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Manhattan Plaza Health Club has been voted the best gym in Hell’s Kitchen – and received its award just in time for its reopening next week. Congratulations to the team. Thanks to the sponsor Wells Fargo, which was represented at the presentation by Jacob Estrada from the W42nd St Branch and Ryan Hong, marketing program manager.
Read our story about Manhattan Plaza Health Club trainer Sara Hirshman (interviewed March 2020).
Small but mighty
The global rush on toilet paper and Clorox is over (or, at least, slowing down). And, as the nation grows used to life indoors (“grows” being the operative word here), sales of gym equipment are booming. Resistance bands. Kettlebells. Yoga mats. Even treadmills are finding their way into our tiny New York apartments.
For many of us, it’s been a tough adjustment, accepting that our beloved gym classes don’t have a place in our new normal, and carving out time and space for exercise in our living rooms instead, while trying not to piss off our roommate or our neighbors.
Immediately after the city’s gyms closed, Sara Hirshman headed out of town to Oregon, to be closer to her mom. The trainer had been running small group sessions at Manhattan Plaza Health Club – voted one of the neighborhood’s favorite gyms by our readers – and took me through my paces just before shutdown.
The high-energy combination of squats, planks, chin ups, ball slams, etc were aimed at achieving maximum muscle burn in the minimum amount of time. And, because the groups were small, they could be personalized – the woman in my class who was an ultra marathon runner had different needs than, say the guy who wanted to build more muscle mass, or the woman who had an injured shoulder, or the older couple who do all their exercises with body weight.
The fitness industry is now beginning to say, ‘What is sleep? How much sleep do we actually need?’ Six hours, we now know, is not enough
But – and here’s my favorite bit – what you do outside the weights room is just as important as what you do inside it.
“No one is really talking about what regeneration is and what it requires,” she says. “I had to sit down with one of my clients and ask, ‘Are you doing too much?’
“There is this Southern expression, which I am sure is inappropriate but I am going to say it anyway: if you lie with nine women, you won’t get pregnant in a month. It takes nine months to make a baby, it takes time to change your body. So, one of the big things that I have started talking about is to say, ‘You’ve done this workout, congratulate yourself. Pat yourself on the back and take yourself to a great breakfast with lots of protein and long-burning carbs and get a ton of sleep tonight. Count your water intake, don’t do cardio right away tomorrow if your body doesn’t say that’s good.’”
I’m liking the sound of regeneration.
“It’s something we’ve always known is important but no one has been willing to talk about it. And the fitness industry is now beginning to say, ‘What is sleep? How much sleep do we actually need?’ Six hours, we now know, is not enough. People ask me, ‘How do you have so much energy all the time?’ I don’t go home and watch Netflix or binge a TV show or stay up on social media; I go home and I go to sleep. And I get a lot of criticism for being a fit pro that doesn’t have a popping Instagram, but to me, being here is more important. Working for my clients is more important, spreading the word-of-mouth is even more important, and then sleep is the most important.”
And while we’re on the recovery train …
“Drink water,” says Sara. “If you aren’t drinking water, your muscles don’t have what it takes. And you should always intake protein 60 minutes after you work out.
“There’s always going to be new research on the body. Exercise science used to change every ten years and now it’s more like every four to five. But I have noticed in my practice that this has stayed consistent: if you have good, timed nutrition, you have quicker results.”
She’s on a roll … literally.
“Now, as far as muscle regeneration goes, as an industry we are talking a lot more about fascia [the body’s connective tissue], which is very exciting for me. I am a believer in the book called Becoming a Supple Leopard by Dr Kelly Starrett. It’s all about movement. And what Dr Starrett really hones in on is, what is dysfunction? Why are we dysfunctional? And what can we do to fix it?”
This giant doorstop of a book is packed with exercises to do with a lacrosse ball, bands, foam roller. “He even gets into something called Voodoo Floss. It’s a very heavy, very thick rubber band that you wrap around a muscle and then you flex and extend that muscle in different positions – you are flossing your fascia. It’s a very cool science.
“I’m known as the stretch and flexibility guru at MPHC, because I’m screaming it at the top of my lungs all day, every day. Stretching is so important for recovery, especially the foam rollers. I encourage all my clients to buy one. Five minutes of foam rolling at home – your hips, quads, hamstrings, calves – can make such a difference in your day.”
The original version of this interview was planned for the April 2020 issue of W42ST, which was postponed when the coronavirus crisis hit New York City. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.