Congregating around a table is one of life’s great pleasures, surrounded by good friends or family, but gathering around the apparatus a table of another kind I recently got to found out about was an entirely new experience, and not without its painful moments.

One of Calgary’s foremost instructors in this little known therapy called a Fitness Table is Patricia Maybury, a former principal dancer for the Alberta Ballet and Les Grands Ballet Canadian.

Maybury and her small team of highly trained and eagle-eyed instructors try to keep things light as they put their clientele through their paces.

This isn’t to say that a session at Fitness Table, a difficult-to-describe series of core-targeting movements, is not without enjoyable moments. But as anyone who excels at a sport like dancing or speed skating know you won’t get strong, more flexible and agile with gritting your teeth and digging into minimal-impact maximal-effect movements.

Just ask 27-year-old Sarah Gregg, a member of the Canadian Long Track Speed Skating team, who has competed in two Junior World Champions and many World Cup events. After herniating a disc in her lumbar spine during off-ice training, she tried several therapies, including physio, massage and chiropractic for almost a year with no significant improvements.

“I was becoming desperate to find something that could help heal my back and allow me to skate pain free again,” Gregg says.

She’d heard about the Fitness table from a friend who said it was the only therapy that helped with a debilitating back injury.

“I was very skeptical at first … however, it was the best decision I ever made when it came to my rehabilitation and my physical well-being in general.” she says.

After a few classes she started to understand the principles behind Fitness Table which helped her tap into her core and postural muscles in a way that she had never learned in her seven years of competing at an international level.

“Within a couple months I was starting to skate pain free.”

The result of Gregg’s work with Maybury were so impressive that Speed Skating Canada coaches, Bart Schouten and Mike Crowe, took notice and decided the Fitness Table could benefit other members of the national team.

Maybury developed a specific program for the athletes and the team, including Cindy Klassen (Olympic gold medalist) and David Greg (Sarah’s brother and Canada World Cup silver medalist), added the Fitness Table method to their training regiment for months leading up to their showing at the Sochi Olympics. The athletes were able to improve their alignment and core strength, increasing their power and speed on the ice and off in their other athletic pursuits.

So what exactly does a session on the Fitness Table entail? The use of the Penchenat Table, an apparatus developed in the 1920s by French physiotherapist Ferdinand Penchenat, was originally designed for rehabilitation. The table is unique because of its shape and ability to tilt.

“The shape and the tilt allow users to partially anchor themselves to the table and displace their centre of gravity in a manner that facilitates intensive work on the deep musculature,” Maybury says.

She’s not kidding. A session on the fitness table revealed layers of abdominal muscles I never even knew were there.

Each class involves a warm up, followed by various stretching and toning exercises both on and around the table. The programming is thoughtfully designed to accommodate each person’s needs. A comprehensive postural evaluation is conducted prior to your first class so Maybury can asses what you need. Amazingly, she remembers every detail of each participant’s’ movement patterns and challenges and guides them to alternative exercises and modifications as needed.

Seeing isn’t exactly believing when it comes to the Fitness Table, though. To the naked eye, the movements don’t look like much. Honestly, if done without proper form, they probably wouldn’t be. Under Maybury’s watchful eye, however, a student is unable to compensate for the movement of the target muscle with another. Cheating your way through this slow and steady burn of a workout just isn’t really possible.

Currently in its 20th year of business, the studio and method have developed a cult following among hundreds of Calgarians. Given its remarkable results in training and rehabilitation, devotees include elite athletes and recreational enthusiasts in recent years. You get the feeling that this approach to fitness and wellness is about to experience a bit of a popularity boom.

“Focusing mainly on the postural apparatus, an area almost completely ignored in the traditional fitness approach, the technique provides results for those who participate in sports like running and want to remain injury-free, people recovering from injuries and those who want to maintain their overall fitness and flexibility,” Maybury says.

By gaining proper alignment and postural awareness, it’s easy to see how working out on the Fitness Table would increase the odds of enhancing performance in most sports and recreation activities safely and effectively.

“There aren’t any bad exercises out there, it’s all about how they are done,” says Maybury.