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When strong is more important than skinny

Why women like Tweetie, Abby, Therese and Niña—whether working moms or cross-training athletes—are doing Pilates for better quality of life
/ 05:04 AM July 10, 2018

Tweetie Gonzalez used to be prone to injuries from intense exercise. —PHOTOS BY JUNDE LEON

More mothers are taking to intelligent exercise that’s more about improving quality of life than making them skinny—although it helps.

At 51, model/accessories designer Lourdes “Tweetie” Gonzalez moves fast on the squash court and doesn’t need to catch her breath. Former beauty queen-turned-certified-image-professional Abbygale de Leon, 44, has more stamina in balancing work and family life. Through Stott Pilates, these models are able to maintain healthy joints and limber muscles, boost their blood circulation and improve their well-being.

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Likewise, design consultant and body builder Therese Yupangco, 56, has been recovering from neck and lower back pain under the Stott Pilates Rehab program. Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Divinia “Niña” Tang, 35, was able to get her postdelivery body through a customized Stott Pilates postnatal workout. With a fourth baby coming in December, her prenatal workout focuses on posture to protect her back and neck as her stomach and breasts start to grow.

Gentler sequences

These women have been coming to Mindful Movement Asia Studio in Taguig City, the former Vivian Zapanta Pilates Studio. The studio is affiliated with Merrithew, the international exponent of mind-body education and equipment. One of Merrithew’s brands is Stott Pilates, developed by former dancer Moira Stott-Merrithew, who modified the program originated by Joseph Pilates.

Stott emphasizes the neutral spine and gentler sequences of movement that strengthen the abdominal muscles and the back and prevent straining the joints. The session focuses on synchronizing the breathing with movement, keeping the shoulder blades, pelvis and rib cage stable throughout the exercises, and maintaining the alignment of the head and neck to avoid neck strain.

A pillar in the fitness industry, Zapanta introduced Stott Pilates in the Philippines and has trained many certified instructors. With the rebranding of her studio, Zapanta is now Merrithew lead instructor trainer for Stott Pilates and Total Barre; president, VZPS Merrithew License Training Center; and chief executive officer of Mindful Movement Asia Pilates Studio.

General manager Kenn Colubio said its clients, entrepreneurial mothers, go to the studio for their “me time.”

Niña Tang benefited greatly from a postnatal workout.

“They are more than fit for their ages,” he said. Their advantage is that there are different Stott Pilates programs for their needs.

Niña Tang

A decade ago, Niña Tang couldn’t maintain a regular yoga or gym workout due to her erratic work schedule. Consequently, she felt pains which started from bad posture and low-back strain. She got hooked on Stott Pilates because of the immediate effects as a result of being conscious of correct body alignment.

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“For a working mom like me, Stott Pilates is a regimen that will empower you right after the workout instead of leaving you feeling exhausted,” she said. It has given her the energy to cope with her constant traveling and balance work with caring for three young and active boys.

“Niña loves the variety and challenges in every session,” said instructor Regina delos Reyes. To keep her client motivated, Delos Reyes sets different fitness goals for each session such as improving balance or range of motion or powering up the upper or lower body.

“We make it more challenging by changing the breathing patterns. This requires more coordination and involves more muscle groups. We focus on mindful quality of movement and not high volume or repetitions,” said Delos Reyes.

Tang added that Pilates is a safe workout for expectant mothers.

“During my pregnancies, all my boys were quite big. In the third trimester, they were extremely difficult to carry,” she said. Her earlier prenatal programs reinforced the core muscles to make her body resilient and supported the pelvic floor to ease discomfort and gird for smooth delivery.

“Pilates prepared my body for the most rigorous part of motherhood, child care,” she said.

Tweetie Gonzalez

For so long, Tweetie Gonzalez’s fitness regimen focused on working the big muscle groups and running around the squash court until exhaustion. Through Stott Pilates, she came to understand the importance of working out intelligently.

“Whenever I did something, I gave it my all,” she said. However, over-exercising led to soreness and injuries.

Her Stott Pilates sessions complement her cardiovascular workouts on the treadmill, squash and weight resistance training in the gym. Unlike the conventional workouts, this system recruits other muscle groups that support the big muscles.

