Terri Walsh and the Art of You

Courtesy Terri Walsh

The coveted personal trainer launches a seven-day fitness intensive in idyllic Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. 

It was getting harder to button my jeans when I got word of Terri Walsh’s new super-private, high-luxury fitness retreats in Costa Rica. I didn’t know whether to be excited or scared. I’d worked out with the celebrity trainer before, when she was based in New York (don’t ask who else she trains; “I’m a celebrity trainer because I don’t name the celebrities,” she says). Eighteen months ago she moved her business online—subscribers pay a monthly fee to stream workouts—and moved her life to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

What she’s offering: eight days for one person or couple at Prana Rainforest Retreat, a gorgeous, Balinese-inspired villa whose charming owners happen to be massage therapists and skilled chefs; a custom, healthy diet; many one-on-one workouts in her non-impact yet challenging ART Method (active resistance training—more on this later); and physical but enjoyable days of hiking, waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, or whatever else guests want to do.

This was exciting not only because of the jeans thing but also because I’d missed Walsh’s SoHo studio filled with Keith Haring-esque murals, her oddball exercises, and her energy and attitude. She’s a grown-up—52, though she could pass for an athletic 30—and a badass, more likely to encourage women to put anger to good use than to spew those inspirational platitudes epidemic in today’s boutique fitness scene.

It was terrifying because she’d invariably kicked my butt in hour-long classes. Seven days sounded like a lot. I signed on anyway.

Thing was, it wasn’t bad. I’ve done the Ranch at Live Oak and Mountain Trek, and those entailed a good bit of (useful) suffering. This was actually fun. Okay, moments were awful—7 a.m. interval runs on the beach, squats wearing a 20-pound vest, endless rounds of catch with a 12-pound Ugi ball. But none of it left me so wrecked I couldn’t do it again a few hours later. Which is fortunate, because I did it up to six hours a day—doing workouts that Walsh customized for my body and goals or taking long hikes. (She sent me a detailed questionnaire in advance, and for guests she doesn’t know, especially fitness newbies, she’ll do assessments via Skype.)

That’s one of the ideas behind the ART Method, says Walsh, whose 30-plus-year career includes serving as Crunch’s creative director of programming and writing the best-seller Diva: The Fitness System to Unleash Your Female Power. With its focus on alignment, particularly the shoulders, ribs, navel, and feet, it’s designed to be injury-preventive. There’s a lot of “push down to go up,” as in pressing the floor away during the alternating downward dogs and planks that she’s rather fond of (sometimes with a one-legged standing balance between each heart-rate-jacking rep). She’s also a fan of compound and twisting exercises, which is helpful for people like me who want to engage their brain along with their abs.

It also helped that the workouts were either on the beach or in a jungle palapa that became my massage pavilion three afternoons. It helped even more that I was well fed. Walsh spent two weeks planning (negotiating) menus—down to how much rice I would have when—with Prana’s owners, Mark Goldstein and Jon Harper, who are used to cooking more indulgent fare but did a bang-up job with healthy meals: huge, beautiful salads with fresh fish for dinner, Asian-inspired stir-fries, or noodles for lunch (Goldstein lived in Chiang Mai, which is also nice on the massage front) and omelets or healthy huevos rancheros for breakfast. I’m pescatarian, but most guests get beef and chicken. I often couldn’t finish. I even got my favorite treat, local artisan cheese, a few times. I don’t eat sugar, but guests who do get sorbet and other healthier desserts.

Even with that abundance, my results were impressive: five pounds, 2.6 percent body fat, and about 11 inches off my waist, hips, and thighs. Even better, I went home with an online subscription, videos of my prescribed go-to exercises, and recipes—plus, a reclaimed recognition that down-dog-plank combos can be fun.

$15,000 per person or $20,000 per couple, including scheduled domestic flights; private charter for an additional fee. theartofyoufitnessretreat.com.