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New York’s underground fitness wonder, by way of Poland

(Photos: Tonique)

“I’m getting older, but every year my shorts are getting shorter!” Sylwia Wiesenberg tells me, after a sweat session. “That’s not supposed to happen!” Wiesenberg, 36, is the charismatic creator of the hardest workout you’ve never heard of. And it’s true, she’s not big on covering up.

If you catch her teaching Tonique, the fitness method she created, it’s hard not to be awestruck by the petite, barely-dressed trainer shouting cues with a Polish accent, her unbelievably toned midsection and limbs carrying her gracefully through exercises everyone else in the room can barely attempt—her immense smile beaming through every repetition.

Wiesenberg is an underground fitness wonder, teaching daily two-hour classes to a devoted following out of a rented room at Complete Body in New York’s Flatiron District and personally shipping her wildly popular DVDs to fans around the world every day. This summer, thanks in part to her DVD fandom, she’ll appear on the cover of Shape in Poland. But her exploding energy and charisma, which pulls people into her orbit of passionate, fit living, screams “star power” right here in New York.

(Photo: Tonique)

The Tonique story

Growing up in Poland, Wiesenberg says she was always into active pursuits, gymnastics chief among them. She moved to the United States for college at Notre Dame, ended up working in finance, and by the end of 2002, the job started to get old.

“I was literally squatting at the trading desk. People were like ‘You’re so obsessed with squats and lunges! Why don’t you give other people that energy?’” she says. (Other things she’s obsessed with include fashion, finding really good bread, and much more.)

The method

In 2004, she left her job to create her own workout, developing it over four years of teaching for free, testing her theories on willing bodies to see which exercises were the most effective.

The resulting method, branded Tonique in 2008, is super unique. Wiesenberg takes lunges and squats and builds creative variations around them, working in push-ups, kicks, and more, and leading you through an ungodly 30-40 repetitions per exercise. In her two hour cardio-sculpt classes, you work one side of the body for 45 minutes straight before switching to the other. It’s painful and difficult in a way that’s in complete contradiction to her bubbly nature, so her smile is truly necessary to get you through it.

Star power: The idea that any of us could wake up with the same vigor and confidence that Wiesenberg radiates is definitely going to be a big draw for her growing fitness brand. (Photo: Tonique)

“Resting for me is doing leg lifts,” she laughs. “Tonique will take you from 0 to 10, and then whenever you enter another class you will feel confident because you will know, if you can do Tonique, you can do anything.” (Disclaimer: The first time you do it, though, you’ll probably feel like a failure.)

The future positive

For Wiesenberg, the workout is just the anchor point for the Tonique lifestyle, which includes a healthy-made-exciting approach to food that she’s currently working on capturing in an upcoming cookbook.

And, perhaps most importantly, a body-positive—and all-around positive—outlook on life. “I really want fitness to be a lifestyle and people to move as much as possible and be inspired. It’s about every woman waking up and looking in the mirror and saying ‘I love my body,’” she says. Whether they’re wearing really short shorts, or not. —Lisa Elaine Held

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