An athlete all her life, Jenny Bertrand clearly remembers the day her knees hurt so badly while climbing the stairs, she said to herself, “What am I going to do? I can’t get upstairs and I’m only 20!” Bertrand had never incorporated stretching in her routines because, as she says, “I was too busy working hard in my workouts even though I suffered knee and back pain.” But these days, stretching is what it’s all about for Bertrand and her growing, loyal following as she brings a new kind of exercise, Essentrics, to Denver.
Bertrand says Essentrics is designed for everyone to be able to do, regardless of age or athletic ability, created from real-life movements such as reaching, bending, pulling and twisting. It works on the premise of strengthening and stretching every muscle of the body to balance the whole body and its joints (including spine, hips, shoulders, knees, toes and fingers) and improves mobility, balance, flexibility and overall strength. Yet she says it can be surprisingly challenging. “All of a sudden, you’re kind of sweating and a little out of breath and the next day you feel a little soreness and it’s kind of a surprise,” says Bertrand.
A low-impact workout, that requires only a mat and maybe a chair, Essentrics moves at a pace meant to help participants feel their muscles moving, letting the muscles do the work as opposed to using momentum. Bertrand says the body begins to “function more efficiently, feels better and reverses the idea that we have to be stiff and in pain as we age or as we perform athletically.”
Essentrics originated in Canada as Classical Stretch, created by Miranda Esmonde-White, who hosts the show of the same name at 5:30am on PBS in Denver. That’s how Bertrand got started 12 years ago, exercising in her pajamas before her newborn daughter woke up. At first she thought stretching would be really easy. But then she noticed that her post-baby stomach was flattening and that her lower back and knee pain were going away. She was hooked and continued exercising with the TV show for the next 10 years. Her interest and belief in the workout increased and, after training with Esmonde-White and becoming certified, the mother of three left her health care marketing job to teach Essentrics.
Bertrand credits the Denver Parks & Recreation Department with taking a chance on this new form of group exercise and supporting its growth. She started out teaching one class to two people in January 2014 and now teaches 12 classes per week to as many as 40. There are no class levels so Essentrics can be started at any time. People advance depending on how much effort they put into the movements, keeping them loose and flowing or putting more effort into the movements for a deeper workout. Bertrand also encourages people to use Essentrics to augment other forms of exercise if they want, but says it’s not necessary because she feels Essentrics gives a full-body workout.
Lee Eitel, who has taken Bertrand’s class for a year, agrees. A self-described exercise addict, she has done yoga for the past 15 years but is moving toward doing Essentrics exclusively because she feels it gives her a better, more complete workout. Just three weeks into taking classes, Delyle Schott, an avid biker and walker, says, “The class made me realize there were muscles that weren’t getting exercised in my normal routines. You don’t realize you’re experiencing some stiffness until you do a class like this.”
Bertrand says another benefit of Essentrics is that it helps people believe in what their bodies can do. “People start to think they shouldn’t move because they don’t want to fall or injure ourselves so it helps to start believing that our bodies are made to move and can move,” she says. “It keeps people doing things they want to do.”
Bertrand’s Essentrics classes are held at various Denver Parks & Recreation centers including Montclair Recreation Center and Central Park Recreation Center. Class schedules can be found at www.denvergov.org.