It’s not every day you’re greeted at the gym by a man wearing teeny tiny swim trunks and plastic lei. And it’s not a regular gym where the boss arrives for a meeting resplendent in chicken hat. Which stays on for the duration, despite the rising temperatures. But then, Mark Fisher Fitness is not any old gym. In fact, it doesn’t even call itself a gym; it’s an “enchanted ninja clubhouse of glory and dreams”. It’s a place where clients are called ninjas and trainers are called unicorns and where mirrored balls, graffiti and disco lights take the place of the usual utilitarian gym furniture. “We like to keep things colorful, ” said Mark in understatement. “So there are lights. There’s a closet with costumes, so if the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S& M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good. “But one thing that’s also important to us is just taking people where they’re at, so a lot of the ninjas who come here AREN’T insane, ” Mark added. “We say if someone wants to come to a dance party and someone wants to take off their pants and someone wants to cry quietly in a corner because they’re having a really bad day, everything’s perfect, you’re OK wherever you are. ”Mark describes himself as once that “classic skinny, awkward, Martian man, afraid-of-girls guy” who only properly found his place in this world when he started to work out in high school. “I was also a professional actor – which is partly how we’ve become such a fixture in the Broadway community – and throughout my twenties I fell more and more in love with the training. It was like the mistress I slowly left my wife for. ”A few years ago he quit acting completely and committed himself to training fellow New York misfits. “My own experience in the gym, starting as someone who didn’t feel very good about his body and didn’t feel like an athlete, it was very difficult for me, ” Mark said. “We like to say, in the most affectionate way, that the ninjas are like an isle of misfit toys – all manner of humanity, all ages and colors and backgrounds that are generally united in that we all have a feeling of being an outsider at times. I just wanted to celebrate that, and also to provide really good fitness information. I’m a huge fitness nerd, so it’s very important we provide a really good service with results. ”So if you want clear, no-nonsense weight loss and are willing to put in the hours, the intensive six-week Snatched program might be your bag. Alternatively, there are group classes, and semi-private training packages, Mark’s cheaper but just as effective version of a personal training program, where you train with two other ninjas and a dedicated unicorn. Unsurprisingly, many of the gym goers are from the Broadway community. Mark has worked with plenty of performers to get them ready for a specific role (such as a ninja playing a boxer in Kinky Boots) as well as backstage workers. “We train a lot of composers and directors and casting directors – and from their friends it’s trickled out to other professions; people who maybe work in white collar jobs but are a little bit weird, ” Mark shared. “The nature of their life means they perhaps don’t get to be as creative as they’d like so they can come in here and do whatever they want to do. ”The trainers, too, are a colorful bunch, counting among them one of the city’s best known drag queens, a gay porn star, a tattooed graphic artist who was a skate punk in a former life, and a professional clown who, at the last minute in med school, decided he wanted to be a clown not a doctor. “We need people to be really great coaches, but we also need them to be really authentic and comfortable with who they are. And a holistic approach means this crazy fitness family doesn’t just take care of your physical fitness; it offers life coaching workshops, classes on book keeping for financial fitness, advice on time management …“We hope to be a place where people come for general betterment, ” Mark explained. “Fitness is so transforming because you’re able to be more creative and stable and braver with your life. You’re feeling better about yourself, you’re eating well, you’re sleeping – we know your brain is going to work better. Additionally, it’s interesting to see how much of your life you can control. New York can be an isolating town – particularly for performers, who spend a lot of time getting rejected. So there’s a certain power one discovers when you know you can control what you eat and how you look. ”This story was adapted from the W42ST article, "Mark Fisher Fitness — The Gym Where New York’s Misfits Go to Work Out. "
Co-founded in 1994 by former number one middleweight boxer, Michael Olajide, and Leila Fazel, a former ballerina, Aerospace claims to offer “a revolutionary new fitness that engages body, mind, and spirit. ” Leila explained that the Aerospace workout is “revolutionary” in two ways: first, it does not involve any machines, and second, it has its foundation in athlete-level boxing to engage cardio, muscle endurance, and core strength. The company has its own boxing ring and jump rope line. We had the pleasure of seeing Michael, who lost vision in one of his eyes in the early 1990s, guide a student through some boxing combinations as part of the Aerospace workout. Although Michael and Leila intend to maintain the “authenticity of boxing” in their program, Aerospace is open to everyone, with or without boxing experience. While some learn to hit bags on the second floor, others in a more advanced program spar in the boxing ring on the first floor. Leila also runs a workout that combines shadow boxing with ballet.
