After struggling to perform even the simplest exercise in the CoreAlign program, basically standing up straight, I quickly realized this new form of training was as difficult to execute as it is to explain.
The goal is to develop harmonious movement, and my body hit all the wrong notes.
Patty McNichols assured me that CoreAlign would get easier with practice, while imploring me to pull in my rib rings, tuck in my pelvis and relax my shoulders.
McNichols operates The Lift Pilates & CoreAlign Studio in Fox Point, and features 12 of the box-like stations developed by an Israeli physical therapist, Jonathan Hoffman. The equipment and training program was first delivered from Tel Aviv to the U.S. in 2010, and McNichols is the first instructor in the area to teach it.
“I kind of think I’m a little ahead of people in getting their mind around it,” she said.
Getting your mind around it is the key. The precise movements on small, square platforms that slide in a horizontal frame are designed to force the mind to force the body to align itself properly. Weaknesses and imbalances – tight hip flexors and hamstrings, glutes and abs that don’t engage – will be corrected over the 15-week program of hour-long sessions.
For runners, bikers and other athletes, the improved balance and alignment will make them more efficient.
“That is the most unbelievable thing,” she said. “It is an athlete’s game-changer for efficient movement. It is the most mind-blowing exercise method.”
McNichols embraced CoreAlign as an extension of her dedication to Pilates, the core strength exercises that have been around since World War I. An Ironman and endurance athlete who grew frustrated by injuries and overtraining, McNichols embraced Pilates and mastered it at the Pilates Center in Boulder, Co. She opened her first studio in Milwaukee in 2005.
Her training space in the Audobon Court Shopping Center, opened in May, has no treadmills, mirrors, dumbbells, TVs, spin bikes or elliptical trainers.
She teaches Pilates, and now CoreAlign, with the mission to train the mind and body as one, and to “do it right.”
She exemplified that credo during my one-hour session.
The simple exercise “Statue on Wheels” required me to stand straight, grasp a horizontal bar in front of me, extend my arms and slowly slide back on the moving carts. The goal was to maintain perfect posture throughout the movement and return the carts to the front at the same time.
I moved in fits and starts, and McNichols offered near constant reminders as she spotted flaws in my posture and balance. The pattern repeated as I worked through exercises that required me to slide one foot back while holding the other in place, and another called “Hoof” that I would liken to scraping gum off a shoe.
After several attempts at each, I did find success in freeing my shoulders, engaging my core and firing my hamstrings. The change in muscle activity from the first attempt to the fifth was significant and noticeable.
My impression of the program, though, was that it amounted to little more than “standing around.”
Veterans assured me that I was wrong. It’s not a hard-core cardio workout, but it does exhaust muscles in new ways. The movements connect with one another, and become rhythmic and tiring with proficiency.
To execute the Kite Surfer, for example, trainees lean back, slide a foot, twist and maintain good posture while holding themselves with straps. At advanced levels, moving discs replace the sliding plates, adding more challenge to engage the core and tone the body.
“When you first start, you wonder, ‘this is exercise?'” said Edie Radtke, 59, who has been through roughly 15 weeks of CoreAlign training. “You can’t get it from one session.
“The exercises do get more complicated and it does become more exhausting.”
More importantly, Radtke said the combination of Pilates and CoreAlign has relieved aches and pains in her hips and back, improved her posture and gait and improved her golf game. More precisely, it has allowed her to play more. Due to back pain, she previously took a week or two off between rounds. Now she can play days in a row.
“I feel like I’m doing this for myself,” she said. “It’s like I’m doing physical therapy so I don’t have to do physical therapy.”
The Lift Studio offers 10 CoreAlign classes for $225: two sessions per week for five weeks. The full program runs 15 weeks. Check the website for the upcoming class studio.