"Knock Out" your weight-loss resolutions in South Tampa

Best of the Bay trainer Esther Solano combines boxing, yoga and interval training.

I wouldn't say that I'm fit but I'm not sedentary either. I've been running, biking, swimming and participated in several classes that involve kicking, jumping and dancing and contorting my limbs in awkward yoga poses named after animals doing things. I watch Dr. Oz and my portions and eat balanced meals (for the most part). I read up on health and psychology and take a slew of vitamins, but just like many other Americans, I only work out on a semi-consistent to inconsistent basis.

Though it would be good for me and probably benefit me in several ways, I guess I am a little wary of fitness culture and all its alpha-human, slavish devotion and cult-like absurdities. Plus, I get a weird satisfaction out of being an underdog with a few extra pounds.

So, when 2011's Best of the Bay Best Personal Trainer Esther Solano pitched that I interview her for a follow-up story to her award and tell readers about her exercise venture, Knockout Fitness, I was hesitant at first. I didn't want to get into a bunch of mumbo jumbo that's already in a zillion health articles on the web. I've got much too much to do and cannot spend hours outside my regular duties writing advertorial copy that will only appeal to the Spandex set.

But Solano didn't let up. She wrote and wrote.

Through our correspondence, I started to learn that she is different from your average jock or aerobic bimbo and she applied that same tenacity she did in getting me to write about her in helping people reach their personal best during workouts. She shared with me a story about her own weight loss struggles and how, even as a boot camp instructor, she topped 300 pounds. As a result, Solano worked diligently to develop a new workout routine that worked for her and that she could teach others — a fun, varied workout that works all the muscle groups. It would keep her and others from seesawing and staying on track and in shape. In doing so, the Puerto Rican-born Ninfa Esther Solano lost 160 pounds.

Before and after: Fitness instructor Esther Solano  before and after she lost 160 pounds.
  • Before and after: Fitness instructor Esther Solano before and after she lost 160 pounds.

She also told me about the $45 unlimited boot camps, which change each day to focus on each muscle group. She and a few coaches man the various workout stations so everyone gets individualized attention.

And that boxing was involved. Not kickboxing. Boxing.

"Now that the new year is coming up, we would like to be one the choice for people to get their bodies right," Solano told me by e-mail. "Our workouts are fun and they are never the same."

So, here I write on my day off, writing on New Year's Eve eve because I think Esther has something good going on. If you're looking for a workout to suss out those weight-loss resolutions, you should check out KnockOut Fitness' classes. Solano's approach to personal training is unique and unlike any other class I've tried. Solano did not win that Best of the Bay award by fluke.

I learned this earlier this fall when she invited me to come work out with her. I met up with her and her staff on a crisp late afternoon at Henderson Boulevard parking lot, rush hour traffic whirring by.

Solano makes eye contact and looks through you so you're paralyzed in any attempt to utter bullshit excuses. She keeps it real and doesn't demand perfection, but she does watch her clients' form and makes they're putting the right weight on the right foot and lifting at the proper angle and all that other jazz.

Working out with her was tough but gratifying. I was sore after but that good sore, not wrenchingly painful sore. Solano impressed me with her drill-sergeant-meets-maternal approach. She explained each exercise and estimated my fitness levels for each routine throughout my workout. While my cardio was a little off and she had to push me during a few calisthenics, she noticed where I was strong and praised me for my solid punches during our boxing interval.

The sun was setting and I took off my big olive green shades. She said, "See, look how pretty your eyes are. Don't cover them up with glasses!" Esther must have picked up on what a sucker I was for flattery.

Solano's interval-driven boot camps are at their most fun, in my opinion, when you get about 80 percent through and tape up for a vigorous boxing component. She or one of the other coaches catch uppercuts, jabs and hooks. It's quite therapeutic, as you can imagine. Solano heaped on more flattery and told me I was a natural fighter. I really liked that.

I also learned that with exercise, confusion can be a good thing. Muscle confusion, to be exact.

"We keep your muscles at a constant stage of muscle confusion. When that happens is your muscles are always working. So we help you achieve your weight loss goals a lot quicker than other forms of exercise. We vary every exercise for the conditioning, strength training, boxing and yoga. So you will always do these four forms of exercises every class, but they will never be the same; hence there is your muscle confusion."

Client Michelle Gonzalez, 37, a Tampa hairdresser who works at Kendra and Co., has been working with Solano for the past few years. She jokingly calls Solano "Satan" but then clarifies that she means it "with love."

Gonzales also shared that she had been severely injured in a car accident and didn't think she could exercise again or get around like she used to. Solano helped Gonzalez build up her strength gradually and helped boost her confidence — and helped her lose 32 pounds, she said.

"I'm able to function," Gonzalez said. "I didn't know what I couldn't do and what I could do. I couldn't even touch my knees and now I can touch my toes."

What does Gonzalez have to say about Solano's approach?

"Esther is always on top of what's new. She has humor and compassion and knows us individually — but she can get militant."

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