Gym: Maryland Athletic Club, 110 W. Timonium Road; 410-453-9111; macwellness.com Rate: $75 (hour) Style: Crunchy, feminine and feel-good Workout philosophy: "I like giving women an opportunity to build each other up and love each other." Favorite move: Squat jump Indulgence: Banana crèam pie Before a session, Michelle Stafford presents her client with a container of what would appear to be snack chips -- if snack chips were a foresty dark green. "They're dehydrated kale chips," she says. "They're delicious." Bringing in healthful treats is exactly the kind of thing Stafford is known for. The Maryland Athletic Club trainer prides herself on being more than a coach -- more like a really good friend who just happens to be able to guide one through a workout. When she meets people, she doesn't shake their hands. She hugs. On the morning she brings the chips, Stafford is wearing a T-shirt that says, "Shake it Sista!" Striped knee socks poke, Pippi Longstocking-style, from cropped workout pants. Hot pink laces wind through her sneakers. Her client, who's 53, has been seeing Stafford to improve her balance and coordination -- she suffered neuromuscular damage after spinal surgery. Stafford has her standing on one leg, extending the other behind her, while focusing on a tiny piece of tape on the floor. "That was the best job ever," Stafford congratulates, after a few rounds. They double hand high-five. In additional to personal training, Stafford, who's 32, teaches water aerobics classes. She also invented the gym's Diva Boot Camp, which is a mix of yoga, belly dance and strength training. "The boot camp perception is 'I'm going to kill you!' 'I'm going to destroy you!'" she says, laughing. Instead, she wanted to bring women together for a well-rounded workout where they would work hard but have fun. "It's about wellness and not about outdoing one another." Stafford embraces her feminine side. She's nicknamed pull-ups, "The Bra Fat Exterminator." She calls pelvis thrusts "my favorite booty exercise." Stafford, who has been married for 11 years, discovered the world of fitness after having three sons. She's "mostly vegetarian," and defines that as a vegetarian who doesn't like to be confined by rules. That means on rare occasions, she might eat meat, but she'll often be found at health food stores, shopping for organic food and items like those kale chips. "It's a lifestyle," she likes to say. "It's not just a diet."
Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
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