Top Personal Trainers
Working out on your own just not working for you? Training one-on-one with one of these top fitness pros could be the way to go.
From Pilates to boxing to Gyrotonic
The County’s Toughest Personal Trainers
By Catherine Censor • Photography by Phillip Ennis
Rock stars and swimsuit models won’t go anywhere without them. But even if you make your living as an accountant or as an underpaid regional magazine writer, a personal trainer can be an absolute necessity. Far from merely buffing up the glam and the gorgeous, personal trainers can help keep expectant moms strong, seniors regain their balance, and strengthen weak backs and correct errant golf swings. A personal trainer isn’t necessarily a vanity expense—he or she can be an investment in your health.
If you’re looking for a personal trainer, you first need to decide what kind of trainer you’d like. Do you plan to do weight training or is an aerobic workout the core of your regimen? Or, perhaps, a sweat-free core workout is more your style? And will yoga be part of your workout? How about spinning? If you don’t know what type of workout best suits you (or if the closest you’ve come to a gym is the Dunkin’ Donuts next door), you can always try out each type and see which you prefer. Once you’ve chosen your discipline, you’ll have to find someone who is not only good but suits your personality. Some trainers are drill sergeants, some are cheerleaders. Some are mentors and some would happily beat the tar out of your masochistic hide.
No matter what kind of help you need to get in shape, you’ll find it in your own backyard. Westchester is blessed with a wealth of well-trained, skilled, innovative trainers. We’re so blessed, in fact, that compiling a list of the “best” proved to be a nearly impossible task. So, we asked 20 prominent fitness professionals in different disciplines the same question: “Who, other than yourself, is the best trainer in Westchester?” Here are the trainers the pros chose.
As a personal trainer, Andrew Guida, fitness director of the Saw Mill Club, commands respect among trainers across Westchester for good reason. The 33-year-old has 10 years of experience working with just about every type of client—from ALS patients to professional athletes. (Guida’s clients include pro and college football players, but he declined to name any to “protect their privacy.”)
A National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Nebraska, Guida is a walking encyclopedia of exercise science. His staff is well-trained, highly skilled and well-informed due to Guida’s demanding and comprehensive curriculum. “Our trainers are educated on a tier system,” says Guida. “They have to complete a number of hours training in workshops and seminars and are tested before going on to the next level. All of their training is done in-house.” Last year, Saw Mill trainers spent more than 120 hours each brushing up on areas such as prenatal training and rehabilitation protocols for joint replacements.
If you can’t get time with Guida, ask for Alan Maruschak (who has six certifications from various organizations and is, according to Guida, “probably in the top one percent of the industry”), Doug Sedlmair, or any of the other master-level trainers. They’ve all done their homework—and then some.
Saw Mill Fitness Club, Mount Kisco
No. of clients per week: 10 (no private clients)
Top fitness tip: “Go dynamic or go home! Do full-body movements, not just one or two muscles at a time. For instance, do a rowing motion as you squat. I believe in a full-body emphasis that focuses on results.”
Lots of trainers are “rep counters”—bored, uninspired and, consequently, uninspiring. They’ll tote your weights and hold your hand, but they won’t necessarily help you reach your goals. Inga DeNunzio is the rep counter’s polar opposite. “I’m totally crazy with my workout schemes,” says DeNunzio, who is certified by both NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and NFTA (National Fitness Trainers Association). “I have my clients doing cartwheels and somersaults—things you wouldn’t normally do by yourself in a gym. The more fun you have, the more results you’ll get, the more you’ll want to continue.” Does all this fun yield serious results?
If DeNunzio herself is any guide, heck, yes. The 32-year-old recently tried out for the U.S. Olympics Weightlifting Team. And while she ended up injuring her knee during tryouts and had to have surgery, DeNunzio still regards the experience as a positive one. “I kept thinking, ‘How many people get to do this?’ Even just being there was an accomplishment.” She adds, “I got my knee fixed. I’m definitely working on a comeback.”
