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Palo Alto Weekly - Stretch & Tone

Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Page 23
— by Sarah Heim

Stretch and Tone: An 80-year-old fitness approach makes a comeback in local gyms

Palo Alto Weekly January 2000Imagine a workout where you leave your sweatbands and headphones at home, and leave your shoes at the door. For the millions of Americans who choose to workout at gyms every day, this probably doesn't sound too familiar.

For the growing number of fitness-minded folks who have discovered the benefits of a more serene workout known as Pilates (pronounced pu-LAH-teez), the days of pumping iron in surround-sound at the gym are only fleeting memories. Now, they leave the gym relaxed, not over-stimulated.

"You should feel light and refreshed after a workout," said Tom McCook, the founder and director of Center of Balance fitness studio in Mountain View. "And you should feel more self-aware."

Exercise enthusiasts around the country are now choosing to pull out a mat rather than getting on a Stairmaster, and train using the Pilates-based exercise. The approach, developed by physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, is making a comeback. It is an exercise regime focused on improving strength and flexibility without building bulk.

Pilates created five pieces of equipment with names like "The Reformer" and "The Cadillac," that look more like they belong in a medieval torture dungeon or Houdini's studio rather than a gym.

The Reformer resembles a flat, narrow wooden bed with a series of adjustable springs and pulleys hanging from the "headboard" at one end. Both the hands and feet can grab onto these various hanging devices when doing upper and lower body resistance exercises.

Pilates designed more than 500 exercises that can be done using these pieces of equipment. The individual exercises center of the quality of movement rather than the quantity, and emphasize breathing patterns and mind/body integration.

McCook, who was an avid weightlifter for 15 years before becoming a Pilates convert, hasn't touched a weight for seven years. For him, Pilates offers more depth than straight weight training.

People are tired of the big muscle approach to working out, he said. "[Pilates] is a much more efficient workout."

The mat-based exercises focus on the strengthening and lengthening of the body's core muscles.

"It's a safe [workout] and helps develop more physical balance," McCook said.

Exercises are done lying on the back, on the stomach, on the side, in the sitting position and in just about every position in between.

Repetitions of stretches are done on one muscle group at a time. For example, a series of repetitions may focus solely on elongating your spine and neck, while always keeping track of your breathing pattern.

Many of the stretches and movements resemble those done in yoga. The difference is that in yoga, you tend to hold a position, while in Pilates there is an emphasis on continuous, smooth movement like moving through water.

In fact, many swimmers use the workout to help build endurance and strength. McCook currently works with the Stanford Women's Swim Team three times a week and has trained Olympic swimmers like Jenny Thompson.

Although athletes and stars like Madonna and Vanessa Williams, who both do Pilates-based workouts, have helped increase the popularity of the exercises in recent years, dancers have been doing Pilates workouts for decades. . . .

According to McCook, who took two private sessions each week for five years, one-on-one training is essential. Although Pilates equipment can be purchased for the home, McCook strongly recommends training under the guidance of a professional.

"[Pilates-based exercise] is great preventative health care," McCook added.

At the same time, the exercises are also a natural rehabilitation method.

Carol Scribner began attending workouts at Center of Balance about a year ago to help correct muscle tightness and an aching lower back. She now attends classes once or twice a week. "I feel improvement and I feel stronger physically," she said. . . .

Whether male of female, young or old, athletic or just looking to tone up over the winter months, Pilates offers an alternative way to synchronize your mind and body and leave you feeling healthier and happier.

"[Pilates] is a much more refined form of exercise," McCook said. "It's an art form as well."

Sports Illustrated for Women - In the Gym

March/April 2000
Page 130
— by Beth Howard

NOW & ZEN: An innovative take on yoga-centric techniques to lengthen and strengthen your muscles

Sports Illustrated for Women March 2000The sign on the door at Center of Balance, a training studio in Mountain View, Calif., reads, WELCOME. PLEASE REMOVE YOUR SHOES. With low lighting, New Age music and Japanese screens setting the scene, the converted warehouse feels more like a spa than a gym.

