Apr/May 1999 No. 36
Lucy Lawless finds Pilates and a new body
by Linda Donaldson and Deborah Coddington
cover photography by Emma Bass
Click here to view scans of Lucy exercising
Pilates .... not a mythical character from Xena: Warrior Princess, but a century-old exercise programme that's back in vogue. Among the converts, as Linda Donaldson discovers, is fighting fit TV star Lucy Lawless.
Even without the revealing Xena leather gear, you can tell Lucy Lawless is in great shape.
Wearing a loose t-shirt and black leggings, no make-up, she straps herself into the Reformer - with a name like that, the machine could belong on a Xena set - and stretches those famous legs further and further.
She's all line, length and lean muscle. It's easy to see why NZ Fitness readers recently made her top pick in our "Best Bodies" poll - and Metro readers voted her sexiest woman of the year.
If you thought Lawless already had the ideal body from what you've seen on the TV screen, wait till you see the next Xena series. Because since she started doing Pilates seven months ago, Lawless says her body has firmed up - and got sexier.
"I was trying on dresses the other day and thought, 'wow, is that me?'" she says of the shapely shoulders and back reflected in the mirror. "I was staggered by the results in a relatively short time. It sucks your butt up, tones the legs and shoulders. Nothing gives you definition like it. It pares down your body like nothing else I've done."
Lawless says she's now hooked on Pilates, body conditioning programme which aims to improve body awareness, strength, flexibility, co-ordination and stamina - and enhance quality of life.
She's a regular at Maree Burmester's modest Pilates Body Studio in Auckland, squeezing up to three 90 minute sessions a week into her hectic schedule.
"I don't like to waste time - I don't have the time. I want to spend it doing the best possible thing for me. Pilates has given me the greatest returns."
Apart from learning to ride as a child, Lawless says she has never been very sporty.
"People must think I'm a martial artist and able to do amazing things. But I never had any of those skills before Xena and when I developed them, it didn't translate to a sense of grace and posture."
She says Pilates has developed this and more: better flexibility and posture, a more stable abdominal; core, toned muscles, the line and length of a dancer and a sense of being taller.
" I feel so confident in it. People would be surprised to hear it because they probably think I'm confident all of the time. But of course nobody is all of the time. I was never very confident physically."
Lawless describes herself as a multi-tasker who likes to do several things at once. Typically, she works 12-hour days: As well as filming, there are script readings, fight sequences to learn, wardrobe fittings autograph signings and publicity and charity appearances. She also has family commitments with 10-year-old daughter Daisy and husband Rob Tapert, the show's executive producer. Pilates, she says, is "the only time I get to do something for myself".
When your job is the challenging role of Xena, fitness is mandatory. Lawless does her own fight and riding scenes, and filming outdoors in Auckland's changeable climate can be grueling. one of her worst experiences was two weeks filming in the cold, rain and hail. It can also be rough: she once got a black eye in a fight scene.
Pilates has increased her stamina and also given her "amazing" flexibility. "My kicks at work have been a lot higher and freer."
With Burmester, Lawless has focused on exercises to suit her energetic role, including the splits and ballet stretches for longer hamstrings.
Other goals included toning her legs and stabilising her knees. Burmester increased the resistance and put balls and cushions between her knees and ankles to maintain correct knee alignment during exercises.
Burmester's emphasis on careful individual supervision and working at each client's own pace appeals to Lawless, who prefers exercising alone to club or team sports.
She experimented with different workouts before taking up Pilates but found they "weren't working for me anymore".
"I think yoga is brilliant but I need stronger guidelines for this body - it finds a way to cheat poses and stretches at every opportunity. With Pilates, I can't cheat or compensate by using other muscles."
For Lawless, Pilates falls somewhere between yoga and the gym, a hard physical workout that feels effortless and provides a mental dimension without chakras or New Age chants.
Lawless broke her pelvis in 1996 while making a television studio appearance on horseback for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Although she has no residual problems from the accident, she is working with Burmester to realign her body.
Burmester says Lawless has some muscular imbalances in her back and one side is more developed than the other. Many forms of sport and exercise over-emphasise the phasic muscles which can override the stabilising muscles, but Pilates is designed to correct these imbalances and prevent injury.
Because Pilates does not provide a cardiovascular workout, lawless maintains her aerobic fitness by power walking and jogging. At 30, she feels this healthy regime will set her up for the next decade and beyond.
"You can't carry on like a 20-year-old doing no exercise or the wrong sort, running your knees out. I feel really good in my skin. I feel I'm being good to myself."
While Lawless is grateful for Pilates' functional benefits, she is delighted with its cosmetic spinoffs.
"If vanity is your only reason for coming to Pilates," she says, "it's a good way to get you started for lifelong, positive good health."
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