Winter/Spring 2023

Distinctive Fitness for the New Year

By Lauren Hurwitz

The start of the year often brings about new health and fitness goals…many of which are quickly gone with the wind. But what if you found a new way to be inspired to keep up with a new and unique routine? Luckily, there are a number of creative ways to get in shape while having fun regardless of your athletic ability. 

Coco Ballantyne of Steve Sohn’s Krav Maga self-defense center in Scarsdale has invented a totally new offering for people at all fitness levels called, “Krav Dance.” With a background as a dancer and an enthusiast of Krav Maga, she’s helping people enjoy a full-body workout while also teaching self-defense. She says Krav Maga is an amazing thing for women to do, “because we always feel like we need to be with a man to feel safe walking down the street or in a parking garage. Krav Maga really gives you a sense of security and a toolkit so that if someone grabs you, you know exactly what to do and feel much safer in the world.” Ballantyne created Krav Dance a year ago after being inspired by her admiration of how beautiful the movements are in Krav Maga such as the boxing, weaving, bobbing and kicks. She says it’s almost like a dance in itself so she started thinking about how to put the two passions together and then Krav Dance was formed.

While Krav Dance can be taught to any age group at any physical level, it can certainly be a demanding workout. Most of her current attendees are in their 30’s and 40’s but she’s starting to see some older groups come in as well and hopes to expand to teens and children in time. And don’t be fooled! You do not need any dance experience to enjoy and benefit from Krav Dance. 

“I also think Krav Dance is cognitively engaging because you’re learning and remembering specific movements, which gives the brain it’s own workout. Physical movement is great, but combining it with cognitive stimulation is even better. Dance engages your mind AND your body. That is how you stay sharp and youthful,” according to Ballantyne. 

Local business, The Grit Ninja, has been giving fitness warriors all over Westchester a mega workout with their offerings. Owner Allison Meltzer says she and her husband were inspired to open the flagship location in Pleasantville by their four boys who were obsessed with the TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” With a wide range of participants, Meltzer’s clientele includes those who don’t consider themselves “ninjas” as well as those training at a very high level to participate on the TV program. Either way, they’re all looking for a full body workout that’s a little bit different. 

“There will be a couple of staples [always on the floor but the] gym setup changes constantly and it will look totally different the next week and we try to set up obstacles so you can work in progressions.” The Grit Ninja offers Warped Walls (a TV show staple obstacle) which are big walls ranging in size from 6’ to 14’ that require you to run up and climb over, upper body swinging lines that range from traditional monkey bars to ring lines and even super advanced obstacles that require you to fly through the air and catch with your fingertips, balance obstacles like Bosu balls, Slacklines and custom beams that wobble underneath you, other sections that focus on agility and parkour based movement and even a rock climbing wall.

Best of all, Meltzer says her staff is very intentional about setting up beginners on the right path, but directing those with more advanced physical abilities to the areas that will challenge them most. She thinks of The Grit Ninja as the most fun playground you can enjoy as an adult and release your inner child. “You can work out with a sense of adventure, mental fortitude, and grit. You literally have an obstacle in front of you and have to figure out how to overcome it.” 

Jason Sheridan of Sheridan Fencing Academy of Westchester brings a centuries old sport to a modern workout in White Plains. “I started fencing at 17 and immediately loved it. I fenced with the US National Team with an Olympic coach and then moved to Poland for several years training and competing.” Sheridan who has a Masters in Fencing says his classes are for all ages. “Adults want to try something new and something that’s engaging and different but also fun and a great workout. One of our driving philosophies of our programs is that it should be fun. Whatever your age is, if you’re going to engage in physical activity, and you want it to be something you do regularly, you need to enjoy it so you don’t struggle to get out of bed to go do it.” 

