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Setting the Tone
At Plank Studio, a boutique fitness destination in Wayne, clients of all ages and body types benefit from a challenging, no-impact workout that offers maximum results

by Bill Donahue

Donna Maple made fitness a priority in her life even before her days as a dance major in college. By the time she reached her 50s, however, age and the rigors of motherhood had caught up to her. Although she wasn’t unhappy with her body, the slim and toned look she truly wanted seemed like an unattainable goal.

Everything changed last summer. While shopping for fitness apparel at the lululemon boutique in Wayne, Maple learned about “an amazing new workout” available at Plank Studio, a newly opened fitness destination nearby. In late July, just days after her 54th birthday, she attended her first class at Plank. She has not been the same person since.

“I have a pear-shaped body type, and within two or three months of going to Plank everybody in my house was saying, ‘What have you been doing? You look amazing,’” says Maple, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Malvern. “I had been doing the same routine for the past five or six years, and I looked OK for someone my age, but my body was not responding the way I had hoped. I didn’t think I could see results, but now I’m in better shape than I was before I had my two children.”

As a result of taking Pilates-like classes at Plank, Maple says her core has become “strong and powerful.” She also likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, and she adores how her clothes fit her now. She even has a six-pack.

“I’m a gym rat, so I also do Spinning, weight training, boot camp, yoga—you name it,” she says. “But before Plank I’ve never done a workout where every single muscle was targeted. I’m one of those ‘no pain, no gain’ type of people, but I was so sore after my first Plank workout that I couldn’t even sit down. … Even though it is still a really tough workout, I still look forward to doing it because of the results I’ve had. I think Plank is just one of those best-kept secrets.”

Maple and other clients of Plank Studio have Hilary Ryan to thank for their respective transformations. Ryan, the 32-year-old owner of Plank Studio, knows a thing or two about reinvention, as her year-old business represents something of a second life for her.

After a successful seven-year career on Wall Street, Ryan had arrived at a crossroads. Having worked her way up the ladder to become assistant vice president and senior marketing coordinator for asset-management firm AllianceBernstein L.P., she realized she would likely advance no further. More importantly, she wanted not just a career but also a calling that would enable her to help others on a deeper, more personal level. So, she decided to “leave the chaos behind for the world of fitness,” she says.

She already knew the transformative effects fitness could have on a person’s life. While growing up in Gwynedd Valley, Ryan was a standout player on Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s field hockey and lacrosse teams, and she twice completed the New York City Marathon. After thoroughly researching countless boutique fitness studios in New York City and using her marketing background to vet a number of compelling fitness models, Ryan returned and structured a business plan for a studio near her roots in the Philadelphia suburbs. On April 7, 2014, her dream became a reality when she opened the doors to the 6,300-square-foot Plank Studio, above the iconic Kody Lighting storefront on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne.

Plank Studio is currently the only fitness studio in Pennsylvania offering what has been called “Pilates on steroids,” utilizing the MegaFormer, a patented training system created by fitness guru Sebastien Lagree. The MegaFormer trains the whole body through countless exercise options and constant resistance provided by a system of springs and pulleys. In addition, the MegaFormer allows the body to shift quickly and smoothly from one exercise to the next while working both the upper and lower body and maintaining an increased heart rate at fat-burning levels; on average, a client will burn 500 to 700 calories per 50-minute session, according to Ryan.

“Each client receives total body conditioning, though we focus mainly on the core, which is such an important, but too often overlooked, element of the body,” she says. “As we go through each workout we’ll go deeper into the obliques, arms, legs and other muscle groups, including muscles most people really aren’t working on in their day to day. What we want to achieve in each exercise is muscle failure, where the caloric burn increases to help tone and lengthen the muscles.”

Led by a team of certified instructors, Plank classes using the MegaFormer system enable clients to hone their strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness, as well as their balance and flexibility. Each class is accompanied by lively and motivating music chosen by the instructor, and all muscle groups are worked to fatigue to achieve maximum muscle definition, but without the potential for joint damage associated with circuit training and other forms of high-impact exercise. Other class options involve Plank Cardio Mats, which combine cardio-based exercises with classic Pilates mat work, or P-TRX, which is a suspension-based training program that pushes participants to use their own body weight as resistance.

“Our clients are toning and trimming inches rather than bulking up,” Ryan says. “They are definitely seeing results. After classes, I’ll frequently have clients joke around and ask me to call them an Uber because their muscles are so spent. It’s nice when you go to a class and feel like you’ve gotten that kind of burn, and we give it to our clients every time.”

Graeme Baumstein, owner of a personal training firm in King of Prussia called Bodyfuel, liked the idea of balancing her circuit training with a nonimpact workout, so she contacted Ryan to learn more. She too became certified to teach MegaFormer classes and has been an instructor at Plank ever since. Even she has seen significant changes in her body as a result of leading MegaFormer workouts.

“I’m a huge runner, so I’ve always had tight hips and hamstrings,” she says. “With MegaFormer, you’re doing a lot of holding and pulsing, which works a lot of smaller muscles and tones the body from the inside out versus the outside in. It has taken all the pressure off because it forces you to stretch out your hips and work on those muscles. It’s also made me more flexible. … The results are there for everyone who sticks with it.”

Although the workout can help anyone, Ryan says “Main Line moms” ages 32 to 58 have been the most responsive to the workout. Even so, men account for nearly 10 percent of her clientele, and she says most are amazed by the intensity of the challenge.

With its one-year anniversary right around the corner, Ryan now has an eye on expansion for her urban-chic studio. She continues to look for new services to complement the onsite boutique stocked with clothing, water bottles and ancillary merchandise, such as all-natural smoothies, juices and snacks from The Juice Philly, as well as new classes such as boxing and boot camps run by Main Line fitness instructor Chris Bozzi. Ultimately, Ryan wants Plank to become the sole destination for clients’ total body health and fitness. She is also considering adding a pop-up location or even a second studio to accommodate rising demand.

“What we’re doing here is extraordinarily popular with celebrities right now, but it’s not only popular but also sustainable,” she says. “We’ve started to see the buzz generated locally; people are talking about us in the carpool line. People are beginning to understand that the best thing about the workout is that it’s able to be done by anyone, no matter what their fitness goals may be. 

“There’s nothing better than having a client come in and say they can now fit into a pair of skinny jeans that they haven’t worn in years and the only thing they’re doing differently is going to Plank,” she continues. “With my old job, I never felt like I was making a difference, and now I have that ability every day. It’s wonderful seeing the results of people who really put the hard work and effort in. It’s enough to bring you to tears.”

Plank Studio
532 W. Lancaster Ave., 2nd Floor
Wayne, PA 19087
610-668-0107 | www.plankstudioml.com


Photograph by Jody Robinson

Suburban Life Magazine