Pilates strengthens the core: For a full-body workout, options include piloxing, barre and bodhi

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Rob Laubenstein of Altoona, center, takes part in a fitness routine at The Groove Fitness Studio in Altoona last week.

(Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series on fitness.)

“I actually find myself checking my watch to see if it is time to go to Piloxing. Unlike some people, I look forward to going to the gym,” Rob Laubenstein said. “It’s an amazing, full-body workout in one hour. I’ve found it’s the best workout for balance and my core and legs have never been stronger.”

Piloxing — a fusion of Pilates and boxing — is one of several types of Pilates being offered in the area. Pilates is a popular exercise to improve abdominal (core) strength, posture, balance and flexibility. Several area fitness studios offer the newest Pilates trends — piloxing, barre and bodhi.

Joseph Pilates deveopled the discipline in the 1960s and is its namesake. The most common version is performed lying on a mat and uses focused, controlled, small movements coordinated with breathing and proper spine alignment.

The basic Pilates vocabulary overlaps with additional terms used depending upon body position, equipment and accessories used.

Selecting which Pilates form to practice depends on personal preferences and fitness goals, said Tennille McClellan, co-owner of Evolve Body & Mind Studio at 1105 18th St. Tennille McClellan is partners in Evolve with her mother-in-law Dawn McClellan. Dawn McClellan is certified in Pilates, specializing in mat and Reformer Pilates, a variation that uses a special Pilates apparatus.

The participant’s body weight may be supplemented with accessories such as bands or light weights. “(A) mat is usually where people start,” Tennille McClellan said, “the focus is on engaging the core and proper alignment. The movements are small and controlled.”

Evolve recently expanded and is the first area studio to offer bodhi Pilates, according to McClellan. Taken from the Sanskrit name “bodhi” meaning “Awakened” or “Enlighten-ment,” the name refers to the exercise’s goal of fusing a closer and more mindful mind-body awareness and connection through the use of free-hanging ropes tethered to the ceiling. A bodhi participant uses his or her body weight and various degrees of suspension — including full suspension.

“Bodhi awakens the whole body-mind connection,” Tennille said. “It improves coordination, stimulates the vestibular system and strengthens the body’s righting reflex. Using the ropes creates an unstable environment, but we can modify and customize the workout to the individual’s abilities in a very safe way.”

The righting reflex is engaged by the body automatically when a person trips and tries to catch themself. It happens automatically when the center of gravity is off, she said.

“You lean into the ropes and then do squats. Your body is out of gravitational alignment and this adds additional challenges and helps activate and strengthen the muscles that stabilize you,” Tennille said.

Evolve has five suspension systems and the instructor serves as a spotter and leads the movements through verbal cues. Tennille recently attended 18-hours of bodhi training and became a certified instructor. She has trained Evolve’s four other instructors.

Certified Piloxing instructor Jen Burgmeier of The Groove Fitness Studio in Altoona teaches classes where participants range in age from teens to seniors.

While Piloxing is predominately attended by women, she does teach a few men, including Laubenstein. Most Piloxing movements are done standing to increase muscle tone and improve balance. The boxing — hand punches and kicks done in the air — is done in intervals and may be augmented by wearing weighted boxing gloves.

“It’s a very hard workout with cardio,” Burgmeier said. “But it can be as intense as you want it to be and is for all fitness levels. I lead the class through verbal instructions and when we are doing cardio with high knees or jumping jacks, I also offer a lower impact alternative. Instead of high knees, for example, you can march in place. It is not a dance class and everyone can do it. It is a total body workout with toning, balance, cardio and a high calorie burn.”

Another alternative fitness experience is Barre Pilates, a combination of Pilates, cardio and three leg movements most often ballet dancers use in training.

The barre, a railing attached horizontally to a wall, offers support and makes the technique accessible to beginners or those with balance issues.

“Barre (pronounced bar) combines all of regular Pilates and adds in a fun, full body workout. It’s more challenging and provides a more aerobic workout. If you don’t like to sweat a lot, then this wouldn’t be for you,” Tennille McClellan said.

And, within barre is another alternative called Barre Above.

Former professional ballet dancer and ballet instructor Jennifer Bryan said, “Barre is hot right now. Barre classes are low-impact and is designed for a wide range of fitness levels, ages and bodies, complete with progressions so those new to fitness feel successful their first time and seasoned barre enthusiasts will always feel challenged … the class offers different modifications, progressions and is customizable. Older adults and post-surgical clients can feel comfortable with moving within their own personal range of motion and not worry about keeping up with others in class.”

For instance, someone new would do a low plank while an experienced barre participant would do a high plank. The cardio portion may also be adjusted to suit a person’s pace.

Her class participants range in age from 10 to mid-70s, she said, “Kids and adults alike love the class.”

Bryan teaches at three different locations in the area and keeps class size to 15 people or fewer. Most of her clients attend three times a week.

“While it is most important to listen to your body and give your muscles enough rest, typically three times a week will generate the most fitness results. You should always consult your physician to determine what is a ‘safe’ amount of exercise. Clients start to feel a difference in their strength, balance, flexibility and posture in as little as a month,” she said.

“Barre Above’s method does require that we physically work on all three planes of motion: frontal, sagittal and transverse. We do use the ballet barre as well as 9-inch stability balls, glider discs, hand weights and resistance bands. But the body’s own natural weight is the tool used the most. Everything is done to music, which makes it more enjoyable.”

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.