"It feels like I'm on a space ship piloted by the Darth Vader of fitness."
The Supraformer workout is a lot of things at once — strength, stretching, balance, aerobic. But that reaction, uttered by Laura Green, a 40-year-old ophthalmologist visiting from Houston, is the typical reaction. For 25 minutes, a dozen of us experienced something truly out of this world, beyond the known boundaries of the normal classroom fitness universe. We'd been taken to a place where sweat meets ... "Star Wars."
Sitting in a large mirrored and glass-walled room facing La Cienega Boulevard at street level are 12 black Supraformers, contraptions that look like padded pilates boards on steroids, each with a sliding carriage that includes elevated hand-holds, handles and straps. Underneath the machines are red flashing lights. The device is the latest creation of 43-year-old Frenchman Sebastian Lagree, a blonder, younger Liam Neeson look-alike who chased his fitness dreams to Los Angeles, where he began creating fitness products and opening workout studios.
The Supraformer is the third generation of Lagree's similar but less-sophisticated Megaformer and Proformer products, which can be found at his 350 Lagree Fitness studios around the world. The big idea here is a doozy: The Supraformer unexpectedly tilts and slants — while you're working out on it.
You don't know what's happening until it does: A motor hidden underneath begins buzzing, and the carriage starts tipping up or back and turning sideways, while you hang on and get the workout of your life.
Lagree's classes are encouraging, delivered in a friendly, low-key, almost scientific manner. The workout is short — just 25 minutes — so the key is doing the exercises with good form. The intense challenge of the tilting and the controlled, no-impact, joint-friendly movements gives you twice the work at once, Lagree says.
It's deceiving. When you do the Supraformer exercises in a slow, controlled manner, as Lagree dictates, they take their toll. Simultaneously stretching, strengthening and balancing as the carriage slides under you, your whole body is continually blasted by strenuous functional movements no matter the exercise. There's lots of upper body and core work, such as standing biceps curls, presses and prone pull-ups. (You use the handled straps to pull your body forward while lying atop the sliding carriage.)
But most of the exercises are lower body. Especially popular: Lunges — front, side and angled — all far more dynamic and challenging than normal static lunges. Done slowly, these become excruciating by the 10th rep. The sweat starts percolating, the breathing and heart rate rising. Then, in the middle of the set, you suddenly panic when you realize that — what?! — the machine is starting to tilt. This is crazy — now you're fighting gravity too. Your core stabilizers begin to scream as they try to keep you from sliding to the left or right, or front and back, or even from falling off. It's as if supernatural forces have taken over the room.
But it's just Lagree, who, like a drone pilot, is controlling every one of the 12 machines with the iPad strapped to his wrist. Like a boy with a toy, he touches his screen …. and you're sprawled out.
$18 for a single class, discounted packages available. Lagree Fitness, 375 N. La Cienega Blvd., No. 1, Los Angeles. lagreefitnessstudio.com