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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.

Studio 1, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo
the studio ready for Forma classes [Plana Forma, Il Terrazzo]

Recep and waiting area
View of the reception from the studio foyer
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; 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.

New barre position
a view of Tomas Morato or a mirror for your spot at the studio

Studio 2, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo
Don’t forget your non-slip socks for the Forma classes.

Thigh warrior
a selfie by the neophyte thigh warrior before the start of class
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!”

Van Manalo, Plana Forma instructor
Van introduces himself to the class

Dani Cornejo, Plana Forma instructor
Dani gets to know her students
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.

Celine Encarnacion, Plana Forma instructor
Celine prepares her music and (inset) at the barre [LiveCollage]
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 Osias, Plana Forma instructor
Bernadette gives a few pointers before the start of her class

Studio 3, Plana Forma Il Terrazzo
Gearing up for Forma Endurance
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.

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a reminder before and after entering the studio at Plana Forma Il Terrazzo
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.


Class Pace Movements Benefits
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: | *partial list (go to the web link for a detailed list)





Approachable is one way to describe him. Actually, it is the opposite, he does the approaching, accosting you when he thinks he needs your help with a machine or if you’re doing something wrong with an exercise. That’s how I met him at the gym albeit I had been frequenting Helios at Bekasi CyberPark Bekasi for several months. I’d see him attending to his client every time I was working out. Then one fine December night about 16 months ago, he came over to me. By him, I’m referring to Agus Wahyudi, one of the personal trainers at Helios, whose teddy bear demeanor belies a martinet.

“Let me give you a trial workout,” he said casually, a huge smile crossing his face, as he prepped the leg extension machine.

The workout regimen convinced me to sign him up as my personal trainer despite feeling that every muscle in my body seemed to have been ripped apart. I was challenged even though running up a flight of stairs in school the next day proved excruciating – an experience was commingled with a tinge of hilarity. Picture this – as I run up the stairs I was muttering “Ouch, Ouch”. Every step elicited looks of wonder from every student and colleague who tried hard to suppress a giggle or guffaw.


Immediately after my Christmas break, I began my sessions with Pak Agus which meant training with him four times a week. Admittedly, the first month had me in tears; every squat, lunge, abdominal exercise or chess press was incendiary, but I carried on cajoled by Pak Agus who seemed to not notice that I was picking my tongue off the floor every session, and only smiled during the rest periods between exercises. But I was fuelled by a determination to conquer all the exercises he threw my way and get my breathing to a normal pace, so I trooped diligently to Helios – rain or shine – and worked out between two and three hours.


Pak Agus’s personality showed through our sessions. For one, he is a professional who puts all his attention on his client, as he rarely misses a session unless it’s, for instance, a family emergency. Second, he is a movie buff who kept me updated on which movie I should not miss or give a miss. He gave “Logan” the thumbs up. Third, he’s funny. His disappointment with Emma Watson’s “Beauty and the Beast” because, in his words, “there was a lot of singing” had me laughing. He fell asleep in the cinema. Fourth, he is affable. Every member of Helios is on speaking terms with him; he is just simply nice to speak with. There’s not a drop of arrogance in him. Fifth, he is entrepreneurial. He used to manage a snack bar at Helios selling steamed egg white, sandwiches, coffee and other beverages, etc. Sadly, the rent hike was too much so he closed shop. However, he is back selling beverages like water, coconut milk, protein shakes, Pocari sweat, banana, and especially the pudding, fruit salad, or green bean pudding made by his wife.


Lastly, and this is why I have not changed personal trainers, he is credible. He eats healthily, doesn’t smoke, emphasizes correct movement, posture and breathing, and answers all of my questions about fitness in a straightforward manner. Moreover, the fact that he has a balanced workout is a stark testament to his integrity as a legitimate personal trainer. It’s difficult, I find, to trust a personal trainer who has chicken legs and, horror of horror, smokes. I had a personal trainer before at Helios but it was short-lived. He was not qualified to be one and I regretted signing up with him.

A personal trainer is just like a teacher. The trainer must be knowledgeable, professional, and able to establish rapport. Fortunately, Pak Agus fits the bill to a T. He is committed to my fitness journey as I am.