The largest group visiting his studio consists of people who have never done anything related to fencing. Perhaps they thought it looked cool and have seen it in a movie and want to try it out. “For them, the program is very much a way to onboard them into the sport. Even if you’ve never done this before, even if you haven’t engaged in a lot of sports before, this is a way in because it’s very easy to scale to different levels of fitness and engagement.” 

To get started, participants can just wear gym clothes and sneakers since all of the fencing gear is provided on-site making it easy for anyone to get started. Sheridan says, “fencing is very focused on the lower body. If you’ve seen fencing before, you see people whacking swords together, but the actual sport has to do with how you move your feet more than how to move your sword. It’s about footwork in relation to the opponent. It’s very much a lower body sport. There is a lot of squatting and it is very explosive. There are lots of bursts of speed that are great for muscle development and overall fitness.” He adds, “my favorite thing about teaching fencing is helping people realize that they can do more than they thought they could before. I see this of course with kids but adults as well where a lot of people have limits in their minds about what they believe they can achieve physically. Those limits are generally artificial and not based on what their body can actually do or accomplish. I love to help people get past that. “

Having just opened in December, Westchester’s newest fitness hot-spot is Rumble Boxing located in the North End of New Rochelle. Co-Owner Heather Rhyu, who also owns three Club Pilates locations, says it’s the first boutique boxing space in Westchester that’s attracting everyone from college students to local moms and dads in their 60’s. 

The 45-minute workout is broken down into 10 rounds. Half the time you’re boxing into bags filled with sand making it softer on the joints than traditional boxing bags, and the other half is spent on benches doing strength training intervals, cardio intervals, core exercises etc. 

“It’s a true full-body workout, not just boxing. It’s a very high-energy atmosphere and feels like a big party – but you’re drenched by the end of class and the 45 mins goes so fast because you’re going back and forth,” says Rhyu. 

There are only six punches in boxing and once you learn those, it’s a matter of learning different (yet endless) combinations of those same six punches. “If you’ve never boxed or you haven’t worked out in two or three years you can go at your own pace. It’s challenging but there are so many different modifications you can do to have a great and effective workout,” she adds.

To maintain flexibility and relieve pain, Erica Itkowitz offers free one-hour chair yoga classes at the New Rochelle Public Library mid-day on Wednesdays, with another instructor teaching a similar class on Mondays.  She says the class size varies from 10-25 people. Most of the students are retired females but they have gotten a few au pairs in the past year who pop in during their lunch break. 

“We don’t get on the floor but we do try to do a lot of (traditional) poses while sitting in our chairs. Sometimes we stand and hold the back of the chair,” Itkowitz says. She acknowledges some attendees have different physical abilities, They can modify for movements for what she calls a very diverse group. Best of all, you don’t need to know any of the traditional yoga poses like cat, dog, warrior one or two, etc. but you will definitely learn all of these things in this class that doesn’t require advance registration.

Dr. Melissa Leber, Associate Professor of Orthopedics at Mount Sinai, who sees patients at the Mount Sinai office in Scarsdale says, “It’s important to always vary your workout routine to avoid overuse, overtraining and to keep it interesting! By varying your routine, I mean to change up the type of workout, the intensity, and the length of training each day.”

When figuring out the best workout for you, Dr. Leber says as you get older, resistance training becomes more important. For example, she suggests when you’re in your 30’s, you should spend 70% of your time on cardio and 30% on strength training, whereas when you reach your 50’s, you will divide your time equally between cardio and strength training, and then increase the strength training as you approach your 70’s. She adds, “Always stick with the same weight/activity for a few weeks before progressing to more weight or a more difficult activity.” 

Once you figure out the best workout plan for you, it’s important to stick with your routine, even if you have an injury or soreness. Dr. Leber says, “If you have an injury or an area of pain, don’t stop exercising completely – unless this is recommended by your doctor! Consider a low impact exercise like yoga or pilates to maintain muscle strength and tone while allowing other areas to recover.” With no reason to slow down in 2023, finding a fitness center that fits your needs in Westchester will be more convenient than ever!