Bobbi Stokes faces her students when she leads classes at Riverview Fitness, a position that comes with a distinct disadvantage.
“I tell them all the time, ‘You guys are really pretty, but I barely looked at the water today.’ ”
The gym includes circuit training, cardio and group fitness rooms – and arguably the best view onto its nearby surroundings in all of Buffalo Niagara.
It perches above the mouth of the Niagara River with the Youngstown Yacht Club below, Fort George and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., straight ahead, and Old Fort Niagara and a U.S. Coast Guard Base on its starboard side.
“I’ve noticed when people do something really hard, while they’re counting or they're breathing, they stare at a boat,” Stokes said. “That's their focal point, which is really cool. It gives them something to focus on instead of the strain. At the end of the class, they clap. They're thankful.”
Fitness wasn’t meant to be this spectacular, and whatever ways we move our bodies into a more active stage releases endorphins and other chemicals that make us feel better overall.
Still, if you have to get up for a 6 a.m. workout or hold a handstand scorpion yoga pose for 30 seconds, there ought to be some immediate gratification somewhere, right?
That’s why we asked those who follow WNY Refresh on social media where we could find the best gyms with a view in the region. Here’s a closer look at the top three recommendations.
Impact Sports Performance Powered by UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine
LECOM Harborcenter, 100 Washington St., Level 6; impactnextlevel.com; 855-4585
Provides strength training, rehab exercise, yoga and cycling.
The practice that handles medical duties and athletic training for the Buffalo Bills, Sabres and Bandits took ownership this month of the public fitness facility at Harborcenter, but one of the things that won’t change is the view.
Impact Sports Performance, the name of the sixth-floor space that overlooks Canalside and the Buffalo Harbor, also will remain the same, though it now will be run by UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
A series of Wattbikes, Versa Climbers and self-propelled treadmills stand alongside giant windows that face the waterfront, providing members and visitors a panorama below that can include kayakers and boaters in the Buffalo River, outdoor concerts and fitness classes in warmer months, and skaters on the Ice at Canalside in winter. (Public ice skating is scheduled to start Nov. 20.)
The new owner – which helps athletes of all stripes mend from sports-related injuries – plans to add a more robust clinical-performance model that builds off the strength, conditioning and rehab reputation Impact Sports Performance has gained since opening in early 2015.
UBMD Ortho – which also handles athletic training for the Rochester Americans, University at Buffalo Bulls and several local college teams – also will train the Buffalo Jr. Sabres and Academy of Hockey, as well as the general public.
“We feel like the view of Canalside and the surrounding area really connects us to the City of Buffalo,” the staff said in a statement.
Quarter Deck Athletics
391 Washington St., lower level on the northeast edge of the Hotel @ Lafayette; qdathletics.com; 464-3659
Provides personal training, group training, CrossFit QDA, nutritional coaching and chiropractic care.
Quarter Deck Athletics set up shop three years ago in a one-time speakeasy in the basement of the Hotel @ Lafayette. It features windows, pillars, sconces and chandeliers that would be the envy of most gym owners across the region – but that isn’t why QDA made this list.
It’s because owner Dennis Lesniak, a chiropractor and CrossFit fanatic, has been known to take his group fitness classes on the road to spots that include Canalside, Gallagher Beach and Tifft Nature Preserve.
The most unique – and arguably most scenic – of them all, however, is the top level of the Adams Parking Ramp two blocks away at Elliott and Eagle streets.
Lesniak and several members carry barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells up eight flights of stairs to the rooftop of the ramp for workouts, usually on Saturday mornings when parking is hardly at a premium in the city business district.
“It’s nice to go outside do something different,” QDA personal trainer Erica Caso said. It helps train different muscle groups, she said, and serves as good practice for some members who enjoy rucking, a fitness pursuit that involves lugging heavy backpacks for miles at a time.
The view from the top gives a plentiful sampling of Buffalo landmarks. The neighboring M&T Bank, Liberty and Hilton Garden Hotel buildings stand tall to the north and west; the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Central Terminal are to the northeast. Southern views start in the east with the windmills along Lake Erie, the Old First Ward and Sahlen Field, and move across toward the Ellicott Square Building and KeyBank Center, then to the face of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Canalside and the Skyway.
“I've had a couple people tell me, ‘That's my tanning place in the summer,’ ” Lesniak said. “It's a nice way to utilize some outside space downtown. We’re very respectful of the space and we make sure we leave it cleaner than when we got there.”
Quarter Deck opened several months after Butterwood Sweet & Savory restaurant shut down in the same 3,000-square-foot quarters just inside the northeast entrance of the hotel. It features cardio and strength-training equipment and six showers, catering to many professionals who use the space before or after work.
“It's cool to be part of the revitalization of the downtown area,” Lesniak said.
445 Main St., Youngstown; learn more about classes at mindbodyonline.com or 219-4097
Provides strength training, PiYo, yoga, cycling, barre, SilverSneakers and beginner meditation.
Those in group fitness classes at this 1,500-square-foot facility – and on the rower, four stationary bikes, three elliptical trainers, a pair of treadmills and a squat rack in the cardio space – can look directly out the windows onto the Niagara riverscape. The group fitness space, added last fall, also includes a fireplace and windows that fold out, giving way to fresh air in good summer and fall weather.
The sight of people dancing on boat decks is common, Stokes said, and the crackle of cannon fire and smell of smoke from one of the historic nearby forts sometimes fills the air.
“Instead of looking at a wall, you’re seeing something that brings you happiness,” she said.
The gym has changed hands several times since it opened two decades ago in what was built as a hotel more than a century ago.
Stokes – certified to teach group fitness in several styles – has run the place for a year. She quit her longtime job as a bartender in Lewiston earlier this month after she bought the business.
Linda Reynolds, who works part-time in the gym and takes classes there, said some members do part of their workouts, including jumping rope, on the outdoor patio along the riverbank, which also sports six Adirondack chairs.
“We had someone come in during the summer from Ellicottville, and she was just starting up a gym down there and wanted to see ours,” Reynolds said. “She and her husband were extremely impressed.”
Janine Bellonte is among gym members who credit Stokes and another Riverview instructor, Karen Oakley, with breathing new life into the gym. Both have warm, engaging approaches to classes and regularly mix styles and routines to keep things fresh, said Bellonte, a recently retired instructional coach with the Niagara Falls school district who takes three or four classes a week.
Riverview has forged close friendships among members who often end workouts with breakfast or a cup of coffee next door at the Youngstown Diner, which also overlooks the Niagara.
“I don't think you could find a better view,” Bellonte said.