No Pain, No Gain, No Thanks!
Who says getting in shape has to be a grueling, grunting, and unpleasant ordeal?
Here are 14 ways to get fit and have fun at the same time.
By Catherine Censor with Nancy Claus
Photography by Chris Ware
Over the many years I’ve spent in gyms, I’ve come to a conclusion: people who claim to enjoy running on a treadmill are either fibbing or have a pathetically low threshold for amusement. Charitably, I will concede that when it comes to exercise, our collective standards for “fun” are probably a lot lower than they would be for, say, a night on the town. When we say that a workout is “fun,” what we really mean is that it’s survivable—like an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, but more edifying.
Are enjoyment (the real, honest-to-God kind of enjoyment) and fitness really mutually exclusive? I think not—especially if you’re lucky enough to live here in Westchester. Whether you’re an athlete, aesthete, dancing fool, ordinary fool, senior, junior, hard body or soft-n-squishy body, there’s an activity here that you’re bound to love. And if you think this is one of those get-out-into-nature stories, relax. While you can certainly avail yourself of our ponds, parks, and nature preserves, all (with few exceptions) of the following fun fitness ideas are located indoors. (Yes, just like the Westchester Mall!)
You long to swing from your country club’s velvet drapes like Errol Flynn? Perhaps you’d like to emulate Katherine Zeta Jones in her Zorro film debut, slicing through her dastardly foes with sharp wit and sharper foil? If so, you’d better sober up before you hit the Fencing Academy of Westchester. While head coach Slava Grigoriez admits that his sport has a “very romantic appeal,” he warns that fencing is far too demanding for Walter Middy-esque daydreaming and clever retorts. First, there’s the oxygen deprivation. “Because you’re wearing a mask, you get less oxygen,” explains Grigoriez. “It’s like training at high altitude.” Then, there’s the fast-and-furious pace that requires quickness of thought as well as muscular coordination. Grigoriez describes fencing as “a faster version of chess.” Don’t worry, it’s still great fun and it’s a killer workout besides.
In addition to a great cardio workout, fencing also provides serious lower body shaping. All that lungeing produces strong glutes and thighs. Unfortunately, the results aren’t always balanced. “You tend to end up more developed on your dominant side,” says Grigoriez, “so if you’re right-handed, you’ll be bigger on your right side.” We’re guessing Catherine and Errol cross-trained.
If you’d like to give fencing a try, the Fencing Academy provides one-month memberships, lessons, and all the necessary equipment. Please leave your corset and cape at home. Sweats and sneakers will do nicely.
Burn Rate: A 130-lb. person burns 354 calories per hour of fencing; a 155-lb. person burns 422.
Fencing Academy of Westchester
40 Saw Mill River Rd., Hawthorne
Get this straight: “Belly dancing is not the hoochy-koochy,” says veteran Westchester belly dance teacher and performer Zohar. (Belly dance performers are often singularly named, but not everyone with a singular moniker is a belly dancer. For example,
Ayleeza (aka Lisa Quattrochi), Zohar’s protÃ©gÃ©e for 15 years, now teaches in Zohar’s stead. She shares her mentor’s philosophy of female empowerment through dancing. “Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages can belly dance, and everyone feels good about themselves in class. It’s a very positive experience.” Her style of belly dance, an eclectic mix of Turkish, Egyptian, and Moroccan influences, also incorporates American innovations such as formal dance steps, set routines and the use of veils.
Belly dance is not an aerobic workout. “If you’re learning a step or how to move your hips, you have to do it slowly,” says Ayleeza, “so there’s a lot of stopping.” Still, her class does provide a good workout of abs, hips, and the pelvic floor. As Zohar notes, “It takes an enormous amount of muscle tone and control to master belly dancing.” If you get good, you might even get a chance to reshape the public’s sullied image of belly dancing: graduates of Ayleeza’s 10-week class series will be given the option to perform at the Tarrytown Art Show in May. Classes start March 13th and meet weekly at 7 pm. The cost of the program is $180. Special costumes aren’t required, but you should wear something comfortable, stretchy, and not too baggy. A fitted top and something to tie around your hips (to accentuate your fluid movements) would be just right.
Burn Rate: Comparable to slow ballroom dancing; a 130-lb. woman would burn approximately 177 calories in an hour of belly dancing; a 155-lb. woman would burn approximately 211.