There was no reneging on my decision that after Christmas break I was going to sign up a personal trainer at Helios when I got back to the gym. The free training session he gave me shortly before I left for Manila left me determined to conquer myself. I can do the basic stuff – something I learned from an ex-boyfriend-best friend who tutored me years ago – but I had reached a dead end and was starting to execrate even the basic workout routine I was doing. Then Pak Agus happened. Perhaps he read my expression and body language, but whatever it was, I knew it was time to sign him up as my personal trainer.

Agus and I had exchanged pleasantries and high-fives occasionally, and he had helped me with some of the machines. I guess the clincher in deciding I’d get him as my personal trainer was, one, he was the only one who spoke to me at length at the gym in English. Second, he was really amiable; he’s like this huge care bear with a super power of weight lifting. But one should not be fooled by his smile once he has his trainer hat on – he makes you complete all the exercises, corrects your inaccurate technique, form and breathing, and pushes you out of your comfort zone. He lives up to the title of personal trainer emblazoned on his t-shirt.

“If you sign up, you have four variants to finish in a session. Come, let me show you the first one,” he said to me and led me to the machine for the latissimus dorsi.

It was an all-body workout routine he gave me which left me gasping for air but feeling definitely much exhilarated, and excited about the thought of signing him up as my personal trainer. I was admittedly in pain the next day and it was complete torture rolling out of bed. I finally got reacquainted my muscles I had long forgotten about. My flatmate, she confessed, was laughing because she heard me crying, “Ouch, ouch, ouch” every time I’d walk around the flat. Good thing she didn’t hear my silent scream the one time I run up a flight of steps from the ground floor to my office on the second – my leg muscles were suddenly tight. Even lifting a textbook was such an arduous task after a workout session with Pak Agus!

Gym collage


But despite the body pain and gripes I never regretted my decision to sign up Pak Agus as my trainer. In fact, it’s one of the best decisions I have made this year. However, honestly, I was not far from quitting the first cycle which tested my resolve. Pak Agus’ training sessions are divided into cycles consisting of 12 sessions each, with a client ideally doing four sessions with him each week without fail. I was dragging my sore body home and dropping on the bed after a quick shower to wake up the next morning feeling raw and debating whether to go to the gym or not. It was reminiscent of my days as a varsity soccer player at the University of the Philippines in Diliman where training was gruelling especially for a flat-footed, asthmatic person like me. But I didn’t quit much to the surprise of my teammates who, I discovered much later, had a wager going on of how long before I renounced my membership. They were shocked when I came back the next day smiling and whistling. It’s similar to my sessions with Pak Agus who noted that I looked better and stronger after the first cycle where I looked so downtrodden and ready to quit.

I am now on my sixth cycle with Pak Agus and exercises like the push-up (the type where you’re in push up position and moving to the right and left before doing the push up) and plank rotation are fast becoming a favourite together with the triceps dip. A friend once commented that I can stop with my personal trainer after a few months, but I beg to disagree. Here’s why getting and staying with a personal trainer is never a bad idea:

  1. A personal trainer pushes one to work out.

There are 101 reasons not to work out and your personal trainer makes sure you don’t use any one of them on him. Aside: I don’t even have Pak Agus’ hand phone number because I know I’d be tempted to text him I can’t make it.

  1. A personal trainer is your personal cheering squad.

When you feel your knees are about to buckle after more than two minutes of jumping jacks, your personal trainer will cheer you on until the last second. Then he’ll give you a bit of rest and time to drink water.

  1. A personal trainer keeps you focused on your work out.

Like a good teacher, he discusses the focus of the cycle, the goal for each cycle, and having a proper diet.

  1. A personal trainer is a paradigm of healthy living.

Exercising cannot be divorced from the concept of healthy living. They go like hand and glove, and your personal trainer is a great reminder of that philosophy.

Naysayers will point out that it’s expensive to pay a personal trainer. I concede that it’s a good point, but here’s my argument: with proper money management paying for a personal trainer is a much better investment than, say, purchasing a branded bag of whatever froufrou you fancy at the moment. It’s a life-time investment that will keep the doctor away and you in tip-top shape.