Mercy School of Strength

The new Mercy School of Strength classes teach Senior Editor Savannah Waszczuk how being strong affects every aspect of life.

Savannah Waszczuk | Photos by Brandon Alms

Jul 2014


Mercy Fitness Center Walnut Lawn
202 E. Walnut Lawn, Springfield, 417-887-9868

For some reason unbeknownst to me, I was selected to be the writer of this “Get Fit” column a few years ago. From clogging to cartwheels, I’ve done a little bit of everything. The coolest thing about trying all these different workout classes is that I’ve often surprised myself when I realize the things my body can do. (I rock-climbed my way up the side of a mountain in Arkansas!) But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also found my weak spots. For me, core strength is buried under a couple of gallons of ice cream and a few large pizzas. Don’t get me wrong—I can bust out three miles on the treadmill in no time flat, but ask me to do a dozen sit-ups and I’ll go cry in the corner. When I tried the new Mercy School of Strength classes, I finally learned why I’ve never been able to master those dreaded sit-ups: It’s because I’ve never focused on strength. This came as a surprise to me, the girl who has danced, run and climbed her way through this column. But after spending a day working out under the guidance of Mercy Fitness Specialist Zach Ganska, it all made sense. 

The Gym

Mercy Fitness Center Walnut Lawn is a full-service fitness center that offers a complete line of fitness equipment along with exercise classes, personal training, specialized equipment and certified instructors. There are also medically based strength and movement programs available.

Senior Editor Savannah Waszczuk works on her Turkish get-ups using a kettlebell. 

The Class

The Mercy School of Strength classes incorporate strength training using body weight, kettlebells and barbells. But you won’t just find an instructor yelling out orders in front of a bunch of sweaty gym-goers who are struggling to keep up. These classes were developed around scientific knowledge of human movement and adaptation. They’re led by Fitness Specialist Zach Ganska, who lost 60 pounds using the principles incorporated within the program, and he teaches you exactly how your body should move. 

The Experience

“With my core engaged, doing a deadlift transformed into an exercise that truly made me feel alive.”—Savannah Waszczuk,

Before I attended my first Mercy School of Strength class, I met with Ganska for a one-on-one session. (This is recommended for everyone who wants to try the class.) We started with a Functional Movement System (FMS) screen test where I performed a few simple stretches and exercises, and Ganska noted my body’s functional movement patterns. “Basically, it’s an indicator of how well you move,” Ganska says. We learned that I have issues with active-straight leg raises and shoulder mobility, among other things, and he taught me exercises to improve these issues. “Your body has to relearn how to do some of those movements the right way,” Ganska says. “The cool thing is, after you address the weakest link, everything else starts to improve, too.” He then ran through the basic exercises performed during the Mercy School of Strength classes and taught me proper execution.

I returned for a class the following Monday and was joined by 10 others. “The average class size is 5 to 10 people,” Ganska says. Classes are kept small (they’re capped at 12 guests) so Ganska can work with each participant to make sure they are performing exercises properly and to help them with personal fitness goals. 

We started the class with some soft tissue and mobility work, then we began with some movement preparation. Next we performed the Turkish get-up, an exercise performed using a kettlebell in which you perform a series of steps that require all of your body’s muscles to work together. You move from lying on the ground to standing. We continued with strength-building skills as we performed a series of kettlebell swings and lifts before we increased the intensity for the last 20 minutes.  

Ganska made his way to each person in the class, and when he got to me, we determined I was not properly hinging during the deadlift exercise. I tried, tried again and tried five more times before we determined that my body just wasn’t moving the way it was supposed to move. He then had me try some exercises that mimicked squats while lying on my back and concentrating on engaging my core. That was it! With my core engaged, doing a deadlift transformed into an exercise that truly made me feel alive. When I tried the deadlift again, I finally got it. I practiced what Ganska had me try on the floor, and it made the motions feel much more natural. Suddenly, the kettlebell went from feeling like a bucket of bricks to only a few pounds. With my core engaged,doing a deadlift transformed into an exercise that truly made me feel alive. I could feel every single muscle working. I felt like a giant, powerful machine. 

Participants get in a good workout by using giant ropes for strength and endurance training.

The Effects

One of the biggest effects of this class is learning how to move your body. Once you are moving the correct way, you can practice proper movement and continually progress as you increase weight during sessions. “In this class, you’re developing strength from the inside out,” Ganska says. This results in gaining muscle and losing fat, and in the long run you change much more than just your body composition. “We call it the ‘What the heck’ effect,” Ganska says. “Basically, if you do this class long enough, you’ll not only be moving better—you’ll be moving more freely. You’ll lift things up and swear they’re lighter than they used to be.” And you’ll also feel a whole lot better about life in general. “You may become a better parent or spouse, or become better at your job,” Ganska says. “You enhance your overall quality of life by becoming strong.”

How to try it: Free intro classes are Tuesdays at 6 p.m.; Regular classes are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (with designated classes for beginners)

Cost: Additional $25 per month with paid memberships or $45 per month for School of Strength memberships

Type of activity: A class that works on increasing your strength, mobility and cardio through body composition training and strength conditioning

Muscles worked: Every muscle, with focus on your stabilizers and prime moving muscles

Fun fact: Mercy’s School of Strength classes are the first fitness classes to ever offer a medically based fitness program for the general population