Midnight fitness class tailored to restaurant workers

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe
Bodytalk Factory owner Astrid Bengston helped Suzie Dagenais, a restaurant general manager, during a late night fitness class.

Candles glowed in a North End storefront, while down-tempo tunes by Lauryn Hill, John Legend, and Alicia Keys played softly in the background. On the hardwood floor, three women lay face-down, foreheads resting on rolled-up towels, slowly lifting their spread arms as high as their bodies would allow.

“Think long, long arms, reaching out through your fingers, as you are pushing your shoulder blades down toward your hips,’’ said trainer Astrid Bengston.

At a glance, it could have been any number of fitness classes anywhere in Boston. But this one meets only at midnight on Sundays, to fit the unorthodox schedules of its clients: people who spend most nights on their feet bringing diners’ food, pouring their drinks, or showing them to their tables.


This was the second session of a new restorative and postural strength class for restaurant workers at Bengston’s six-month-old training studio, Bodytalk Factory, on Endicott Street. Bengston, who is married to Samuel Monsour, executive chef at jm Curley, was inspired to offer the class by her observations about the physical demands that chefs, bartenders, and servers face.

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“It’s a lot of hard work,’’ said Bengston, 27. “It’s on your feet. It’s very high stress. . . . Add to that carrying drinks, trays, plates, food - constantly working with your arms in front of your body, which easily moves your shoulders forward and creates neck tension and shortens the muscles on the front line, especially the chest.’’

One of Bengston’s students is Suzie Dagenais, general manager at jm Curley. Dagenais, 30, from East Boston, said she thinks restaurant workers sometimes falsely believe their jobs are exercise enough.

“I feel like I lull myself into thinking that I don’t have to work out, because I work all day long, but it’s the same three muscles,’’ she said before class on a recent Sunday.

Hips are a particular issue for Dagenais, who said she has been working in the restaurant industry since she was 14.


“It’s just kind of one of those things that progressed from being on my feet so much, for so much of my life,’’ Dagenais said.

But five sessions with Bengston have helped.

“Just showing how I can make small, small changes to the way that I stand and walk, and just being more aware of my bone alignment,’’ she said. “It’s really made a huge difference.’’

Bengston said the most common complaints from restaurant workers are tension in the upper neck and lower back and knee problems.

To address these issues, she first gets students off their feet and onto yoga mats. From there, she takes them through a series of isometric exercises to loosen neck and chest muscles and improve posture and alignment of the shoulder blades, spine, and hips.


Dr. Gary Perlmutter, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital for almost 20 years, has not seen Bengston’s class, but he said the most common injuries he sees among restaurant workers - rotator-cuff tendinitis and bursitis - could be avoided or at least lessened in severity through training in posture and placement of the shoulder blades.

“It’s like when your mother said, ‘Hey, stand up straight,’ ’’ said Perlmutter, 51.

Bengston is a former gymnast who grew up in Sweden. During the class, she was a patient but persistent taskmaster, padding across her small studio in glovelike, five-toed running shoes. She subtly adjusted the students’ postures and ensured they felt the stretch in the right muscles.

The students made good-natured jokes and encouraged each other to stay with difficult positions, to keep lifting their arms or legs when it became difficult.

Blayne Daley, 32, was the class cutup. A general manager at East by Northeast in Cambridge’s Inman Square, Daley joked about her height - 5 feet even - when asked to give herself enough room for a stretch, and about the difficulty of maintaining some of the most challenging stretches.

When the class ended, around 1:10 a.m., Daley was still smiling, saying she felt more energetic than when she started.

“I’m bummed it’s so late at night,’’ she said.

Katie Barszcz, a personal chef and caterer who co-owns the Skinny Beet, a Brighton-based catering company, said being tired at the end of a long day is actually an asset for the class.

“I like the late-night loopiness of it,’’ Barszcz said. “Story of my life: Every day I get off work, and I’m like, ooh, what can I do? Besides sleep all day tomorrow.’’

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. For more coverage of Boston’s neighborhoods and surrounding towns, go to