Author: Holly J Coley
Photos By: Keith Lynch (unless specified)
In the last few years the popularity of strength and conditioning programs has boomed. Throughout the country gyms have popped up seemingly overnight with classes that incorporate Olympic weightlifting, HIIT (high intensity interval training), gymnastics and then some.
While many swear by the calorie torching muscle building workout, some claim it can be dangerous, especially as classes become overcrowded and trainers are unable to monitor each individual’s exercise. Fortunately, we know of a cross training place that has that dilemma figured out. Located on 308 South Street in Highland, New York, Hudson Valley Raw Athletics offers intimate group classes with highly skilled and certified trainers. With a focus on personal tailored exercises (yes, even in a group setting), the gym is officially on our radar and should be on yours too.
From the outside Hudson Valley Raw Athletics looks like an unassuming barn but on the inside it’s a well-equipped training center filled with weights, kettle balls, jump boxes and various other fitness tools. Owned by Syndi Acampora, the gym was opened in 2014 out of her love for the sport-like exercise but also a strong desire to help others achieve their personal best.
“You can’t get fit to get fit,” Syndi says, briefly commenting on the myth that one has to be in excellent shape to start cross training. “I [work] with every day people.”
Unlike some gyms that push competition (sometimes to the detriment of gym goers) Hudson Valley Raw Athletics showcases a more inclusive vibe where an individual’s safety and personal needs are put first. A leaderboard is not used every day and clocks aren’t required for every exercise. Moves like kipping and butterfly pull-ups (which can cause injury) are avoided and members are taught how to perform moves without the aid of resistance bands or other tools that sometimes hinder more than a help when it comes to gaining genuine strength.
Another aspect that sets the gym apart is its emphasis on form. Everyone, from cross training pros to exercise newbies, is accessed on their first day. This not only helps Syndi gauge where an individual is at but provides a chance for her to discuss past and present injuries, as well as modifications. Programs follow a linear progression which helps members build on the strength they already have and further develop. And while challenging yourself is encouraged, Syndi stresses to members (or her athletes, as she sometimes calls them) to stop and take a break when something feels off. She says, “[I] tell them, ‘If there’s anything that bothers you, just stop. There’s no, Oh, you have five more! Get em!’ No, if you feel something, just stop. It’s better to rest then potentially injure yourself and then have the rest period be a lot [longer].”
In the beginning the gym hosted fourteen members. Now has more than a hundred! People are attracted to the supportive community and Syndi’s unique style of training. She tells me, “My gym started with moms and then their husbands started coming; from word of mouth their friends and others started coming…I have a lot of people who have never been to a gym before.”
Hudson Valley Raw Athletics offers a variety of classes. The High Intensity Cross Training addresses the three components of fitness: flexibility, strength, and cardio. The Strength Training class gives the foundation of power lifting moves such as squats and deadlifts. The Boxing class is taught by Joseph Acampora, New York State Super Heavy Weight Golden Gloves Champion for the year 2000. If you didn’t catch the last name, he’s also Syndi’s husband. The Dirty Boxing class offers a combo of western boxing and open handed Balintawak Arnis, a martial art also offered at the gym. Yoga with Eva Astor is a blend of yoga styles and is perfect for practitioners of all levels. Each class is small, at about 10 people, allowing coaches to give personal attention to each person. For bigger groups two coaches are on hand.
Because the proper diet plays an important role in strides made in and out of the gym, Syndi recommends members to seek the expertise of Mike Doehla, Certified Nutrition Specialist and President of Stronger U Fitness. Along with designing the program that helped her lean down and reveal a sweet six-pack (seriously, look at the bio pic on her website), he’s worked with close to 300 people. “If you want to lose weight and feel good, it’s not just about coming to the gym. Your nutrition is up here.” She reaches her hand to the top of her head and then lowering slightly below her jaw. “And the gym is here.”
While she concedes optimal health is part food, part activity, she also admits that if one wants the defined arms, abs and legs then gym time is a must. But of course, she can help with that.
And helping people meet their goals is really her forte. Her gym attracts all different ages, body types and fitness levels. “You can be any age, male or female…you don’t have to that “ripped athlete” to come in here and workout,” she says.
She takes great pride in watching her members grow in strength and optimal health. The positive transformations of her members make her gush. “When people come in here who are on medication, I’m excited for them to get checked up and see if they can get off them,” she says. “I’ve had people who’ve had knee surgeries and horrible form and now they’re putting weight on their back to squat!”
She also takes pride in the community that has formed around her gym. There are members who have become trainers. The staff and clients have become her friends. “I’ve developed a lot of relationships through here,” she smiles. “Everybody brings something new to the table and I’m excited to meet new people.”
This year Syndi is looking forward to moving her gym to its new location on Bedell Avenue. Until then, you can find her and her team seven days a week at the Highland location.