Its winter. The days are short, which of course means its time to enter a state of semi-hibernation. Nows the time to give the ol body a rest, gain 15 pounds so you can lose it again in the spring. Excellent excuses. But if youre done making excuses, read on. We scoured the area and discovered grown-ups acting like kids at summer camp and masters teaching physical disciplines we had no idea existed. The hardest part is getting motivated to go check out that first class, so we pulled on boxing gloves, a bathing cap, bike shorts, even a coin belt, and did that part for you. Weve got your next thing.
Body art Body Art Studio, Chester NY
This is rebel yoga. Owner Michelle Dawson opened the studio last fall after being kicked out of the Coast Guard for reasons she cant divulge, working as the drench wench at the Scarborough Fair, shaving her head, traveling from festival to festival doing henna, having a lovechild, and getting booted as an instructor from various yoga and dance studios.
Something new is happening here: body art is a strain of yoga inspired by the pre-watered-down sixties, intertwined with with henna. Michelles toe-ringed foot is painted an elaborate flower paisley pattern. Theres a cushioned alcove by the window where painting sessions happen.
There is no hiding in the back corner. My downward dog never seems to be satistactorily sharp, and yogis are always pulling my hips and tucking my shoulder blades to make my body into a more pronounced V. So I expect some intervention but Michelle doesnt fiddle around. She gets leverage by straddling my legs, wrapping my hips in a bear hug and pulling my pelvis up. Best downward dog Ive ever done.
Tip: Dont use the wall as a security blanket for upside-down poses. Not in this class.
INTENSITY RATING: 6 Synchro
Ramapo Aquamasters, Suffern NY
These women love to swim enough to do it at 6 in the morning and 10 at night. I dont know the first thing about synchronized swimming. The job of teaching me falls to Kris-Ann Gutenmakher of Oradell, NJ. We swim three laps to warm up and stretch against the pool wall. Then Kris-Ann teaches me the oyster. Floating on your back, spread your legs wide and bring all four limbs together while sinking down, like an oyster closing up its shell. When shes smoothed out the kinks, we add two more pieces: turn upside down and do a split, close your legs and propel yourself downwards. This is called the shrimp. Dont ask me why.
I join the group in practicing a stroke sequence breastroke, freestyle, sidestroke, backstroke. Someone keeps time by hitting a metal rod on the side of the pool, which you can hear underwater. I even get to join a formation. Thats me in the purple.
Tip: You dont need to be graceful or flexible. You find the style that suits your body.
INTENSITY RATING: 5 Belly dancing
Belly Dancing with Sarah, Hudson Valley
Were going to flirt with the audience, Sarah instructs. Look over you left shoulder, then over the other. Her arms float out and and up, her head moves side to side like a cobras.
This is one of the last rehearsals before a show (not a class for a newcomers) so I watch as six women tighten up their choreography at a dance studio in Newburgh. They are a variety of sizes, and some isolate their hips more successfully than others, but all of them look alluring in their coin belts, particularly when the colorful veils and finger cymbals come out. Sarah (whose real name is Vicki Bell) calls out the moves: Latin push, John Travolta, high five, rabbit hand, four chachas forward and back to get the tambourine. Putting down and picking up the tambourine is quite the choreographing challenge. One dancer, aiming for the wall, slides her tambourine into Sarahs feet. And theres barely enough time to retrieve the tambourines, let alone in a sexy fashion. Dont run for it! Sarah scolds.
After class, Sarah finds a coin belt for me. I face the mirror and try the hop drop, chest shimmy, hip circle, hip shimmy (like dribbling a basketball with your butt cheek), and the hip bump. I feel surprisingly unabashed.
Tip: Dont belly dance naked. Its not pretty. Everything jiggles.
INTENSITY RATING: 4 CrossFit
CrossFit Warwick, Warwick NY Why are cars speeding into a nondescript parking lot between an office building and a hardware store? The answer is written on the white board inside what looks like a garage in the corner: If youre late, run 200 meters, says the note. Behind the garage doors is a Spartan gym, with kettle balls, a rope hanging from the ceiling, a pull-up bar and serious weights. The highest tech piece of equipment is a rowing machine. Since CrossFits birth in the nineties, thousands of these gyms have popped up nationwide. Crossfitters have their own philosophy and a lexicon to go with. WOD is workout of the day. Metcon is metabolic conditioning. Im about to learn what they mean.
Tonights WOD starts with three sets of ten of your weakness. Ive got options. 1. Handstand push-ups. I kick my legs onto the wall and struggle through one. On the second, the ground threatens to collide with my face. I kick my legs down. 2. Double unders. Ryan Hansen, CrossFit owner and former marine, tweaks my jumproping form, and a couple times I do get the jumprope under me twice in one jump. Mostly I snag my legs. 3. Pull-ups.
