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A full-court press to fitness

The Studio (MDR) uses a Pilates-inspired method that tests even top athletes, including NBA players.

November 16, 2013|Josh Gajewski
  • Former Laker Darius Morris, left, in a private session with trainer Ky Evans at the Studio (MDR).
Former Laker Darius Morris, left, in a private session with trainer Ky Evans… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

They often arrived, especially at first, with a certain swagger. Two Lakers, a Boston Celtic and, once, an entire pro team from China.

On the sidewalk, passersby sometimes stopped to peer through the windows of the Marina del Rey studio, as if looking into an aquarium of really big fish: hulking professional basketball players in a studio with pink ceilings and wallpaper, doing ... wait, is that ... Pilates?

Well, sort of.

"I don't think Pilates is supposed to have yelling and hip-hop," one passerby said recently to her companion.

And so we too came to the Studio (MDR), a loud, frenetic fitness studio in this otherwise relaxed, sun-kissed beach town. The workout is called the Lagree Method, which is described as a souped-up version of Pilates, performed on a machine that's much like a Pilates reformer only larger and with more moving parts. And it's a place usually overrun by women.

But on Tuesdays and Thursdays this summer, professional athletes hovered over their Megaformer machines, holding plank poses, folding their giant bodies in half, lunging, reaching, crunching, stretching, trembling.

Metta World Peace, the eccentric basketball star who spent the last four seasons with the Lakers and now plays for the New York Knicks, arrived his first day in sunglasses. He barely looked at the trainer, Ky Evans, who had been recommended by a friend.

"I show him the machine, he takes off his shirt," Evans recalled. "He's still in his jeans. I go, 'Need shorts?' He's like, 'No, I got this.' "

Up onto the machine he went, and Evans added two yellow springs of tension to begin the warmup.

"The very first minute, I was sweating," World Peace said recently by phone. "Like, dripping."

"Two minutes in," Evans said, "he's soaked. Then we do a few more minutes, and he starts shaking. Like, shaking bad." The shake, Evans said, is the very thing he strives for, whether his client is an NBA star or a grandmother. It's the moment when a muscle begins to really change.

And it was the moment World Peace went from shaking to shouting: "You're the truth! You're the truth!"

"L.A. is all made up, all funny, and it's a yoga town, you know? Yoga and vegan," World Peace said. "And I thought it was just going to be a vegan version of Pilates. [But] it was the real-deal version of Pilates. ... I was like, 'Wow, this is the craziest and best workout I've ever had.' "

Months later, World Peace called the studio the day after the Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs to schedule a summer full of private workouts. The next time he came to the studio, he wore shorts. And he brought extra towels.

"With this workout, you heal. And you're really working. You're getting much stronger, you're getting cardio without running, you're burning tons of fat. Honestly, everybody should be doing it. The workout, it's going to be the future," World Peace said, noting the non-impact exercises were perfect for his knee, which was recovering from surgery to remove torn meniscus.

The word spread. Pooh Jeter, a well-known player in Los Angeles basketball circles, heard about it from a cousin who was among World Peace's entourage and gave it a try. Jeter was playing in the Drew League, an L.A. summer league that several NBA stars take part in, "and this was my first summer where I was rebounding. Like, I'm 5-10. And I'm having games with 28 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists."

Jeter told the team that he currently plays for in China, the Shandong Gold Lions. The entire squad showed up to work out one day during its trip to the United States.

"Whoever did it, that first time, they'd all say, 'Oh, yeah, he's the real deal,' " Jeter said of Evans. "I call him the secret sauce."

Whatever he's called, Evans, 41, is a story unto himself. He has spent much of the last three years teaching at the Studio (MDR). But not long before that, Evans was homeless.

A fitness fanatic since he was a teenager, Evans hoped for a ballet career, but after three years of failed auditions in New York, he moved to Los Angeles, working at various jobs to pay for a Ford Ranger pickup that was his home when he wasn't sleeping on a buddy's couch. In the mornings he'd go to the gym -- he always maintained a membership, he said, and he'd apply the fitness methods he continuously studied, training people free to try out his ideas. In 2008, he discovered classes in Lagree, which was inspired by Pilates. A month later he was on his way to an instructor certification.

One Thursday in late August, over loud music, Evans told three pro basketball players to hold their plank positions for three minutes. Their giant hands were on a platform and their feet were on a moving carriage, connected by weighted springs. The farther those springs stretched, the harder it became to hold the position.

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