Her toes are digging into the ground, back straight, arms extended beneath her, as if she's preparing to do a push-up.
Sue Ludvik is doing a plank. But the surface beneath her is trying to shift away.
Ludvik's hands aren't on the floor — they're gripping an Orbit, an exercise accessory on wheels.
It looks like a furniture dolly or a skateboard, but it's slightly shorter and twice as wide. Parents may mistake it for their kid's gym scooter, a favorite in elementary school physical education classes. But this upscale version of that scooter is heavier at 15 pounds, sits about five inches off the ground and is constructed to move fluidly in any direction. It's more comfortable, too — the top is cushioned.
Though it's padded, it's no picnic. The plank, a core-crunching exercise, is a challenge on a stable surface. With the Orbit, it's harder. When you pull the Orbit toward you, turning your body into a triangle from a tabletop, it's harder still.
“It's doable,” Ludvik says,” You just have to use a little core.”
“OK, a lot of core,” she adds after a brief pause.
Ludvik teaches Pilates classes — and attends them — at Prairie Life Fitness near 132nd Street and West Center Road.
The Orbit is often the star of those sessions. It improves range of motion, flexibility and spine mobility. It also boosts core strength and stability, which protects the spine and prevents injuries.
“You're not just working front and back, side to side,” Prairie Life instructor Melanie Wolff explains. “You're adding rotation. You're getting functional movement. Throughout the day we don't just walk forward and backward. We're reaching down, we're reaching to the side and twisting.”
Orbit classes have you reaching and twisting, too, with moves that involve keeping either your hands or legs on the scooter and sliding it from side to side. So the exercises translate to everyday activities outside the gym.
“(Functional exercise) mimics the way we move in everyday life and sport,” said Kris Berg, a University of Nebraska at Omaha exercise physiology professor. “All the limbs are moving just like we do when we do yardwork, when we walk stairs, when we dribble a basketball. It's a much more functional approach to fitness.”
Though most Orbit exercises embrace the equipment's circular range of motion, some strengthen the core by restricting movement. During a Wednesday morning session, Wolff tells the class — whose feet are planted on the ground, bums planted on the Orbit — to repeatedly propel themselves forward and back again, “like you're on a railroad track.”
“Use your abdominals,” she reminds them. “Don't let your lower back do the work.”
Someone responds: “This, I can feel.”
There's partner work, too. Facing each other, two people form a diamond with their legs. They alternate leaning forward, then back, like a see-saw, their hands on the Orbit between them.
Ludvik said the Orbit is as functional as a studio reformer, a popular, much larger piece of Pilates equipment. The moves just feel a little different. Reformers can cost as much as $8,000, but the Orbit is $229.
Prairie Life is one of the only gyms in the Omaha metropolitan area with a version of the scooter.
Lifetime Fitness in Omaha doesn't use the Orbit but does use the original plastic gym scooter in its Pilates and group fitness classes.
The Orbit keeps classes interesting, said Mary Lunde, who has been taking Pilates at Prairie Life for a year and a half.
Without it, she said, “You'd get bored. You'd get complacent.”
Lunde's favorite solo move is “the mermaid.” You start seated, both legs off to one side, leaning on the opposite hip. Your arms rest on the Orbit in front of you. In one fluid motion, you sweep the Orbit in a circle, transition to your stomach, and end up seated again, now on your opposite hip.
The move is geared toward more experienced clients, but Orbit exercises can be tailored to any skill level.
Beginners start slow, using the equipment to become familiar with their core before aggressively engaging it.
“They feel like, ‘if I go forward, I'm going to faceplant.' You have to work with their confidence,” Wolff said. “We usually have more confidence in them than they do. It's getting them to (think), ‘I can do this, I can do this. I can trust my abs. I can trust my body.'”
Some people, though, think it sounds easy.
Try it for an hour, instructors say. Or just fifteen minutes. Even one move.
They'll soon realize it's tougher than they thought.
“They keep coming up with new ways to torture us,” one client said during class.
She's joking. Kind of.
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