“Go slow so that your muscles understand what they're supposed to do,” says Venezuelan-born Pilates instructor Emily Bench to her class of six.
Such begins our recent Wednesday morning workout on the DaVinci Body Board, a machine that has been likened to Pilates “on steroids.”
“It works all the muscles: arms, legs, even my toes hurt after using it,” says 27-year-old pastry chef Cristina Caicedo, of the three or four times she has used the board. “It's hell,” she says with an approving smile.
The foldable eight-by-two-foot wooden board, made of birch, comes equipped with red aerobic dance bands, stretchy latex pulleys with handles and a removable green mat that acts as a cushion for exercises that involve kneeling, lying and sitting.
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Within 40 minutes, Bench, 32, co-owner of Pilathon, a Pilates and athletic center in Wynwood, taught us multiple exercises, each one just a few minutes long, like the “side kick pulls.”
In these, you start off on your hands and knees with Velcro fasteners attached to your ankles. The fasteners are attached to yellow latex pulleys, which are secured to the two back corners of the one-inch-thick board. You extend one leg up and out to the side while pulling your knee back in and across your body toward your core. A repetition of this movement leads to a full body workout, particularly working your abdominal and leg muscles. It also helps with balance.
Other exercises include “frog legs with swing arm,” in which participants lie on their backs, using the handles to extend their arms straight out and swing their arms to the opposite side of their lower body.
As a former dentist in Venezuala, Bench started doing Pilates nine years ago after her physical therapist advised her to try it due to neck pain resulting from standing in a fixed position while working on patients' mouths.
Her passion for Pilates and her love of an active lifestyle led her to leave dentistry and pursue fitness training full-time. She and her husband, Guillermo Lahrssen, 35, and two business partners launched Pilathon last October.
After watching a demo video online, Bench contacted Da Vinci Body Board creator Floery Mahoney, a working mom and former chocolate-maker who opened Vermont's first Pilates studio.
Mahoney trained Bench to be a master instructor of the Da Vinci BodyBoard, named after artist Leonardo da Vinci, who studied human anatomy.
Pilathon is currently the only fitness center in South Florida that uses these body boards in fitness classes. The class is taught poolside, outdoors on the rooftop.