Pilates training marries exercise with machine

To the uninitiated, the training contraptions look like instruments of torture with leather straps and chains dangling over a bed of de¨tachable springs, moving mattress parts and harnesses.

They carry grandiose titles such as Universal Reformer and The Ca¨dillac. The accompanying exercises have intriguing names such as “the tower” and “grasshopper.”

Marry exercise with machine and you corne up with a training meth¨od called Pilates (pronounced Pi-LA-tees), designed by German¨born Joseph Pilates after he immi¨grated to New York in 1923. The technique consists of a series of ex¨ercises that focus on non-aerobic alignment, stretching and strength.

Vancouver and Toronto have Pi¨lates centres, and now Montreal has a branch, which opened last month under the direction of dancer Ann McMillan.

“Dancers have always loved Pilates,” said McMillan who began taking Pilates instruction while stu¨dying dance with the Martha Gra¨ham school in the late 1980s. “But office workers with sore backs can corne to firm their tummies and im¨prove their posture, goffers can im¨prove their range of movement, tennis players can work on their balance and women can do it to regain their conditioning following a pregnancy.

Dancers have been Pilates disciples since Day 1, with dancers from companies such as New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company embracing the Pilates workout as a healthy addition to their already rigorous technical training.

Then movie stars Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck and Sigourney Weaver, tennis pro Tracy Everett and championship skater Kristi Ya-maguchi took wholeheartedly to the Pilates way of working out.

Nowadays, it’s swiftly gaining in popularity with people from ail walks of life interested in repairing an injured body part or increasing over-ail body strength and coordination.

Pilates combines two very differ¨ent approaches to exercise o the Oriental approach, which concen-trates on contemplation and relaxa-tion and is comparatively static o and the Western approach, which involves a lot of movement and sweating.

“Pilates is not about throwing yourself ail over the place, but you do move. You rnove in a centred fashion while you concentrate on your breathing and on the flow of the movement.

McMillan opened the Montreal centre in collaboration with physiotherapist FranAoise Desrosiers, a strong believer in the healing quali¨ties of the technique. If ‘someone cornes to the Pilates Centre with an injury to repair, McMillan refers the injured client to Desrosiers for consultation before she sets up a program. Desrosiers, in tum, rec-ommends Pilates to many of her patients.

“Pilates works muscles like links in a chain, not as individual sec¨tions,” said Desrosiers, whose of¨fice is practically next door to the Pilates Centre on Queen Mary Rd. (Lifting weights, in contrast, trains one specific area at a time. One Pi¨lates exercise, for example, can work the back, arms and legs simultaneously.)

“Everything comes from your centre,” said Desrosiers. “I believe in it because it is a complement to what doing o a continuation of my type of therapy.”

Desrosiers also began taking Pi¨lates courses while taking dance classes in New York in the late 1980s. She continues to do Pilates workouts three times a week, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. if her sched¨ule is tight.

“I opened the centre mostly be¨cause of FranAoise’s encouragement,” said McMillan when asked about starting a business in the midst of a recession. “I just plugged my nose and dove in headfirst.’

Bear in mind that you pay a price for the Pilates look of high, taut buttocks and long, lean, ail-over muscle tone and definition. After the initial registration fee of $25, it costs $35 an hour (with supervision), or $30 for students and pro¨fessionals (athletes and dancers), # DROPping to $15 an hour for a ses¨sion without supervision.

Only after the client has a good understanding of his or her person¨al program does a session go unsupervised. Four and 10 session cards are available at a discount. Two people may attend the same session and share the cost. Sessions two or three times a week are rec¨ommended. As well, McMillan gives clients a series of exercises to do at home.

After you become familiar with your basic program, McMillan will add exercises to your list. The curriculum of possible floor and machine moves is extensive.

“I’d have to start at 9 a.m. and work nonstop until 4 p.m. if I wanted to get everything in,” McMillan said.