A block below the downtown Canal Street subway stop in Manhattan is a space lacking any signage on Walker Street. Passersby—unable to see clearly through the blue-tinted windows—walk in, and are greeted by a large-scale photograph by artist Jim Mangan. Lime-washed brick walls on one side and painstakingly polished Venetian plaster on the other, subtle James Turrell-inspired lighting toward the back and the lack of any receptionist, generic techno music (instead, it’s Frank Ocean), or tell-tale cardio machines, has confused more than a few about the identity of the one-year-old boutique gym, S10 Training. “At least once a week someone comes in and asks if S10 is an art gallery,” founder Stephen Cheuk says with a laugh. “Not sure how many other gym can say they have that problem.”
The name S10 comes from the gym’s mission: striving for sub 10% body fat, which they believe is the optimum body fat index. And while the mission is strict, and the process extremely tough on the body (side effects may include puking), the gym’s non-gym ambience is the main reason why creatives (including Hannah Bronfman,
Jeff Staple, Steven Rojas and other photographers, artists, designers) choose to train here, among the infinite options available in NYC. Cheuk, a former graphic designer hailing from Perth, Australia, has an eye for what he likes; he tapped his good friend Samuel Amoia to design the gym and make custom pieces like S10’s unique mirrored changing rooms.
Because Cheuk runs S10 himself (with the help of two trainers), he’s there every day, leading private and semi-private training sessions and continually following up with his clients. To add to the intimate nature of the gym, the month-to-month, not yearly, memberships are capped at 100 people (though anybody can sign up for a training session). And don’t let Cheuk’s gentle, supportive manner fool you; the first session alone had our legs turn to jelly and still out of commission days later. The refreshing focus on results, and only results, is what will keep you coming back.
Read our interview with Cheuk to learn more about how S10’s story began and its unique features.
You came here four years ago from Australia?
Just over four—almost five now. I was a designer, but my real passion was in training. It was such a mental effort to get into design work; and I [realized], this isn’t my passion. So I became a trainer part-time, and then I moved to Melbourne for two years, with a girl, and was a trainer there. And then she moved to Dubai (she was an architect/interior designer, so she had an amazing opportunity to be part of a growing city and to build a city) first, and then I went over six months later. Then we broke up. I was like, “Hmmm, I don’t feel like coming home…” so I came to New York!
Did you know anyone in New York?
No, I didn’t know anybody. [laughs] I came to New York with a suitcase; no job, no visa, no money. I mean, it’s very cleansing. Because you have all this stuff—we had a whole house of stuff—and you basically get rid of it all.
I got a job at a gym called Printing House; that was fun. It became an Equinox—[then] I went to Gotham [Gym] and hired space off the guy, and all my clients from Equinox came with me. I started to build more and more and everyone was like, why don’t you have your own gym? And I just did it.
What do you find most problematic with the plethora of gyms and fitness studios around NYC?
Everybody is just trying to reinvent the wheel—trying to find a new fad. What we do here, we don’t do any fads. Accountability plays a big role in getting results. If you know that every two weeks, you’re going to get your body fat [measured], you’re not really going to cheat on what you eat, you’re really going to try, etc. But a lot of gyms don’t track. You join, and then you don’t have a plan.
What is S10’s specific approach to cardio?
My approach to cardio is to not use machines like treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals, etc, because they are, in my opinion and experience, a waste of time that don’t translate into anything. (If you want to run or ride a bike, do it outside!) We use a lot of modified strongman training mixed in with conditioning drills at S10 like prowler pushing, sled pulling, battle ropes, farmer’s walks, resistance band sprints, jump rope, etc. I’m a fan of the strongman stuff because it builds muscle, gets you stronger and gets your heart rate up really quickly.
I’ve noticed there are no vending machine with bottles of water or juice here, just a fountain. How does it work?
The clean water system is 11-stage reverse osmosis with alkaline filters. The way it works is, reverse osmosis basically strips around 99.5% of everything in the water, then the membranes (the two metal pipes on the right of the fountain) reintroduce the right amount of minerals back into the water, and I have two alkaline filters that alkalize the water. I want to promote good health and want everyone at S10 to stay hydrated with the cleanest water I can possibly provide and not have [clients] pay for it. I also don’t want clients drinking out of plastic bottles because of harmful BPAs—not to mention it’s very wasteful to the environment.
We’re all about clean health and wellness. Everybody says water in New York is so clean, but we get our filters changed every three months and it’s like rust—it’s so disgusting. It’s really dirty.
What should newcomers expect during their first few training sessions?
We find out what their goals are, if they have any injuries, what they’ve done prior, and what they’re currently doing for workouts. And then we do your body fat and then we run you through like a movement screen. We test how you move. [For example], so many people are so imbalanced in New York—like one side of the leg is stronger than the other. So we do a lot of testing in the beginning. The first four weeks is what we call “general preparation phrase”—we fix anything that’s wrong, we get used to the workload—and then the real training starts.
Do you give nutrition guidelines?
We give recommendations on what you should eat and what to avoid based on what your goals are, and your body fat. There are certain sites that tell me things about your body. For instance, like the back of your lower back. If that’s low, it means your body can basically break down carbohydrates more efficiently. If it’s high, I would say, maybe you should cut that out for the first three weeks. And then we track. We try things and then we track. “OK, this is happening, let’s keep doing this,” or, “This isn’t working.”
Every year, I spend almost $10,000 on education. This year, I flew to Amsterdam to learn about DNA testing and genetics and how that plays a role in diet and training. I just came back from Montreal, did a course on nutrition and the new way of doing the body fat.
Any news for 2015?
We’re launching a food service, because everybody wants to be below 10% body fat but they don’t know how to eat. We plan to launch S10 meals late January to early February. It will be a seasonal menu that changes every week with all organic produce and best quality meats—and affordable. I’m designing all the recipes and partnering with Justin Thomas Kay, creative director of Doubleday & Cartwright. Justin has been a long-term client and a friend; he lost over 40 lbs and went from 23% body fat to 9% through S10 training and diet, so we just want to be able to provide great tasting, healthy meals that can hopefully help other people achieve those types of results.
Do you have some advice for people who are trying to stick to their new year’s resolutions?
I mean, even for me, I’ve got goals. I want to be able to do a single-arm pull-up; and obviously, that’s going to take a while, so you’ve got to break them into stages. By week four, I want to do it while I’m holding onto something. By week eight, I want to be able to hold myself up in that position. So you have mini goals. My advice with picking new year’s resolutions is just to have small goals leading up to the main goal.
To inquire about membership or to schedule a semi-private or private training session, visit S10’s website.
Portrait of Stephen Cheuk by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of S10