Saturday, September 6, 2008

Unleash your legs with our definitive six-week guide to the perfect pins

Warm weather and summer fashion make us want to bare our legs but do we dare? Anne McElvoy tests the hot new exercise machine on a quest to make hers look 10 years younger.

Really, I don't ask for much: just legs 10 years younger than I am. I divulge this fantasy to one sensible colleague and an academic friend, both of whom are apt to dismiss trivial aspirations as unworthy of educated females. "Ooh, yes," they chorus.

Women whose minds are supposed to be on higher things share secret fantasies of improved legs. also, the no-tights season now extends from May to September, even without the annual beach challenge, so something should be done.

"Power plates and some vein zapping," says a leggy adviser. "anything else will take you months." I don't have months. So it is off to Beauty Works West, the spa where lissom W11 dwellers come and go, lissomer by the day. A full leg consultation is ordered and, oh dear: are they really mine? I blame the babies.

Next door in Bodyworks West, head trainer Rebecca has her tape measure in hand and emails me a long explanation of how "vibration training" works.

"When a muscle is under tension and placed on a vibrating platform the tiny movements stimulate another proprioceptor called the Golgi tendon organ. It will react to protect the muscle by causing it to relax further, thus allowing a greater stretch." If you say so.


First up is Dr Sister, blue-vein and stretch-mark zapper to anyone who is anyone. "Don't you need your veins?" asked a (male) colleague (duh). Well, no actually, not the tiny blotchy ones that arrive on your 40th birthday and multiply like little mini-maps of Balkan states. The good French doctor armed with his miracle machines shouts "Kapow" when he hits a target.

It feels like having hot needles inserted under the skin for 10 to 15 minutes. "What does 'buggeration' mean?" enquiries Dr Sister. I choose Polish Patti for the red vein treatment, which is marginally less painful.

On to the Power Plate. It judders up and down at high speed, and then I run through all those squats and lunges under Rebecca's eagle eye. I hadn't realised that abdominal strength is so important to building up better muscle tone in the legs.

I have to "zip" my abdominals tight, control my breathing and "pin your tummy button to your spine", which is about as comfortable as it sounds. After each session, my legs feel pleasantly tight but without all the panting and sweating of a treadmill session.

Power plate

Power Plate: Favoured by the likes of Madonna the Plate has a vibrating platform that accelerates the effects of muscle training


Results! An inspection with a female friend (men don't really care) shows a small amount of new defined muscle down the outside leg and around the knee. I am halfway to being Gwyneth  -  just not quite as sleek.

In the second half of each session, we do a stint on the Cardio Wave (a smoother version of the step machine) and the swish pulleys and levers of the Kinesis circuit.

An exercise ball now and then adds extra excitement. It feels like blessed relief after being jiggled on the Power Plate.

Then I lie down and Rebecca does all the work, stretching out calves and hip muscles so that they get elongated.

Have invested in proper Sweaty Betty kit and proper shoes. This is going well.


Disaster. Thrice weekly sessions are killing my out-of-work life. I have to drive across London at weekends to fit in training and the novelty of standing on a shuddering machine is wearing off. And now my lower back is niggling (an existing weakness that pops up when I take to serious exercise).

Bodyworks introduces Mark, a nice antipodean physio whom I will see while training (the combination of a gym and physio is the most useful innovation in sporting london). We discuss the depilation question as I have a holiday looming.

Apparently there's a state-of-the-art laser hair removal which works wonders for dark hair. I am fair and use this as an excuse to avoid more lasers and opt for ye olde waxing. After what I've been through, a bit of mild hair-ripping feels quite pleasant.

Exercise ball

Having a ball: Stretching supplements the hi-tech Plate workout

WEEK 4/5

Holiday. Rebecca sends texts telling me to do 50 sets of thigh-enhancing clams and squats every two days. I obey in week one and my friends make the right noises about good legs for the beach. Then I let it all go again and the slump is instant - heavy limbs and a general feeling of slovenliness.


Back on the chain gang. The veins are looking better and a dark area behind the knee is gone. Now I alternate between perky Rebecca - still enjoining me to "squeeze" and "zip" up my innards - and the physio, who is becoming a regular fixture.

Muscle definition is definitely better though - specially down the outside leg and (a bonus) around the midriff and bottom. I fret that I might end up with "cyclist's calves". So we add a round of extra stretches. Apparently half an hour of this a day is optimal. Have trouble putting up with it for five minutes.


Mission accomplished. Rebecca enthuses that my legs are "more toned, tight and stable". The improved gluts and abdominals are a definite plus. I would use Power Plates as part of a fitness regime, but with some gentler elements thrown in for variety.

Now realise that unless you are Marlene Dietrich, you can spend most of your free time maintaining your legs. Oddly, no leading modelling agency has yet been on the phone.


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