Don't be misled by the peaceful atmosphere: even though there are no dumbbells clanking or treadmills whirring, there's serious work going on, both mental and physical. "You definitely get a sweat going but it's very relaxing at the same time," says Stanford swimmer Gabrielle Rose, whose team trains three times a week with Tom McCook , the center's founder. The exercises they perform—slow, deliberate movements and precise postures, all integrated with the breath—are a hybrid of yoga (the 4,000-year-old discipline that links movement with the breath), Pilates (a method that strengthens the body's core through a series of concentrated movements) and resistance stretching (a technique that as it actively lengthens muscles, aligns and connects the body). The resulting workout combination emphasizes strength, flexibility, mental concentration and posture; the goal—truth in advertising—is a more muscularly and spiritually balanced body.

Despite their simple appearance, the moves are intense. "We do a minimum number of highly focused reps," says Rose. "That way quality isn't sacrificed." Trading dozens and dozens of heavy-metal squat and bench-press sets for a few reps of body-weight-only movements hasn't made dumbbells dinosaur material yet (the Stanford team still lifts weights three times a week), but it has increased options for complementary training. Today athletes are recognizing that to achieve optimal performance, flexibility and physical awareness matter just as much as pure muscular strength. "I used to think about swimming in terms of how strong my arms and legs were. Now I realize—and feel—the whole way my body connects and functions," says Rose, who also counts improved flexibility and reduced lower back pain as tangible benefits of McCook's program.

Although Center of Balance's devotees, which range from Silicon Valley millionaires to pro BMX riders, have different situations and needs, all walk away with a straighter, stronger, more graceful body and a mind more aware of the proper amount of effort needed to move efficiently. Those results translate to better sports performance, whether you're a runner looking to maximize stride length, a basketball player wanting more stability of rebounds or a golfer craving longer drives.

Despite the shift in the nuts and bolts of the workout, one constant accompanies this—and any—sweat session: "No matter how bad I feel when I get here," says Rose, "I always feel better after the workout."

(This article also presents 5 exercises designed by Tom McCook and demonstrated by Stanford swimmer Gabrielle Rose.)

San Francisco Chronicle - Sights on Sydney - Jenny Thompson

August 2, 2000
Jenny Thompson receiving back massages from Tom McCook

Photo Caption: Feet-on-back massages from Tom McCook, weighing in at 190 pounds, help loosen up Jenny Thompson's overworked muscles.

San Jose Magazine - Stretching the Bounds

September / October 2000
Page 126
— by Kit Sturman

San Jose Magazine September 2000Could any other place be more results-oriented and time-driven than Silicon Valley? Produce, execute and accomplish as many tasks in the shortest amount of time possible, thank you very much.

We approach fitness the same way. And Pilates, the body-conditioning exercise routine with the hard-to-pronounce name, (pul-LAH-teez), is a multi-goal workout. To understand it, you must concentrate on you body. Inhale into your chest, ribcage and back without lifting your shoulders.

Exhale, and draw the navel toward your spine without bending through the middle of your body. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and drop your chin slightly forward. Do all that and you're already a step closer to understanding what Pilates-based exercise is all about.

The Pilates method has been around for about 80 years and its practitioners laud it for its efficiency, effectiveness and mind-body connection. Athletes and celebrities are doing it, and Pilates is gaining notoriety with the mainstream fitness community and consumer, albeit at a glacial pace.

Pilates-based conditioning simultaneously strengthens and stretches muscles using the body's own resistance in a series of fluid movements. First performed on the mat, the sequence of moves can be transferred to specifically designed equipment.

The key to Pilates is that movement and stability come from the powerhouse or core muscles of the body - the lower back, abdomen, hips and buttocks. Thus, the entire body is engaged fully in each exercise.

The combination of simultaneously stretching and strengthening along with performing few repetitions helps to develop long, lean muscles, muscular balance and improved posture.

"Most of the time we are unaware and fragmented in our approach to exercise and training,"says Tom McCook, who teaches Pilates-based exercise, yoga and resistance stretching at his Mountain View studio, Center of Balance. "People look at arm and leg movement and spend too much time exercising them as separate parts of the body."

