It is no secret that even the mildest Long Island winters can be punishing and brutal and for most, where the tendency is to hibernate until the spring. This instinct is hard wired into our human DNA but is not necessarily the best way to deal with winter stress and potential weight gain. A regular gym routine is all good, but if you want to try something different here are some possibilities for the person trying to take their fitness to another level in the off season.
What: TRX Training
Who: For the homebody or jet-setter
Over this decade, the notion of suspension training, particularly the high profile TRX system has become very popular. TRX uses an innovative approach to fitness using a system of straps and roping to help - according to the TRX website - “leverage gravity and your bodyweight” to allow for serious strength and athletic training; all without the need for traditional weight lifting apparatus such as free weights and Nautilus-style machines.
Part of TRX's popularity and allure comes from the kind of physique it builds; picture the lean, coiled muscle of a martial artist like Bruce Lee as opposed to the steroidal slab of the cast of The Expendables. This "skinny but ripped" look is considered very chic at present and TRX's emphasis on using body weight for resistance helps facilitate striving for this lean but muscular look.
Aesthetics are one thing but TRX also builds functional strength, endurance, flexibility, and agility. This aspect of the apparatus has helped make it popular with a number of world class athletes across a number of disciplines: All-Pro and Super Bowl winning quarterback Drew Brees, 12 time Olympic-medal winning swimmer Natalie Coughlin, and MLB All-Star Jason Bay. Rather than lifting a fixed weight in a static position through a limited range of motion such as is the case with the classic bench press, TRX engages the body as a whole - particularly the core. Most of the TRX exercises are performed without the benefit of the stability of, say a weight bench, which engages the core to help stabilize the body.
Lastly, TRX's appeal is its portability and ease of use in the home. Indeed, the system was developed by Navy Seal Randy Hetrick who needed something portable to stay in elite shape while traveling in the military. TRX, unlike most other home fitness equipment you might buy at the usual retail sports giants, is gym-quality, which is rare in gear meant for home use. TRX sets up comfortably and sturdily at home with little more needed than access to a door. As for its portability, the TRX unit weighs less than two pounds and fits compactly into its own carrying case for easy travel. I can attest that I have hauled my TRX to Boston many times and have gotten a first rate workout on the playground while my grandchildren bounce around the swing sets. TRX maintains a great website (trxtraining.com) which has great training and instructional videos helping keep the TRX a fresh and constantly evolving component in your fitness toolbox.
What: Bikram & Hot Yoga
Who: For those who want to take it up a notch
The notion of doing yoga in a heated room was popularized by the charismatic yoga instructor Bikram Chudoroy who, as the story goes, attempted to replicate the heat of his native Calcutta for the purposes of a vigorous and intense yoga practice. Bikram Yoga is a highly regimented and ritualized series of 26 asanas (or postures) along with two breathing exercises done in a heated room (over 100 degrees) for 90 minutes. Bikram practitioners believe that this practice results in deeper flexibility, recovery from injury, and the ridding of the body of toxins as a result of the intense sweat brought about in a 100-plus degree environment.
The popularity of Bikram has seen the rise of the slightly more generic version of Bikram typically called “hot” yoga. This type of yoga is not necessarily as regimented as Bikram with its definitive, consecutive postures and time frame, but does employ the use of a heated room or space.
Bikram/Hot Yoga has typically had some controversy attached to it. Proponents of this style claim it increases the basic benefits of yoga including enhanced flexibility and stress relief, while developing aesthetically pleasing muscle tone and endurance. Also, there is a level of physical challenge that is probably appealing to “Type-A” yogis that might not be readily present in a traditional or classic yoga setting. Opponents of this practice typically express that the “sweat factor” of hot yoga is insignificant in terms of physical benefits and that exposure to the intense heat for a significant period of time can be a potential health hazard.
It is fair to say then that heated yoga is not for everyone. Sayville Hot Yoga (sayvillehotyoga.com), one of Long Island’s most innovative and accessible yoga studios has Hot Yoga as the centerpiece of its offerings. My own experience with hot yoga there is that it generates a different challenging element into my own practice and is something I enjoy going to when I need a change of pace in my own regular yoga practice. Also, owner Lara Schneeberg and the staff there are appropriately nurturing with a reassuring presence, helping alleviate anxiety that might arise because of the heat. Physically there may be no particular benefit to breaking the kind of intense sweat that is associated with heated yoga. However, for me, a good sweat feels cleansing and even purifying (particularly in the depth of the occasionally grim Long Island winter). The studio also offers warm and non-heated classes for those who aren't into a full blown heated yoga practice.
What: Restorative/Therapeutic Yoga
Who: For those who needs to take it down a notch
There are many misconceptions about yoga: It is too hard, it isn't hard enough, it is too much of a workout, it isn't enough of a workout and so on. The LI Kula Yoga and Wellness Center (likulayoga.com) in Bellport has in a short few years become an influential and innovative center for not only yoga but the healing arts, and has obliterated many of the misconceptions of what yoga is, was, and should be. It is no surprise then that the LIKY Center features the oft-misunderstood and unappreciated wellness-oriented therapeutic/restorative yoga as an integral part of its classes and schedule.
Restorative/therapeutic Yoga is a loosely defined term, but in general it means a style of yoga using props and supports and other external stimulus such as music to generate and maintain a relaxed yogic state. The benefits of restorative yoga are an increased sense of well being, greater stress reduction, better sleep habits and a lessening of symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some studies suggest that sustaining a restorative practice also supports effective pain management and helps individuals deal with serious medical issues like high blood pressure.
The LI Kula Yoga Center fairly hums with wellness and a great deal of this is generated from its attention to the often overlooked restorative component of yoga. Owner Desiree Joy Palanisamy's sensitivity vibrates through the walls and her steely but nurturing hand both caresses and challenges you to take it down a notch and relax into the pose with the idea of going somewhere new in your practice. In December, the LIKY Center is introducing "Yoga Nidra" classes (roughly translated as "Yoga Sleep" classes) as a way to take the Center's appreciation of the restorative/therapeutic side of yoga to a new level of therapeutic bliss.
What: Indoor Cycling
Who: For those who want to try something new
Indoor cycling (sometimes known by its trademarked moniker Spinning) has become a hot fitness trend in the last few years. Ironically enough, its origins date back over 30 years ago with the first indoor cycling classes having popped up in California in the early 80s. Interestingly enough, indoor cycling began as a way for triathaletes and hardcore cyclists to keep fit during the winter or when weather prohibited an outdoor ride.
Indoor cycling classes consist of riding specialized exercise bikes through a series of intervals led by an instructor. One of the newest and most sophisticated cycling studios on Long Island is affiliated with one of the most “fitness forward” trainers on Long Island, April Yakaboski who owns the innovative Aerial Fitness/Hot Yoga studio (aerialfitnesshotyoga.com) on Riverhead’s Main Street. Yakaboski’s cycling studio - the cleverly named “Spin-Sanity” - features Real Ryder bikes which are constructed to replicate the feel of outdoor riding with the capability to turn, tilt, and so on. This studio is a natural extension of her expertly cultivated fitness programs and classes are characterized by the high energy, well-curated playlists, and charismatic instructors.
Photo: Flickr | rufai ajala