Abbygale de Leon (with son Irijah) activated muscles “I had never used before.”

Her instructor Franz Artuz said that when he first handled Gonzalez, her muscles were strong but tight. “She complained of tightness in the back and hamstrings,” he said.

Her program concentrated on exercises that stretched and eased the tension in the legs and back. These result in smoother movements.

“I was prone to injury because of muscular imbalance and misalignment. I appreciate that a knowledgeable person can help me improve and avoid future aches,” she said.

For her, Stott Pilates is a new way to power up by using controlled muscle energy instead of momentum (buwelo in Tagalog), which is commonly performed in lifting weights.

As a result, Gonzalez is more nimble on the squash court. “In squash, your whole body is involved. You need flexibility for the reach of the arms and legs, speed for the lunges and strength and coordination to swing the racquet. My muscles became better conditioned for the sport,” said Gonzalez.

At this phase in her life, she is enjoying her work-life balance. She prepares for new products for her eponymous accessories boutique at Alabang Town Center while taking care of her children.

“I can do the things that I want to do, yet I don’t need to push myself too hard because I’m more mindful,” she said.

Abbygale de Leon

Former Binibing Pilipinas Universe Abbygale Arenas de Leon belongs to a rare handful of trainers in the Philippines that can help people boost their career through their personal brand. As a certified image professional (CIP) of the Association of Image Consultants Inc. (Philippines) and owner-managing director of Personi-Fi Image Studio Inc., she handles executive clients, aspirants for higher positions and front liners.

Despite a fulfilling career and an impressive clientele, the work took a toll on the body. De Leon developed muscular imbalances caused by activities that favored a stronger side, and repetitive movements. Standing on heels for long hours brought lower back pain.

Moreover, she gave birth to her second child at age 41—17 years after she gave birth to her firstborn. Breastfeeding and carrying the baby affected her posture. Although De Leon underwent other kinds of body work, they brought temporary relief.

Her instructor Artuz addressed the pains with exercises that loosened up tight back muscles. Every week, she would hang upside-down to help lengthen the spine and lubricate the discs. Through Stott Pilates, she learned to support her pelvic floor and core muscles.

“On my first month, I started activating muscles that I had never used before,” said De Leon.

Therese Yupangco complements her bodybuilding and badminton with Stott Pilates.

Tension in her jaw, neck and shoulders were eased.

“I used to need a lot of massages. I don’t need to depend much on them anymore,” said De Leon.

Therese Yupangco

Design consultant Therese Yupangco started out bodybuilding at 42 years old as a cross-training program for her badminton. Complimenting her strength and musculature, her instructor urged her to join a local body building contest.

She has since won in several local competitions and represented the country in international competitions in the women over 40 category.

“When I did squats, the barbell would hit my neck. The right side started to hurt,” she said.
Yupangco took up the Stott Pilates Rehab program under licensed physical therapist Ronna Mae Castillo.

“This program is designed for people with medical conditions. Our main goal is to teach the client how to apply Pilates principles in daily activities to prevent further injuries,” Castillo said.

To address her client’s neck and lower back pain, the instructor-therapist taught the basic Stott Pilates principles. Foremost was to breathe correctly by exhaling when she pumped iron. Through expansive breathing she is able maintain muscle contraction throughout her routine.

The constant weight loading had overstretched Yupangco’s back. She learned to keep the spine in a neutral position so that the natural curves can protect the back. To complement the core workout, her program included exercises for the obliques, the hidden muscles that help in bending and balance.

To ease neck tension and jaw clenching, Castillo included exercises that supported the neck region.

“Before, I was taking care of clients and family. Now I want to focus on helping myself,” said Yupangco. —CONTRIBUTED

Mindful Movement Studios are located at 1402 14/F Pacific Star Building, Makati City, call 09178440945 and 8867744; 15/F Ecotower Building, Taguig City, call 09178676787, 8150045.

STYLING The BLOC Salon by Junie Sierra & Co., Bonifacio Global City, Kim Caravana, marketing director MAKEUP Lito Uy and Kristine Rodriguez-Lucas

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