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Is this the end of pilates as we know it? Add to ...

After nearly a decade of Pilates classes, Judith Ritchie decided it was time to add something to new to her routine of swan dives, jack knives and corkscrews. The 35-year-old signed up for a boot camp class this summer.

"I just wanted to try something different," says Ms. Ritchie, a high school teacher in Brampton, Ont. "They're two completely different ways to exercise."

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And while Ms. Ritchie continues to take boot camp and Pilates classes each week, an increasing number of people are opting for the one and dropping the other.

Pilates is on the wane. Class numbers at gyms across Canada are shrinking. Trainers say Pilates is often too expensive and too time-consuming, and people are increasingly turning to things like boot camps for faster results or other forms of exercise such as Zumba for more entertainment.

"The younger demographic definitely wants harder, faster, quicker results, and they like the fun of boot camp classes," says Shellie Rykiss, a group fitness director at Extreme Fitness, a Toronto-based chain of health clubs. "When Pilates became the thing [about five years ago]we had about six Pilates classes during the week. We are down to one."

GoodLife Fitness Canada, one of the largest fitness chains in the country, has also seen a similar decline, says Mo Hagan, vice-president of operations.

Members are now seeking out more high-energy exercises, she says. For example, the fastest growing program at GoodLife Fitness is Zumba, a dance fitness class. "It's fun, it's sexy. It teaches people how to dance, which because it can overflow into the other parts of your life, people love it, " says Ms. Hagan.

Since 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine has polled fitness professionals from around the world to pinpoint the top 10 trends. Pilates first appeared on the list in 2008, at No. 7. It kept that rank the following year, then dropped to No. 9 in 2010, until falling off the list entirely in the latest poll, released last month, which predicts trends for 2011.

"That by definition is a fad. It's here a while and then gone," says Dr. Walter Thompson, a professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University and lead author of the poll. With fitness classes constantly falling in and out of favour, Pilates looks to be going the way of Jazzercise and step aerobics. Pilates is out, and boot camp, which cracked this year's poll at No. 8, is in.

The problem, Dr. Thompson says, is that Pilates can require expensive equipment, whether it's a reformer, which resembles a souped-up rowing machine, or the cadillac, which resembles a medieval torture device (it's often referred to as The Rack) with various bars, levers and springs attached to a four-poster frame. The cost of purchasing such equipment, and that of training instructors, is often passed on to clients.

And time-starved as they are, more and more people don't want to have to work for months getting a handle on Pilates principles like control, breathing, centring or flow. They just want to hit the gym and feel like they've got their butts kicked without having to worry about breathing techniques.

"What Pilates does is teach you body awareness, and it's a hard thing for people to get. So yes, you have to be in your head a little bit more than you would be in another type of class, even yoga," Ms. Hagan says. "A lot of people don't want to think. They just want to come to the gym, they want to move their body, they want to get results."

That desire for simpler, higher intensity exercises in large part explains boot camp's rising popularity, says Sammie Kennedy, creator and CEO of Booty Camp Fitness, a Canadian company that has grown from one location when it was founded in 2007 to nearly 100 locations today.

"An appeal of boot camps is that it's always different. You never go and get the exact same thing twice, so it keeps you interested," she says. "And boot camps do provide results very, very quickly."

While reformers and mats may be gathering dust these days, certain forms of Pilates are actually growing in popularity, although few, if any, of them would likely be recognizable to Joseph Pilates, who developed the physical fitness system in the early 20th century.

In order to curb the sense of boredom that for many people can set in during a traditional Pilates class, gyms are now offering hybrid classes that mix Pilates with other forms of exercise.

Those fusion classes see Pilates combined with everything from yoga and tai chi to cycling, often referred to as cyclates.

Rosemary Layne, an instructor at Extreme Fitness, teaches a cyclates class that sees students go from stationary bikes to stretching exercises.

"Five years ago, Pilates was the big thing," she says. "Everybody loved carrying their mat. Everybody loved saying 'I did the Pilates class.' Now it's cycling. Everyone is into the hard core workout."

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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