Claudia-ImageIt’s week 3 at FLEX Studios, can you believe it? Time has been passing by so quickly it’s actually quite scary. It makes think there is some scientific mystery that only top officials can explain, while us earthlings age faster than normal. But it’s proven that people who take care of their body, will live a longer and happier life. So this week we talk with the teachers and directors who guide others to achieve that longer, happier life through FLEX. Plus it’s always great to know who you’re working (out) with.

Claudia Zakrzewski – FLEX Studios Instructor

Can you fill us in on your background? What were you doing before FLEX?
I was born to immigrant Polish parents who learned to speak English by helping me with my homework. I thank them every day for choosing New York City over any other place in the world. I attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS (The Fame School) for dance and received a BFA in dance and BA in Journalism from Fordham University. I’ve trained at the Alvin Ailey School, the Martha Graham School and attended the National Ballet School of Canada. I danced at The Metropolitan Opera for two years after graduating and have been freelancing ever since. Easy to say – I’ve been moving my entire life.

Did you always want to be in the fitness/wellness sector or did that fall into your lap? 
Born and bred in Brooklyn, I grew up dancing. Upon graduating from the Fordham University/Alvin Ailey BFA program I danced for another 2 years until getting a serious knee injury. My physical therapist suggested I start spinning to rehabilitate. Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been a fitness bug and loved to try new workouts, so as my injured leg began to heal I realized my career goals had altered – I wanted to become a fitness instructor. I started to expand my knowledge on strengthening the body and within a year became certified in Pilates and TRX. I began taking classes all over the city and fell in love with Flex Studios. Teaching spin at Cyc Fitness, I found Flex to be a complimentary to my background and the way I liked to teach. Now I teach Pilates, Barre, TRX, boot camps and spin full-time. So what seemed as something that would pull me back, my injury helped me realize not only the importance of strengthening your body correctly, but also what I wanted to do with my life.

From working with FLEX and assumingly having tried other studios, what do you think makes it so different?
When I realized that I wanted to do fitness full-time, I started taking classes all over the city. I like barre a lot because of my dance background, but there really is no other class like at Flex. I like to be challenged and I love to sweat. In order to keep my attention, I need the class to be intense and demanding. Most barre classes focused on deeper isolated burns and repetitions – none of them made me sweat and that’s what I believed a barre class was. That changed when I took my first class at Flex. For the first time, I could not keep up. At one point during the glutes section, I stopped and started laughing. My legs were shaking so much that I couldn’t stand. I left, my whole body exhausted,  with a whole new opinion on what a barre class could be.

What is the most rewarding thing you see from students after class?
After barre my favorite is when a client comes up to me and says, “This is the hardest barre class ever.” We get that a lot at Flex and I’m very happy for it. The cardio really pushes it to another level. Your workout should always be hard. It should never get easy – you only get stronger.

One of my favorite things in Pilates is when a new client finally understands the machine. I had a client who during her first class had fear written all over her face. This weekend was her third class and she is now a pro. She didn’t let her fear of how hard and complicated it was on her first day turn her away. After that class she was so proud of herself – she did not stop once to look around – it made me happy that she understood the value of time and not giving up.

Jenn Seracuse, Director of FLEX Pilates:

How did you get involved with Flex?
I met the owner, Jeanette, at another Pilates studio actually. ???? We became friendly first, but little did I know, it was one long job interview. It was truly a case of the universe putting me in the right place at the right time.

Jenn-SeracuseHow did you go from musical theatre to Pilates? 
Well, it wasn’t a clear cut from one to the other. Teaching Pilates started as a side job while I was also pursuing Musical Theater and, as I had more and more success, snowballed into a career. Eventually I was sidelined from auditioning because of my colon surgery and after taking some time off, realized that I wasn’t as passionate about going back to theater as I was about going back to teaching. It was as clear of as sign as I could have hoped for.

I suffer from IBD, very close to Crohns. Have you found any comfort in Pilates not available in other workouts?
There is something very powerful to me about core strengthening when that area of my body is technically my weakest link on the inside. Pilates strengthens from the inside out, which is what I needed. I learned to connect to my body and how powerful that connection can be. Rather than feeling like a prisoner in it, where all of this pain and discomfort was just happening to me and I couldn’t control it, Pilates made me strong… physically and mentally.

Since it can be debilitating at times and many students may secretly suffer, what sort of things have you found work to ease discomfort? 
Well, I am fortunate to say that I have been symptom free for the last 6 years since my surgery, but I definitely remember how awful flares could be. These diseases are different for everyone, however, so it’s all about finding what works for you. For me, heating pads and tea were my best friends. Warmth always felt good. And I tried to stay moderately active if I could. Even just very light mobilization and walking if possible to keep the joints moving. It can be tough and definitely listen to your body and doctors, but staying immobile for too long will not do anyone any favors.

Many of your clients are models and athletes, do you find a similarity or difference in their requested workout? 
For athletes, it’s all about functional training to help them excel in their given sport. They need core strength and stability to operate at peak performance. Training for models also has to do with function as a lot of times, they are asked to create shapes and positions with their bodies that could be painful without the proper support behind it. However, models also have an esthetic that comes along with their profession and its very specific, which is why I think so many turn to the lengthening and toning of Pilates.

How do you modify workouts for people who are just starting out?
Well that depends on many factors. There really isn’t a one size fits all modification plan. The first thing I do is asses someone’s overall level of fitness. Just because they are a beginner to Pilates doesn’t mean they are a beginner to fitness or movement. Everyone has specific muscular imbalances and weaknesses, so it’s about addressing those issues to help them be as strong & healthy as possible.

Jackie Dragone, Director of FLEX Barre:

How did you get involved with Flex?
I was doing my Pilates Reformer training and Jeanette, the owner of FLEX was in my class. We became friendly and she told me about this studio she was in the process of opening, the rest is history! I have been on the team since day one.

Jackie-DragoneDid you dance professionally before moving over to fitness?
I danced my entire life and dabbled in dance here in NYC before transiting into fitness. I quickly decided the audition circuit was not for me and that I wanted to share my love of fitness and a healthy lifestyle with as many people as possible.

What sort of workouts do you create for publications, and how do you ensure it’s not repetitive from what normally appears?
I have done everything from just stretching to ab, legs and arm workouts. I generally gravitate towards larger movements that allow you to work more than one thing at a time. As far as being different, everyone knows what a squat is and a plank is but overtime, I have developed my own style and variations on exercises that set me apart.

You work with high-profile individuals, what are some of the most requested parts of the body to focus on?
Definitely abs and the backside!

What are the most common mistakes you see fitness facilities or fitness professionals do with students that are just starting out?
As far as the actual studio, I think consistency is key. You have to know your brand, what it stands for and always be true to that from day one – something I think FLEX has done an amazing job at. It’s more than a fad; there is a culture and methodology behind it.

For fitness professionals starting out, the key is confidence. I see newer instructors unsure of themselves when they have no reason to be. Practice creates confidence, so I would say be as prepared as possible, be sure of yourself and any situation that may come up in class you will be able to handle. You have to believe in yourself, so that others believe in you as their leader.