How to Look 10 Years Younger in 10 Hours
- by Emma Robertson
This article appeared on the U.K's Daily Express web site (March 9, 2009).
Two decades after it first launched, Callanetics still has the power to transform women's bodies quickly, as Emma Robertson discovered....
In pursuit of the dream body, I was always on the look-out for the next big fitness craze, whether it was hula-hoop workouts and skipping or Powerplate and punching. However, after all these years I still hadn't found the quick fix I'd been looking for. I had resigned myself to a life of half-hearted treadmill training and step aerobic sessions - until I came across an old exercise called Callanetics being taught in Edinburgh.
Head trainer Karin MacKenzie from the Edinburgh Callanetics Studio has such confidence in the exercise that she claims new students can drop a dress size within 10 one-hour sessions. Sounds like a challenge too good to refuse. Callanetics, of course, is far from being another flash-in-the-pan fitness fad as it dates back to the Eighties.
That particular decade may have been responsible for poodle perms, Dallas and shoulder pads, but it also gave us one of the most ground-breaking exercise regimes of recent times. Callanetics first reached a wide audience through a best-selling book outlining the techniques. It later became the number one exercise video in America for three years running, surpassing even Jane Fonda's aerobics workouts in popularity. The exercises were devised by former classical ballerina Callan Pinckney. Plagued by a bad back, she was horrified to find many exercise classes would exacerbate the problem rather than help strengthen her body. She experimented with a series of micro-movements and found they not only brought her instant pain relief but also had a powerful sculpting effect on her body. In fact, she claimed one hour of her ground-breaking technique had the same tightening and lifting effect as 20 hours of aerobics.
This miracle makeover changed the shape of the nation and became a figure fix-it for everyone from hot Hollywood stars such as Barbra Streisand to royal figureheads including Fergie. These days it's rumored even Madonna uses Callanetics-style exercises in her relentless crusade for the perfect body.
Just as our tastes in legwarmers and leotards have moved on, so too has Callanetics. For the first time in 30 years, there's a brand new set of moves featured in the DVD Callanetics Evolution which stars Karin alongside other top teachers from around the world.
"It's the same all-over workout which targets problem areas with tiny movements," explains Karin. "However, now we use new pulsing techniques, combined with the classic exercises to confuse the muscles and stop them getting lazy. These intense contractions are unlike any other exercise because they penetrate deep down to the muscle's core to deliver fast toning results."
While other fitness regimes can shorten and bulk muscle, Callanetics aims to create the opposite effect by making muscles long, strong and lean like a dancer.
If I needed any more proof of its potency then Karin's fabulous figures says it all. At 42 her gravity-defying body and feminine frame could pass for someone 20 years younger - just like those of her many devoted students who have been regulars since she started teaching 13 years ago.
Before my first class, Karin takes measurements from all over my body so we can compare them with my vital statistics after 10 sessions. "It's not just about inch loss," she's keen to remind me. "This will lift muscles all over your body from your knees to your bust and it gets blood pumping deep into the tissue to reduce cellulite." Taking part in the class are women of all shapes and sizes from students and housewives to professionals and pensioners. Some haven't exercised for years due to injury or health conditions but the low-impact nature of Callanetics means almost anyone can shape-up in safety.
Unlike my usual exercise classes, there's no pounding music or scary-looking equipment here to put me off. There's a ballet barre, mirrors and a dozen students with Karin keeping an eagle eye on everyone's technique.
After a good warm-up, we begin our battle against the bulge. We kick off with an exercise which simply involves holding our arms behind us and pulsing them towards each other for a minute. It looks easy compared to the dumbbells I'm used to lifting at the gym. However, after just 20 seconds, it feels as if my arms might actually fall off. When the minute is up, there's no time to relax as Karin asks us to repeat the exercise again and again but using new circling and rotating movements instead. We repeat these power pulses on our hips, thighs, waist, bum and tummy. Surrounded by strangers and in a roomful of mirrors, I try my hardest to look graceful but after all the hard work I collapse in a heap on the floor.
We also target muscles I had no idea existed. Those mysterious pelvic floor muscles between the legs, for example, which run from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine are essential to protect the back and increase core stability throughout the exercises. While it's not easy to hold the right position, keep the pulses perfect and activate my pelvic floor at the same time, Karin assures me practice makes perfect.
By class five it starts to come more naturally but that's not to say the exercises get any easier as Karin advances the moves to increase their intensity. Although it's hard to see a discernible difference at first, you can feel one almost immediately. Within a few classes, my body becomes more agile and energized and, with tighter tummy muscles, it's easier to sit up straight than slouch. Then, after seven classes, my figure starts to change in front of my eyes. As if by magic, those wobbly thighs and arms start to firm up, my silhouette looks smoother and my saggy bum starts heading north instead of further south. Of course, it could all be my imagination but the tape measure doesn't lie. After 10 classes, Karin reveals I've dropped more than a dress size, losing just over seven inches in total without resorting to a miserable crash diet or cheating with a shrink-wrap. What's more, Karin promises my figure will continue to get tighter with maintenance classes to keep up the good work. Short of surgery, I don't think quick fixes get better than this.