I had never seen this particular twist to a group-exercise thing. Class members followed the...

I had never seen this particular twist to a group-exercise thing.

Class members followed the leader while tethered to their own cable machines they call “towers.” John Verd, personal trainer and owner of GamePlan Fitness, a Ballard training boutique, led the participants through a series of movements using the free-standing devices, officially known as FreeMotion Cable Columns. The idea behind the class was to incorporate group motivation with resistance training while improving strength, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning.

Each person in Verd’s class held onto or was attached to cables, which in turn were tied to the level of weight they chose. Then, they mimicked his movements. Each person could temper or increase the exertion and range of the workout. One of the clients was rehabilitating from a recent heart problem and was able to keep in the flow with others in better shape.

Verd led exercisers through motions that replicated soccer kicks, an overhand throw, a batting swing, a ski push. The idea behind the device, and others like it, is to train the body through full ranges of motion.

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I like any program that pushes functional fitness — the way we move in real life. Too many people, especially guys, pump weights because they think the mirror will love them more. Too few get into weight training as a means to improve how they move. That’s where a balanced approach comes in.

Cable-based movement training has been around awhile, and has limitations; it can be a bit awkward. But with proper form and creativity, the workouts can challenge. Verd and Chris Kirchoff, another GamePlan personal trainer, like to incorporate balancing devices, like a fitness ball or wobbly board, to focus more on stabilizing core muscles.

Kirchoff started incorporating the device in a group setting and noticed unspoken motivation.

“The group of women I have trained has completed triathlons, century races and now half marathons,” she says. “It was the type of training and the group environment that has really helped their success.”

While classes may help motivate some, anyone can benefit from cables, usually costing no more than $20, in their own home.

Woodinville-based Precor last year introduced the S3.23 Functional Strength Trainer, which, like the device GamePlan uses, emphasizes fluid, natural motion. The S3.23 is a freestanding device that enables resistance exercise through multiple planes of motion. Like the Free Motion device, the S3.23 is compact and features an adjustable cable-and-pulley system that makes it simple to incorporate exercises while moving, standing or sitting on an exercise ball. It retails for more than $2,600.

Resistance cable training shouldn’t replace fuller workouts such as thoughtful weight-training sessions, a run or yoga. But if you’re pressed for time, at least it incorporates a well-rounded exercise in a short time.

Here are some simple movements you can do with resistance cables. As always, think form first:

Wood chop: Stand parallel to where your cable is anchored. If it is anchored low, pull the handle up from about your back knee to your front shoulder, rising from a squat as you do. Keep your front arm fairly stiff because you want to recruit your core muscles, hips, shoulders and upper back to do the work. Your front foot should be slightly in front of your body.

If your cable is tethered high, you can reverse this movement, working down from the back shoulder to the front hip. Use your abs and hips. Cable-pulley machines enable you to make the moves much more difficult. Just make sure you can handle the weights gracefully.

The Jab: Turn your back to the pulley source while grabbing a handle in each hand. Keep hands at chin level and shoulder width. Throw a jab while pivoting your lead foot and hip forward a bit. Keep your abs contracted and exhale on each imaginary strike. Do both sides.

Round Kick: Stand with your back to the source, but one leg closer to it than the other. Use a cuff to attach the cable to your back ankle. Keeping your hands up in a boxing pose, bring the back knee up to 90 degrees, rotating hips and kick about stomach-high. Stand on a wobbly surface or increase the tempo to make it harder.

Stability Ball Side Plank: Lie on one side atop the ball. Spread your feet slightly to give yourself a more solid base. Hold the handle in your top hand with elbow bent. Then extend your elbow by pushing the handle over your head. To make it more difficult, raise your top leg.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at rseven@seattletimes.com. Tom Reese is a Seattle Times staff photographer.