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Originally published Friday, March 1, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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Pilates works your body down to the core

Isolate, strengthen and move your body in new ways using the Reformer.

Special to The Seattle Times

Give it a try

Find Vitality Pilates at www.vitalitypilates.com.

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I enjoy Ms. Tsong's weekly sampling of fitness routines, but was reminded this morning ... MORE
For those who can't work a Pilates workout into their routine, peruse www.eldergym.com ... MORE

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I'M NOT A precise person. It's the reason I bake infrequently. Ask me to follow a recipe to the quarter-teaspoon more than twice a year, and I revolt.

Pilates, however, is about precision and very little mess. Instruction cues are specific, movements are slow and sustained, and there is a level of detail and attention paid to alignment that always kept me safe, but didn't always engage me.

A decade ago, Pilates seemed like a fad destined to fade away. But with a focus on core strength and flexibility it has endured, with studios specializing in Pilates, and gyms offering classes with Reformers and more.

Even during the boom years, I never attended a true Pilates class. But now that I had a chance to go, I didn't want a mat-and-ball Pilates class; I had my eye on the Reformer.

The Reformer is a piece of equipment that uses springs and pulleys to create resistance. Apparently you can do the same on a mat with your own body weight for the resistance, but who can resist straps and pulleys and levers?

I started with a foundations Reformer class at Vitality Pilates in Mount Baker to learn some Reformer basics, then moved on to an intermediate class with teacher Vera Bullen.

Reformer machines are complicated. The various gizmos are used for exercises that I can't really begin to explain. I'm sure the two classes I attended barely touched on all the possibilities.

In the foundations class, we learned some basic alignment, information about anatomy and a few exercises. The intermediate class was more active, with lots of exercises that isolated muscles in the back, the shoulders, the calves and, of course, the core.

Once Bullen set us up in a pose, she would have us move slowly, working on strengthening specific muscles. We did moves like the mermaid, the push-through and short box round back, when we curled into our backs to strengthen our core.

She gave us detailed instructions on what muscles to engage for each exercise, such as lying on our stomachs and pulling ourselves up and down the length of the machine to work our shoulders. It was challenging to stay controlled through all the movements, and Bullen walked around to check on our form and pace. She kept reminding me to inch my feet closer together.

The muscle isolation was helpful, and I liked hearing different descriptions of how muscles moved in the body and how to access them through exercises on the Reformer. I appreciate the work of isolating, strengthening and moving the body in new ways, and I feel sure you would get a lot stronger via Pilates. I have heard that the more advanced the class, the more intense the exercises get. I've seen some moves that look wild.

But I don't know that my not-so-disciplined side and Pilates are a total match. For the precise, however, Pilates could be just right.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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