(914) 843-5792 (also can be reached through
Forme Fitness F.A.S.S.T., Scarsdale, 914-723-2202)
Fee: $75-$90 per session (60-90 minutes)
Number of clients per week: 20-25
Fitness Tip: “Make use of what you have. Even if you’re in a room with just a chair, you can use it to work out—you can pick it up, do bicep curls, tricep dips, modified pushups, squats, or lunges. You don’t need a gym or equipment. You just need imagination.”
Certified master trainer Roy Colsey spent 34 years teaching physical education and coaching high school football, track, and wrestling. So it’s no surprise that many of his clients are young athletes seeking a competitive edge. “I do a lot of sports-specific training,” says Colsey. “It used to be that high school coaches would focus only on skills but, these days, people realize that they also need to train for speed, agility, and power.” Colsey’s clients are put through their paces with drills culled from his own training at the prestigious Cooper Aerobics Institute of Dallas, TX. But his coaching skills aren’t reserved for the young. The 58-year-old has clients ranging in age from 9 to 80. “I’m at Club Fit for 10 to 12 hours a day, and no one I work with is on the same program. It’s the variety that keeps me going.” Apparently, the variety works for his clients, too.
Club Fit, Briarcliff
No. of clients per week: 40-45
Fitness tip: “Try to incorporate functional exercises into your daily fitness workout. Doing so will utilize your core muscles—abdominals, obliques and spinal erector muscles. Use the core board, bosu, balance discs or the AIREX balance pad whenever possible.”
Tony Contorno is known for his intense, high-energy style of training. “My clients are Chappaqua types—very athletic and very competitive. They’ve got the time, the money, and the drive to work on their bodies. I keep them moving with full-body workouts that combine strength, flexibility, and balance.” Asked whether he does a lot of functional training (a fitness term for routines involving balance toys and
core training), Contorno declared, “I’m the stability-ball king.” There’s a softer side to Contorno’s brassiness. He’s also a licensed massage therapist. Still, don’t expect an ego massage.
Prescriptions for Fitness, Chappaqua
Clients per week: 40
Fitness Tip: “Go as fast as you can for as long as you can.”
They say that boxing is 90 percent condi-tioning and, after you try training like a boxer, you’ll understand how a three-minute round can seem like an eternity. No matter how hard you think you’ve worked in other sports, boxing can take your fitness to an entirely new level. Whether you want to actually step into a ring or just sweat your body weight, Westchester is full of fighters who can literally whip you into shape.
You’ve seen him on HBO, Showtime, NBC, ABC, and ESPN. Now you can see him in your living room or at his Scarsdale gym. The former WBO World Middleweight Boxing Champion—and the only professional world champ from Westchester in the history of boxing—43-year-old Doug DeWitt trains men, women, and kids who want to learn the “sweet science” from one of its greats. He’s tops on the list if you want to sharpen your skills for your first “white-collar” bout (fights for those of us who have to go to work the next morning) or if you simply want to look like a knockout. “It’s a fun and different way to get fit based on the classic boxer’s workout,” says DeWitt. “The training incorporates an intensive cardio workout with the jump rope as well as high repetition, light weight-training for strength and endurance.”
So does it work? Yes, say clients like Nicala Mullen of Bronxville, who first sought out DeWitt after giving birth to triplets. “Doug is far superior to the other trainers I have had,” says Mullen. “He has gotten me into phenomenal physical condition, and he’s inspired me to train for my first white-collar bout. The training is so much fun, it’s addictive; once you start, you will never want to go back to ordinary fitness training.”
Doug DeWitt’s Boxing, Inc.
79 Montgomery Ave. (off of Brook St.), Scarsdale
Fee: $75/hour for one-on-one training at the gym; $85-$90/hour for one-on-one training at a client’s house or other location; $300-$480/three-month membership and unlimited classes at the gym. (The variation in price, says DeWitt, is based on an honor system. “If you know up front you’re going to come only once or twice a week, it’s $300.”)
No. of clients per week: Varies—from 20 to 60 or more, including on- and off-site personal clients and classes at the gym, plus off-site instruction.
Fitness tip: “Whether you’re doing white-collar boxing, shadow boxing, the heavy bag, or whatever, it’s a fight. You can’t be lovey-dovey. Throw punches with bad intentions; that’s the only way to keep the pace going.”
