Get In Shape BEFORE the holidays!
By Amy Lee, Guest Writer
The exercise market is on steroids. Even along the quiet Connecticut shoreline there are more choices for the sweaty set than lattes at Starbucks. While we, who choose the Sound over the City, may not have our very own Soul Cycle or Physique 57—the hot Hollywood exercise emporiums—we do have our own healthy crop of one-off, home-grown options that serve our fitness fancy very well thank you very much. This new boutiquey, gym generation flexes its muscles by offering group classes that feel like personal training. The spaces are different too: You won’t see Nautilus machines, treadmills or wall-length mirrors in any of these gyms. Nor will you perform synchronized routines led by an instructor who often is more concerned with his or her workout than yours. Rather you’ll be personally greeted by owner/instructors who don’t lead your workout but manage it instead. Within that genre there are options that are as gentle or as bad ass as you want. Some bark, but none bite. All leave you feeling like it was time well spent. So whether working out is an obsession or an obligation, here’s our list of the best new gyms to get your sweat on.
Athena’s Fitness Synergy, Guilford
Fitness Synergy not only has it all, it also has the only Barre class around. I gave it a try for many reasons: I am the least graceful person I know, it’s supposed to lengthen your muscles (which Lord knows I need) and celebs from Drew Barrymore to Dita Von Teese say it kicks your ass. While one class does not long and lean muscles make, it did deliver on the other two counts–particularly the ass kicking. The instructor Hillary suggested the 3 pound weights over the 5, but I’m a hard core bootcamper and opted to go “big”. Note to self: listen next time. Athena’s core offerings–boot camp and Pilates–are as good as they get. The former packs a mean punch for those days when you want to hit your cardio and strength training hard. And the group mat Pilates classes are a perfect complement as they are a bit more gentle, but no less demanding.
Classes: Bootcamp, Pilates and Barre, Private Reformer
Schedule: Varies a bit; usually 2 classes per day at 9:30 am and 6 pm as well as weekends. Leaves lots of time for private or duet reformer classes.
Atmosphere: Welcoming and fresh. Athena calls it the “Treehouse” thanks to its windowed perch on the second floor. Open, airy space for group classes and cozier rooms for Pilates.
Price: Group classes range from $15/class for drop-in to as low as $10 for a book of 50.
Extras: Twice yearly “Fitness in Paradise” trips where Athena organizes an all-inclusive (that means exercise included) trip to somewhere fab.
i found fitness, Deep River
Four years ago Donna Scott needed a change–a major change. She found it in her new business–i found fitness– and has been helping other women (and the occasional) man make positive lifestyle changes pretty much every day since. Those who frequent Scott’s gym find a vigorous, total body workout tailored to women who want to increase flexibility, mobility and we’ll call it mental versatility. Her brand of “inspirational fitness” is found in all of her classes ranging from Zumba! to spin to Tabata–short bursts of high intensity exercises–that fill her weekly schedule.
Classes: Something for everyone. Range from spin to yoga to a spin/yoga combo to the super popular Zumba!
Schedule: Minimum of 2 every day, up to 7 on Wednesdays. Early classes begin at 5:15 and there’s a 7pm class a couple of times a week for those who like to save the best part of their day for last.
Atmosphere: Donna shares the space with a martial arts studio which is tucked next to Dunkin Donuts (no worries, you won’t be tempted), there’s plenty of well-lit room to get downward dog to business.
Price: Variety of very affordable options. 10 yoga classes are a reasonable $11/class. New members can try each class twice (a total of 10) for only $60. And 10 Zumba! classes put you back a nifty $50.
Extras: The River Valley Slimdown. Held several times a year, the 10-12 week weight loss program riffs off the popular Biggest Loser model.
Lisa’s Uncensored Spin & Bootcamp, Branford
Working out with Lisa is an experience unlike any other. As the name of her eponymous gym indicates there are really no rules or regs at any of the spin or bootcamp classes she passionately and energetically leads. Truth be told, she’s shattered most of them with the kind of rogue workouts that push you to your limits physically and mentally. The best way to describe time spent in her industrial garage turned studio is controlled chaos. Not only are no two workouts EVER the same there are always multiple activities going on at once–many involving tires. But there definitely is a method to the madness as the chaos–or unpredictability we’ll call it — confuses your muscles and distracts your mind. The result: at the end of the hour your body is spent but you feel like the class just began.
Lisa, who’s been spreading her personal fitness gospel around the shoreline for more than 20 years uses a circuit training model for both bootcamp and spinning classes. While that may be typical for the former, not so for the latter as it’s the only spin class I’ve ever been to where “out of the saddle” doesn’t mean hovering above your seat, but rather: running laps, busting out burpees and lifting tires. While this may sound intimidating, don’t be intimidated as I’ve seen people of all ages, shapes and fitness abilities succeed with her singular style. You will too.
Classes: Bootcamp and Spinning
Schedule: 6 per day during the week: early AM, mid morning and after work; 2 on Saturdays and Sundays
Atmosphere: Industrial. Bathroom and shower, but bring your own towel and blow dryer.
Price: Variety of options ranging from $220/month for unlimited classes to spin and bootcamp cards which can run as low as $10 a class.
Extras: Occasional parties, great community
(Full disclosure: Amy’s been working out with Lisa for years and their daughters are bffs)
Pradipika Yoga, Clinton
Tarot cards on the table: I don’t love Yoga. I don’t even like it that much, even though I know it’s great for you. I’ve tried it several times over the years, but have found it a bit too earnest and intentional for my easily-distractible mind and a little too challenging for my large-motor, hopelessly inflexible body. All that changed, however, after one session at Pradipika–which ironically means to illuminate or shed light on–Yoga.
