Northside SF
Fit and healthy around the town in 2012
The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s mind-body studio photo: courtesy JCCSF

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day many of us overindulge, whether it’s breezing from party to party grazing and tippling or preparing special holiday favorites for family and friends. And what with all of the shopping and gatherings, school and work functions, and perhaps a getaway weekend, it’s easy to forgo our workouts.

But now that it’s a new year, many of us are ready to resume or start a fitness regime, complete with a healthful diet and maybe new workout gear to keep us motivated. While this could mean grabbing some running shoes and heading out the door, some – myself included – need a coach or instructor to keep us going. Luckily San Francisco is an exercise mecca.

The easiest way to begin a fitness program is to join a gym. There you’ll find group exercise classes designed with every age, intensity level, and interest in mind, along with personal trainers who can show you how to use the equipment or develop a program to help you meet specific goals. Not to mention you’ll find like-minded people to chat with on the treadmill!

One of the best values around is the Presidio YMCA (415-447-9622, Located near the Main Post, this welcoming, down-to-earth facility has everything you could want. The exercise schedule includes everything from a ballet barre fitness class to yoga, Pilates and step aerobics. You can even try a belly dance class or indoor cycling (spinning). There are special “lite” classes designed for seniors or anyone nursing an injury, and you can make new friends during one of the Y’s park hike or walk classes that travel along the scenic trails of the Presidio. The Letterman Pool, just blocks away, offers lap swimming and water aerobics.

The Y is a wonderful place for families; there are programs designed specifically with kids and teens in mind, and it has one of the best summer camp programs in the City. Childcare is available daily, and parking is free before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. on weekdays and free on the weekends.

The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (415-292-1200, on California and Presidio is recently renovated and provides similar offerings in a luxurious urban setting. In addition to creative group exercise classes that include circuit sculpt to tone every muscle and Nia, a low-impact blend of dance, martial arts, and movement that is safe and adaptable to any fitness level, the JCC has a mind-body studio that focuses on a wide variety of yoga classes as well as Pilates and meditation. This is a great place to begin a yoga practice with Yoga 101. Parking, childcare, childrens’ classes, camps, and other special programs are all available for members as well as nonmembers for an extra fee.

Crunch Fitness ( is a national chain and has Northside locations on Chestnut Street, Union Street and Polk Street. While smaller than the Y and the JCC, it offers many of the same benefits and classes.

Most gyms offer a guest pass for a day or up to a week, so you can sample different classes and equipment before you commit to joining. Many offer family and teen memberships at a slightly discounted rate as well as individual memberships.

DANCE IT OFF All of the gyms mentioned above offer an extremely popular exercise phenomenon sweeping fitness facilities worldwide: Zumba ( A Latin-dance-inspired fitness program, Zumba combines international music and choreographed dance steps that incorporate samba, meringue, and even rock ’n’ roll to provide a high-energy, lively workout anyone can follow (seriously). Zumba is Spanish slang for “to move fast and have fun,” and its more than 12 million followers are doing just that.

The Presidio YMCA offers bootcamp and outdoor hike and walk classes photo: courtesy Presidio YMCA
For those who enjoy the outdoors, boot camps are cropping up all over the City. Boot camp exercises are tailored for each individual’s fitness level and involve 60–90 minutes with an instructor, usually a certified personal trainer, at a park or other outdoor space, with a mix of cardio and strength training designed to provide a full-body workout. Expect to do basics like lunges, push-ups and sit-ups, and most instructors also bring “toys” like rubber resistance bands, free weights, and even medicine balls (weighted balls roughly the diameter of the shoulders). Some boot camp instructors are like army drill sergeants, pushing their clients to the limits; others are a bit mellower.

You’ll find boot camp participants on the bluffs above Baker Beach, down at Crissy Field, and running the Lyon Street stairs. Try REACTT boot camp (415-254-8162, or Basic Training SF (415-519-6483,, both of which have classes originating in the Marina. BootCampSF (415-921-8537, offers classes citywide including weekend classes at Crissy Field.

