Athlete House’s logo advertises “Unconventional Training” and their list of offerings—Ninja obstacle training? Battle ropes? Krav Maga?—would attest to that. But my throwing stars would have to remain concealed; I’d come to the recently opened East Setauket gym for the MetCon program.
MetCon, short for metabolic conditioning, is a series of high-intensity, fast-paced exercises performed in rapid succession. This pushes cardiovascular limits and kicks the metabolism into overdrive, burning fat and calories up to 72-hours after a workout while building lean, strong muscle. It sounded suuuper easy.
Owner Brian Geiser said AH grew from his dissatisfaction with gyms like CrossFit that overprescribe complex and intense exercises without the correct conditioning or attention to safe, proper form. “You’ve got people doing Olympic-style lifts who haven’t even used weights before. That’s not safe.” Geiser is a certified CrossFit instructor and personal trainer, he knows of what he speaks. He recruited Ann Marie Saccurato, a three-time World Boxing Council champion with a litany of national strength and conditioning certifications, to help develop an intense, yet safe, progressive training philosophy.
Saccurato was introduced to me as “the heart and soul” of the operation, a somewhat ironically self-prescribed title she wears proudly and inhabits well. She exuded intensity, enthusiasm and aptitude immediately.
As participants filtered in we gathered for warmups. It was an inclusive group (the “pride” as it’s called at AH) of both genders aged 30 to 40 (plus one pre-teen female gymnast who I could immediately tell was going to kick all our asses). We started with a set of squats to get the blood going and loosen the legs, and things warmed the hell up quickly.
We next took to the floor for what could only be described as a one-hand- raised sit-up to standup that worked an abdominal muscle I had long forgotten about. The key to this move was the heel slam, which propels you upward. “I’m already sweating,” said the woman beside me. I huffed in agreement. Saccurato pointed out the young gymnast and said, “By the way, this girl is kicking all your asses!” Damn it. I knew it!
We got to our feet for a round of woodchoppers and then dropped back to the floor for a series of twisting plank variations. I tried touching my elbow to my opposite knee and almost fell over. Almost. (Take that, tween gymnast!)
Sufficiently warmed now, our attention was directed to a whiteboard centered on the wall. Listed there were five stations dedicated to different exercises. We were to perform 3 to 5 sets of each motion for 6 to 15 reps per set. We were given one minute for each station.
We partnered up and picked a starting point; in my case, the accelerated run. Placing a resistance band around my waist—the other end was wrapped around a metal beam behind me—I waited for the countdown. At the word “go” I ran as far as the band would stretch, about 10 feet, backpedaled and then repeated the process. On a few runs Saccurato stood just out of reach urging me forward and challenging me to drive her back. I succeeded only once, eliciting a “Whoa, nice!”
The minute up, we scrambled to the next station. Saccurato kindly pointed out that the list was to be followed from top down as some of the participants were confused about where to move next. That sorted, we quickly hammered through the remaining stations which included ab crunches, squats, medicine-ball pushups and rope climbs. The sweat was pumping now.
The pride rested as Saccurato explained our next trial: tabatas. This is a high-intensity routine featuring 20 seconds of balls-to-the-wall activity followed by a 10 second rest. This torture continues for eight sets over four minutes total. We were assigned 2 tabatas (8 minutes) covering 16 different exercises.
Well, I should say “they” not “we” because “I” was about to faint…or throw up, and I didn’t care which. I was handed a bottled of water and a protein bar by Geiser, which I tabata’ed the hell out of as I watched the group powering through the workout. I rallied in time to attack an addition to the program: body workouts, as in we used our partner’s body to work out.
“Your body is the gym” Saccurato spouted to the pride, as I proceeded to use her propped up head and shoulders as a base for four sets of pushups. We laughed at the ridiculous- ness of the situation, but that was an intense exercise for both sides. The workout ended with us sprinting forwards and backwards, our partners pushing back to provide resistance.
Spent, Saccurato announced that we had all worked so hard that we got an extra reward. “Who wants to push a truck!” she incited enthusiastically. Everyone joined and the pride cheered as we individually moved a silver F150 across the parking lot.