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Kerry Butler of Tola Body. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)
Kerri Butler of Tola Body. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

As you walk up a flight of stairs and enter the second-floor fitness studio at Tola Body on Love Lane in Mattituck, you might have a certain expectation of what you’ll see.

All gyms are the same, right? In one corner you have the chest press machine, which sits directly across from the free weights, where the guy in the tank top is studying himself in the mirror. Then there are a couple of women wearing earbuds, walking on a treadmill, watching the day’s dramas and conflicts unfold on CNN.

“Oh, no, no, no,” says Tola Body owner Kerri Butler. “This is not a gym where you come in and jump around on a piece of equipment.”

If the natural light bouncing off the brick walls and wood floors doesn’t blind you as you open the door to the studio, the lack of all the equipment you love to hate just might.

The word tola comes from ancient Sanskrit, and is a measurement of weight.

“We look at how to take weight and properly align it,” Butler says.

The workouts at the studio focus on core strength, joint integrity and spinal alignment, Butler says. With a background in ashtanga yoga, Butler cares about how you breathe during a session.

It’s a personal trainer approach that costs about $2,000 per year for a membership, though weekly and monthly payment levels are offered. Classes are in the early morning and the evening to accommodate work schedules. About 40 percent of her clients are men.

In an effort to see what this fitness studio was all about beyond just Butler’s words, we attended a recent cross-box class. Seventeen clients between ages 17 and 61 participated — Butler will never work with more than 20 at a time — in the 45-minute session, which combines elements of cross training and kickboxing exercises.

Instead of the usual machines they used ropes, chains and floor bags during the workout. They kicked, they punched, they planked. They also sweat, yelled and gasped for air.

The name of each client, who Butler identifies by nicknames — with shouts of encouragement like “Let’s go, Cranky!” — is featured on a video screen, where their heart rate and caloric burn is on full display.

“It’s exhilarating,” said Amanda Barney, 40, of Mattituck, as she wipes herself down and shuffles off to pick up one of her three kids from soccer practice. Not intimidated working out in a group of men and women of all ages, fitness levels and body types, Ms. Barney said it has the opposite effect.

“The group fitness thing is a lot of fun,” she said. “We all support each other.”

Butler said classes are not aligned by gender or age for a reason, since each individual client’s workout is tailored to fit them, even as they work out alongside others. She reaches out to members before they begin working together to evaluate their needs.

And instead of standing in front of the class, she moves around them, a wireless mic attached to her.

“This way I can see everyone and I can support everyone specifically,” she said. “I can be dealing with an athlete with a meniscus tear or an older person on heart medication and align [the workout] to their needs.”

A cyclist, 49-year-old Tony Shannon of Cutchogue entered Tola Body as a fit individual, capable of most any workout. In the 18 months since, he’s been humbled.

“It’s all about that push,” he said after the cross-box class. “Kerri takes you to limits you didn’t think you could go to.

“She knocks you off your pedestal.”

The first time he attended one of her spin classes — Tola does offer a cycling room — he was gasping for air within 10 minutes.

“I looked around the room and everyone else was just getting warmed up,” he said.

Butler said she loves the challenge of working with people of all levels.

“What are your needs? What’s your objective? That’s what I figure out,” she said. “Then I take a tough-love approach. The worst feeling is feeling helpless. I’m here to help you.”

She added, “there’s no hiding in here.”

This story was originally published in the 2014 northforker Health & Fitness magazine

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