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Amber Pagano in her bright, new fitness studio, Activated Wellness, on Shelter Island. At first, the mind-body-soul trainer wasn’t sure if the tiny island population would be ready for a new fitness studio, but classes have been packed since day one. (Photo credit: Madison Fender)

Amber Pagano stands in front of her 8:15 a.m. Saturday class, smiling, as she often is. She’s dressed head to toe in her trademark black — black long-sleeved sweat-wicking workout top, black leggings, super cool black kicks, black beanie atop her head, her long, honey-colored hair peeking out from either side. It’s a bitter cold morning outside, but you wouldn’t know it in the sun-drenched room that houses Activated Wellness, the holistic workout business Pagano owns on Shelter Island. High-energy music at a just-right level fills the room; there’s a feeling of happy tension. Maybe even a little smattering of … hopefulness. 

“How’s everybody feeling?” Pagano says to the three women standing before her. “Alicia, I’ve added a lot of hip work today just for you!” she says to the one on her left, a devotee who takes Pagano’s challenging but thoughtful workout classes weekly. 

“Pat, how are you feeling today?” she says to another regular, who smiles and nods at Pagano’s check-in. She gives Pagano an update on some muscle soreness, and the instructor listens intently, taking mental note. 

A third woman, a total newbie to Activated Wellness, stands shifting from side to side, looking nervous. “Don’t worry,” Pagano says to her with a big smile. “If anything hurts or feels wrong, we’ll fix it.”

A year ago, opening a fitness studio on teeny, tiny Shelter Island seemed to her like a far-fetched idea, but the 5-foot 2-inch fitness dynamo knows that big things come in small packages. Here, she’s found exactly the kind of Main Street warmth and welcome that’s deeply ingrained in her own DNA, and an audience of willing work-out warriors who’ve been waiting for Pagano’s brand of high-energy, tightly tailored fitness work. 

“That’s my favorite part — I try to make each session fun and exciting, and also to trick your brain; mess with the nervous system a little,” she says. “I bring you up and bring you down. My students are always shocked at how fast the hour-long class goes, but it’s because I want to keep you engaged. You have to be very [in tune with] your body.”

And while you might feel the burn long after a class has ended and find yourself grumbling slightly at the soreness, that’s okay, she says.

“If I don’t get cursed out,” Pagano says with a laugh, “I didn’t do my job correctly!”

For Pagano, strength training is about more than muscle: ““We do weight lifting and a lot of band work, too, but I put a lot of emphasis on breath and correctives and muscle activations and really ignite and activate the body,” she says. (Photo credit: Madison Fender)

From cradle to gym

Fitness has always been deeply ingrained in Pagano’s life. Back when her mom used to helm the check-in at Sag Harbor’s former American Fitness Factory, she’d plunk a car-seated baby Amber on the front desk to help her greet the East End’s exercising masses. 

“To this day, people are like, that was you!” laughs the Sag Harbor native, who’s about to enter her third decade of life. 

Just about a year ago, Pagano moved her studio 24 miles east, from Riverhead to Shelter Island Heights, bringing her well-honed wellness skill set and infectious energy to 13 Grand Ave., in a bright, sunny studio aimed at bringing well-rounded fitness and overall health to eastern Long Islanders. 

Pagano is offering both classes and private sessions, billed as strength training, but which go far beyond that simple description. “It’s strength training — we do weight lifting and a lot of band work, too,” she says, “but I put a lot of emphasis on breath and correctives and muscle activations and really ignite and activate the body.” 

All of it comes from the different aspects of Pagano’s life that have influenced her fitness strategy. Spiritual by nature, she’s long been devoted to meditation, yoga and Eastern philosophy, and is also a licensed massage therapist, giving her keen insight into the structure and mechanics of the body (and how to fix what ails you). “I bring a lot of those modalities into the training sessions as well.”

As Pagano likes to say, she basically embodies your body. 

“If you tell me you have pain somewhere, I can visualize the structure and mechanics of it. I do a lot of help for people with issues like back pain — a lot of the private work I’ve done has been helping people post-rehab, the physical therapy aspect of things,” she says. “The stretching, the mobility, the stability and the strengthening, lengthening and activating. I mix it all together!”

Exercising independence

Back in the 2010s, Pagano had been studying multiple aspects of fitness and body work and working as a trainer at a fitness studio in the Hamptons. But just as she decided to go out on her own, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“I was jobless, no gyms were open, massage therapy school stopped session. I couldn’t do what I wanted,” she says. 

Instead, she simply did what she could do. Pagano began teaching fitness classes on Zoom and, when the weather got warmer, trained students outside. 

“Basically, I took a smaller scale size of what my studio is now and put it in the back of my Rav 4,” she laughs. “I had the battle ropes and other things that I could pull out and set up as a mini outdoor gym. I’d travel to houses and train people outside.” 

Her first full-fledged studio opened in July 2022 in Riverhead, as part of a group of business owners tucked away inside the Meraki Creative Suites, a group of small businesses housed in an old post office on Second Street. While Pagano liked the space, it was low on foot traffic and didn’t quite feel like the right fit. 

“It was a good place for me to dip my toe in the water of owning my own business,” she says. “And it helped me to get to a place where I felt confident saying to myself, ‘You can do this!’ ” 

Pagano’s mind-body-spirit combo of techniques became so popular, though, that she quickly outgrew the 150-square-foot space. “As soon as I got in there, I already knew I outgrew it,” she says. 

A client based on Shelter Island kept urging her to move her business further east and, when the Grand Avenue space opened up, to seriously consider it. She was comfortable running her new business in the Riverhead space, but its constraints became hard to ignore.

“I was a deer in headlights!” she says, “but I was like, ‘alright, let me go look at it.’  I walked in and was like, ‘This is it!’ A space can really represent your mindset, and my mind is very clear and airy and sunny and bright, and that’s what this space is. My client who was urging me to move my business here said to me: This space represents you.”

With her clients working on different circuits, Pagano keeps things challening, interesting and fun via machines like the ski erg and assault bike, to bands, battle ropes, dumbells and more. (Photo credit: Madison Fender) 

Fitness focus

Pagano keeps her 60-minute classes, which cost $55 per session, small — no more than four people — as much for practical reasons (square footage) as that she wants to be able to give the right amount of attention to her clients.

“It gives that more intimate feeling because what I do is more like mind-body-soul.” 

True enough, in a 60-minute group session, she keeps an eye on each of her clients, quickly learning about their abilities, shortcomings, pain issues and areas they want to work on, all while keeping the flow of the class seamless. There are intervals where the same round and repetition of movements are done in sets — glute exercises, planks, squats and targeted arm lifts with weights, bear crawls, band work — and then break-out moments where different machines are used simultaneously by each person: a sleek rower, the ski erg (a machine where you quickly squat and pull down on a set of pulleys, mimicking the movement of a downhill skier), an assault bike, battle ropes and dumbbells among them, to help Pagano not just get you into shape, but into feeling like your best self. 

“You don’t want to have fear working out — I want to bring a very positive experience to group fitness classes or personal training sessions,” she says. “I really [home] in on that; I want everyone to feel really secure.”

The studio is open Tuesday and Thursday with classes at 8:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., as well as Saturday and Sunday 8:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., with new time slots being added to the app-centric booking system as time goes on. Booking is done through her dedicated Activated Wellness app, or via the website at 

“I was shocked at the demand. Everybody who walks through the door was basically word of mouth, which I was not expecting at all,” she says. “And everybody has been so appreciative and kind. I keep hearing, ‘Thank you so much for moving your business here — we needed this!’ It just really clicked for me here.”