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PALM LATITUDES

Sport Report

March 15, 1992|R . Daniel Foster

The Universal Reformer may sound like a device a New Age leader would stash in her Montana bomb shelter, but a dozen-plus Southland fitness studios use the torturous-looking contraption to stretch out bodies--not minds.

Invented by Joseph Pilates in 1923, the equipment is said to elongate muscles, creating an erect, statuesque look, as evidenced by past users Martha Graham and George Balanchine.

Those who use it consistently can gain as much as an inch in height, according to one UR instructor at a Beverly Hills studio. A few generations of disjointed dancers, athletes and celebs, including Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, Sigourney Weaver and even Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, have tried the stretch. Using cables, pulleys and springs, the wood-framed UR resembles a large mousetrap set in a twin bed frame. Devotees, who say that a decade of aerobics only resulted in thickened legs, swear that it produces sleekness in a dozen sessions. Of course, that's what they said during the Inquisition.

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