Hip & Healthy: Formula 57, The Next Physique 57 Frontier

It was Kelly Ripa who helped me discover Physique 57. I'd happened to pick up a copy of Shape magazine in which the television star credited Physique 57 with her amazing shape and talked up a storm about it. Already bored with running and my ho-hum strength-training, I decided to give the new workout a try. And my fitness life was changed forever.

Now, four years later, Physique 57 is like a first love I will never forget. It is the standard by which I judge every other workout, especially barre workouts. Not even the other classes offered at Physique 57, I thought, could be as challenging and as effective as the original.

But recently, I decided it was time venture out a little, so I turned to Formula 57 -- a non-stop choreographed cardio-and-strength workout that couples muscle groups together for exercise sets rather than isolate them. The class description says it combines Physique 57, Physique Mat and Physique Stretch, and promises a "tighter, leaner and stronger body."

First class leaves a long-lasting burn

As we entered the studio for my first Formula 57 class, we were told to get a heavy set of weights and a light set of weights. I grabbed a set of eight-pound weights and a set of three-pound weights, and got settled in my place on the floor.

It was clear from the start that Formula 57 demands high energy. We warmed up with the standard marching and arm swings, but we also did standing ab crunches by touching our elbows to our knees. We then moved straight into the arm series, and I immediately regretted my decision to go with eight-pound weights. Traditional classes concentrate on working one muscle at a time to the point of fatigue, but in Formula 57 we were always working at least two muscle groups, if not the entire body: we lunged as we did bicep curls; we did triceps extensions with one arm while doing forward curls with the other. The oppositional sets required a lot of coordination, which seemed to double the eight-pounders I was using. When we finally dropped to our light set of weights, I was thrilled (and sweaty).

I was surprised when we moved straight to the floor for core work using a playground ball and weights, since core work comes last in the standard Physique 57 class, but it makes sense: Formula 57 was designed by Pilates-certified Physique instructor Chanelle Lagace, so core work is at the center of the class and emphasized in almost every exercise.

Next, we moved on to legs. (By this point, I'd noticed another big difference from the standard Physique class: no stretching between sets. No wonder I was finding this so challenging -- 30 minutes in, and not a single break!) We moved right to the barre and once again started a high-energy series of exercises that worked several muscle groups simultaneously. Physique 57 devotees out there know just what a thigh-blaster the workout is, but Formula managed to one-up the original.

We started with the standard plie squats and leg lifts at the barre, and then added on to each movement. For example, I'd lean into the bar and lift my leg behind me at a 90-degree angle, which became taxing after a few minutes. But the challenge doubled when I had to add a slight plie to my standing leg. By working the butt and legs together, I was combining the two muscle groups into one seamless set. By the end of the section, I was thoroughly exhausted. My muscles were already feeling the burn and I was happy to make it to the stretch-and-cooldown portion of the class.

Formula 57 designed as advanced Physique workout

After class, I spoke briefly with the fabulously energetic instructor Antonietta Vicario, who explained that Formula 57 is meant to be the next advanced level of Physique -- it's the first class at Physique that emphasizes cardio beyond the usual sculpting, toning and strengthening. The beauty of it, though, is its subtlety -- there aren't overt bursts of cardio between strength sets, but you find yourself breathing harder and sweating more just doing the actual exercises.

As I left the studio, I found myself thinking the same thing I did when I left my first Physique 57 class four years ago: Would I ever be able to get through a class without a struggle? It wasn't necessarily a bad thing -- in fact, I think what I like best about Physique 57 is that it eludes immediate mastery. It takes time for the body to build strength and to get accustomed to such a high-paced strength workout.

Formula 57 retains many of the same elements of the original Physique workout, but goes a step further to manipulate the proven Physique technique in new ways, creating an exhilarating and exhausting full-body workout.

I'm thrilled I ventured into this new class; now, I have another way to add variety to my Physique workouts. Let's hope the studio adds more Formula 57 classes to the schedule soon.

Formula 57 is being offered at both Physique 57 studios in Manhattan, on 57th Street and on Spring Street. To learn more, visit physique57.com.

Melissa is a NYC resident and workout junkie. She keeps motivated to stay fit and active by trying out new workout classes, signing up for races, and keeping an eye out for a fun fitness challenge. She hopes to complete the New York City Marathon for the second time in 2011. Read more about her healthy adventures in New York City at her blog fitnessnyc.wordpress.com.

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