Like Douglas DeWitt, Pasquel Rouse is an HBO and ESPN veteran. The 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who now makes his home in Elmsford, will put you through the same grueling training he receives from Luigi Olcense and Angelo Serrano. At his gym, you can step into a real ring, participate in a sparring exhibition or simply sweat in the authentically gritty surroundings. New York Boxing Gym is also home to two unbelievable female pugilists: Angel Bovee (914-490-6938) is the United States Amateur Light Welterweight Champion and a member of Team USA, and Ann-Marie Saccurato (914-490-7015) is an undefeated professional boxer who holds both the New York Golden Gloves and the National Golden Gloves. Both women are certified personal trainers who can put the hurt on you in a very positive way.
Pasquel “Tiger” Rouse
New York Boxing Gym, Yonkers (moving to Elmsford soon)
No. of clients per week: 60
Fitness tip: “Good fitness starts with a good trainer. If you want to be a boxer, find a trainer who was once a fighter—they know all the tricks.”
He’s a personal trainer and a fighter who has been in the ring with everyone from amateurs to light heavyweight champs. And, yes, his last name has a familiar ring to it, but “as far as I know, I’m not related to him,” says LaMotta of the famous Jake. “I did meet him once, though.”
Saw Mill Club, Mount Kisco
Fee: $65/session at the club; $70-75/session at a client’s house
No. of clients per week: 25-30
Fitness tip: “Try a variety of different exercises to keep things fun and interesting.”
The Pilates Pros
During World War I, Joseph Pilates retooled the hospital bed, using its springs to provide resistance for a series of rehabilitative exercises that simultaneously lengthen and strengthen muscles. Nearly 90 years later, there’s another war raging, and, this time, it’s among his many disciples. With no certain heir to Pilates’s legacy, his death has given rise to dozens of schools claiming to certify instructors in either “authentic” Pilates or Pilates that improves upon his methods. While the popularity of Pilates has soared in recent years, and though the number of instructors has skyrocketed, the quality and style of instruction varies wildly. The following trainers may be certified by different schools and may subscribe to different interpretations of Pilates, but they are all, according to our experts, among the county’s best.
Lesly Levy considers herself a practitioner of traditional Pilates, unaltered from founder Joseph Pilates’s original teachings. “The best Pilates instructors teach from all six of Joseph’s principles at once, never sacrificing one for another,” says Levy. “Although precision is of utmost importance, some other methods focus so much on alignment and/or control, looking at movements merely as exercises. But Pilates is a continual flow of movements that challenges all muscle groups to work all the time. There’s nothing abrupt or jerky in Pilates.” Lesly is a top-notch trainer who provides continuing-education workshops to other Pilates teachers in conjuction with the Pilates organization, Power Pilates, Inc. in New York City. She has a multi-dimensional background as a gymnast and yoga instructor, but her teaching has always been movement-oriented. Levy became an ACE (American Council on Exercise)-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in 1992. She also has certification in spinning, Reebok cycling, and yoga, and specialties through ACE in perinatal fitness, youth fitness, mind-body integration, and flexibility training.
Mindful Moves Pilates Center, Mount Kisco
Fee: individual $66-75/hour; duet $45-55/hour; trio $38-44/hour; classes $20-22, depending on whether a package or a single lesson is purchased.
No. of clients per week: 40, not including classes
Fitness tip: “Pulling your abdominals in and up while moving your body with control will strengthen your back and tone your buttocks.”
Another traditionalist, Elle Jardim, 40, has been teaching Pilates since 1995—an eternity in this young field. She’s certified by Authentic Pilates and considers it the most authoritative Pilates certification. “I think people see better results with Authentic Pilates than in other, watered-down versions of the Pilates method,” Jardim says. She teaches Gyrotonic (see “The Gyrotonic Gurus” on page 55) as well as Pilates and feels that both are complementary as well as integral to fitness. “Because they’re both mind-body disciplines, they give you an awareness of how the body works. You can use that awareness to get better results from other fitness regimens.”
Center for Movement, Scarsdale
No. of clients per week: 15-20
Fitness tip: “Improve your posture to look and feel better. Stand up straight and think of lengthening the top of your head toward the sky, keeping your chin parallel to the floor. Stand evenly on your two feet; pull your stomach in and up, pressing it toward your lower back; pull your shoulders down and back, pressing your shoulder blades together. Feel your spine lengthen. Do this anytime, anywhere.”
