Amp Up Your Workout with an Awesome Trainer

Whether you’re into sparring, swimming or something else entirely, here are six coaches who can help you achieve your fitness goals.

Alberto Mercedes of AMC Boxing. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Alberto Mercedes of AMC Boxing. Photo by Julian Kegel.


Alberto Mercedes

Expertise: Professional Boxing
Contact: 414-377-1506
Location:2612 S. Greeley St.

When he’s not training competitive boxers, Alberto Mercedes, a former pro, works with adults who are more interested in a punishing workout than a sparring session. “You leave here, [you feel] like you got a massage,” says the Dominican native of boxing’s post-workout euphoria. “There’s nothing like it.”

At AMC Boxing, a new gym on the South Side of Milwaukee, boxing neophytes are taught the proper technique for throwing a jab, hook, straight right/left and uppercut, as well as how to wrap one’s hands to protect the knuckles and wrists from damage. Elsa Gomez, a retired Milwaukee firefighter, puts herself through the same routine as the fighters in the gym, even though she merely watches from the sidelines on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are designated for sparring. Becoming proficient enough at the basics of boxing to attempt the routine takes about two weeks of daily hour-long sessions, estimates Mercedes, but if you make that commitment, “you’re gonna leave here happy,” he says.

The gym is the realization of a lifelong dream for Mercedes, who grew up in extreme poverty. “It’s a plan I had since I was a little kid. I always wanted this,” he says of owning a gym. Besides boxing, there is a space for weight training at AMC, and also the option for personal training.

“My goal is to find the next gold medalist,” Mercedes says. In the meantime, he is happy to help non-fighters reap the benefits of the most demanding of sports.

Hannah Saiz of Splash!. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Hannah Saiz of Splash!. Photo by Julian Kegel.


Hannah Saiz

Expertise: Champion Swimmer
Contact: 262-512-7946
Location: Splash! Swim & Wellness 10636 N. Commerce St., Mequon

Internationally competitive in the 200-meter butterfly, Hannah Saiz is relentlessly pursuing her dream of swimming in the Olympics. Saiz, a recent graduate of Kenyon College and one of its most celebrated swimmers, will compete in the 200-meter butterfly, her strongest event, as well as the 100-meter butterfly, at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, which start in late June. But when she’s not training, Saiz is available for private lessons that will get you into top form at Splash! in Mequon.

Swimming has long been touted as a full-body workout, but there are ways to ratchet up its benefits. One method is by swimming 50 or 100 yards repeatedly — somewhere between 10 and 20 times in a single workout ­— at what Saiz calls a “moderate-plus pace,” and gradually decreasing the interval that it takes to complete each distance. A good swimmer might be able to complete 50 yards in a minute and a half, but decreasing that time by 15 seconds is a great way to increase aerobic fitness.

Shana Verstegen of Madison Log Rolling. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Shana Verstegen of Madison Log Rolling. Photo by Julian Kegel.

Shana Verstegen

Expertise: Logrolling
Contact: 608-305-4564
Location: 824 Knickerbocker St., Madison

To get a really good workout, Shana Verstegen stands atop a Western red cedar log in one of Madison’s frigid lakes and kicks her feet like a highly caffeinated Irish dancer. “Logrolling is one of the most amazing forms of exercise possible,” says Verstegen, the sport’s four-time world champion and co-owner of Madison Log Rolling.

A former pole vaulter at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Verstegen first tried logrolling – standing atop the log and spinning it with her feet – at age 8. “It’s pretty much doing sprint exercises on and off, on and off,” she says. It also engages one’s core muscles like nothing else, says Verstegen, a self-described “lumberjill,” who only truly appreciated this effect after having her first child recently. The pregnancy “ruined” Verstegen’s core strength to the point that she could barely logroll at all after having her son, who will soon be a year old. But she has worked to regain that strength and now hopes to become the oldest female logrolling champion at the Great Outdoor Games this summer, when she will be 36.

In the meantime, Verstegen and the other instructors at Madison Log Rolling offer private and group lessons on Lake Wingra in the summers, and at indoor pools during the colder months.

Jeff Brand of the Pettit National Ice Center. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Jeff Brand of the Pettit National Ice Center. Photo by Julian Kegel.


Jeff Brand

Expertise: Speedskating
Location: 500 S. 84th St.

