupied for most of my 6-week recuperative period. That was it. The last book I read. I have still been buying books, mind you. They're just piling up higher and higher on my bookshelf.

One of my three overflowing bookshelves

I have always loved to read. Anything and everything. Chick-lit, biographies, contemporary fiction, memoirs, classics. I was one of those kids who would hide a small flashlight in bed with me so that I could catch up on the Famous Five's latest adventures under the covers when I should have been sleeping.

So why am I not reading now? Well, it's because when I read, it usually takes me a while to really get into a book, and that means I want to be reading more than just a few chapters in one sitting. It's hard to do that now until my baby boy is fast asleep, at which point I'd rather be watching bad reality television or stalking my favorite blogs.

According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll:
- In one year, the typical American reads four books. 
- One in four adults reads none.

I have always prided myself in making the time to read more than the average person but this year I am way behind. I had better get a move on it if I hope to even hit the average. That means I have 5 more months to read another three books. So, I need three amazing reads; no time for duds, and that's where you come in. Your all-time favorite book. A loaded question, I realize.


I'll start it off by listing my top 5 favorite books. So here goes:

1. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
- This book was my class reader in the 11th grade. I am so glad it was because I don't think I would have read it otherwise. I love the whole 'Count of Monte Christo' throwback. The thwarted love interest protagonist returns, richer and more powerful,  and attempts to win the society woman he loves who had rejected him for his lowly social status. All set in the backdrop of the decadent excess of the 1920s. Love Fitzgerald!

2. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
-Magical, fantastical, bizarre. I think that's all I need to say.

3. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
- I have read this book so many times and it never gets tiresome. I love how the author infused such individuality to the personalities of these five exceptionally strong women. You read the book and can almost immediately relate to one of them.

4. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
- I love reading about dysfunctional families, and have no qualms admitting it.

5. Palace Walk - Naguib Mahfouz
- Naguib Mahfouz is probably one of my favorite writers. This book is the first of a trilogy, and in my opinion, his greatest book. A family saga, it is full of vivid characters, drama, intrigue, and political themes, literally transporting you into the heart of Cairo.

Honorable mentions in the books I have read more recently (in the last year):
One Day - David Nicholls
Little Bee - Chris Cleave
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

Question: Now it's your turn. Do you like to read? What are your top 5 favorite books? Or if you have one, what is your all-time favorite book?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Core Fusion Cardio at Exhale Spa: A Review

Every now and then an exercise class comes around that really blows my mind. I have been fortunate enough to try a lot of classes in New York city, and of all the classes I have taken, two really stand out for me:

1. The Formula 57 class at the Physique 57 studio (which I have yet to review. I really should get on that)
2. Brynn Jinnett's Refine Method class (which I have reviewed in the past).

There have been a lot of notable mentions but none have made me want go out and spend hard-earned cash on a class package. That was before I took Core Fusion Cardio.

Core Fusion Cardio is offered at Exhale Spa and is described as:

"a calorie-burning, sweat-inducing, body-sculpting, power-packed fitness experience, master-minded by the co-creators of Core Fusion®, Elisabeth Halfpapp and Fred DeVito. Merging cardio with intense strength and flexibility moves, this 60-minute class generates maximum calorie burn, resulting in defined abs, scultped legs and high,rounded glutes."

Isn't that what we all want? Sign me up!

I went to class on Tuesday morning at the Central Park South location, met my instructor (Bergen) who told me that all I needed for this class was a yoga mat and a set of light hand weights. It being my first class I picked up a set of 2 and 3 lbs weights. Like with Core Fusion Sport, this class would be done in bare feet. Prior to class Bergen gave a brief run-down of the class and some pointers. Apparently there were going to be many many "mountain-climbers", also known as plank runs, where you hold yourself in a plank and then, essentially, run in place, bringing your knees upto your chest. I'm not a fan of these. They are generally brutal but like most brutal exercises are highly effective. I braced myself and stood at the front of my mat.


The class started with some side stretches and then we went head-on into the first set of a billion mountain-climbers which were repeated throughout the class. I jest. It was not a billion. It was more like a million. The first set was of 8 mountain-climbers but the sets progressively got longer until the last set which contained 64 mountain-climbers. In between the mountain-climber sets we did lots of front lunges, front kicks, back kicks, twisting side lunges; and a lot of these combined weighted arm movements also, including shoulder presses and bicep curls. There is an arm series where you hold your weights and make punching and jabbing movements above your head, to the side, and diagonally below your chest. There were also balance poses which involved standing on one foot, with the other leg raised behind us as we worked our triceps, doing tricep kickbacks and tricep extensions. 

