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Fitness center built with moms – and their kids – in mind

Ashley Rapsinski knows it can be hard to get to the gym when you have a 2-year-old. It’s why she was so delighted several weeks ago to find one that allows her to exercise alongside her daughter, Lyra, under the watchful direction of the owner.

“I have a lot more energy, which is good,” said Rapsinski, a part-time educator. “I used to wake up tired, and wait till Lyra was getting up, and then we were a hot mess trying to get ready to go somewhere. Now, I stay up later, get up earlier and don’t feel exhausted doing it.”

The mother-and-child pop-in training sessions were the brainchild of Tabitha Sweeney, a certified trainer who has two little ones of her own.

Sweeney worked for several years in a West Seneca fitness center before taking time off shortly before her daughter, Charlotte, was born in 2014. She opened Vitality Buffalo — tucked into the back end of a retail building at 3720 South Park Ave., in Blasdell — after her son, Callen, arrived two years ago.

Vitality focuses on functional fitness training and classes. Kids can hang out in a playroom alongside the fitness floor and draw, play games, watch their moms work out, or join in, unless elders are working with kettlebells.

Sweeney and her husband, Patrick, used their savings to start the fitness center, and didn’t have money for day care.

“It was really important to me that I could create a space where if I needed to bring my kids, I could,” she said, “and therefore you can bring your kids.”

"We designed a safe space to be extremely non-intimidating," Vitality Buffalo owner Tabitha Sweeney says of her nearly 2-year-old fitness space. (Scott Scanlon/Buffalo News)

Q: What is your fitness center philosophy?

After I had my kids, I realized the gaping hole and how difficult it actually is to get in for a workout. You're trying to make a class and you're trying to get out the door and you need day care, and just as you're walking out, somebody throws up on you, or there's another reason to have to turn back around. You get a better workout if you come without your kids but our philosophy is that if you come in and you do 20%, it sure beats sitting on the couch at home with ice cream.

I also feel like the industry is so focused on getting your body back. … I wanted to subtract that mom guilt because your priorities change. I don't have four hours to train for races anymore. I'm not eating perfectly anymore, because I'm sleep deprived, OK? We focus on success instead of failures and making progress over hitting perfection. We try to really change that focus, especially for moms who are raising girls. It's important to change the way we talk about ourselves because when they're here, the kids are hearing and watching.

Our nutrition really focuses on getting more good and less bad. I don't offer full meal plans. I don't think that's realistic. We talk about techniques. We talk about ideas.

Q: Talk about the space and why you designed it this way.

We designed a safe space to be extremely non-intimidating. There are no mirrors on the walls.

It's open. Outside of one squat rack, we have no traditional gym machines. We have a lot of portable, mobile equipment: balls, bands, kettlebells. We put a playroom right off the main room. We take a village approach, so that the kids can come in and out. Any mom who sees something can say, “I don't think that's a good idea.” And the kids can really see you working out the entire time.

In the bathroom, there's changing table. There's always extra diapers and extra changes of clothes. We are also peanut-free. I’m an allergy mom. My daughter has severe allergies.

All of our classes are a half-hour and are stackable, and the reason is they were made for moms. Sometimes an hour is just too much and interferes with naps, or with this or that. The classes can be stacked to make an hour or an hour and a half. I have a couple people at night who come who don't have kids and they will come for an hour and a half. They might be doing a dance-fit class and then a kettlebell class, and then a core and floor attack, three totally different styles.

We have very few rules on the floor when it comes to a pop-in workout. The only real rule we have is we don't do push-ups from our knees. We don't do girly push-ups and the reason is, scientifically, they will never lead to push-ups from your toes. Instead, we take our push-ups to the wall or the bench.

We have a lot of stay at home moms, we also have a lot of working moms. A higher percentage of women with older children, or no children, take early morning or evening group fitness classes. Everybody gets a free week to try the classes and see if this is the right style and fit because we are so non-traditional. It's not for everybody.


Twitter: @BNrefresh@ScottBScanlon

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