When I met Allison Zang, owner of Absolute Pilates, she told me a quick joke: What came first, the reformer or Joe Pilates? It took me an entire class to get it.
Pilates started in a prison camp during World War I by a German physical trainer named Joseph Pilates. He rigged up hospital beds with bed springs so bedridden patients could exercise and build up strength using resistance training. He didn’t know what he was starting.
Forward to 2001 and Zang, an epidemiology researcher living in Pittsburgh, decided to teach the Pilates method on the side while her husband was getting his degree in physical therapy. She didn’t know she eventually would own five Pilates studios on the west and east shores of the Susquehanna.
Zang, who received an undergrad degree in organizational behavior and wellness, thought she wanted to work in corporate wellness. As it turned out, the field didn’t provide what she believed to be the “correct level” for helping people.
So, she taught Pilates classes at night in her basement. Later, in 2007, she received her master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Pittsburgh.
“It’s a fancy way of saying, the science of exercise,” she said.
Five and Counting
Zang is considered a third-generation Pilates instructor. The first generation was founder Joe Pilates. Second generation was Eve Gentry, a Pilates elder and disciple of Joe Pilates. Allison completed her training as a third-generation instructor in the Eve Gentry tradition. From Joe Pilates to Eve Gentry to Allison Zang to you.
When Zang and her husband moved to Mechanicsburg in 2008, she said there weren’t “really any studios in my area” and again offered Pilates classes inside her home. Her business quietly outgrew her home, and she opened her first studio, Absolute Pilates, conveniently close at the Shops at Walden.
When The Shops at Arcona was built, she was asked if she would like to open another location. In 2012, she opened her second Absolute Pilates studio, which focuses on barre and mat.
Zang wasn’t looking to expand further, but the opportunity came again in 2013 when one of her clients, who owned Burn30 Personal Fitness, asked if she would be interested in opening a space in the Lemoyne Burn30 location (where Zang’s husband runs his own physical therapy practice). Her fourth studio in Enola opened in another Burn30 in 2015.
Lauren and John Brown, who manage clubs at Colonial Ridge, took Zang’s classes in Enola. They asked her if she’d like to open a fifth studio in what used to be a club gym. It was being remodeled, and they thought her Pilates classes would be a great fit within Linglestown’s Blue Ridge Country Club. So, Absolute Pilates opened in Linglestown in April 2016.
Zang’s biggest challenge, she says, is getting the word out about what Pilates is.
“It’s completely different from yoga,” she said. “Although it has the mind/body connection with full body integration, it doesn’t have the Zen-like feel of yoga.”
With more than 15 years of experience in Pilates, Zang believes anyone can benefit from the method.
“My favorite client is one who thinks they can’t exercise, because they’re out of shape, injured, have had joint replacements,” she said. “I’ve been able to do something for everyone.”
Zang, who manages all five studios and employs 12 instructors, teaches classes at her Walden, Arcona and Linglestown locations. Absolute Pilates offers reformer, mat and barre Pilates. Classes run all day, as early as 5:30 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m.
The reformer and barre classes are the most popular.
“Probably because they both offer resistance and allow you to work on the core muscles, abdomen and glutes,” she said.
Core strength, flexibility and muscle tone are the Pilates promises.
The reformer is a piece of exercise equipment that looks like a medieval torture device. It’s a bed-like plank, called a carriage, with shoulder blocks and a footbar, loaded with springs and pulleys. The machine is safe and offers versatility and full-range motion.
Mat classes are performed on the floor, using the body instead of a machine for resistance.
Barre Pilates uses a ballet barre for balance during isometrics. It combines ballet conditioning with cardio and Pilates.
“It’s a fitness trend in big cities,” said Zang.
What to expect?
“All our classes are taught according to request,” said Zang.
And in your bare feet. Dress comfortably, knowing your clothing needs to move and stretch with you. And be prepared to work muscles you didn’t know you had. You’ll work up a sweat—some more than others—and the session will be over before you realize it. Private classes are available, or join with a class of up to four on a reformer, eight on a mat and barre.
I took a class with Zang.
The gym was clean and simply structured. She’s slim and toned and carried on a conversation while changing springs. She told me how to use the equipment, how to move, where to place my head and toes. She guided me through the breathing, complimented my pedicure, and told me stories about crazy monkeys, icepick climbing and one very special princess.
I didn’t think I was doing much, but the next day, when I was sore—in a good way—I realized I’d had an absolute workout.
To learn more about Absolute Pilates, visit www.absolutepilates.com or call 717-585-2592.
Author: Cathy Jordan