Tom McCook training Olympic swimmer Jenny Thompson at Center of BalanceThis is something the lean, 190-pound, 6-foot-1-inch McCook says he did when he was formerly a 220-pound bodybuilder. He would add a few crunches and stretches for the body and call it a day, says McCook, who's founder and director of Center of Balance.

He hasn't lifted weights for nine years and says he's actually stronger now, thanks to Pilates. McCook says it's because when you perform Pilates, movement comes form the center of the body and you attune to what your body needs for balance.

"Pilates exercises give you the ability to become more mindful of your body," McCook says. "It's self-awareness through movement."

And it's usually performed in a quiet composed environment.

So it's more relaxing than pumping iron at a typical gym, where there are headsets, TVs and whatever else to serve as a distraction. McCook's Center of Balance, on the other hand, provides calm surroundings as meditative or New Age music plays in the background.

Some Pilates exercises look much like yoga or other traditional workouts. In order to adapt to the subtleties of technique in breathing and posture, and to learn the sequence of movements, participants begin with mat work.

A good instructor will provide direction and verbal cues to help in adapting to the nuances of a mat. For instance, you have to anchor your torso for stability while lengthening your spine and neck.

The mat series of movements then shifts to equipment and is best done worth an instructor in a one-on-one or small-group format.

Of the several pieces of equipment possible, the Universal Reformer, which resembles a single wood-frame bed with a sliding platform, is the most widely used and known. An adjustable, spring and pulley system are attached to the Reformer and provide resistance.

The teachings of Joseph H Pilates are the basis of each technique and sequence of movements on the floor and with the equipment.

Swimmers typically have lower back and shoulder injuries due to muscle imbalance, McCook says, and Pilates can help overcome that. Athletes also want an intense training that will increase their performance level without straining their joints.

Again, that's where Pilates comes into play.

McCook has worked with athletes including women from the Stanford University Swim Team. Many have worked with him to train for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Working individually with American record-holder, swimmer, Jenny Thompson and Stanford women's swim team member, Misty Hyman, McCook hones in on body awareness, energy management and troubleshoots areas of weakness.

McCook says that prior to and in between an athletes event, muscles should be in a state of relaxation. "If muscles and joints are tensed, tight and hard at rest, blood flow is inhibited, and the energy for the arms and legs won't be available when it's time to perform, McCook says.

The principle of body awareness, whether you're in competitive sports, in rehab or in a 12-hour workday, is part of functional fitness. And that's one of the reasons Pilates conditioning is gaining popularity.

Aesthetics are still important, but functional fitness is about maintaining energy throughout daily tasks, reducing stress and being injury free.

"People want more depth from their exercise program. They want it to contribute to their quality of life," McCook says. "Your entire mind-body awareness carries over to self-care and your ability to enjoy life. Pilates is a natural movement toward the right actions for your life."

South Bay Accent - The Flexibility Factor

October / November 2003

South Bay AccentThe FlexibilityFactor, a 6 page story on stress management in Silicon Valley, features photos of Center of Balance staff and Director, Tom McCook. The article interviews area Pilates & Yoga instructors, including Tom.

Half Moon Bay Review: In Fine Shape

Wednesday, October 1, 2003
— by Stacy Trevenon

Nationally known Moss Beach trainer and his wife marry Pilates and yoga in new video

Tom McCook gives wife Karen deMoor pointers on her Pilates technique in their Moss Beach homeEnjoying working out — and wanting to clobber every one of his eight brothers — stand out among childhood memories for Moss Beach resident Tom McCook.

He never did lay a hand on his brothers. But he did learn about how the human body works.

So much so that today McCook, 41, is certified in an astonishing number of fitness, movement, body therapy and coaching disciplines. He's gained national recognition as a fitness and movement specialist and teacher, and with wife Karen deMoor, just released a video blending Pilates and yoga.

"Tom has done a lot," grins deMoor, who brings fitness, business, financial and media skills to the family fitness studio, Center of Balance.