Although a strong yoga influence is present, the sets move incredibly fast. The 3lbs weights started to feel very heavy very soon. The mountain-climber sets actually became a welcome relief, believe it or not! Dripping with sweat, my heart rate sky-high, I did not even have a chance to reach for my water bottle. I could have stopped and taken a break but did I want to miss out on any of this? Absolutely not! It was that much fun!

After 45 minutes and our final set of mountain-climbers (64 in this one) we held a 30 second plank, thus ending the cardio portion of this class. The final 15 minutes were spent doing abdominal work lying on the floor - Core Fusion's signature curl series. Light hand weights were also used in this section, providing a little extra resistance as you worked your core.

The Good:
1. The Class: This class is so turbo-charged, energy-driven and fun. I liked that I was working hard and yet the moves were not impossible and I was able to keep up. I was intimidated at the prospect of the sheer number of mountain climber repetitions but honestly, I did not feel them to be too much. In fact, I loved how they were interspersed in between the more weight-bearing exercises. I was never bored and the 60 minutes flew by.

2. The instructor: I think that the instructor is key to a great class and Bergen was no exception. She was motivating, funny (She would yell "No child left behind" when we would stop mid-set to take a breath, providing some comic relief!), and kept the class both interesting and challenging.

3. The space: I have spoken about the gorgeous facility at Exhale Spa before. It is beautiful!

The Not-so-Good:
I don't have anything to say on this front!  

I loved this class! I could start to feel my heart thumping within the first 10 minutes. It's non-stop, high-energy cardio with a good measure of strength training courtesy the weight-bearing and balancing exercises. Here's to a new addition to Sam's Favorite NYC Workouts!

A Core Fusion Cardio dvd is also available.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Core Fusion Sport at Exhale Spa: A Review

One of the ways that the team behind Core Fusion at Exhale Spa has distinguished themselves from other barre studios is by the sheer number of different class options. There is, ofcourse, their signature Core Fusion class. For those craving a faster pace there is Core Fusion Cardio. For those desiring an improvement in their sports performance there is Core Fusion Sport. Their latest offering is Core Fusion Bootcamp, an amalgam of the Core Fusion Cardio, Core Fusion Sport and Core Fusion Yoga. Over the past few days I have sampled each of the three classes, courtesy my two-week unlimited class certificate purchased from Gilt, and will be writing my reviews over the course of the next week or so. The studio also offers a host of yoga classes, including Core Fusion Yoga and Music Yoga Flow, which I also hope I get to take during my two-week period.

After trying and enjoying the signature Core Fusion class I took with Fred DeVito a few weeks ago I decided that I wanted to try Core Fusion Sport next. It is described as:

"a total body workout that is designed to help you improve your performance in sports while reducing your risk of sports related injuries.

Using a combination of lateral and twisting movements, this barreless one-hour class will chisel and firm your arms, shoulders, legs and butt while focusing on your core - the center of your strength. This calorie-burning cardio class works with resistance bands, core balls, and mat abdominals with periodic jump backs for cardio and stamina benefits. Balanced flexibility exercises at the end will cool you down and increase your range of movement for sports. We hold this class in a slightly elevated temperature room with motivating music, so be prepared to sweat and work out with a passion

The class is done in bare-feet on a yoga mat with a double-handed medicine ball (I used a 6lbs ball) and a Theraband resistance band as your props. The mainstay move in this class is the 6-step "Jumpback" which is done while holding the medicine ball.

Step 1: Raise the medicine ball above your head. Step 2: Squat and bring the ball to your chest. Step 3: Place the ball on the floor. Step 4: Jump into a plank while holding onto the ball on the floor (See Picture above). Step 5: Jump forwards while still holding onto the ball on the floor. Step 6: Squat and bring the ball to your chest. Repeat.

The medicine ball is also used in the one-handed push-up where one hand firmly grips the ball while doing a push-up. We did diagonal lunges holding the ball, lunge twists while swinging the ball and diagonal lunges with leg lifts. We also held the chair pose while holding the ball out in front of us, after which we pulsed in this position and then held the pose with both heels lifted. While the class moved slowly I did notice my heart rate elevating, more so in the chair pose sequences. Balances were also done where our instructor emphasized keeping our core engaged. The jumpback sequence was repeated many times throughout the class as a divider between the other exercise sequences.

