Penny Smart at Dakota Personal Training and Pilates

By Claudie Benjamin

Getting the most from personal training means clients need to set personal goals.  And, now as emerging from the pandemic defines the current era, expert fitness trainers like Penny Smart, are committed to encouraging clients to set goals so they can feel the rewards of attaining them. 

Penny, owner of Dakota Personal Training and Pilates at 162 West 72nd Street says, “It’s not just about losing the weight.  We’ve all been in a state in the past year where we’ve been mostly out of control.  People have been stuck at home. Their routines and physical activity have gone out the window.  I lost control of when my business could open and how it would operate.  As people come back, it’s rewarding to help them take back control of their physical state as I take control of my business again.  Finally, things are looking up.”

Among a multitude of possible goals relating to strength, stamina, versatility, and improved general health, one goal emerges as especially related to the present moment.  And that, is losing weight.

Penny referred to an American Psychological Association report indicating that almost half of U.S. adults surveyed noted they had gained too much weight.  And the amount of gained weight they reported averaged 29 pounds.  Most of the clients coming to Dakota Fitness Training and Pilates eager to shed pounds are people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who have been working at home, many homeschooling their children.  There’s been no running for the bus or taking stairs two at a time to catch a subway.  Much of that exercise built into a daily commute and the workday was put aside.  Now, Penny and her team of trainers are helping clients decide how to most effectively get their bodies in good shape.  Resilience in this arena means feeling better, more toned and looking better.

Penny says she’s the first at Dakota to meet clients and assess their goals within the limits of any injuries or health risks such as high blood pressure, or joint replacements.  Then a match is made with a professional trainer whose expertise is a good fit for the training the client needs.  The Dakota Gym is fully equipped and includes Pilates machines.  Assignments are made for strengthening and cardio exercise to be done at home.

Sessions are started with the question “How are you doing?” Sleeping, eating, and exercising all play an integral part in wellbeing.  While Penny is a Certified Health Coach, she doesn’t suggest diets.  In fact, she doesn’t believe they work.  She says in her opinion, once off a diet people regain weight they’ve lost plus gain some more.  She does however advise with ways to eat healthy while clients work with trainers on the specific exercises that will be most effective for them.

All gym sessions are private or semi-private.  On occasion small group training is conducted particularly with young adults.  Private sessions not only take into consideration individualized goals, but what state the client is in on a certain day. Level of rest, diet, stress level, for example, is all taken into consideration and sessions are adjusted accordingly. 

When the goal is to lose weight, circuit training and/or interval training is often incorporated into the program.  Clients are strongly encouraged to supplement their training with cardiovascular activity on their own.  Although cardiovascular activity is important for weight loss, to increase resting metabolism strength training must also be a focus.  The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories are burned at rest.

Some friends or couples undertake training together.  Less often, but something Penny would like to promote are the small group training sessions for teenagers.  She says it works well not only to achieve fitness goals for young but supports socialization—something that’s also been missed during the months schools were closed or schedules limited by the pandemic.

For the past nine years, clients have been coming to the Dakota at 118 West 72nd Street.  Entangled in disputes over rents her landlord said were due despite the hardship of the NY State-mandated lockdown, Penny was thrilled to find “a new, beautiful space” for her well-established gym just down the street.  Penny is an Upper West Sider through and through.  She grew up on West 73rd Street, went to elementary school at Blessed Sacrament on 70th Street and majored in drama at LaGuardia High School on West 63rd Street.  She majored in behavioral science at CUNY’s John Jay College and soon after graduation at age 22, began pursuing a career in fitness.

Even with Covid restrictions loosening, already many vaccinated people feel safer health wise continuing to wear masks and only meeting in small groups.  Penny says they are drawn to the relatively small-scale fitness facility, which by not being a big box gym is “more able to maintain a training environment in which they feel safe.”

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