Zohar Belly Dance
At Rudy’s Boxing, 17 W. Main St., Mount Kisco
Treadmills and stationary bikes make you feel like a hamster stuck on an exercise wheel? Mike Wolfert, owner of The Cliffs at Valhalla, has the answer: “Climbing is a really exciting way to get fit because there’s a concrete goal: to get to the top.” The artificial rock wall is 40 feet high but has pathways of varying difficulty, accommodating everyone from complete beginner to advanced climber. Because climbers wear a harness tethered to a seasoned professional, the experience is safe and accessible to almost everyone—including those with less-than-rock-hard physiques. “The biggest misconception is that you need to be really strong and capable of doing pull-ups in order to climb,” says Wolfert. “In reality, you’re mostly using your core muscle group, your abs, lower back, and thighs (the upper body comes into the picture as you get more advanced). And you don’t have to be a conditioned athlete to get started. If you get too tired, you can rest in midair or get gently lowered back to the ground.”
Want a different kind of climbing challenge? Check out “bouldering,” in which climbers scramble up 14-foot rocks without the benefit of marked pathways or harnesses. “It’s more mentally and physically challenging than wall climbing,” Wolfert says. “Boulders have problems, not pathways, and even though your feet are never that far off the ground, every fall is a ground fall.” Thankfully, since The Cliffs is an indoor facility, there are thick mats to cushion your fall and music on the stereo system to cushion the inevitable “thud”.
The Cliffs offers a three-hour-long group class for $40 that teaches all the basics of climbing. If you’re more of a “hands-on” learner, simply rent the (mandatory) $3 harness and pay $16 for a day of climbing. Enhance your performance by renting specialized climbing shoes. Younger climbers (as young as 6) will want to explore the separate kids’ walls.
Burn Rate: A 130-lb. person burns approximately 649 calories during a one-hour climb; a 155-lb. person burns approximately 774.
The Cliffs at Valhalla
1 Commerce Park, Valhalla
(914) 328-ROCK; www.thecliffsclimbing.com
“You’re going to swim with the fishes” is a promise, not a threat, at Scuba New York in Yonkers. At this scuba school, the largest diving facility in Westchester and the only one equipped with its own swimming pool (it’s heated to a comfy 80 degrees), you’ll learn everything you need to know to safely explore 70 percent of the earth’s surface. After you complete your class work, pool work, and open water dive, you’ll be PADI certified. Scuba New York offers local dives (Long Island Sound and other Northeast waters) and organizes diving trips to the Caribbean and Pacific.
And if you’re a reluctant exerciser, Robert Weintraub, manager and instructor, says scuba offers an opportunity to dip your toe into physical activity. “Diving is mostly a very relaxing activity that’s more mentally than physically challenging,” he says. “It’s not impactful on the body so everyone with good swimming skills can do it. If you spent the last seven years at a gym or have never been inside of a gym, you can scuba dive.” The calorie burn from scuba diving is an unexpected dividend. “The unique thing about diving is that while it’s not a tremendous burn from physical activity, you burn a lot of calories to make heat and stay warm. You get out of the water and you’re famished.”
Would-be divers can choose from a weekend express class ($269), three or six week course ($239 and $199 respectively), or private lessons. Mandatory gear includes fins, booties, mask, class book, dive tables, logbook, and DVD. You might also want a 3mm wetsuit if you get chilly easily.
Burn Rate: a 130-lb. person burns around 413 calories per hour; a 150-lb. person burns around 493 calories per hour.
Scuba New York
2037 Central Park Ave., Yonkers
(914) 779-2966; www.scubanewyork.com
Developed by Afro-Brazilian slaves some 500 years ago as a method of expression and self-defense, Capoeira is a blend of martial arts, dance, ritual, and music. Today, it is Brazil’s second most popular sport after soccer and is quickly becoming both a global phenomenon and a fitness trend. As a workout, Capoeira emphasizes core strength, flexibility, and balance. It also produces one heck of a burn in the “bunda” (the Portuguese word for â€˜butt.’) Celebrities like Halle Berry are said to be devotÃ©es.