Center of Balance runs on balance: McCook does the teaching, deMoor handles finances and media relations.

"There is no reason a person has to get decrepit," insists the lithe, vibrant McCook. "You can live to a vibrant old age if you know how to take care of yourself. You have to be aware of what you need and how you feel."

The video, "Combining Pilates and Yoga for Balance," centers on two things that define McCook's life and teaching styles: fitness and balance.

The couple hope to make the video available through amazon.com and internationally through Australian sportswoman (and McCook client) Shane Gould. It sets a smooth tone at once with a beginning sequence of McCook going seamlessly through a series of Pilates movements to a soothing acoustic musical background.

Then it explains Pilates basics and goes into 45-minute "Flow" with Pilates and yoga so that it's hard to tell which is which.

"Pilates and yoga support the way our bodies are designed to move," McCook said in a statement. "In addition to helping create core strength, flexibility and better fitness, the breath-linking movements of this practice will deepen the connection between your body and mind. You'll gain more awareness, which can positively affect every area of your life."

Developed by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate soldiers injured in World War I, the Pilates method conditions the entire body, working from the inside out to develop core strength and flexibility, long and lean musculature, awareness and balance. Add the flexibility, focus and breathing techniques of yoga, and you have "an awareness of how to move every part of the body," McCook said. "You're more efficient and less likely to injure yourself. You want body alignment from head to toe."

And that's not just in the gym."This translates into life. How you drive, how you sit at your desk at work - there's a big carryover.

"It's an approach McCook developed over 18 years of study, education and teaching with the Mountain View-based Center of Balance, where he offers individual and group instruction in Pilates, body therapy and life coaching.

Tom McCook's DVDGrowing up on the East Coast, McCook "really enjoyed the feeling of working out, learning about the body." But he didn't like exercise. "I watched how people trained - it was awful."

He came to the West Coast in 1982, immersed himself in sports at Foothill College, and eventually taught at Gold's Gym.

In 1988 he discovered shiatsu, and soon became certified. "That was a big change in how to work with the body. More holistically.

"That set him on a path of integrating bodywork into fitness, a direction he pursued through studying at the Lomi School and Feldenkrais. In 1995, he began studying Ashtanga yoga.

He received national certification in therapeutic massage, teacher training in meridian/craniosacral therapy, and has undergone intensive focus-counseling training.

"The goal is to pay attention to what you're doing, as opposed to seeing how much you can do," he said. "It's economical, effective, fluid, more important than making muscles.

"You want to make the body smart. It's more working in than working out."

DeMoor's background, though more mental than physical, is no less dedicated than his.

A college political science major deeply interested in international development issues, she had been the national press director for Oxfam, which supports developing communities, and worked with Pesticide Action.

Now 35, deMoor practices Pilates and yoga every day and feels that "my body is healthier than ever."

So is her husband's resume. He and Center of Balance were profiled in Women's Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Self and other national magazines. He's been on the "Today Show" and "Evening Magazine."

"For the past two years he has trained Olympic Gold medal swimmers Jenny Thompson and Misty Hyman.

"This is our life," said deMoor. "It all flows. Nine to five doesn't exist. We love our life."

McCook's next goal? To bring bodywork to schoolchildren, to "improve their self-esteem and enhance the learning process."

The Center of Balance can be reached at (650) 967-6414.

San Francisco Magazine 2004 - Best of the Bay Area

July 2004

Best Pilates Studio — Center of Balance

San Francisco Magazine Best Pilates StudioNine-time U.S. Champion Natalie Coughlin is the Bay Area's greatest hope for Olympic gold this summer. Her supreme physique is due in part to Pilates training sessions with Tom McCook at Center of Balance in Mountain View. "Tom's really good at specializing [exercises] for me as a swimmer," she tells us. "He's very knowledgeable about everything having to do with the body." Competitive athletes of all stripes — from swimmers to cyclists to golfers—also make regular pilgrimages to the out-of-the-way industrial location just off the freeway for resistance stretching and good old-fashioned yoga.

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