A passion to train

Dana Cavalea, founder and owner of ML Strength in White Plains, is the former strength and conditioning director for the New York Yankees. Photograph courtesy of ML Strength.

If Dana Cavalea calls the clients at his ML Strength fitness facility “athletes” and his six instructors “coaches,” it’s only natural.

Until recently, Cavalea was the strength and conditioning director for the New York Yankees, the youngest to hold that position when he was hired 12 years ago at age 22.

He describes that job as “like touring with the greatest rock band in the world – really cool.” But as he notes, “In coaching, we say ‘It’s not if you will leave, but when.’”

The Yankees’ loss, though, is everyone else’s gain.

“I’ve discovered a passion for working with people. And I’m using the techniques I honed with these elite athletes on the field and bringing them to regular people.”

The result is ML Strength in White Plains, which Cavalea started three years ago. This is not your daddy’s gym, although at first glance it appears to be a high testosterone environment. A third baseman in the Yanks’ minor league organization balances on a disc and does a swimmer’s crawl to strengthen the body’s core. An athlete with a rope around his waist pulls the coach who resists at the other end. (This looks like fun – to watch, not to do.) AstroTurf covers the floor, a bright-green contrast to the cool black brick walls. You are acutely aware that you are the only woman in the room – although Cavalea says that many of his 1,000 athletes are female.

There are different programs for different categories of athletes. The basic training camp, which is the entry-level program, assesses body weight, composition and circumference and is designed to get people fit, strong and moving to lose weight. The professional and elite divisions for hard-charging execs and pro athletes respectively offer more in-depth assessment and prepping and injury-prevention techniques, as well as ML’s signature team approach.

“Some won’t touch a weight for weeks,” Cavalea says. “Prepping and creating a base is essential to prevent injury.”

There’s team training for tennis clubs, soccer, baseball and lacrosse. And Cavalea also does personal training. (His clients include the owner of an NBA team.)

But whether you’re an elite ballplayer, a type-A CEO, a high school soccer star or someone just looking to jump-start your exercise program, you’ll get the same treatment: You’ll be told what to do. You’ll be asked how you feel. And you’ll be told and asked courteously.

“This is a very intimidating environment, and we understand that,” Cavalea says. “We try to change that. This place is as much your house as it is ours.”

He counteracts the high-powered gym atmosphere with some old-fashioned politeness. He and his staff greet you in a courtly manner the moment you walk through the door. And he balances the yang with some yin – a Saturday sports yoga class and a pale-green massage room with Buddhist touches. (Jamie Haro is the health and wellness concierge.)

But then, Cavalea is the kind of guy who’s in touch with his feminine side. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a musician-father and a mother who loves doing Jazzercise and eating healthy. A baseball fan in general (and a Yankee fan in particular), Cavalea played first base and outfield. He attended Queens College, didn’t like it, and moved on to the University of South Florida in Tampa, where the Yanks train and where the fitness culture proved a revelation.

“I realized you could do strength training and conditioning for a living,” he says.

A coach at USF pointed him to to an internship with the Yankees, a dream job. (Asked who was the fittest Yank he worked with and Cavalea pauses before naming retired relief ace Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader.)

Cavalea’s years as a coach and trainer have given him a solid perspective on fitness and the disconnect between the current fitness craze and the obesity epidemic. He says the variety of options have misled people into thinking there’s a magic bullet for healthy weight loss.

Rather there’s a hard but tried-and-true formula: Eat less and sleep and move more.

In eating, “you want to take in the least amount of ingredients,” as fattening or highly processed foods often have a great many. Also, he says, begin every meal with a piece of fruit or a salad (low-cal dressing on the side) to feel fuller before chowing down.

Cavalea is considering opening more ML Strength centers in northern Westchester and on Long Island.

“We’re looking at opportunities,” he says, to make people feel at home while becoming fit.

For more, call (914) 437-8484 or visit mlstrength.com.

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