Next we do a timed circuit that consists of three snatches, then sprinting down the block and back. Repeat for 10 minutes. Its a full moon out, and everyone has words of encouragement when paths cross on the run. But the best encouragement is, of course, getting passed. I feel ready to puke in the best possible way.
Tip: CrossFit never gets easier; you get better.
INTENSITY RATING:10 Biking Orange County Bike Club
My bike is a little rusty, but this 36-mile ride is listed as friendly B pace. Sounds like no problem. We roll out of the Salisbury Mills restaurant at a good clip. Theres something primal about moving fast in a pack. Its not until the first uphill that I start to worry. If I fall behind, I realize, I could ruin nine peoples Sunday ride.
Theyre casually chatting, and Im standing in my saddle pumping. And falling behind. I stop to check my tire, which must have gone flat, since it feels like Im towing a baby elephant. Nope. Now Im farther behind. Trip leader Rob Daly is incredibly nice about it. Were touring! he keeps saying. Its turning into a gorgeous, sunny late fall day, and theres lots to see: a foundry with massive sculptures outside, Mohonk Mountain in the distance, dams and rushing rivers and farms. But now my bike is squeaking. I am nicknamed Squeaky. Lube is suggested. Theres no point apologizing. I just keep squeaking along on my jello legs, falling farther behind.
Tip: If youre not sure what level youre at, start with the easier one. Turns out there are two levels below friendly B. Good to know.
INTENSITY RATING: 10* (* Note: it was probably a 7 for everyone else.)
Boot camp Hudson Valley Boot Camp, Goshen NY
I expect an ex-marine and a lot of yelling. Donna Houlihan is closer to Jane Fonda, and doesnt seem at all frightening until about the third round with the kettleball, at which point I do begin to detest this smiling pink tank-topped mother of four. In a mirrorless room, Donna pep talks six women through a grueling routine, which tonight involves lifting a kettle ball every which way, jumping jacks, jumping rope, running in place with chest-high knees, then doing it over again.
By the time class ends with sets of push-ups, punctuated by lifting and lowering yourself from straight arms to elbows in plank position, my hands are slipping in a pond of my sweat.
Most of the women here want to lose weight. Eileen McCullough of Chester, who started with Curves, then tried zumba, and graduated to boot camp, has dropped 16 pounds in two months. Jess Bridge of Greenwood Lake, who had trouble with a lap around the track when she started, just ran a 5k.
Tip: If you feel nauseous, youre doing it right.
INTENSITY RATING: 9 Self defense
Thaishodo Martial Arts Academy,
Fair Oaks NY Defense seems like a misnomer. Grabbing your attacker by the neck and smashing his nose into your knee repeatedly? Well, offense is the best defense. Taught by Gino Terranova, a giant former Mixed Martial Arts fighter, this is really an MMA class dialed down. Gino gives out fighter nicknames like Tapout.
Class starts with an aerobic warm-up, and then stations: punching bag, pummeling a dummy, agility ladder with a resistance belt, jumping over and crawling under a rope, sit-ups throwing a medicine against a wall. Then boxing gloves go on for the real stress release: kicking, kneeing and punching sequences on Gino, whos holding and wearing pads. Apparently youre supposed to call Gino sir then roll your eyes.
Tip: Lean back when kicking so you dont get punched in the face.
INTENSITY RATING:9 MMA Its going to be rough and tumble, Gino warns. And all guys. While I dont covet a squashed nose or cauliflower ears, I still have to try Mixed Martial Arts.
Tonight were learning takedowns. Gino breaks the move into components. Drop into a crouch, drop onto your front knee and slide forward, scoop your hands under your opponents knees so they buckle, and lunge upward, lifting and slamming your opponent down. Time to practice.
I brace myself to be thrown to the ground, and am pleased to discover that the mats feel like a mattress. And the takedown works on unsuspecting friends, too. It annoys them though.
Tip: Exhale when punching to tighten core muscles and generate power.
INTENSITY RATING:10 Beyond barre
Pilates in Motion, Warwick NY
I was going to be a ballerina when I was five. Then I got off track. Now was my chance to pick up where I left off.
But not quite yet the ballet is a reward that must be worked up to. First, we tone more different muscle groups than I knew existed in my arms with two-pound hand weights. Then I am introduced to the slide board.These thingamajigs are the length of a yoga mat, slick and have foam-padded wooden blocks at each end. Sliding across them in your socks like a speed skater is what youd most want to do, and that is in fact what youre supposed to do. Faster, faster, faster, until I trip over my feet.
Finally, its time to approach the barre. We stand in second position facing the mirror, holding ourselves like we think ballerinas should, that is, like marionettes with strings coming out of our heads. We do some simple leg lifts, behind us and out to the side, and some work on tippy toes. We plie and jump with pointed toes. I dont quite look graceful, but I feel like one day I might.
Tip: Tuck your abs and point your toes.