Trainer has animals on the go
June 9, 2008 · Updated 7:44 PM
"GoAnimal has been on Bainbridge for just over two years. Its roots have existed since man emerged on the plains and valleys of Africa many millennia ago.GoAnimal is the brainchild of 45-year-old Frank Forencich, who converted an old woodshed on his property into a secret training facility so he can teach the physical education you should have gotten. It's been replaced by sports and learning the rules of games. An obviously fit man, Forencich is the embodiment of the physical part. A longtime self-described climbing bum, he's scaled numerous peaks in the Northwest and Canada. He's ascended El Capitan, the sheer-sided symbol of Yosemite National Park, a few times. He has a black belt in karate and aikido.And education? He holds a degree in human biology from Stanford, a teaching credential and a massage certificate and has also been a flight instructor. He just returned from a month-long trip to Africa which he says taught him a great deal and is eager to pass along his new-found knowledge.So what is he trying to teach?In its simplest form, he says It's anything useful for the primal human: squatting, lunging, balancing. It's being physical at the most basic levels.What we do here isn't really sport-specific, he continues. We prepare for the quality of locomotion. There's a lot of attention to core body strength. And balance, which is something that's neglected in most gyms.The name comes from his lifetime interest in biology and animals.GoAnimal speaks to evolution and the different species on the planet. It talks about our vitality and spirit.Especially the spirit of play. GoAnimal's tagline is play as if your life depends on it.Inside the woodshed, an entry, kitchen and restroom occupy about a third of the building. The actual workout area is a carpeted space about 25 feet square and some 20 feet high at its peak. One entire side is a climbing wall.It's a versatile room, Forencich says. We can use it for seminars or training or climbing.There are no exercise machines - Forencich says the best thing to do with such devices is melt them down and make dumbbells, which are among the numerous implements scattered about the room. Others include wobble boards (18-inch wooden circles mounted on rubber ball halves); hula hoops; medicine balls of varying sizes and weights; foot-high hurdles; lengths of 1-inch rope; therapy balls; cones; bungee cords; a sledgehammer; exercise mats; benches and boxes for step-ups; body bag and speed bag; even a basketball hoop, for shooting free throws while balancing on a wobble board.One evening, I join nine other participants - about a normal-sized group, Forencich says - standing in a circle. Our group represents a mixture of ages and physiques, ranging from a 12-year-old boy to a 240-pound fireman who has come at his mother's urging. She's there too. We introduce ourselves, bow to each other, and begin.Most of the exercises tend to be under a minute with brief respites, then we quickly move on to the next. The room is initially chilly but within minutes I'm shedding clothing.As someone in fairly good shape but with chronic muscle stiffness and hamstrings that have been called the tightest I've ever seen by a prominent local orthopedic surgeon, I find what we do challenging without feeling like I'm straining or at risk of pulling something.I almost always give options, with hard and easy variations, Forencich says. That way someone can come here straight off a lifetime on their couch and have a good time.Some of the exercises we do by ourselves, others are with a partner. We lie on our backs and do various torso- and abdominal-strengthening exercises with the medicine balls, continually passing them around the circle so there's a variety of resistances. We do some vigorous movements while balancing on one leg. It seems second nature for Forencich but 10 seconds seems to be about my limit. It's nice, though, that there is no sense that we have to outdo each other, even in the games we play later. One of these is King/Queen of the Circle. Two at a time we enter a 6-foot circle with our hands locked behind our backs and try to bump each other out. Balance and agility beat brute strength; Jordan, the 12-year-old, and one of the older women are especially good. Even the fireman gets bumped out a couple of times. Later we play bucket brigade, in which three medicine balls are placed in each of two hula hoops about 15 feet apart. We form human chains and the object is to empty our hoop and fill the other one before the other team can do the same. This gets especially vigorous when the teams are reduced to two-a-side and we're tossing the 20-pounders as rapidly as we can.The most strenuous part of the session involves full-speed exercises at a series of seven stations marked on the floor. Lunging in one direction, then doing a quick 360 and lunging in the opposite direction. Bending on one knee while the opposite leg is thrown back and high. Phantom hula-hooping. Balancing on a Rolo-Board. Bending over, lifting a medicine ball to our chests and placing it on a mark on the other side of a hurdle. Side-straddle hops across a yard-wide stream. Dumbbell pulls. We do two circuits in about 10 minutes and everybody welcomes the break when we're done. The session concludes with several martial arts exercises.No two classes are ever the same, Forencich says. But we always emphasize certain themes: balance, strength, power and endurance, and games.I like to employ a functional approach. We always fall back to core body conditioning.This approach works fine for Anne Summer, who's been training with GoAnimal since it began.I love it, she says. It's fun. Frank does a great job. He's serious and knowledgeable about body conditioning and he also makes it fun. It's never the same, never boring.The 'lap down the wall and back' is one of the most challenging things we do. It helps increase our confidence, and makes us realize how much of life is mental.I think so much of Frank and what he's doing. I think he's way ahead of his time.* * * * *For information or to join a class, call 780-2417. The website www.goanimal.com contains background material, including exercises you can do on your own. "