Monday, September 26, 2011

SLT: A New Fitness Studio

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

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

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


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

Mermaid crunch- source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fall Fitness in NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tonique Method DVD Giveaway Winners!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review of SpringTONE Class at Real Pilates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alycea Ungaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tonique Method DVD: Review and Giveaway!

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Open to readers in the Continental US only.