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Megaformer workout leaves writer gasping

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Sebastien Lagree is exactly what you'd expect from a trainer to the stars.

Based in L.A., the fitness pro is tall, charismatic and in good shape. He's the guy behind the Megaformer which, if you've never heard of it, is a two-metre-long workout device made of straps, bands, handles and moving platforms that's in equal measure very sexy and completely terrifying.

The routine performed using the Megaformer, known as the Lagree Method, is most simply described as Pilates on a machine -- but it's nothing simple, as I learned during a recent class with Lagree himself at the newly opened Studio Lagree on King West in Toronto.

"The method combines restorative benefits with cardiovascular ones," Lagree explained ahead of my class, adding that it's a zero-impact workout, so the potential for injury is minimized substantially. I tell Lagree I have a back injury -- a herniated disc -- and he nods knowingly.

"This is perfect for you," he says, heading into the studio space where a mix of dance and Top 40 is pumping over the speakers, alternately hyping me up and freaking me out. I'm handed a towel ("You'll need it") and a bottle of water enriched with electrolytes, then ushered over to one of the bright studio's many Megaformers.

The machine is now in its second generation, and Lagree is developing two more: the Supraformer and iFormer, one of which will have built-in video screens, but neither of which Lagree will say much about. "I'm in the process of getting my patents," he explains, defining them as "the evolution of fitness."

Using the Megaformer, Lagree's tailored workout is a series of lunges, dips and extensions, but unlike regular lunges, dips and extensions, these ones require you to glide a sliding platform back and forth using the muscles in your legs, while sometimes also pulling on tension bands with your arms and occasionally waving a long metal pole up and down.

It is hard -- very hard -- but efficient: If you're anything like me (meaning, not in anywhere near remarkable shape), a mere 45 minutes shlepping around on the Megaformer will leave you aching for days, so it's ideal for someone as strapped for time as Kim Kardashian, who used the Megaformer to get back into shape after the birth of her daughter, North West.

(I will now defend Kardashian as a hard worker in at least 45-minute intervals: Ten minutes in, I'm dripping sweat. Twenty minutes in, I want to throw in the towel. By the end of it, I kind of feel like throwing up.)

Lagree explains the workout targets slow-twitch muscles -- the ones that assist in endurance -- producing large amounts of energy over extended periods of time. And each set of reps hits more multiple muscle groups. The workouts, however, are fast, switching from move to move with little downtime -- a point Lagree emphasizes just as I've taken what I thought would be a secret break, forgetting I'm surrounded by mirrors.

There's no stretching after the workout and no stiffness. Lagree asks me what I thought of it and, perhaps noticing that I can barely breathe, commends me on my focus. Instead of telling him I was just trying really hard not to fall down, I sip some electrolytes, shake his hand and head home to collapse.


-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 D8

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