A reality I envision myself fervently in is where I am looking as lithe and graceful as Plana Forma instructors Celine Encarnacion, Dani Cornejo, and Bernadette Osias. I’m elegantly lean as, together with either one of them, I extend my leg – toes pointed – back up in the air or the side like a ballerina. But alternate reality is mythical and I crash back on Earth struggling to hold my leg up or maintaining the half-way “sitting” position while pulsing for three counts at the barre. Barre workouts belie an effort that would make a grown-up cry. I’ve been keen to attend such a class ever since I first got wind of barre workouts from an FB friend who is passionate and passionately posted pictures about her barre classes in Kuala Lumpur.
I was on the lookout for a place to exercise while on vacation in Manila, waning something different from my usual gym workout. I found my answer at Il Terrazzo in Quezon City where Plana Forma’s second studio is.
“It’s a combination of Pilates and yoga, which you are familiar with, but we go deeper and concentrate on the little muscles. Give it a try,” said Celine encouragingly before leaving the studio. Her warm welcome and succinct explanation of the Plana Forma concept had me signing up for the Newcomer package of 10 classes.
Plana Forma, I read on its website, is a ballet barre technique that merges the precepts of yoga, Pilates, and dance into an hour’s workout at their Plana Forma studios at Makati or Quezon City. Class reservation is done via mindbodyonline.com; you get a confirmation email after signing up. Important rules to remember are to show up 15 minutes before the class or your slot would be given to someone on the wait list; and to bring your non-slip socks (sold for PhilP350 at the counter) for Forma classes, trainers for Zumba, and yoga mat for Forma Asana. You can stow your things in a borrowed locker and ask for towels (big or small) before the class. The studio closes shortly before lunch and opens before 615pm.
Newcomer to Barre
Thigh warrior beginners are advised to attend the Forma Core class to get familiar with the form, techniques, and breathing. I followed the advice and signed up for Van Manalo’s class that was packed to the rafters on an Eid Mubarak Monday morning. The push-ups were a cinch but the thigh workout, which came after the fast-paced, upbeat warm up, was more than challenging. Fortunately, my personal trainer had me do endless squats because I wouldn’t have lasted during the first set of eight half squats – visualise sitting minus the chair – at the barre.
It begins with students getting their two pairs of dumbbells – one heavier than the other – from a shelf near the music console for the warm up. Next is locating your spot at the barre that is already set up with a yoga mat, square cushion (aka square mat), black strap hanging from the barre, a blue ‘playground ball’, and a rolled-up thick blue mat. The endings are stretches that target the IT band (iliotibial band) and yoga poses for the upper body.
Beginners were laughing at Van’s class with his witty quips which he inserted as he counted or switched to the next movement. They certainly kept you distracted from the burning sensation in your muscles! I let out a guffaw in the midst of an abdominal exercise – small movements from the middle then upper section of the abs – when he wickedly wisecracked, “It should be your abdominal muscles tightening, not the face! Smile!”
I attended two Forma Core classes – the other one with Dani who was less of a comic than Van but still peppy – just to get the routine down pat and then upped the ante with Forma Core+ with Celine who struck me as the geek of all the instructors. Her directions were accompanied by explanations of what is supposed to happen or is happening to the muscles complete with their scientific names. But just like Van and Dani, she was animated and had her signature quip “Beautiful” to compliment her students whenever they executed a movement well.
Picking up the Pace
Satisfied that I wasn’t lost in the routine anymore, I ventured into other classes viz. Forma Endurance, Forma Strength, and Forma Mi.X.ed. I met Celine again in Forma Strength that led to epiphanies about bikini bottom muscles and quivering legs: using your own body weight and engaging the core muscles should be the fitness goal from the beginning. If you can carry yourself in an exercise class, you’re on the right path to fitness. Moreover, little movements are more effective in getting those core muscle tight and strong. I credit my personal trainer for getting me in shape for Forma classes – I can keep pace with the instructors even though I may look like a gorgeous elephant projecting as a swan.
My Forma Mi.X.ed experience was with high-school-student-looking Clark Dela Riva. I meant high-school student-looking as an encomium. He injected a playfulness to the routine dovetailed with wisecracks a la co-teacher Van while flashing a boyish smile
“The face shouldn’t scrunch up like your abdominal muscles. Open the chest, relax the shoulders, and smile. Good morning!” he’d say innocently but with a hint of cheekiness, as we went about pulsing in half-squat position, squeezing the playground ball in between the legs, at the barre. He also had a signature spiel which would either be “Perfect!” or “Good morning”; at times he’d blurt out “Thank you” like a polite school boy if everyone followed his suggestion of, say, raising the arms to the sky for a more challenging mid-section workout.
I found my stride in Clark’s class, following seamlessly in working the core muscles because the tempo was similar to my gym pace, plus I got lost in his music accompaniment of mostly 1980s songs.
Bernadette’s Forma Endurance proved challenging. I was gobsmacked that I was hard pressed to pulse my left leg which was bent at my back while in a seated position as I held the barre. It looked easy but reality was far from it. Bernadette was the strict one; her voice exuded that martinet schoolmarm vibe andshe was very particular about everyone following her instructions to the letter including where you should face for the non-barre exercises.
I’m down to my last two Forma classes and I’ll be going back to my regular workout. It doesn’t mean that I’m eschewing what I’m taking home from my Forma classes. On the contrary, I’m stoked to continue as an autodidact thigh warrior and work on my goal: Be a strong, elegant thigh warrior.
FORMA CLASSES AT GLANCE*
|Forma Core||moderate with timed high-intensity intervals||Pilates Principles of Isolation; isometric exercises||increased calorie burn; improved balance, control, posture, stability, and endurance (cardiovascular and muscular)|
|Forma Strength||fast with intervals of core challenges||increased range with larger, full range movements||increased calorie burn; improved power, strength, mobility, muscle strength, power, cardiovascular endurance|
|Forma Endurance||fast with short recovery stretches||wide range during all intervals||increased calorie burn; improved alertness, coordination, power, agility, cardiovascular and muscular endurance|
|Forma Mi.X.ed||moderate to fast, high-intensity, with 10-min recovery stretches||repetition-base and less complicated||improved upper body and core strength, muscle strength and power, cardiovascular endurance|
|Source: http://forma-asia.com/classes/ | *partial list (go to the web link for a detailed list)|