The gym is an intimidating place if you haven’t been, and I haven’t. I don’t dare pick a fight with the rows of CE800 Elliptical machines, the Runfit 850 treadmills, or even the ES8500 Spinner bikes – all of them competing for people with muscle, who swing dumbbells. My latissimus Dorsi muscle is small and my hips are stiff. How many pushups should I do? What is wrong with doing them at home? Nothing, except I don’t. It’s 4pm on a Monday, and I’m waiting in the lobby at The Yorkville Club. I don’t feel ready. I don’t have shorts. I am greeted by Joa Rivalakis of Joa Fitness – a toned brunette from Venezuela – wearing an athletic outfit. “Shall we begin?”
I lie on a mat and Joa begins by twisting my legs. “Tell me if this hurts… on a scale from 1-10. 1 is nothing, 10 means you can’t take it anymore. We want to get to an 8.” My right hip pops and grinds. It feels like an 8. “You need to work on this one.” She shows me a few things I can do at home to help with my stiff legs. Next, we lean against the wall to perform an exercise that helps with posture.
80% of her clients come to her with backaches. It’s because of poor posture. “Once your core is strong, all the other muscles will follow.” She tells me, “A big problem is when people spend too much time hunched over their computer.” It takes eight weeks to fix poor posture, and another eight weeks to keep it that way. You become taller and more confident with good posture. It’s about keeping your body in line. A crooked back means crooked hips, and that results in bad knees and pain.
At 15 years old, Joa was diagnosed with Scoliosis, which means her spine curves from side to side. A healthy spine is linear if viewed from behind. The Schroth method, which treats the disorder by strengthening the muscles around the spine has been effective in eliminating pain since the 1920s. Indirectly, she began to fix her anomaly while learning Yoga and Pilates, which emphasize spine and hip alignment. She became an instructor after realizing how effective the activities were at relieving pain.
In 2010, Joa became a personal trainer. She works with individuals who range from absolute beginner to experienced athletes who have an agenda. She also does group sessions. “One-on-one is better if you want fast results,” she tells me. It’s because she caters the workout according to your needs. Having a personal trainer is better than training alone because of the competition. “Me, when I’m training [people], they have a lot of pressure because they see me doing something that they can’t do yet.”
She shows me the trick to working out my latissimus Dorsi. It’s simple: a pull up. She encourages, “Be patient, have persistence, and never give up. Last year was the first year I didn’t feel pain from my Scoliosis.”