In the last fifteen minutes we picked up the resistance band, and used it for outer thigh/seat work and abdominal work. I loved this part of the class and wished it were longer. For the outer thigh/seat section we lay down on our side and looped the band around the foot of the leg on top and then did moves like making a circle with the leg or pushing the leg back. The movements were tiny but the added resistance made a difference. The abdominal  work was performed lying down, with shoulders slightly raised off the floor, in the "curl" position.

The Good:
1. The class: I liked the props. The medicine balls helped to give me a great upper body workout, and the resistance bands allowed me to feel a different sensation in the outer thigh/seat section which I thought was very unique.

2.The instructor: I thought our instructor, Tyler, was excellent. He was motivational, made postural adjustments and even provided more challenging variations if he felt you could go a step further.

3. The music: I loved the music. This is something I have noticed in all the Core Fusion classes. It's understated but it works. Honestly, I don't even remember what was played. I just remember that I enjoyed it. I'm sure a lot of it was pop but somehow it did not sound quite so blaring!

4. The space: I took class at the Upper East side studio. It's spacious and the studio windows look out onto Madison Avenue. Pretty swanky.

The Not-so-Good:
1. The pace: This class moved too slowly for me. I did not find the jumpbacks to be challenging enough because I felt they moved way too slowly. Even the lunges were performed too slowly for my preference. While I did break a sweat it was more from poses that we held for long, such as the chair pose, rather than the more 'cardio'-based movements.

While I appreciate the 'Strength in Stillness" philosophy behind Core Fusion, this class was not my favorite. It was too slow for me and I did not feel like I was challenged enough. I did like the use of the medicine balls, especially when we used them for the chair pose squat. As I mentioned before, I loved the outer thigh work using the resistance band and wished that that section had been longer. Classes are a personal preference and I did meet girls in this class who said that Sport was their absolute favorite of the Core Fusion classes. It just was not for me. Core Fusion Cardio, however (to be reviewed next!), is another story!

July 4th weekend recap and Uncle Sam Cereal Giveaway Winner!

Hey all. Hope you all had a great July 4th weekend! Alright, first thing's first. I am going to announce the winner of the Uncle Sam Honey Almond cereal giveaweay courtesy Attune Foods.

I compiled the following list:

Then used to generate:

Congratulations to Sofia! Please email me your mailing address at and we will get that box of cereal over to you as soon as possible!

So the weekend was pretty relaxed but highlights included:

1. Dinner at Rouge Tomate with a friend.
The space is gorgeous. Clean and minimalist.

The food? Phenomenal! The seasonally inspired menu is Modern American with a strong emphasis on fresh and locally sourced ingredients.

To start, we shared the Chickpea hummus with sweet pepper, house-cured olives and flat bread crisp.

Then, for my main course, I had the Grass Fed Lamb Loin, with fennel, turnip, Beldi olives, bing cherries and Greek yogurt. It was lip-smackingly good! Also, not a huge portion, which I am often afraid of whenever 'Lamb' and 'loin' are on the menu!


For dessert, I decided on the Passion Fruit Tart with pineapple, mango, coconut and pink peppercorn. This I could probably have done without. The first few bites were heavenly but it became a little too sweet afterwards. Gorgeous presentation though, no?

A lovely evening with great food. Highly recommended if you are ever in New York!

2. Worked out on each of the three days of the Holiday weekend:
- Tried Core Fusion Sport for the first time on Saturday-which I shall review soon. I bought a $25 certificate on Gilt a few months ago for two weeks of unlimited classes at Exhale Spa. I thought it was an amazing deal! So I am looking forward to trying all this studio has to offer.
- Took a Physique 57 class on Sunday when it was pouring. I got to the studio drenched and grumpy but once we got started I fell into the groove and had a fun class! I tried a new instructor and thought she was great (thanks Brigitte!). I love Physique 57 so much.  It really is like my therapy.
-On Monday I tried Exhale's newest class, Core Fusion Bootcamp-which is also to be reviewed in the near future.

3. Spent some quality time with friends and family in the Park.
With the exception of Sunday, the weekend had some gorgeous weather and we were able to take advantage of it and spend some time in Central Park, where we caught the roller-bladers in action. Check out the guy roller-blading while balancing bottles on his head!

Ah, love New York city in the summer!

Question: How did you spend your July 4th weekend?