Played as a game or “jogo,” participants form a circle. Inside the circle, two players engage in a complex duet of rhythmic movements, kicks, sweeps, and evasions. Outside the circle, other players make music on instruments specific to Capoeira—the Berimbau (stringed bow), Atabaque (floor drum), and the Pandeiro (tambourine). Rather than merely accompanying the game, the mood and intensity of the music actually sets the tone for the type of jogo, creating a unique collaboration between the participants.
The Capoeira Performance Arts Center in New Rochelle is one of the few full-time capoeira academies in the US. Founded by Bom Jesus, a Capoeira master from Vilha Velha, Brazil, in 2002, the Capoeira Performance Arts Center features classrooms, as well as a workout room with light weights, equipment, and training bags. Classes are taught by Bom Jesus and other formidable talents.
One former teacher, Ariranha (his Capoeria nickname means “river otter,” reflecting his playful disposition), hails from Espirito Santo, Brazil, and has been practicing and teaching Capoeira for nearly 30 years. Because Capoeira can be enjoyed on so many levels—culturally, physically, and even spiritually—it’s not unusual to find people who study for decades. “I teach an open class that’s suitable for every level, every body type, from age six to sixty,” Ariranha says. “We practice the basics and then build the class from there so everyone gets something out of the class. Recently we celebrated the anniversary of a Grand Master who is seventy four and still practicing. He still fits right in.”
Classes at The Capoeira Performance Arts Center are ongoing and cost $110 per month with discount packages available. The “Beginner” class taught by Bom Jesus meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 and Saturdays at 2. There are also kids’ classes and other â€˜All Levels’ sessions (consult the website for more details). For your first class, wear something loose and comfortable but make sure the pants are short enough that you won’t trip. Capoeira is performed barefoot so leave the sneakers behind.
Burn Rate: About 590 calories an hour for a 130-lb. individual; 704 for someone who weighs 155-lbs.
Capoeira Performance Arts Center
529 Main Street, 3rd Floor, New Rochelle
(917) 714-4212; www.capoeiraperformancearts.com
You can put off that move to Florida indefinitely. Year-round golf is available right here, right now. At the Golf Training Center of Norwalk, CT, you can play in 12,000 gloriously climate-controlled square feet of space. There are 13 full-swing hitting stations (most with electronic swing analysis equipment), 3,500 square feet of simulated turf for chipping/pitching, a nine-hole contoured putting green, and a 200-square-foot sandtrap. Longing for more? Try the 18-hole simulator (virtual reality golf). You can play Pebble Beach, The Belfry, or 18 other famed courses.
Chip Reardon, co-owner, says that while indoor golf is a great way to keep your game sharp over the winter, it’s also an ideal way for beginners to learn to play. “A lot of people come here for lessons because we use electronic technology to analyze swings,” he says. Rather than having a pro simply eyeballing what you’re doing wrong, swing analysis allows you to see exactly what stands between you and that classic golf swing. The result? You’ll learn faster and get more precise fixes for your golfing mistakes.
The Golf Training Center offers group clinics for both women and junior golfers (age 17 and under). “We used to offer clinics for men but they seem to prefer private instruction,” Chip notes. Detailed information about fees, memberships, and lessons are available on the website. If you’d like to play the 18-hole golf simulator, it’ll cost $25 an hour
for single players, $65 for a foursome. House clubs are available for those who are new to the sport. Golf shoes aren’t required.
Burn Rate: With no greens to walk or full set of clubs to carry, you probably aren’t getting much exercise playing indoor golf. Still, since there’s no 19th hole Gin & Tonic, you might just walk away with a caloric deficit. A 130-lb. indoor golfer burns approximately 177 calories in one hour; a 155-lb. golfer burns 211.
The Golf Training Center
145 Main St., Norwalk, CT
(203) 847-8008, www.golftraining.com
Curling is a big deal in some parts of the world. In Canada, the sport gets equal airtime with hockey. And in Scotland, the birthplace of the sport, frozen lochs and ponds are as hallowed as the greens of St. Andrews. Here in America, however, the broadcast of a curling match during the Winter Olympics occasions little more than a chance to visit the bathroom or reload the snack tray.
Peter McCuen, president of the Ardsley Curling Club, the State’s only dedicated curling facility south of Albany, thinks curling ought to enjoy more popularity. “It’s a lifetime sport that you can play at any age, and it’s one of the few you can play as a team. I’m in my seventies,” says McCuen, “but I do like competitive sports. I also like the fact that there are four people on a team, and all four participate in every play.”
