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Pilates repairs the body

Kettle bells, resistance bands and free weights take up some of the floor space inside Stretch Pilates & Fitness, as does a stationary bike, Stairmaster, treadmill and Nordic Track – but in this gym, Pilates rules.

Larissa Mychaskiw is the Pilates master here, and puts her students through various positions on four Pilates reformers, three chairs and a trapeze table – all under the watchful eyes of GiGi, her Shih Tzu poodle.

“I’m not a big believer in bodybuilding, heavy weight training. You can hurt yourself if you’re not doing it right,” said Mychaskiw (a Ukrainian last name pronounced Mitch-as-Key). “Our philosophy is you come here to exercise, but you also come here to repair your body and feel better, not hurt your back and hurt your shoulders.”

Mychaskiw, a West Seneca native, holds a bachelor’s in health and wellness from SUNY Buffalo State. While at school in the early 1990s, she worked in a traditional gym, Body Art, in Williamsville. She was approached by investors to keep the gym open about the time she graduated, after owner Art Benson left. She discovered Pilates in the late 1990s.

She spent more than $4,500 for two years worth of on-and-off training in Toronto, where former New York City dancer Moira Merrithew was teaching a form of the fitness practice that combines deep stretching with chiropractic approaches. She renamed her gym Stretch, and has continued to build a steady clientele since moving almost two years ago to her current location at 1127 Wehrle Drive, near Cayuga Road on the outskirts of Williamsville. She recently revamped her business website,

Who came up with Pilates?

Joseph Pilates. He was German. I don’t think they had physical therapists back then but depending on what articles you read, he was (an early personal trainer), and he was (put in a camp in England for German nationals) in World War I. He was working with injured people and they couldn’t leave their beds. He took the springs from the mattresses in the beds and that’s how he came up with the concept of Pilates.

He focused on resistance exercises, and moved to the U.S. in the 1920s?

Yes, you could take the springs and move them around and you could do bicep curls and other movements.

Then the dancing community – dancers always get hurt, because they’re really killing themselves – they found him out West and started studying with Joseph Pilates to help with injuries, so the first Pilates instructors were all dancers. Then he died (in 1967, at age 87), and as with many artists, the concept exploded. As popular as it is, a lot of people don’t know much about it, that there is equipment involved. They think it’s just floor exercise.

How was the transformation in your gym received?

The men loved it. They loved stretching. They’re tight. … And when we get older, you don’t want to do crazy, heavy things. You want a little bit more healing.

What is the percentage of women versus men?

Sixty for women, 40 for men. I think at first a lot of men thought Pilates was for girls. I think a lot of them realized that professional athletes and others can really benefit. With the stretching and proper balance, there’s less likelihood for you to get hurt.

Can you talk about the philosophy of Pilates?

You are stretching, strengthening your muscles through core exercise and a neutral posture. Balance is key, especially for older people. When it comes to longevity, you can find out how healthy someone is by their balance.

Can you talk about the principles?

Cervical. Move like you have a peach under your chin. You want length and flexibility in your spine, so that’s what this is really all about. The second principle is your shoulder girdle stabilizers. That’s sitting up, standing up straight, engaging the muscles in your middle back. The third principle is the rib cage. You don’t want to stick it out, because if you do, you’re sticking out your belly, too, and you’re not really working it. Then there’s breathing, in the waist and not up here in the chest. That breathing helps you engage the core better. The last one’s pelvic placement. That’s either imprint or neutral. Imprint is when your pelvis is tipped and your spine is glued to whatever surface you’re on. Neutral is your natural lordotic curve, the position your spine is supposed to be naturally sitting in. These principles are all supposed to work together through all of your movements.

So you’re looking to focus on the core, and also on strengthening?

Yes. You’re stretching and strengthening. When you’re doing the footwork, the legs, you’re still getting stronger.

How has your body changed since you were at Buff State?

Back then, I was all muscle. My best friend in college, all we would do is lift weights and build muscle. We’d work out for three hours at a time. It was insane. I was in a size 6. Now, I go between a 2 and a 4. I wanted to look a little bit more feminine and Pilates exercises give you more of a feminine look and not the bulkiness. It depends on what you want.


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