Most participants buy a certain number of classes per month; the more you buy, the lower the price per class. There are also many Internet deals available, which allow you to sample classes until you find one that suits you.

If you want to get fit fast, and you’re ready to work hard, try a CrossFit class (415-937-7323, Designed to fit everyone’s needs, this fast-paced outdoor workout incorporates functional movements – pushing, squatting, lifting, and running – using everything from barbells, free weights, and kettle bells (a cannonball-like cast-iron weight with a handle), all done in the great outdoors. A CrossFit class will push you to your personal limits – you’ll be sore the next day, but you’ll see your strength, stamina, endurance, speed, and flexibility increase pronto.

San Francisco CrossFit offers drop-in single classes, a 10-class pass, and unlimited one-, three-, six-month, and one-year memberships.

It’s hard to go anywhere in the City and not pass by a yoga studio. The reason for the ever-growing popularity of this ancient practice is that yoga blends movement with mindfulness, promoting not only stronger, more flexible muscles, but also reducing stress. And there are so many different styles of yoga – even newer kinds that meld one type with another – that no matter what your age, how stretchy you are (or aren’t), or your body type, there’s a yoga class for you. All gyms mentioned above offer yoga incorporated into their group exercise programs, but for smaller classes and more hands-on attention, it’s worth it to try a yoga studio. One of the best is Yoga Tree (, which has several locations in the City. The teachers are all meticulously trained and well versed in not only yoga but also anatomy and the spirituality that is part of the yoga tradition. Even if you are pregnant or have a chronic injury or disability, the Yoga Tree instructors will work with you to modify poses so you can achieve your goal.

Other popular yoga studios include Funky Door Yoga (415-673-8659, on Polk Street (also in the Haight); the Yoga Loft (415-626-5638, and Yoga Garden (415-552-9644,, both on Divisadero Street; and the Mindful Body (415-931-2639, on California Street. Many yoga studios offer massage, workshops and retreats. You can buy one yoga class, several at a time, or an unlimited monthly pass, and some studios offer yearly membership.

Part of a balanced fitness program includes fueling your body to give it the energy it needs for working out, working, playing, parenting, and everything else our busy lives demand. You can stock up on local and organic produce, baked goods and more at the Fort Mason and Ferry Building Farmers’ Markets, and Northside grocery stores Real Food and Whole Foods. For those of us who don’t have a lot of time to cook, these locations also offer hot and cold prepared meals.

There are also are several options for wholesome, delicious prepared food you can pick up, or in some cases have delivered to your door, or even prepared in your home:

Square Meals (415-674-1069, on Polk at Broadway prepares dishes for around $17 cooked from scratch daily using whole ingredients with no additives or preservatives. How does lemongrass-crusted Pacific fish or turkey meatloaf with BBQ glaze sound? The menu changes often, and you can eat there, buy takeout, or order online.

Beautifull (510-268-6000, on California Street in Laurel Village is based on a similar concept. The store offers food made from natural, hormone-, steroid-, and antibiotic-free ingredients along with no refined sugars or grains, high nutrient density per calorie, and high dietary fiber. Think carrot-ginger soup, red or green curry bowls with or without chicken or beef, or tea-smoked salmon with a side of golden quinoa. You can eat there, stop by and pick up a meal, or order online for curbside pick up or delivery. Entrées are about $10.

If you want the luxury of having a personal chef prepare custom-made healthful meals, try Garbo’s Personal Chef Service (415-567-4337, Chef Garbo has been cooking for Bay Area clients since 2004. She will help plan menus around your dietary needs whether you require gluten-free, heart-healthy or low-calorie meals. Then she shops for the best organic ingredients and comes to your kitchen with her own equipment to prepare each dish, packing each with labels that include heating instructions, and then popping them in the fridge or freezer so you can enjoy when you’re ready. Client favorites include scallops baked with feta cheese, chicken enchiladas, and hearty beef stew. Organic meals range from $15–$20 per entrée.

So if getting healthier is your plan for 2012, you’ve got no excuse – just get moving!

Deconstructing yoga »
Julie Mitchell can be reached by e-mail at

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