Johannesburg - There’s no such thing as a “magic bullet” for losing weight, looking younger or defying age. Yet it’s in our DNA to be for ever on the hunt for a quick fix, to seek the path of least resistance. Which is why the health and beauty industry is hell-bent on inventing machines and potions that zap fat and banish wrinkles in as short a time as possible.
The days of slogging it out in the gym for months to get a toned bod, or of steaming your face twice a week and doing a cleanser, toner, moisturiser routine in a painstaking effort to arrest wrinkles, are over. I’m convinced of it, now more than ever, as I strap myself into Lara Croft-style gear and get hooked up to a spaghetti of electrodes to start my 20-minute exercise class with personal trainer Stephanie Schwatlo.
Why the outfit? Because in 20 minutes I’ll be exercising, not one muscle group, but all of them at the same time, and apparently much more efficiently than I can achieve in the gym.
Voila! In 20 minutes I’ve finished my training regime, not for today, but for the week. It’s called BODYTEC, and it’s just been introduced in Joburg, where the most time-pressed people in the country live. This follows on its successful introduction to Cape Town last year.
Here’s the drill. The Lara Croft suit is a jacket, with straps that wrap around your butt, arms and thighs, all of which connect up to electrodes that provide electro-muscle stimulation (EMS). Remember those belt straps sold at Verimark that zapped your abdomen at intervals while you vegetated on the couch? Same thing, except they’re all over and paired with a personal training workout.
For those belts, you used gel to conduct the electrical impulses efficiently to your body. In this case, the jacket and straps are liberally sprayed with warm water before you put them on, over the stretchy black top and pants that are provided, and which you change into on arrival. So, in truth, gearing up adds another 10 minutes to your 20-minute workout. And you get wet, of course – a negative on the comfort scale.
You’re then plugged through a single connection into the BODYTEC machine and get into a slight squat position, hands clasped in front of you, ready to go.
As I stand there, a wave of anxiety comes over me. I’m half anticipating a sharp electrical bolt as Stephanie begins on the controls that “adjust” the voltage to a level I’m comfortable with. Instead, all I feel is a mild tingling – becoming slowly stronger, but not unbearable – in my thighs, then butt, back, stomach, pectorals and upper arms, as she turns up the control switch dedicated to each muscle group.
“Right, are you comfortable? Let’s start with some low-impact exercises,” Stephanie announces.
“In this get-up?” I’m thinking. But, surprisingly, I can follow her lead with bicep curls, crouches and then leg lifts.
Stephanie instructs me to do the exercises in tandem with the EMS impulses which come at four-second intervals, breathing out in between. About five minutes in, I see her turning up the controls. The tingling intensifies, and now I can really feel the muscles at work. Every movement feels like a contest of resistance against the electric impulses. The last five minutes are the hardest, as Stephanie has again turned the controls higher, and then it’s over.
It’s a wholly foreign experience, being encumbered like this and calling a few slow, albeit challenged, movements an exercise routine, but I’m assured that just 20 minutes of training with this technology is comparable with three 90-minute workouts in a gym.
“The low-impulse frequency activates 90 percent of muscles simultaneously,” Stephanie says, quoting from research by international sports institutes. “Each contraction is stronger and more intense. And it’s getting to the smaller, difficult-to-target muscles. So, although you may think you aren’t doing much, your muscles are being stimulated up to 18 times more effectively than in your average workout.”
She says that a day or two after a workout you feel some muscle stiffness, which is normal. After four to six sessions – “once a week, because twice a week is too intense”, Stephanie says – you can expect to see marked results. “It really strengthens the core muscles in particular,” she says.
The BODYTEC technology was pioneered in Germany and is used by professional athletes and in sports rehabilitation centres to reduce fat content and weight while developing muscle mass. As physical strength and endurance increase with each session, the muscles become more defined and the body becomes firmer and more toned.
Individual adjustment of intensity, duration and frequency also helps people achieve personal training goals efficiently and quickly. And other than strengthening and toning, an impressive number of users have reported a big alleviation in back pain.
But in the back of my mind is a nagging question: doesn’t labouring a little make the accomplishment more gratifying? If you agree, then there’s a salve for us, which is: even with six BODYTEC sessions, the only way you’ll get a trim, toned body is to combine the exercise routine with a healthy, calorie-conscious diet.
Also, as Stephanie points out, “you still need to do a bit of daily cardio exercise”.
No problem, I think as I quickstep down the stairwell to the car park.