BY Molly Congdon
HALFMOON — On Nov. 7, Contemporary Athlete celebrated its three-year anniversary.
David Bender, the owner, graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 2001. Went to college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas where he was a springboard platform diver and obtained a double bachelor’s degree — a BFA in fine art and a BS in biology. Moved back to this area after breaking his back in a car accident and then headed to Canada to get his MFA in fine art and his MS in kinesiology. Then at the end of 2010, he moved back here yet again.
“When I moved back to the area, I looked at what was in the area and where I would want to train and I couldn’t really find anywhere,” Bender said. “So I decided to build a place. I’ve been an athlete since I was a kid. Instead of waiting tables, I worked as a personal trainer.”
It was originally designed as a speed school, but it’s continued to evolve. Working with endurance athletes has become its niche, according to Bender.
“I think everybody’s an athlete, it’s just a matter of them figuring out what kind and where they are,” he said. “I think it comes with a bit of a being an athlete is a mindset, in a lot of cases it’s attached to elitism and I’m trying to break down that wall.”
It’s all about getting people to walk through the doors, moving around and discovering something that they truly enjoy.
“If you don’t like to run,” Bender said, “don’t run.”
In fact, when you walk through the doors of Contemporary Athlete, you will not find a single treadmill.
Each person has their own starting line.
“We modify according to each person’s needs,” said Kyla Scherer, the women’s strength class instructor. “It’s scalable.”
“We live in a culture that’s really heavily obese, very sedentary,” Bender said. “Everyone has a desk job and ultimately people need to get up and move; you have to find something that makes you happy or you’re going to lose the battle in the long run. If you hate doing it, you’re not going to do it — that’s just human nature.”
At Contemporary Athlete, there are no gimmicks, it’s just a space where good old-fashioned hard work happens. “We are really performance-driven,” Bender said. “We’re not CrossFit — that’s really important, the philosophy here is sports-based and everything trickles down from that. We run more on an academy format; nobody does the same workout.”
It all begins with the fundamentals — the food we put into our bodies. “We start heavily in nutrition,” Bender said. “People need a great foundation and that really starts with what you do at home in the kitchen, what you’re doing on the food end of things because that is going to affect everything else that you do. If you want six-pack abs, that happens in the kitchen not here.”
For many beginners, it’s beneficial to start with the Ninja 101 program. “It’s a six week intensive,” Bender said. “You have unlimited access to all of our baseline class, which are all roughly 45 minutes long; everything here is small group training.”
But a huge element of the program is food. It starts off with a one-hour consult with nutrition specialist Lindsey Jones.
There is a science between eating and working out. In fact, nutrition is the crucial piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to make gains with your guns.
Jones started working out there two years ago. “I went to the first class and I was completely hooked,” she said. “I was always an athlete and I never thought, ‘I have to go to the gym today.’ I always had practice two or three hours a day. I haven’t gotten my ass kicked like that since I was at school.”
You will never get bored or stuck in the same tedious routine. “It’s always a different workout; I’ve been going there for two and a half years and I’ve never done the same workout,” Jones said. “You also get a lot of individualized attention.”
There are three levels of training and nine different classes in total. Level one is all bodyweight-based, level two starts to add resistance with kettle bells, and level three is sports performance and adding weight into the mix. “We really look at the barbell as your graduate degree,” Bender said. “A lot of people jump to using that right out of the gate, and the barbell heavily limits your mobility, so until you are a good mover, until you can move skillfully through multiple planes, then we can start looking at incorporating that.”
For Bender, it’s all about helping people be strong and mobile throughout their lives. “There’s no quick fix and generally when people come here, changing their mind set is a lot of it,” Bender said. “Everyone wants to lose the 15 pounds for their next vacation in three weeks and if you do things right, it’s not feasible; it doesn’t happen in reality.”
He continued: “We’re sort of the quiet backstory for a lot of the people who train here, and we like that in a lot of ways. We don’t do anything trendy, just stuff that works. No shakes, no AdvoCare, no supplements; just good hard work.”