Forget the elliptical

| 09 Mar 2012 | 11:21

It’s winter. The days are short, which of course means it’s time to enter a state of semi-hibernation. Now’s 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 you’re 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. We’ve 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 can’t 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. Michelle’s toe-ringed foot is painted an elaborate flower paisley pattern. There’s 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 doesn’t fiddle around. She gets leverage by straddling my legs, wrapping my hips in a bear hug and pulling my pelvis up. Best downward dog I’ve ever done.

Tip: Don’t use the wall as a security blanket for upside-down poses. Not in this class.


Ramapo Aquamasters, Suffern NY

These women love to swim enough to do it at 6 in the morning and 10 at night. I don’t 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 she’s 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. Don’t 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. That’s me in the purple.

Tip: You don’t 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

“We’re 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 cobra’s.

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 Sarah’s feet. And there’s barely enough time to retrieve the tambourines, let alone in a sexy fashion. “Don’t 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: Don’t belly dance naked. It’s not pretty. Everything jiggles.


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 you’re 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 CrossFit’s 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. I’m about to learn what they mean.

Tonight’s WOD starts with three sets of ten of “your weakness.” I’ve 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. It’s 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. There’s something primal about moving fast in a pack. It’s not until the first uphill that I start to worry. If I fall behind, I realize, I could ruin nine people’s Sunday ride.

They’re casually chatting, and I’m standing in my saddle pumping. And falling behind. I stop to check my tire, which must have gone flat, since it feels like I’m towing a baby elephant. Nope. Now I’m farther behind. Trip leader Rob Daly is incredibly nice about it. “We’re touring!” he keeps saying. It’s turning into a gorgeous, sunny late fall day, and there’s 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. There’s no point apologizing. I just keep squeaking along on my jello legs, falling farther behind.

Tip: If you’re not sure what level you’re 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 doesn’t 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, you’re 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, who’s holding and wearing pads. Apparently you’re supposed to call Gino “sir” — then roll your eyes.

Tip: Lean back when kicking so you don’t get punched in the face.

INTENSITY RATING:9 MMA It’s going to be rough and tumble, Gino warns. And all guys. While I don’t covet a squashed nose or cauliflower ears, I still have to try Mixed Martial Arts.

Tonight we’re 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 opponent’s 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 you’d most want to do, and that is in fact what you’re supposed to do. Faster, faster, faster, until I trip over my feet.

Finally, it’s 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 don’t quite look graceful, but I feel like one day I might.

Tip: Tuck your abs and point your toes.