The gym where New York's misfits go to work out
Welcome to the clubhouse of glory and dreams …
It’s not every day you’re greeted at the gym by a man wearing teeny tiny swim trunks and plastic lei. And it’s not a regular gym where the boss arrives for a meeting resplendent in chicken hat. Which stays on for the duration, despite the rising temperatures. But then, Mark Fisher Fitness is not any old gym.
In fact, it doesn’t even call itself a gym; it’s an “enchanted ninja clubhouse of glory and dreams”. It’s a place where clients are called ninjas and trainers are called unicorns and where mirrored balls, graffiti and disco lights take the place of the usual utilitarian gym furniture.
"If the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S&M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good."
“We like to keep things colorful,” says Mark in understatement. “So there are lights. There’s a closet with costumes, so if the trainer feels like dressing up in Victorian era garb or an S&M unicorn, there’s a leash they can wear – whatever feels good.
“But one thing that’s also important to us is just taking people where they’re at, so a lot of the ninjas who come here AREN’T insane. We say if someone wants to come to a dance party and someone wants to take off their pants and someone wants to cry quietly in a corner because they’re having a really bad day, everything’s perfect, you’re OK wherever you are.”
Mark describes himself as once that “classic skinny, awkward, Martian man, afraid-of-girls guy” who only properly found his place in this world when he started to work out in high school.
“I was also a professional actor – which is partly how we’ve become such a fixture in the Broadway community – and throughout my twenties I fell more and more in love with the training. It was like the mistress I slowly left my wife for.”
A few years ago he quit acting completely and committed himself to the training.
“My own experience in the gym, starting as someone who didn’t feel very good about his body and didn’t feel like an athlete, it was very difficult for me. And I was from New Jersey so everyone was wearing flannels and jeans and work boots – it was terrifying at the beginning. I really wanted to create a place that would speak to my friends.
“We like to say, in the most affectionate way, that the ninjas are like an isle of misfit toys – all manner of humanity, all ages and colors and backgrounds that are generally united in that we all have a feeling of being an outsider at times. I just wanted to celebrate that, and also to provide really good fitness information. I’m a huge fitness nerd, so it’s very important we provide a really good service with results.”
“We’ve worked with a lot of performers who came with a very specific physical fitness role. One of our ninjas had to get ready for a Broadway show where he played a boxer in Kinky Boots."
So if you want clear, no-nonsense weight loss and are willing to put in the hours, the intensive six-week Snatched program might be your bag. Alternatively, there are group classes, and semi-private training packages, Mark’s cheaper but just as effective version of a personal training program, where you train with two other ninjas and a dedicated unicorn.
Unsurprisingly, many of your fellow gym goers will be from the Broadway community.
“We’ve worked with a lot of performers who came with a very specific physical fitness role. One of our ninjas had to get ready for a Broadway show where he played a boxer in Kinky Boots.
“And a lot of them work backstage,” says Mark. “We train a lot of composers and directors and casting directors – and from their friends it’s trickled out to other professions; people who maybe work in white collar jobs but are a little bit weird. The nature of their life means they perhaps don’t get to be as creative as they’d like so they can come in here and do whatever they want to do.”
The trainers, too, are a colorful bunch, counting among them one of the city's best known drag queens, a gay porn star, a tattooed graphic artist who was a skate punk in a former life, and a professional clown who, at the last minute in med school, decided he wanted to be a clown not a doctor. Which is fair enough.
“We also need to make sure the clubhouse stays safe for existential sadness.”
“We need people to be really great coaches, but we also need then to be really authentic and comfortable with who they are.
“We also need to make sure the clubhouse stays safe for existential sadness,” says Mark. “I’m aware that it can seem so over the top and sparkly and whimsical. I’m obviously quite an extroverted person but at heart I’m kind of an introvert so I’m not sure how I would take this place. I take the most pleasure from finding the people who feel most introverted and making it a safe place for them.”
And a holistic approach means this crazy, dysfunctional fitness family doesn’t just take care of your physical fitness; it offers life coaching workshops, classes on book keeping for financial fitness, advice on time management …
“We hope to be a place where people come for general betterment,” explains Mark.
“Fitness is so transforming because you’re able to be more creative and stable and braver with your life. You’re feeling better about yourself, you’re eating well, you’re sleeping – we know your brain is going to work better. Additionally, it’s interesting to see how much of your life you can control. New York can be an isolating town – particularly for performers, who spend a lot of time getting rejected. So there’s a certain power one discovers when you know you can control what you eat and how you look.”