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(JENNIFER ROBERTS/JENNIFER ROBERTS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(JENNIFER ROBERTS/JENNIFER ROBERTS FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Amy Verner on fitness

Gravity classes are no fitness gimmick Add to ...

A Gravity Training System looks like an exercise contraption you'd see on an infomercial at 3 a.m. It shares DNA with a Pilates reformer, a Total Gym (the one Chuck Norris endorses) and maybe even a Bowflex.

But after taking a month of Gravity classes, I can safely say this is no gimmick.

Gravity is time and cost efficient, as well as effective. It's a full-body strength workout in a semi-private setting - think modified personal training at a fraction of the cost.

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The main component of the machine, manufactured by San Diego-based EFI Sports Medicine, is a "glideboard" that slides back and forth on rails attached to the central tower and can be set at eight different incline settings. Instead of weights, you use your body as resistance against gravity (from 51/4 to 281/4 degrees, or 5 to 59 per cent of your body weight). A system of cables works the arms, while "lat bars" focus on shoulders and back muscles and a "squat stand" targets the lower body.

The adjustable incline means that there's no excuse for beginners. Nor is there a plateau point as weight bars can be added for Schwarzenegger types.

Typically, Gravity classes are divided evenly between upper and lower body work but there are infinite variations of squats, lunges and plyometric jumps (which can also be done off the machine): regular, one-legged, feet out, feet together, half up, half down, hold for 10 seconds, hold for 20 seconds, hold for 40 seconds, pulse for 30 seconds, ad nauseam. Literally.

At Get Spun, a fitness studio in downtown Toronto with four Gravity machines, I often took classes with men boasting Sports Illustrated-worthy physiques. But the hour-long sessions are just as tough for them as they are for me: More body weight simply means more work is required to complete the same exercises.

"Because the class so small, you can keep an eye on everyone and tailor [the exercises]to their fitness level," Get Spun's owner Christie Ness says. "But everyone feels like they're doing it together so it's a motivating environment."

RPM, an airy space in Toronto's Bloor West Village, takes credit for being the first in the city to offer Gravity in a class-type setting with eight machines.

"No one has to feel pressured to keep up like in a step class," owner Mike Peshko says. "I have had an Olympic athlete next to a grandmother next to a pregnant woman. In what other class do you have that range of workout levels?"

While I feel soreness after a class, Gravity has complemented my other workouts, not come at the expense of them. My runs have been faster and my arms feel stronger (many Gravity groupies round out their exercise regimens with spinning classes). Visibly, I don't notice any dramatic changes but, to be fair, I've taken fewer than 10 classes.

Three of which I spent beside Nadia Beale, who has been taking Gravity at Get Spun since March. "It allows you to work on your strength but it's not like free weights at the gym which are so boring and you don't know if doing things right," the toned public-relations manager says. "With Gravity, you can push yourself to get to levels you didn't think you could achieve."

It's an infomercial-worthy testimonial - but I couldn't agree more.

The basics of Gravity

What is it?

A total body workout.

How hard is it?

Most instructors will push you just outside your comfort zone - expect soreness the next day. Short bursts of movement or holding positions for long durations can be especially intense. Ditto standing lunges and squats done with one leg on the glideboard for added instability. The good news: The incline can always be adjusted.

What does it work?

The entire body, particularly the legs, arms, back and chest. Abs get the least attention but every exercise is supposed to be done with the core engaged. What are the classes like?

Because the exercises require proper form and are sometimes performed in awkward positions, class size tends to be maximum eight people. At Get Spun, everyone starts off chatty; 10 minutes in, the intensity creates a silence broken only by the odd grunt. Classes run between $23 and $35.

Who is taking it?

In Toronto, individuals seemed fit and toned although lapsed gym goers and seniors could

easily keep up at lower settings. Almost even female/male representation in classes.

Sign me up!

Visit getspun.ca, rpmstudio.ca or efisportsmedicine.com for more information.

Follow on Twitter: @amyverner

 

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