Regime turned upside down
It's ironic that despite all the hi-tech equipment at Pure Fitness' latest gym in Causeway Bay, I'm trying to haul myself up a rope like a monkey, while a guy's hand is on my butt. "Leg straight, lean back slightly, arm over arm ... pull!" instructs Alan Pak Ka-lun, a personal trainer who is mine for the next hour.
With the help of his strategically placed hand, I make it to the top and back down again. By this time - about five minutes into my introduction to the new PurMotion functional training system - I've broken a sweat. This is vaguely worrying, as I've five more exercises to try, each on different attachments that the modular system accepts.
PurMotion was created in 2009 by Puerto Rican Olympian Jorge Bonnet. But it only recently debuted in Hong Kong, when Pure Fitness acquired the system for its fifth gym in Hong Kong, which opened in September at Lee Theatre Plaza.
The training system is like a playground on steroids. Its foundation is a central frame that weighs about 450kg, and is about 2.7 metres high, three metres long, and two metres wide. Connected to the sides and corners of this frame are add-ons: ropes, straps, pulleys, bands, cables, slings, rings, bars, rods, and handles.
It all seems very low-tech - no electricity is needed, and there are no massive weights, and no touch screens or headphone jacks.
PurMotion is the latest equipment to promote "functional fitness", one of the top 10 fitness trends for next year according to the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends 2013 report.
Functional fitness, says the ACSM, "may be defined as using strength training to improve balance, co-ordination, force, power, and endurance to improve one's ability to perform activities of daily living".
Reflecting this, PurMotion is designed to work the body as an integrated multi-joint, multi-muscle unit, rather than isolating individual joints and muscles in the way that typical weight training equipment does. Instead of fixed, static exercises, it trains the body through flowing, natural movements. Exercises, which mainly use bodyweight and friction, involve the horizontal, vertical and rotational planes - moves like bending, twisting, and reaching.
"It's three-dimensional movement," says Pak, who trained under Bonnet in Taipei in August.
"It's a good way to excite the muscles, because when you get used to movements, you stop improving. If you keep exciting the muscles at different angles, your fitness and strength will keep progressing."
The next exercise that Pak makes me try is a good example of this philosophy: a rotational plank. It's performed on an add-on called the AirFit Trainer Pro, which is essentially a cable affixed to a pulley with long neoprene loop handles on each end. Sliding my arms through the loops, and resting my elbows on the strap, I extend my legs and get into the plank position.
A plank is usually done on firm ground, and the position is held until fatigue sets in. This works the core muscles. On the AirFit Trainer Pro, a plank challenges the core more due to the instability created by the pulley system.
But Pak makes it even harder: from the plank position, I rotate my torso so it faces right, hold the pose for a second, return to the plank, and then repeat on the left. It turns out to be tough work.
I also try the Brazilian Rope System, where I alternate between a downwards pulling motion (like drawing water from a well) and a horizontal pulling motion (like playing tug-of-war). All I overcome is friction, but it leaves my arms feeling like jelly, and my pulse racing.
The Battle Ropes land me in the fetal position on the floor. Who knew it would be this hard to create rippling waves using two heavy-duty ropes? At the end of just one minute, my whole body goes totally weak.
Pak says the PurMotion is suitable for all fitness levels - it's up to the user (or in this case, the trainer) to tailor the intensity of the exercises to one's abilities and needs. He says PurMotion also caters to a variety of fitness goals. It can be used to build strength and power, tone muscles, burn fats, and work on cardio and endurance.
"The response from Pure Fitness clients has been very positive. They say it's interesting, fun, challenging, and unique," says Pak. "They feel guidance from personal trainers is needed to get started."
Workouts typically last an hour and are made up of different sets. A beginner may do two 30-second exercises back to back, followed by one minute rest, repeated three times to make a set. An advanced workout would consist of longer, more high-intensity exercises, and shorter breaks. Up to six people can work out at the same time on PurMotion, making it ideal for group circuit training.
Bonnet, 47, a judoka and bobsledder, says he was inspired to develop PurMotion after seeing many young athletes getting injured. So he took existing equipment and made it better. The AirFit Trainer Pro, for example, is very similar to another trendy tool, TRX Suspension Training. The main differences are that the former has longer loop handles and straps which are anchored to a pulley, rather than to a fixed point.
The Free Pull-up Kit is a variation of the fitness staple: a sliding handle allows users to adjust their grip-width while performing pull-ups, changing the targeted muscles throughout the movement. The Core Bars and their attached cables are a more sophisticated take on rubber resistance bands. But as Pak notes, "The advantage of PurMotion is that you can minimise breaks in between exercises, as all movements are done on one machine."
As I move quickly to the next exercise, I find myself wishing I could waste some time - and get some extra seconds of rest - by sauntering over to the dumbbell station and contemplating which one to pick up. No chance of that with the PurMotion system.