"If I won the lottery, I would continue to do the same thing every day, " Dennis Remorca told me as I stepped off the elevator and introduced myself to him. Clearly passionate about his fitness centers on the Upper East Side, Dennis went on to tell me that he has been training children from the age of seven up to a woman who is ninety-six. He emphasized the importance of the relationship that he and his fellow trainers have developed with each of their clients. Laughing, Dennis said, "I have like fifty moms always making sure that I eat. " Trained in physical therapy, Dennis shared with me that he comes from a family who practice medicine, and they did not understand how he could make a career in PT. I believe that he has shown them that it is possible, for after four years owning his gym on 74th Street, he decided it was time to open yet another facility on 64th. Upstairs in the newly converted Weston House - a building that was completed in 1881 by architect Theodore Weston, founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art - the space is perfect for private training sessions. Filled with state-of-the-art equipment and a friendly staff - one was a principal dancer for American Ballet while another was a trainer for the Milwaukee Brewers - I have no doubt that this is a terrific environment for workouts. And, I learned from Antonia, the owner of Altesi downstairs, that in the warmer months, Dennis will be offering yoga classes outside in the garden of the restaurant followed by a healthy breakfast.
Gyrotonic was introduced in Europe in 2001 and has slowly gained popularity, here in Manhattan. Derived from the words 'gyro' (spiral) and 'tonic' (tone), Gyrotonic promises to enhance range of motion, balance and coordination, to stretch and strengthen muscles and tendons, and to articulate and mobilize joints. At Body Evolutions, Billy Macagnone was trained by the originator of this body building idea and has the largest facility in the city dedicated to this form of exercise. Both he and his trained staff are available to work one on one with their clients or they offer a variety of classes.
Named for a New York native who was the first woman to swim the English Channel, The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center sports numerous facilities including a computer room, a basketball court, a workout center, and a dance studio. When it was first built in 1906, however, it was one of many baths opened under New York State law to bathe the poor and homeless. The term "baths" in this case meant showers, since actual tubs were hard to clean and caused jealousy among bathers who would soak for hours. The pool, housed by the magnificent Georgian bathhouse designed by architects Werner & Windolph, existed for those who had already cleaned themselves. When it was realized that most swimmers used the pool in the summer to get cool rather than clean, the center's purpose gradually shifted from sanitary to recreational.
Training for an event, rehabbing from an injury, or just looking to stay in tip-top shape? Look no further than Dakota Personal Training & Pilates, an Upper West Side gym suited perfectly to those looking for one-on-one customized fitness plans. Owner Penny Smart has been in the fitness business for nearly 30 years — “I started working out as a teenager and got addicted to it, ” she jokes — and has tried her hand at everything from group fitness classes to working as an educator for fellow trainers. After finding her niche in personal training, she opened up her first studio on W 72nd in 2012, steadily building her client base and working with fellow trainers until the pandemic hit. “It was horrible, ” said Penny. “We were closed for five and a half months and our old landlord nearly put us out of business. ”But as Penny worked to rebuild after the quarantine, she found a sign of hope — literally. “One day on my way to work, I saw a sign on this building saying that there was a commercial space for rent, ” she told us. “It was my birthday, and I thought, ‘this has to be a sign! ’” She signed a lease on the space and began the process of moving in — lugging multitudes of large, unwieldy gym equipment up several flights of stairs and setting up a new studio. “What forced me here was bad, it’s been much better, ” she said of starting over. She’s been able to add a physical therapy station into the gym, allowing PT Karn Santikul to work in tandem with her training clients. Penny is now focused on working with an expanded roster of clients, from longtime Upper West Siders to younger folks with more work-from-home-flexibility. “I love the vastness of the people I get to meet in this neighborhood, ” said Penny. “Because of the adjacency of the neighborhood to the arts, I’m always surprised by what people do for a living. ”
Founded in Prague by philosopher Dr. Miroslav Tyrs in 1862, Sokol (the Slavic word for “falcon”) has numerous international branches all devoted to physical, educational, and cultural growth. Sokol New York was begun by Czech and Slovak immigrants with a vision that still holds true today — “a sound mind in a sound body. ”“When the building was being constructed, hundreds of people gathered to support this project. There is so much history involved in this building, and through it all, we have remained a community-centered organization, ” said President Donna Sbriglia. Sokol New York maintains a perfect intersection of culture and recreation. Each year, local chapters convene to compete against one another, and every four years, an international competition known as the Slet (a gathering of falcons) is held in an alternating Sokol branch. There are also Czech and Slovak cultural activities such as wine tastings and holiday festivities to bring families together, and language classes are offered to youngsters eager to learn Czech. Housed in a stunning building, there is a “retired” bar in the front replete with old signage and dark wood. The main floor has a gym surrounded by a balcony lined with dozens of Czechoslovakian prints from 1923. Upstairs, the 1896 Meeting Room doubles as a ballet studio, and downstairs is a Tae Kwon Do room and a tots’ gym that was previously a space for billiards. “It is important to have a place like Sokol in the neighborhood. It brings everyone together to have a multicultural experience, which is excellent for kids. ”