Photo Courtesy Of Mark Fisher Fitness.
If I told you there was a fantastical gym here in NYC, just beyond the bright lights of Times Square, where drag-queen trainers, Rocky Horror Picture Show-themed group classes, and kaleidoscopic characters straight out of Lisa Frank’s brain all came together for the sincere purpose of making you not only healthier, but happier…would you believe me?
It took experimentation, determination, and a little bit of pixie dust to find my ideal fitness situation in NYC. My glittery evolution from “gym rat” to “gym unicorn” has been years in the making and not without its setbacks. While boutique fitness concepts (spin studios, barre classes) aligned with my goals of physical intensity, emotionally I felt intimidated and not particularly welcomed by my fellow fitness fiends. Hiding out at a big-box gym, where I was just one more city dweller on the tricked-out elliptical, was similarly depressing. I could keep up with the Kardashians on a steep incline, but was barely breaking a satisfying sweat.
I knew if I wanted to make exercise a sustainable part of my life, I needed to make it both enjoyable and effective. Then, during a fit of insomnia eight months ago, a late-night Googling session uncovered an unprecedented fitness destination beyond my wildest dreams.
Mark Fisher Fitness — or “MFF” for short — is a gym in Hell’s Kitchen with an, ahem, unique take on exercise and overall self-betterment. In fact, co-owner Mark Fisher, 34, doesn’t like to call it a gym at all, preferring the subtle term “Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory & Dreams” — a welcoming haven for fitness novices and crazy-athletic creatures alike, complete with a unicorn mascot. “Everyone who enters the Clubhouse is magical in unique ways,” says Fisher. “Some folks are over-the-top, others are actually pretty introverted, but everyone is definitely, authentically themselves.”
Stepping inside the MFF Clubhouse is like discovering fitness Narnia, complete with its own delightfully subversive culture and nurturing community. Clients are called “ninjas,” regular Joes work out alongside Broadway stars, and swinging kettlebells in time to an epic Madonna remix while donning a bedazzled cape is an everyday occurrence. “We really hold ridiculous humanity as a core value,” explains Fisher. “I think part of our secret is treating fun as a non-negotiable part of the experience.”
Photo Courtesy Of Mark Fisher Fitness.
Fisher is definitely onto something. Within its two-year existence, MFF has grown from a one-man show to a robust staff of more than 20, with nearly 700 ninjas and counting. The Clubhouse’s atmosphere is akin to an insanely fun fever dream, and its philosophy is as follows: Come for the zany antics, stay for the serious fitness. The rigorous 45-minute workouts combine strength training with cardio and build intensity each week. Kettlebells become your best friend — or your bitch, depending on your approach — and a considerable portion of each new ninja’s time is devoted to learning proper technique. (As Fisher likes to say, “All the cool kids avoid orthopedic surgery!”) “Run your own race” is an oft-cited mantra, encouraging high-level performance to the best of your individual ability. Every so often, a jazz hand or tap-dance step will find its way into a burpee routine for dramatic flair, to hilarious effect.
As a ninja, for the first time in my life, “gym days” feel like Christmas morning. Even more remarkable are the dramatic results I’ve noticed in my body and spirit: pounds down, inches lost, increased strength, healthier eating habits, and improved sleep, to name a few. Even when I hit difficult plateaus in my fitness journey — including the tumultuous holiday season when I lost some fitness footing — my fellow ninjas rose to the occasion, offering unconditional support and accountability until I got my groove back.
Fisher and his madcap gang have taught me plenty about the fitness basics: eating right for your goals, staying active, and good ol' consistency. Beyond these tenets — which are simple, if not necessarily easy — I’ve been consistently amazed by the sheer impact a supportive environment can have on your life. (Although a spontaneous Britney dance-off doesn’t hurt.)
When asked to reveal his favorite motivating show tune, Fisher’s choice is in step with his whistle-while-you-work approach to serious fitness. “I will say ‘Ease On Down the Road’ from The Wiz is a pretty amazing song to bring a hard class to a finish,” he laughs, before adding: “Please note, I’m humiliated to say that statement is totally sincere and completely un-ironic.”
For more information on Mark Fisher Fitness, including a “Just Hookin’ Up” trial package available for new ninjas, check out their site.