Fitness face-off

Editor-in-chief Brian Farnham, 35, wants to dunk a basketball. Meanwhile, Seek editor Elise Loehnen, 27, is going to try to work herself into the splits. They have three months. Who will prevail?

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Elise’s backstory:

About 15 years ago, I used to be able to pin both ankles behind my head. Because I was a lady—and apparently had whacked-out hip joints. Now, I can’t even touch my toes.
“Due to decreased activity, our muscles get tighter and our joints get stiffer as we age,” explains Dr. Gerard Varlotta, clinical associate professor at NYU Medical Center. “Diligent stretching—five times a day—can prevent this,” which isn’t good news considering my nearly pathological aversion to the activity. I knew I wouldn’t get serious about flexibility without something concrete to motivate me. So I figured I’d attempt something I’d fantasized about as a frustrated ten-year-old, not-very-graceful ballerina: the splits.

Elise’s process:

Brooke Siler, founder of Re:AB Pilates, is a fitness celebrity: She’s written myriad books and trained many a famous person. Which is why I was a little surprised at how enthusiastically she’s tackling my project. “I have reshaped my body more than once, even when professionals told me it wasn’t possible—it’s a clich, but when there’s a will, there’s a way,” she explains. I am to see her four times a week in order to stretch each and every muscle—as they are somehow all involved in the splits. She plans on ironing out my asymmetrical posture while she’s at it, too. It’s not passive, it’s not low-key: It’s painful, difficult and addictive, in a sado-masochistic, flossing-your-teeth sort of way.

Photo: Jeff Gurwin

Brian’s backstory:

I played basketball in high school and still do casually, but although I’m fairly athletic and blessed with decent height (6'2"), I was never able to do the one thing every baller dreams of doing: slamming one down. At my springiest I could grab a healthy handful of rim, but without Jordanesque fast-twitch calf muscles, dunking was always outside my grasp. Although it may be a sad, pre-midlife--crisis exercise in macho mortality denial (my wife’s position), I’m determined to give rim-rocking one last stab. The odds are formidable. “It’s genetics,” Dr. Brian Kessler, the medical director of Spine and Sports Medicine in Manhattan, tells me bluntly. “You either got hops, or you don’t.” But when pressed, Kessler admits that studies have shown younger athletes can significantly improve their vertical jumping ability. And I figure I have nothing to lose but my love handles.

Brian’s process:

I’ve enlisted the services of the sadists at Bluestreak, the impressive new sports performance center at Chelsea Piers. Bluestreak is to sports training what Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio was to acting—intense, methodical and scientific. It focuses on core strength building, flexibility and endurance, achieved through weight training, plyometrics, agility drills and, as I would ruefully come to discover, lung-bursting interval training on a high-tech treadmill. I go one to three times a week, two hours a pop. My main trainer is Seth Peloso, an assistant basketball coach at NYU. “We’ll have you dunking in no time,” Peloso told me when we first met, but his tone said, “We’re good, but we’re not miracle workers.” Let the games begin.

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