Anyone can make exercise difficult. But Robert Sherman, the area group fitness manager for Equinox, has figured out how to make it easy. Or, well, easier. He’s sharing his secrets through Thread, a class that could alter the way people view fitness. “If I don’t have to work as hard, I want to come back to the gym and I want to do more,” he says.
What it is: Inactivity has made our bodies stupid. So when it’s finally time to get moving, we no longer know how to do it properly, which makes everything more exhausting. “You’re challenged for the wrong reasons,” Sherman says. For Thread, he’s pieced together several series of exercises designed to correct common imbalances, activate forgotten muscles and promote body awareness. No one move seems particularly revolutionary, but together they have the power to make students noticeably stronger and more flexible in the course of just one hour.
Moves: One of Sherman’s quickest tricks is for touching your toes. Try doing it normally. Then, stand with your heels on a bolster (or thick pillow) and your toes on the ground. Reach down again. Switch it up by putting your toes on the bolster and your heels on the ground. Reach down again. Finally, do it normally once more — you should be able to drop farther.
The payoff for doing an extended plank (with your arms a foot out in front of you rather than beneath you) and then holding pigeon pose (a yoga hip stretch) is even more unexpected: more shoulder mobility. Sherman explains that’s because everything in the body is connected. “You’ll never hear me say, ‘isolation,’” he promises.
Almost nothing requires equipment, and Sherman’s tried to keep the patterns simple enough that students can practice on their own at home.
Workout: Unlike most gym classes, Thread provides actual lessons, so you’d better be prepared to flex your mental muscle. A move might not be physically all that strenuous. But to lie on your side, reach one leg down, rotate it up and then lift to force your glutes into action requires extreme mindfulness. And if you try going through the motions without paying strict attention to what your body’s doing and visualizing every step of the process, you’ll be busted.
When muscles that aren’t accustomed to having to work finally have a job to do, you could very well feel sore the next day. But don’t expect to walk out of class drenched in sweat.
Crowd: Since these techniques can improve anyone’s movement, regardless of fitness level, it’s a diverse bunch. But the one defining feature is an acknowledgement of the fact that they have something to work on. Moti Galil, 63, says he’s getting the hang of remembering to engage his core. “My hip bothers me when I climb stairs, but if I brace, I don’t feel it,” he says. For 28-year-old Christine Fabrizio, the weekly session is a chance to open up her tight shoulders and hips. “Every time I leave, I feel so much better,” she says.
The Plank Plan
1. Start by performing oblique twists. Get on your back, bend your knees, and bring them over to one side of your body (without letting them separate or lifting your head). Repeat 10 times on each side.
2. Move onto a hip rotation and lift. Lie on your side with your hips stacked, bend the bottom knee, and reach away with the extended leg. Then roll your thigh upward. Finally, lift up (using your glutes) and hold for three seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.
3. After you’ve activated your core and your rear end, you’ll be able to hold plank more efficiently. “And now you’re ready to start push-ups,” Sherman says.
» Equinox Bethesda (4905 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-652-1078), Fri. at 6 a.m. and Wed. at 7:15 p.m.; Equinox Tysons (8065 Leesburg Pike, Vienna;, Va.; 703-790-6193), Thu. at 9:30 a.m.
Photo by Lawrence Luk