In this series, fitness pros investigate how exercise trends measure up to the hype.
The Gravity machine is like a cousin to the Pilates Reformer. Like the Reformer, the Gravity machine consists of a moving platform (which you can kneel on or lie on face up, sideways or face down) sandwiched between a foot plate and a vertical tower. The tower has pulleys and bars attached. Unlike the Reformer, the Gravity platform can be placed at different angles – anywhere from almost parallel to the ground to almost vertical.
So if you like the idea of using a moving platform to strengthen your entire body, you are in luck – Gravity classes can be found across the country. (T-Squared Personal Training in Vancouver, for example, or DBS Fitness in Montreal.) I tested Gravity classes in Toronto at Embody Fitness (490 Eglinton Ave. W.) and Gravitate Studio (1947 Avenue Rd. #206)
Embody and Gravitate not only promise Gravity classes provide an efficient and effective full-body workout, both websites emphasize the workout is appropriate for everyone. I decided to test this assertion. I brought two fitness buddies with me to sample the class, each with their own unique body quirks. Julie, who is 33 and three months postpartum, came to Embody, and my mom, who is 63 and has a problematic lower back, accompanied me to Gravitate.
What to expect
A Gravity warm-up typically consists of lying on your back while pressing the platform backward and forward until your legs burn; you change up your leg placement, switch the tempos, pulse and then end with single-leg work for that extra burn. The main body of the class differs depending on the teacher, but in my experience includes at least one set of arm work facing the tower and pulling your body upward, one set of arm work facing away from the tower and a plethora of variations on the plank.
Many of the exercises are almost identical to what you would do on a Reformer. For example, both types of classes often include a variation of the plank where you balance your feet on the stationary foot plate while moving the platform forward and backward with your arms.
There was one exercise that was unique to Gravity that I loved – it targeted the glutes. Picture sitting on the platform holding the straps, facing the tower. Keep your legs straight and feet on the inside of the cables while you use your bum to press the cables wide. After a million repetitions, we then did small pulses. Believe me, I felt my bum the next day.
I feel comfortable recommending Gravity to almost everyone – it is safe, appropriately challenging, fairly unassuming and motivating because you can easily gauge progress. This is rare praise. I am usually fairly conservative with offering endorsements; I tend not to recommend studios and classes unless I am personally familiar with them. The sheer number of participants in a typical group exercise class means it is almost impossible for the teacher to watch everyone's form.
One of the reasons I feel comfortable recommending Gravity is that most classes only accommodate six or eight participants, which means the teacher can monitor form and adjust the exercises and intensity as needed.
Gravity is also relatively approachable. We all have enough reasons to skip a workout – the "scariness" of a workout doesn't have to be one of them. My mom said she felt competent on the machine very quickly and that the workout was not overwhelming but still a physical challenge. A certain degree of comfort, ease and enjoyment is key – too many people stop training if the workout, gym or class environment makes them feel stupid, out of place or out of shape.
Both my mom and Julie also appreciated the relative ease with which they would be able to gauge their progress; as you get stronger, you simply change the angle of the platform. My mom felt that being able to move the platform to a different level – and thus having tangible proof of improved fitness – would be very motivating. I agree. It is always empowering to be able to say, "Three weeks ago I couldn't do that, but now I can."
In the end, both my mom and Julie left feeling taken care of. My mom plans to rent the space for a fitness-themed birthday party; she thinks it will be able to accommodate the needs of all her friends. Julie felt that the workout was hard, but safe considering her current fitness level. She didn't feel overwhelmed by the prospect of going back. I also enjoyed myself; my entire body felt worked, but not in an extreme sense.
One last note: You might particularly love Gravity if you want the core benefits of Pilates but typically find Pilates classes too slow. I love the precision needed for a Pilates Reformer class, but I know many people find the nuances tedious. Gravity is an interesting meld of weight training and Pilates. It offers the best of both worlds; it provides the core and mind-body awareness of Pilates with a slightly faster and more "weight room"-esque (but still safe) pace.
Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer, Pilates equipment specialist and author of Finding Your Fit. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.