Jeff Brand, a competitive skater and the Pettit National Ice Center’s announcer during competitions, stands on the ice, timing Andy Ognenoff’s laps. Clad in a hooded, skintight suit, Ognenoff is no speedskating prodigy. He’s a middle-aged IT consultant, who is one of the first participants in the Winter Enrichment for Cyclists program. Speedskating as a method of cross-training, Ognenoff hoped, would provide a break from the monotony of running laps and also improve his cycling performance. After just a few weeks, Ogenoff had already noticed a difference: his output on a bike, measured in watts, is higher, and “I’m not as sore as I used to be” the day after a long ride, he says. Speedskating emphasizes muscles like the glutes and hips more than biking does, which can help competitive riders. It also gives a break to the muscles used in biking.

“One of the problems with cycling is that you over-train your muscles,” says Brand, who volunteers at the Pettit Center when he is not working his day job at Harley-Davidson. “We’ve proven that it can work,” he says of the Winter Enrichment for Cyclists program.

And according to Ognenoff, it’s also fun — so much so, that his interest now goes well beyond merely cross-training. Already fit from cycling, Ognenoff picked up speedskating so quickly that he is already competing nationally. The sports are certainly complementary. Speedskating legend and Wisconsin native Eric Heiden, the winner of five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics, turned to professional cycling after his skating career was over and competed in the Tour de France.

Keith Shimon of Body Activation. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Keith Shimon of Body Activation. Photo by Julian Kegel.

Keith Shimon

Expertise: Fitness scientist
Contact: 414-731-2639
Location: 10408 N. Baehr Rd., Mequon OR 6797 N. Green Bay Ave, Glendale

“Exercise how we know it today is completely backward,” says Keith Shimon of Body Activation. “Everyone’s conforming to exercise, instead of exercise being fitted to them.”

Shimon specializes in Muscle Activation Techniques, a program developed by Greg Roskopf, formerly a strength coach at Fresno State University and an employee of the Denver Broncos, that “fills the gap between the medical and the exercise fields,” according to the program’s website. Shimon, who is a certified practitioner in Muscle Activation Techniques, first pinpoints exactly where a client is weak during a free initial consult, and then determines a regimen to strengthen those areas.

“It allows us to monitor what’s happening joint by joint,” says Shimon. “We’re seeing what’s not working and then we’re getting that part working again.”

The training of an athlete is often universalized depending on the sport that he or she plays. This universal approach, however, fails to account for differences in each player’s body, and thus can cause injuries. A player with a weak ankle might be doing more harm than good by doing squats like the rest of the team. “We’re gonna find out where they’re weak and then get them stronger,” says Shimon, who has worked with a bevy of professional baseball and football players and also at the prestigious IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy program in Florida.

A graduate of UW-La Crosse in exercise and sports science, Shimon moved back to Wisconsin from the Bollettieri academy in Florida when his father was sick. His workout regimen can be tailored to anyone from workout newbies to elite athletes.

Alex Mariani of Body by Design. Photo by Julian Kegel.
Alex Mariani of Body by Design. Photo by Julian Kegel.

Alex Mariani

Expertise: Body sculpting
Contact: 262-226-0936
Location: 21975 Doral Rd., Waukesha

“We don’t really have memberships,” says Alex Mariani of Body By Design. “We are primarily driven off personal training.” A former college football player, Mariani will go to uncommon lengths to help his clients reach their weight-loss goals, as Erin Folsom will attest.

“I’ve always kind of struggled with my weight,” says Folsom, who weighed about 300 pounds by the time she turned 30. The marketing director of a local home remodeling company, Folsom had joined various gyms over time but hadn’t achieved results she wanted. With Mariani coaching her, Folsom lost 130 pounds in a little over a year. Mariani went so far as to accompany Folsom to the grocery store to help her make healthier choices, and even prepared meals for her. Mariani also showed his client that, despite hectic, 50-hour work weeks, it’s still possible to eat healthy by, for example, spending part of Sunday preparing her meals for the upcoming week. He also texts recipes to her.

While Mariani isn’t able to to do this with everyone he trains, he has a habit of going out of his way when he sees that someone is extremely committed, and has a significant amount of weight to lose.

“It’s essentially designing your body,” Folsom says of the work she does with Mariani.

Eben Pindyck is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and former amateur boxer.

‘Your Workout with an Awesome Trainer’ appears in Milwaukee Health, a special issue from Milwaukee Magazine.

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