Pro-Grade Workout

Alot of people don’t know this, but it’s possible to win an exercise class. i recently bested the others during a workout at the new ML strength in Huntington— an achievement as special to me as my victory in the 2000 New York AIDs Walk.

The founder of ML strength, Dana Cavalea, 31, knows about winning, having served as the Yankees strength and conditioning coach for almost a decade. Cavalea, who was born in Mount sinai and now lives in White Plains, received a World series ring for his work with the 2009 Yankees (he also obtained a ring for his father) and also won that year’s Nolan Ryan Award as baseball’s most outstanding conditioning coach.

Cavalea, who is fit but not intimidatingly “jacked,” started with the Yankees as an intern at 19. He became head trainer at just 22 and worked with the Mount Rushmore names of the franchise: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada among others. The approach Cavalea pioneered with his major league charges is evident at his gyms. The slogan “train like a pro,” is emblazoned in foot-high letters on the walls and the turf floor is hashmarked like a football gridiron.

“My background is with pro athletes, but I always wondered why regular people shouldn’t have that kind of training,” Cavalea said. “We think of all our clients as athletes, from 8-year-olds to 70-year-olds.”

All ML strength programs begin with an hour-long performance evaluation. “Athletes” are filmed performing a sequence of drills and the footage is screened with an eye towards detecting imbalances that could lead to injury. My eval at the Huntington gym unmasked my right foot as an enemy agent working to undermine the rest of my body (a tendency I now correct at the plate during weekly baseball games).

Safety comes first at ML strength and only after my cautionary guidelines were established was I turned loose to exercise. The program offers three tiers: Pro, Elite and Training Camps; I attended a training camp because I wanted to meet the other “athletes” present that morning.

The camps are capped at six participants and begin with some very enjoyable rolling around on foam cylinders. In addition to exposing my foot problem, my evaluation also revealed I am “quad dominant,” so I spent the majority of my rolling time loosening the hammys. After working with the rolling pins—a step ML strength believes should always precede stretching—my classmates and i learned that our workout would be framed around rowing.

One of the coolest things about ML strength is the way the philosophy incorporates sports and competition into exercise. some sessions might center on baseball movements, while others focus on soccer, or lacrosse or boxing. The goal of these thematic changes is to challenge exercisers. I almost threw up twice, which I find to be a reliable gauge of strenuousness.

Because the trainers at ML strength are so cognizant of their athletes’ injury predilections, it’s unlikely the others in my class came as close to puking. Each of us was urged to obey our individual limits and to value the quality of each movement rather than trying to complete some arbitrary number of reps. We moved through 2 sets at 4 stations with 90-second breaks in between. This included jogging, lunges, bear crawls, several advanced crunches, light weights and rowing.

The rowing machines were the cause of my first bout of nausea because trainer Andrew Laux challenged us to row 250 meters in 60 seconds. Being the overachieving lunatic that I am I decided to completely obliterate this benchmark and cranked out 341 meters over the allotted time. (The participant beside me, who did not know we were racing, rowed 244 meters.)

One might think that coughing back gags would show me my limits… but no! About 10 minutes later when Laux pitted me and my partner against the other duo in a race to 100 medicine ball slams, I once again went hell bent for leather and had to re-swallow my morning bagel.

Double gagging episodes are probably not what everyone’s looking for in a workout, but I personally like to know the option is available. ML strength is actually a very user-friendly system and has a built-in balance between pushing participants and pushing them too hard.

Just know this exercising public: Anyone who doesn’t go all out on the rowing machine at ML strength is going to have to watch me fly by in my imaginary boat on my way to another victory.

See you at the finish line, suckers!