Christine Giovinazzo coaches Jennifer Forcey and Chris Telesford through a round of pushups at the Balance Fitness Challenge last Saturday (Photo by Paula M. Riley)

by Paula M. Riley

If you were anywhere near the 100 block of East Highland Avenue last Saturday morning, you may have heard what sounded like an army training session.

Then if you stepped out for a closer look, you would have found 40 men and women of all different ages and abilities flipping over a tractor-trailer tire, doing push-ups, squat thrusts or jumping rope.

Hosted by Balance Chestnut Hill, a fitness center at 5 E. Highland Ave., the Balance Challenge was designed by owners Aaron Sistrunk and Amy Carolla as a friendly competition and community event celebrating fitness. Sistrunk has participated in “impact challenges” at personal trainer conferences and wanted to offer his clients and the community a fun challenge.

Unlike the normal five-station challenges he does at the conferences, the Balance Challenge had eight stations.

“I wanted to step it up a notch,” said Sistrunk, who is well known for his “no excuses” mantra.

Set up on the asphalt of the closed street, these stations included jumping rope with a thick heavy rope, battling ropes, (using the same heavy rope), bosu-release push-ups and kettle ball swings (30 pounds for the women and 50 pounds for the men.)

A tree trunk offered the perfect spot for the TRX suspension station, and a gym mat was added for the ball slam (20 pounds for the women and 30 pounds for the men) and burpees – an advanced squat thrust in which the chest and thighs have to hit the ground.

What caught the most attention was the tire flips. These were not the tires you’d find on your own car but were huge tractor-trailer size tires the contestants had to flip over repeatedly.

East Highland Avenue was closed for the Balance Fitness Challenge. (Photo by Paula M. Riley)

Stations were based on the same concept of “Balance Burn,” the center’s signature class that Sistrunk and Carolla created. It is a combination of strength training. Many of the station exercises were incorporated into balance-training classes and instructional videos once each was available online.

Participants were divided into teams of four by the organizers.

“We tried hard to make them as evenly matched as possible,” Carolla said.

The teams were assigned when the contestants arrived, and most teams were made up of athletes who didn’t know each other.

Dana Zimmer, of Mt. Airy, has been training at Balance for the past few years. She only knew one person on her team but regularly attends the Balance weekend “Boot Camp,” Tuesday/Thursday “Fit Factor” sessions and trains one-on-one with Sistrunk.

“I am having so much fun,” she said between breaths, just after she finished the battling ropes station. “That one was the hardest – the rope is really, really heavy.”

Despite not knowing each other, the teammates cheered each on with the support and enthusiasm of lifelong friends. Each participant was required to spend one minute at each station. Trainers were positioned at the stations for the “counts” – they would count repetitions and encourage participants along the way.

A judge recorded the score and ensured that the exercise was completed correctly. Participants worked through eight stations with a one-minute break in between. A foghorn signaled that the timer had started and the grunting began.

Sistrunk walked through the stations, encouraging participants in his upbeat, positive manner. Most of the participants were between ages 30-50, but some were younger. There were no age groups at the Challenge because Sistrunk believes it is not relevant.

“We train everyone like an athlete,” he said. “This event just shows us that everyone can compete like an athlete and have fun doing it.”

There was no absence of fun on Saturday. Amidst the grunts was upbeat music blaring in the background and many smiles and laughter exchanged among new and old friends.

“Sure, this is hard,” Teresa Rodgers said, “but has been really fun too.”

The first-place female finisher was Nicole Naumoff-Hodgson, and Brian Harrington took home the male first place finish. Both were awarded a heavyweight belt medal.

Balance Chestnut Hill is a personal training studio with group fitness classes and a state of the art indoor cycling facility. Visit for more information.