Diaphanously dressed Marcy led our Power Vinyasa class in the small, yummy smelling studio. Her pace was persistent, but allowed for ample time to make adjustments or suggestions for modifications in either direction of difficulty. At various times during the class she’d oh-so subtly and gently reposition me. And at the risk of sounding creepy let’s just say, her magic touch almost made me want to strike the wrong pose. I also loved the overall vibe of her class; particularly the music which featured my personal favorite Aimee Mann. The owner, Jennifer Dahlgren offers a full complement of classes–including a series designed just for kids–for people at all levels of their practice.
Classes: Everything from the basics to hot yoga
Schedule: 3 – 5 classes a day
Atmosphere: Light, clean and of course Zen.
Price: Variety of passes and packages which range from $16 for a drop in to as low as $10 if you buy a group of 30.
Extras: 15 minute meditation class on Sundays at 4:45 is free; donate a percentage of profits to Shoreline Soup Kitchens.
You gotta love James, a guy (a happily married one no less) who wants to spend a good chunk of his days helping those of us with jiggly under arms — and other unnamed less firm areas–get down to exercise business. That he (who has no jiggly areas AT ALL) chose TRX as his particular tool not only speaks volumes about him, but also of the concept itself. Started by a Navy SEAL, TRX uses specially designed adjustable straps that are affixed to the ceiling that allow you to do a limitless number of muscle twitching, aerobic inducing, body shaping exercises. James knows them all so you’ll never get bored because his arsenal is endless. The pace is speedy and efficient, and lickety split you’ve worked your entire body thanks to the combination of one bright yellow band and one boisterous bald trainer. While James is generally up front modeling the moves, his roaming eye quickly identifies and corrects bad positions or encourages reachable challenges.
James, who teaches 95% of the classes, offers several variations on the TRX theme ranging from circuit to bootcamp to body blast all of which deliver quickly noticeable results. The piece de resistance (literally) for those wanting the ultimate exercise exertion is the Sandbag Fusion class. Holding the sandbags in different positions not only manipulates your stability, load and body angles it’s a fat-burning fiesta.
Classes: Group, personal and semi-private. You name it James will do it
Schedule: Convenient and ample for the pre- during- and post-work warrior.
Atmosphere: Tight as a drum. Super organized, the latest equipment, plenty of space to spread out and do your thing.
Price: No yearly or monthly membership: All classes are sold as drop-ins ($20) or in group packages which become less expensive the more you purchase (50 for $550).
Extras: Reserve and pay for your class on line. Kid classes on Saturdays at 12:30
Jennifer Kuehn, the owner of Shred is a former Cross Fit champ. She can clean and jerk with the best of them. But you don’t need to read that to know it, as one look at the statuesque trainer says a thousand words. This girl knows her stuff. But in addition to the raw expertise she brings to the gym, she also pours all of the energy and love she has for beautifying bodies into to each and every class. And that’s evident from the moment you enter her stylized industrially chic space. In addition to the tools of her trade–a bar system to house the TRX, bikes for spinning, weights for lifting and kettle bells for thrusting–are her personal touches like a giant silver chandelier that signal to all those who enter that this is a different sort of gym. The gym is aptly named as one hour in either a TRX or spin class and you’re guaranteed to shred calories. A couple of months: you’ll shred sizes. Both options offer plenty of choices for those just getting back to working out, or for those who want to take their fitness to a new level.
Classes: TRX, Spin & Strength
Schedule: Ample options for early birds and the gotta-get-the-kids-off-to-school set; Open gym at noon
Atmosphere: Garage Glam; clean, organized, inspiring
Price: One month unlimited: $175; 10 class punch cards $150; drop in rate: $20
Extras: Parties, Group Bike Rides, nutritional/diet challenges, kids classes
9Round, North Branford
I gotta say, being the exercise snob I am (I’ve Soul Cycled in the Hamptons), I was a bit wary of stepping into the proverbial ring at 9Round in North Branford. Its generic strip center home flanked by McDonalds and Dairy Queen notwithstanding, I was expecting a gimmicky variation on the Curves theme — exercise by exposure. Boy was I wrong! 9Round the 30 minute kickboxing gym kicked my relatively fit (not to be confused with shapely) butt! Here’s how it works: There are 9 stations set up around the gym which you rotate through for 3 minutes (you can do anything for 3 minutes) each. My trainer, aka Megan “The Machine” Beavis quickly and efficiently told each person exactly what to do, the bell rings and we were off. The exercises are specific to every “boxer” and change every day. It’s truly remarkable. Not only was I able to take out my frustrations by hand and by foot on several different-shaped bags (heavy, speed and eliptical), I was able to drop in on my own schedule and burn somewhere between 300-500 calories almost as fast as I could say Muhammed Ali. All the trainers are certified and the owners, husband and wife Shaun Berner and Tina Valaouras are both professional Kickboxers.
Classes: Kickboxing all day, every day
Schedule: Very flexible. Opens at 6:30 3 days a week and until 8 Mon-Thursday.
Atmosphere: New, clean equipment, efficient use of space. Everything you’d expect in a boxing gym but the ropes.
Price: $49 a month for unlimited classes
Extras: When you enroll you get your very own pair of gloves and hand wraps. Cherry on top: you can choose your own boxer name. Also access to a proprietary nutrition guide
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770 Boston Post Road
Guilford, Connecticut 06437
From Athena’s Fitness Synergy
Fitness Synergy works with clients to help them challenge their bodies and nurture their spirits through exercise. Working at your own pace, achieve your fitness goals with a line up of classes including Zumba, TRX, Yoga, Pilates and more.
From Pradipika Yoga Studio
Pradipika Yoga studio in Clinton offers heated power vinyasa, basic and gentle yoga classes. Try it out for less with their New Student Special: 2-week unlimited classes for only $20!