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Pros take it for a test glide

New workouts don't just show up at the gym. They're put through their paces during weeks of practice.

September 06, 2004|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

September is when kids head back to school and many adults head back to the gym. Despite warm weather and a plethora of summer sports, some people ditch their regular workouts in favor of vacations or lounging on the beach -- until they realize that months of sundaes and treadmill neglect have caused their waistlines to expand.

To lure stragglers back into the fold and to keep current members interested, gyms typically introduce new classes in the fall. Gyms must choose from an endless stream of new workout programs developed by industry veterans and wannabes dreaming of being the next Billy Blanks or Denise Austin. It's a challenge, as they must weed out ineffective or potentially dangerous equipment while keeping in mind their core membership, budgets and space.

One program that's made it through the gantlet is called Gliding. It incorporates 10-inch discs (plastic for carpets and nylon for hardwood floors) that allow hands and feet to slide from one position to another. That sliding motion creates a resistance that works more muscle groups. Marcos Prolo, group exercise manager of the Sports Club/Irvine, is currently in the weeks-long testing phase of the program, which will debut at the facility in mid-September.

Gliding was designed by Mindy Mylrea, a former national and world aerobic champion from Santa Cruz who is also a friend of Prolo's.

Prolo was initially skeptical of Mylrea's workout, because an early prototype used paper plates. With 16 years in the fitness industry, Prolo says he's constantly being pitched new equipment and workouts, often by people he knows, but that he turns down a great number.

But he sees potential for Gliding. He demonstrates with a lateral lunge, beginning with bent knees, then sliding one foot, which rests on the disc, out to the side. The standing leg, without a disc, stays bent. By sliding the leg back into position, resistance is created, working muscles on the inside and outside of the thigh.

Gym members are often unaware of what goes into a workout's launch, including the weeks of practice sessions sometimes undertaken by fitness instructors before a new class ever makes it onto the schedule.

At Sports Club/Irvine, teachers devise exercises accessible to a range of fitness levels. They also discover which exercises could pose risks and possible injuries, and whether the program lends itself to cardio, strength, flexibility or all three. Of course, not all gyms take the same approach, because some lack the means or desire to go through such a stringent process.

In the studio with Prolo this afternoon are Joan Wenson, who teaches several classes at the Sports Club; Pilates instructor Katie Osumi; and Diane Vaughan, a fitness instructor and friend of Prolo's. Wenson and Osumi have been trying out some moves for their classes, but in this informal fitness jam session, they can bounce ideas off each other, devising themes and variations.

Because the discs are so different and at first may seem odd to students, Prolo has decided to incorporate them into existing classes to enhance cardio, strength and flexibility. (He may create a separate Gliding class later, depending on the response.) There's a delicate balance, he says, between satisfying members' desires for new workouts and not presenting them with something so unusual that they'll be turned off.

The teachers are not working from scratch. Mylrea has laid some groundwork by creating instructional videos and an infomercial for the product. And although Prolo is featured on the cardio and strength training video, he still has to come up with ways to use the discs in a class. "It's so new," he says. "Plus, I want them to be creative. It's playing around."

But it's also work, as the three spread themselves around the room and quickly go into full-sweat mode. There's a fair amount of good-natured ribbing among the teachers as they push the limits.

"I have this thing I've been doing," says Wenson, who also teaches group cycling and has an impressively cut physique. To demonstrate, she does a push-up that incorporates sliding the legs out, using the discs. It looks almost effortless, but even she acknowledges this isn't for rank beginners. "That's cardio. That's major cardio," she says after doing a few.

"Joan just can't wait to start torturing people with that," Vaughan says as everyone laughs.

Osumi practices a seated pike, arms outstretched to the side, resting on the discs. She uses them to slide her arms out and back, creating that resistance. "With this," she says, "I can do resistance exercises in my mat class that normally I'd do on a Reformer [a piece of Pilates equipment]."

Wenson lies on the hardwood floor, discs on her heels, and moves her turned-out legs in and out in a "V" shape, squeezing her inner thighs as she brings them together.

"People are always asking for inner thigh exercises," Prolo says, "and we usually can't do that unless we use rubber tubing."

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