Muscle reform at Pilates in Germantown

With all its pulleys, springs, belts and bands, one might mistake the Pilates machine for a medieval torture device. Jeff Smith – owner of Pilates in Germantown on Greene Street – assures me it’s nothing of the sort.

The machine was invented by Joseph Pilates, a German-born gymnast, boxer and bodybuilder, who developed a system of mind-body exercises designed to strengthen muscles as well as promote joint health and flexibility.

“[Pilates] opened a studio for injury rehabilitation. He invented this equipment called a Reformer and he worked with dancers and athletes that had joint problems, ligament problems, muscle problems to try to get them back in shape,” Smith recently explained.

At 65 years old, Smith isn’t intimidated by the Reformer, not in the least. The Germantown native easily demonstrates several basic exercises on the machine, which functions on the principle of resistance, which is provided by coiled springs of various tensions located beneath the Reformer’s carriage.

It takes focus and control to perform the exercises with fluidity, said Smith, who began practicing Pilates in 2008 and has seen improvement in his posture and overall strength.

“I’m a client, I’m a believer,” Smith said, noting benefits for older clients who tend to be less interested in how much they can bench press and more interested in preserving range of motion and maintaining “healthy joints.”

Pilates is not a training practice associated with bulking up, which probably has something to do with its popularity among women. Male clients are few and far between in most Pilates sessions. Chances are you won’t find “The Situation” from Jersey Shore in a Pilates studio, but Smith notes that when the occasional male client does come in, he’s often surprised at how strenuous a Reformer workout can be.

Smith, though, is not afraid to stand out, just like he’s not afraid to run a Pilates studio even though he himself isn’t a trainer.

Trainer Heather Sheridan leads the fitness program at Pilates in Germantown, while Smith deals with the marketing and outreach of his small business in this particularly challenging economy.

“People are just cautious,” he said, noting the tendency of consumers to do away with things like gym memberships and fitness classes as part of the fiscal belt-tightening process. “The mood of the country is stressed.”

While it will take more than a system of belts, bands and pulleys to reform consumer spending, Smith remained optimistic, putting faith in his “top-notch” facility and the teachings of fitness icon Joe Pilates.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal