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—Photo courtesy of Torrey Newman

15 Minutes With…Megaformer Inventor Sebastien Lagree

The California-based fitness mogul visited Denver recently to celebrate the success of Fierce45 and tout the benefits of his high-intensity, low-impact machine. 

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In March, Denver’s rapidly growing family of boutique fitness studios added another member: Fierce45. While many of these small gyms use familiar tools—the ballet barre, a stationary bike, barbells—the three-month-old Highland spot houses 10 pieces of apparatus that look more like Transformers than workout machines. In fact, they’re known as Megaformers, an amped-up version of a Pilates reformer, which uses spring resistance to build muscle and increase flexibility. Thanks to Fierce45’s early success (owner Torrey Newman is expanding to a second location in the University of Denver area this fall), bodybuilder-turned-fitness mogul and Megaformer inventor Sebastien Lagree visited the Mile High City recently to teach class and share why he believes his high-intensity, low-impact machines offer the best kind of workout.

5280: How did you become interested in fitness?

Lagree: I was the kid eating the burgers. Even though we grew up in France, my mom was American, so I grew up with a lot of American values. My mom was always cooking cookies and shit like that. Then one day I got tired of being chubby, so I started to work out and fell in love with it.

How did you come up with the design for the machine?

Ah, man, that’s a whole afternoon. When I first started out, I was introduced to Pilates in 1999, and I was very intrigued by the method. I was a bodybuilder back then, and had pretty much worked out on every single piece of fitness equipment that is known to man, and when I saw the reformer, I was like, ‘Man, this is genius.’ I loved how simple and versatile it was. I started to teach the Pilates method, but being a bodybuilder, it was almost like the ying and the yang. Pilates is a very nurturing approach and bodybuilding is almost torture—two very different ways of training. I decided to marry the two, but in order for me to [do so], I had to modify the equipment. In 2003, I started to work with some engineers on making a better version of the reformer, and in 2005, the first Proformer came out.

Why did you continue to evolve it? (There are several new versions coming out this year.)

A lot of people know how to drive a stick shift, but they [still] made an automated transmission. Purists are like ‘Ah, no,’ but in reality, the computer can do the transmission better than you, and it’s better for the engine. I’m automating the equipment so when you come and do the workout, if you’ve never done the workout before, you still know how to move, you know what to do because the machine sets itself up.

Do you have any particular interest in expanding in Colorado?

I license out the workout to anyone who wants to open a studio. I don’t have a sales team, I don’t advertise in the paper because I want this to be in demand. It’s a very different business model than what is normally done in the fitness industry because usually people franchise and say this is how you do it, here’s a written workout routine. I’m like, ‘Listen. This is how I cook my dishes. These are the ingredients that I use; I’ll sell you the ingredients; I’ll sell you my recipes, but by all means, if you want to make it spicier, make it spicier.’ They all buy the ingredients from me, but if they want to, some people add other elements like a spinning studio, or some people have the TRX, whatever’s going to float your boat, but I’m in no way an authority to tell you how to teach fitness in that community.

Although Lagree Fitness is a full body workout with a lot of different exercises involved, what’s your favorite?

I love the reverse giant wheelbarrow on the ramp [an add-on that lifts up the Megaformer]. It allows you to work all the muscles of the trunk, but at the same time it mobilizes the smaller muscles and creates almost the perfect movement where your spine is supported. The ramp is going to give you more intensity, but because it angles the machine, it angles your spine against gravity so it’s putting less pressure on the joints. You get the best of both worlds. It’s intense and therapeutic at the same time. Usually, you have to choose one or the other.

Why is that combination better than doing high-intensity, high-impact exercises followed by low-intensity, low-impact exercises?

When I first started to study Pilates, I was like, ‘OK, I need to get some clients, right?’ At the time, a lot of chiropractors were interested in Pilates because of the posture and the core strength, so I started working with them. Much to my surprise, a lot of their clients were people who were very fit, but their spine was almost destroyed. I saw what 20 years of high-intensity workouts can do to your spine. Yes, you look chiseled, you have a fat-free body, you look muscular, but your spine is rotting inside out, and that’s because the weight training and the high intensity was too harsh on the joints. You need the high intensity because you want to stimulate the change [in your body], but you need also to do it in an intelligent way, so that’s what clicked for me. I needed to devise a workout that’s going to give you the same kind of result; it’s going to chisel you and sculpt you and tone you—but it’s not going to destroy you.

Do you have a recommended diet for those who are doing the workout?

Nutrition is very important because you can’t out-train a bad diet. You can work out two hours a day and if you eat really bad, you’re going to look not as good as you could. I tend to favor diets that are as uncooked as possible, where you have vegetables and fruits and grains—a little bit like the Paleo Diet, but not entirely like that. I feel that what’s wrong with the Paleo Diet is eating meat, fish, and poultry isn’t good for you. Unfortunately, the livestock—the way we treat the animals and stuff like that, that’s really bad—but you also force-feed a lot of hormones and chemicals into those animals, which is passed on through the meat. I’m a huge meat-eater, but my wife is a vegan, and in the past year, I’ve cut down on my consumption of meat by 80 percent.

You don’t want to feel like you’re in a prison; you need to feel like you can allow yourself to eat the stuff you like. For me, I love peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, Nutella. Just know also that your body needs minerals, proteins, some carbs, vitamins—it needs all that stuff to function. People are going to keep fueling up [with carbs], but if they don’t do an oil change or forget to put in oil, the engine’s going to break. There are other things the car needs besides the gas in order to run, and people forget about that.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m writing a book and have a documentary [in the works], too. The documentary is shot, and we’re in post-production—it’s called The Future of Fitness. We’re really finding that fitness is not just about being physical—it’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual, mental, and psychological. The book also talks about the importance of training the mind with the body—intertwining the two.

Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.

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