Mary Bakija writes,
Neighbor and local businesswoman Elizabeth Pongo opened her first studio dedicated to personal training on 5th Street in 2007, and interest has been so high that she’s opening a second one.
Ahead of the opening, we asked Pongo some questions about how she got into fitness, what you’ll find at her studios, what she’s learned in her time running a business in the neighborhood, and more.
Park Slope Stoop: Tell us a bit about your background — how did you get interested enough in fitness to open your first gym in the neighborhood?
Elizabeth Pongo: After graduating from Middlebury College, I was 184 pounds! Forget the freshman 15, try gaining the freshman 40! Obviously I didn’t feel like myself when I got back from Vermont, and I tried every crash diet possible in order to lose the weight. It simply wasn’t happening without proper exercise.
So, while enrolled in acting school, I ended up getting a job at the New York Health & Racquet Club as personal trainer. I didn’t realize how much I would love being a personal trainer at that time. I just like having a healthy environment to go to for work. But over the years, the relationships with my clients blossomed, I got further certifications and more education, and I ended up as, well, a jolly good trainer, if I do say so myself – some even say, a “great” trainer.
I opened up my own gym, because it became fairly obvious to me, over the years at the gym, that there were many cultural and environmental imbalances going on. The atmosphere didn’t suit me. I didn’t like the music, I felt self-conscious being in front of so many mirrors every day, and I really didn’t enjoy the way big corporate management treated the personal trainers.
So, in 2007, I launched Pongo Power in order to save myself and others from that ecosystem. We treat everyone properly at Pongo Power, as equals. We let the clients choose the music. If it’s too cold, we turn the heat up for you. If you don’t like looking in the mirror, we move you to a place where you can choose to have an internal focus. We make the experience a truly healthy one. It’s sustainable.
What can neighbors expect to find at the new location that’s either different or the same from the first spot?
Pongo Power Flatbush is bigger, and has incredibly beautiful equipment. We have Olympic lifting squat racks, a cable machine, exercise bands and tubing (which are great to minimize stress on the joints, and also wonderful for travel), spin bikes, treadmills, and a whole host of the best equipment out there.
We offer classes now that are semi-private. This is fantastic. We only allow four to six people, so you get lots of supervision and instruction. Our clients actually learn how to exercise. We don’t just tell people what to do, we teach clients why it is important perform the movements properly.
I love the feeling of having a bigger space on Flatbush. We’re very excited to be offering memberships, as well. There’s nothing like that sense of going to a health club, and actually feeling comfortable, like you have a home away from home, to take care of your body.
Pongo Power 5th Street is one-on-one, it is a boutique setting, so there is only enough space for one trainer and one client. This is wonderful, for the privacy. But Pongo Power Flatbush has a whole new energy and excitement to it. We can train multiple clients and welcome in members now who want to do their homework.
You’ve done a bit of stand-up comedy in the past — can people still see you perform live these days? And how, for you, does comedy relate to fitness? And to the general atmosphere of Pongo Power?
Oh yes, indeed! You can still see me perform live, for sure. I perform at Gotham Comedy Club and Broadway Comedy, just email me, and I’ll let you know when my next show it.
Comedy is absolutely integral to fitness for me. Bodies are funny, weird, and strange things. I was so self-conscious before I got into shape, and not very good at sharing my feelings. Comedy and personal training have taught me that you can trust people, and you can share the tough stuff with one another, laugh about it when you’re ready, maybe cry, and then move on!
We are so blessed to be able to talk, move around, and share our feelings with each other. Yet, in our modern society, sitting at desks in front of iPads and computer screens has taken over! Sitting is killing people!
We need to be able to experience true emotional catharsis in order to take back the right to love our bodies, and take good care of ourselves. For me, that’s where stand-up comedy comes in. I love the courage it takes for both exercise and comedy to be experienced properly.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned so far as a business owner in Park Slope?
I love this question, because I’ve learned so much! The most important thing that I’ve learned is that through the power of community and loyalty, anything can happen! We’ve been amazed by how supportive our clients are. People do really well with great coaching and teaching. It is amazing how, when you share your knowledge with someone, they share their own gifts with you. In this way we all raise each other up, and get stronger each and every year!