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The callanetics fad of the late eighties did not pass me by. I, like many others, jumped on the bandwagon immediately for this new style of toning exercises that required very small movements for great results.
The exercise was devised by one Callan Pinkney to correct a back problem she had. However, if you read Ms Pinkney's story and know anything about back problems it is clear she had excessive lordosis (excessive arching) of the lumbar area and this for me is where callanetics falls to pieces.
The exercises are straight forward enough, nothing odd about them, hip extensions for the glute max, abductions for the glute medius, lots of abdominal work that focuses on the rectus abdominals (six pack) and the obliques (control rotation) but where is the transvesus abs work?
What troubled me about callanetics is the posterior tilt of the pelvis that's encouraged (tipping the pelvis back and rounding the spine like a C shape). This is not ideal for many people, in a society that spends alot of time sitting with bad posture many of us already have this C shape to the spine which is not how the spine should be. A C curve encourages problems with the hips, the low back, the upper back and neck and shoulders so should we be exercising like this? The answer is simply no.
The only people who should be pressing their backs and pelvis into this kind position are those with the excessive lordosis problem Callan Pinkney had and they should only do it to the point where the arching reduces then aim for neutral. The rest of us should be aiming for a neutral position of the spine where the curves are at the correct angles right from the start.
Another aspect that troubled me as the lack of transversus abs work, this is a very important part of the core and a commonly weak abdominal muscle that is completely overlooked in callanetics. It also neglects strengthening the back and the pelvic floor and the deep stabilisers of the back.
Several pilates teachers I know started teaching Callanetics and when Pilates became more popular quickly switched to the safer method of exercising. Most have never looked back and cringe when they think how they used to teach people to tilt their pelvis backwards.
In my opinion it is fine for those with too much of an arch to their backs although they should check their deep stabilisers before commencing and not overdo the rounding of the spine but for everyone else it is likely to exacerbate any postural or back problems.
Callanetics rightly fizzled out and made way for safer, more versatile forms of exercise like yoga and pilates. I wouldn't recommend it.
After turning 50 I realized that it was about time I started taking care of myself for a change. When I found an ad on the internet to get "slim and trim forever", I signed up. This was a special promotion where 12 women from across Israel were chosen to try what we here call "Studio C" for four months for free. Luckily, I was one of the women chosen (over 20,000 women applied) and started their program in late July. Almost four months later, I have lost almost 10 kilos (22 pounds) and 40cm (total bust, waist and hips, plus another 3cm off my upper arms) and I can't remember when I looked or felt this good.
In the UK, "Studio C" is called "Callanetics", and the technique was developed in the USA by Callan Pinckney, a woman who was born with spinal and leg deformities. When faced with surgery, she decided to develop her own exercises instead, and found that not only did her back and knees improve, but she also looked trimmer and slimmer. Strangely enough, the exercises Callan are based on ballet she learned as a child. So she wrote a book about it (Callanetics: 10 Years Younger in 10 Hours) put out a video (by the same name) and the rest, as they say, is history. This program became very popular in the late-1980s and 1990s. Over 20 years later, there are Callanetics studios across the world, and while you in the UK can only get her videos on Amazon's marketplace, there are DVDs of hers still selling to this day in the USA (via the American Amazon site).
But what is this, you ask. Pinckney's exercise program is low impact and concentrates on getting deep into your muscles, using a contract and stretch method that helps return elasticity to the fibers and thereby firms the body. The basic idea behind Callanetics is to use mostly small and often repeated movements to help reach the deepest muscles in your body. After each set of contracting movements, you'll then stretch these same areas. In this way, if done properly, you won't feel aches and pains the next morning from exercising "unused" muscles. This may sound similar to Pilates and the basic idea of reaching deep muscle tissue of the two is the same, but Pilates uses large movements that aren't repeated much, and work more on breathing, balance and straightening of the spine, than toning your body. In addition, the original Pilates also included using mind control to help the body, which may or may not be used today (I wouldn't know because I never did Pilates).
There are also elements of yoga in Callanetics and sometimes I feel like I'm also doing elements of Ti-Chi in the classes. In the studios here, we also use big fitness balls to help with balance issues, as well as weights, body bars (these are about a meter long and weigh 2kg) and lengths of elastic which increase resistance to reach even further into your muscles. As for the ballet elements, Callanetics also incorporates the use of fixed bars around their rooms which we either use to steady ourselves or put our legs up on - much like you'd see in a ballet class. You'll also see women standing in exact copies of the classic ballet positions, but thankfully, without the painful standing on your toes. At my age, I also need to think about osteoporosis, and many of the exercises also take that into account, and are designed to help prevent this problem.
Of course, the biggest question is, does it work. As I already mentioned, I haven't even finished my four-month course and yet, the difference is amazing. Mind you, I'm also on a carefully planned (via a dietician at my studio) well balanced diet to my program, which helps. But as the UK website for Callanetics says, "The fact is that the more lean muscle your body has, the greater you increase your metabolic rate and in turn the more calories you burn". If that doesn't sound like a win-win situation, I don't know what does. And while 10 kilos may not seem like all that much to you, this added to all the centimeters lost has brought me down two whole dress sizes. People keep telling me how good I look and when I went to buy some new trousers, I received the ultimate compliment - the saleswoman couldn't believe I was 50 years old or that I had three kids.
The best part about these studios is that they are led by really motivated women who really do everything they can to make sure that you're doing the exercises properly and can help you get the most out of what you're doing. The fact that the classes are all women is a drawback for the men, but a real plus for women, because you don't have to feel shown up by muscular guys or embarrassed if someone sees you since you're all females. I believe that only a woman can really know how another woman's body works and that's why I like this set-up.
The only problem with Callanetics I can think of is that there aren't many places in the UK where you can join classes, while there are fitness spas and studios of every other shape and kind around almost any corner. I think this is a real shame and believe that Callanetics could be a real solution for many people. Because it is low-impact, it is suitable to older women (there are women much older than me in all of my classes - one is over 80), as well as those who have physical problems (including obesity) that prevent them from doing other exercise programs. Also, since the videos aren't readily available in the UK, if you aren't near one of the few places that have classes, you'll have to import one of the DVDs from the USA or search for them on eBay. For this I'll reduce my rating by one star, but I'm completely sold on Callanetics and can't recommend it highly enough. Sure, it is hard work, and isn't cheap, but aren't we worth it, ladies?
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © November, 2007
The webpage for Callanetics in the UK can be found at www.callaneticsuk.com/ and there is a listing of where they have studios. Some of them have their own sites, such as the Edinburgh one, which also listed prices. There I found at a single class costs £11 but a block of 10 classes costs £100 and they also have special workshops and private classes available.
This site notes officially recognized classes in the following locations: Coatbridge, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Grangemouth, Kilmarnock, Stirling, West Lothian, and Gateshead. I'm sure that there are other places in the UK where you can take Callanetics classes, but either they aren't led by officially trained Callanetics instructors, or are included with other exercise programs.