In addition to training students in Pilates, Elin Benson’s studio trains people to become instructors in the Power Pilates Method. Her studio’s prestige in the fitness world is akin to that of a teaching hospital in the medical world. “We have a class-ically based, integrated fitness approach,” Benson says. “We follow all the teachings of Joseph Pilates and incorporate all of his apparatus.”
A hallmark of her studio? When students leave, they have a strong sense of well-being. “I’ve been taking Pilates for five years,” says Lainie Gerard, 31, a mother of one from Croton-on-Hudson. “I went to Elin to get in shape for my wedding, and I stayed with her through my pregnancy and beyond. It’s really toned my midsection and I feel more toned over all.” Best of all, says Gerard of Benson’s workouts, “when I leave, I feel completely refreshed—not like someone’s beaten me up. For days after, I feel like I’ve worked out.”
The Pilates Connection, Pleasantville
Fee: Individual $70/session;10 sessions for $650
Duet $55/session; 10 sessions for $500
Trio $50/session; 10 sessions for $450
Quartet $40/session; 10 sessions for $350
No. of clients per week: 9 classes a week with 30 additional hours of private and semi-private instruction
Fitness tip: “In order to work the peripheal parts of the body—arms, legs, etc.—it’s important to first have a strong core. Pilates is a great way to strengthen and stabilize the core of your body, giving you the freedom to move on and train other areas.”
For the past seven years, Joy Puleo has been working closely with the PhysicalMind Institute, a Pilates Aassociation that believes Pilates’s exercises aren’t holy writ. While his philosophy, apparatus, and movements are studied, the PhysicalMind Institute believes the exercises can and should be modified. In addition to being certified by the PhysicalMind Institute, Puleo, 38, received a master’s degree in physiology from Columbia University, also holds personal training certifications from ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and ACE (American Council on Exercise). Jill Vogel, 30, of White Plains, a self-described investment banker-turned-freelance Pilates instructor, credits Puleo not only with inspiring her to pursue Pilates more seriously, but with restoring her own health.
“I had run two marathons and had always been athletic but, then, I experienced heart failure and had to get a pacemaker,” she says. “I was so weak, I couldn’t walk.” Then Vogel found Puleo. “She is far and away the best Pilates instructor I’ve ever worked with,” she says, “and I had worked with instructors in London, New York City, Chicago, and Aspen. Even though I’m now a certified instructor, I still love training with her. She’s creative and knowledgeable enough to take it outside the box.”
Puleo also teaches Gyrotonic.
Bodywise Studio, Chappaqua
Fee: $75 for a one hour session; $700 for 10 sessions
Clients per week: 50
Fitness Tip: “Change requires consistency and time. Whether rehabilitating an injury or starting a new fitness program, be patient and constant and results are assured.”
When she's not editing or writing for magazines, Catherine Censor cracks the whip as a Master Level personal trainer at Mount Kisco's Saw Mill Club.
The Gyrotonic Gurus
It’s been described as “yoga in motion” and “resisted yoga,” but you can just call it “the next big thing.” Invented by Julio Horvath, Gyrotonic relies on a special wooden machine of rotating discs and weighted pulleys called the Gyrotonic Expansion System. The fluid, circular movements of Gyrotonic combine elements of yoga, swimming, ballet, and Tai Chi. Like Pilates, it’s a mindful workout that produces more of a serene buzz than an endorphin rush. Unlike Pilates, there’s no disagreement about teaching methods and certifications. All Gyrotonic teachers are certified by one man, Julio Horvath himself. While largely unknown outside of New York and the West Coast, our proximity to New York makes us one of the first beachheads in the Gyrotonic invasion.
Here’s where you can experience it for yourself:
Emily Pashman and Joy Puleo, Bodywise Studio, Chappaqua (914) 238-8397
Claudia Rinaldi, Saw Mill Club, Mount Kisco (914) 241-0797
Naomi Hofer, RiverSpa, Irvington
Center for Movement, Scarsdale