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Fitness: Naperville trainer riding wave of surfing-based workout trend

Personal trainer Justin Reich, 27, demonstrates the paddle move that is part of the SurfSet Fitness workout. “Surfers spend most of their time in the water paddling. And this mimics that,” said Reich. It is a good cardio element of the workout.  |  Judy Hostert-Harvey~For Sun-Times Media
Personal trainer Justin Reich, 27, demonstrates the paddle move that is part of the SurfSet Fitness workout. “Surfers spend most of their time in the water paddling. And this mimics that,” said Reich. It is a good cardio element of the workout. | Judy Hostert-Harvey~For Sun-Times Media

“Surf’s up!” is nota phrase heard much in the suburban Chicago area, but Naperville-based certified personal trainer Justin Reich said he has always admired the physical conditioning of hardcore surfers.

Living in landlocked Illinois didn’t leave him many options to take up the sport. Instead, Reich, 27, did the next-best thing: snowboarding.

“I was always attracted to the elements of surfing,” he said, those elements include balance, strength and muscle tone, and cardio health.

And then Reich learned about SurfSet Fitness, which uses a machine based on the concept of a surfboard, on the TV show “Shark Tank.” Not surprisingly, the workout is popular on the East and West coasts.

He got his first in-person glimpse of how the equipment works about three months ago at a Chicago fitness club. It was then that Reich, whose business is JReich Fitness, decided to invest in the SurfSet machines for his studio, Sports Spec inside Club Rep in Naperville.

“There is nothing else like this,” because it incorporates the balance of yoga, the muscle building of strengthening exercises and the burn of more cardio-centered workouts, he said.

The equipment is similar to a surf board attached to the floor but on a pivoting system that allows for movement that imitates a surfboard on water. The top of the board is nicely cushioned for comfort and shock absorption.

The first step in the process is leaning to get your sea legs, as it were, even while on solid land and standing only a few inches off the floor.

“You have to focus on what you are doing to maintain your balance,” Reich said.

Reich has four machines in his studio; so his classes are limited to four people at a time. It allows him to give real attention to each individual’s ability level and needs.

“It is based on your fitness level, and as you go on, you become more confident,” he said.

Naperville mother of two Julia Gleitsman agrees and appreciates how Reich is always adjusting to meet each individual’s needs.

“The great thing I think about SurfSet is you can adapt to any level of coordination and athletic ability,” she said.

The 41-year-old has been on a four-year weight loss journey since her son was born. She has been doing weight training and cardio workouts at Club Rep, and one day was intrigued by Reich’s studio when she heard some music coming from there.

Although not one for joining exercise classes, Gleitsman goes once a week to SurfSet and already notices a difference in just eight weeks.

“I have seen changes in bringing my waistline in and my legs,” she said.

Reich divides his classes into four focal points: balance, build, burn and a blend of those three.

“It depends on what a person is looking to get out of this. More cardio or more strengthening and toning or whatever,” he said. “There is also a lot of upper body work.”

One element of that upper body work is the paddling motion, where you lie stomach down on the board as a surfer would going out into the water.

“If you think about it, most of the time in the water the surfers are not riding the waves,” Reich said. “They spend most of their time paddling.”

Those who have participated in a yoga program can find this to be a nice addition to that regimen for increased balance and muscle tone, Reich said.

SurfSet allows for the needs and condition levels of all kinds of people at a wide variety of ages, Reich said. His clients range from teenagers to 60-somethings.

“People who have knee issues get a lot out of it because of the balance aspect,” said Reich, who earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from North Central College. “They start seeing an improvement (in their mobility) because they start using their muscles around the knee in a different way.”

The program can help with arthritis problems as well, or just anyone looking for an increase in their range of motion, he said.

Each class is 45 minutes long with stretching at the end. SportsSpec offers three packages, appropriately titled in surfer jargon: the stellar, tubular and gnarly packages. They are based on frequency of the workout sessions.

Most people attend the classes one to three times a week for the best results.

“You are barefoot on the board, working to the music, sweating. People love the energy,” Reich said.

The workout leaves nothing out, Gleitsman said.

“It incorporated my cardio and my core (strength),” she said. “It was such a great workout. I was tired, and I was blown away at the same time.”

While the SurfSet Fitness plan does appeal to his own interests and passions, the biggest thrill for Reich is seeing his clients progress.

“It is really cool to see them develop,” he said. “It is the little things I see that are very inspiring to me.”

Gleitsman praised Reich’s approach and enthusiasm.

“Justin is just an awesome instructor,” she said. “I cannot say enough good things about him.”

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