Curling is often compared to shuffleboard on ice. The thrower slides down the length of a sheet of ice, trying to slide a granite stone into a target area. While one person propels the stone, two others assist in guiding its path by sweeping the ice ahead of the oncoming stone with brushes to keep it gliding smooth and straight. The team’s “skip” (captain) directs the activity of all three players, deciding the strategy for each shot.
“The game takes two hours to play, and it’s a lot more demanding than shuffleboard,” explains McCuen. “Sweeping can be fairly intense because you’re pressing hard on the broom [it’s more like a long-handled brush with a scrubby pad] and running down the ice. And when you’re throwing the stone, you push off a raised block and slide on one shoe [the sole is covered in Teflon]. It takes balance and power.”
The curling season runs from late October to early April and, during that time, the club offers open houses, lessons, and bonspiels (tournaments) for everyone from kids (10 and up) to seniors. Because the Curling Club is located on the grounds of the Ardsley Country Club, members enjoy dining privileges. Another bonus is the clubhouse’s enormous fireplace, the perfect spot for dozing off with sherry in hand.
If you think you’d like to try curling, the club offers an eight-week trial membership for $125. (Call for more information about upcoming open houses and events.) You won’t need special equipment, but you should dress in loose, warm clothes and wear rubber-soled tennis shoes. They put duct tape on the sole of one to enable sliding.
Burn Rate: Curling burns 236 calories an hour for a 130- lb. person; 281 for someone who weighs 155-lbs.
Ardsley Curling Club
(914) 591-9800 or (914) 674-1160; www.ardsleycurling.org
What’s an eight-letter term for “table top net loss”? Ask Will Shortz, the popular editor of the New York Times’ crossword puzzle and member of The Rivertowns Table Tennis Club. Four nights a week, avid table tennis players, including the great puzzle master, gather for fast-paced paddle action and perhaps some etymology as well.
“People can just show up,” says Shortz. “It’s free, it’s for all skill levels, and it’s a wide-ranging group of people. We have teens as well as men and women in their seventies.” The group meets four nights a week: Sunday at 7 pm and Tuesday at 8 pm in Tarrytown; Wednesday and Friday at the Ardsley Community Center (18 Center Street) at 7:30. Although there’s no formal instruction, Shortz says, “people are helpful about giving tips to others.”
The group has grown from its humble origins. Seven years ago, two players in Hastings started the club and held games at the Hastings Community Center. After the community center was razed, they moved to their current location and attracted many new members. “On an average night of play we have twelve to twenty-five players,” Shortz attests. And the group hopes to expand its activities. “We’re hoping to set up a Summer Youth Program in Tarrytown and we’re sponsoring an expert from Poland to come here to teach.”
Burn Rate: Perhaps it’s the intense hand-eye coordination or the rapid-fire repartee that accounts for table tennis’s respectable rate of 236 calories an hour for a 130-lb. pinger; 281 for a 155-lb. ponger.
The Rivertowns Table Tennis Club
Tarrytown Community Opportunity Center
108 Wildey St., Tarrytown
Figure skating may look effortless, but it isn’t easy to glide, spin, jump, and land—all while balanced on two butter knives strapped to your shoes. Think of it as ballet on ice and you get some idea of the sport’s physical demands: power, flexibility, and control.
At the Westchester Skating Academy, they teach all ages and levels of ability. Classes cover the basics (how to get up when you fall down, how to move forward and backwards, etc.) and extend to more advanced topics both on and off the ice. Once you’re up and gliding confidently, try the Jump & Spin Clinic, a class that covers power, speed, and rotation. An off-ice session consists of ballet, stretching, and strength building exercises specifically geared to skaters’ needs. There’s even a jumping harness so you can train like the pros.
A complete schedule of classes and fees are available online. Rental skates are available for $3.50 and, with general admission at just $9.50 for adults and $8.50 for kids 10 and under, you can always take a few leisurely loops around the rink.
Burn Rate: A 130-lb. person burns 413 calories in an hour of skating; a 155-lb. person burns 493.
Westchester Skating Academy
Fairview Park Drive, Elmsford