BROOKLINE, Mass. — On a snowy December afternoon, I found myself lying on my back, my legs suspended in midair by stirrups and pulleys on a contraption that looked at first glance like a medieval torture instrument, bending and extending my knees in a pattern that vaguely resembled pumping on a swing set.

And it counted as exercise.

The Movement Center of Boston offers instruction in this school of fitness, which is called gyrotonic. A collection of intricate wooden machines, called the pulley tower combination, unit-guide the body in a controlled series of movements tailored to a person’s individual needs and goals. The motions are familiar, lifting and lowering the legs or circling them like pedaling a bicycle. But the reasoning behind the motions was different. Where traditional training would focus on lifting as much weight as possible, the instructor, Lisa Pari, uses just enough resistance to balance legs in midair and isolate the muscles around joints.

According to fitness experts, that’s what New Year’s Resolutions are all about in 2009: switching it up and taking that tired fitness plan in a new direction.

Gyrotonic, originally invented by Juliu Horvath as a form of rehabilitation for injured dancers, has expanded to reach customers from elite athletes to 80 year olds who can’t swivel their spines to people who “just come because of the sense of wellbeing they get from the system,” said Pari. Its sister method, gyrokinesis, is performed on a mat and necessitates more strength and flexibility.

Movement Center owner and master trainer Kathy Van Patten said it took a couple of lessons for her to realize she needed to continue her gyrotonic practice. After studying under the system’s founder for years, she’s a true believer in its benefits, which are similar to those of swimming, tai chi, dance, yoga, and gymnastics.

“It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s just a matter of time before it overtakes Pilates and yoga,” she said.

Whatever route people decide to take, a new exercise prescription seems to be the ticket to making lasting body transformations in 2009. And Mike Walsh, a certified personal trainer and manager of BodyScapes Fitness in Brookline, Mass., actually considers these frigid New England winters the perfect opportunity for Bostonians to make changes in their fitness programs.

“Use it as a chance to break away from your mode and to become a more well-rounded athlete,” he said. “Use these three months that are tougher weather to do something else.”

That might include trying yoga, he said, for people who usually run or bike outside. Or, for those who have never tried getting fitness instruction, the first of the year might be a good time to give a class or personal training a shot.

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About The Author

Meghan Murphy is a Blast Magazine correspondent

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