Every now and then New Yorkers see something on the subway that's bizarre enough to give them pause. Lately, that's been an advertisement that features a cropped image of a woman's butt and thighs with a large rubber ball strapped between her legs and shoved up to her crotch. "No ifs, just butts," it reads. The ad is not for a strap-on or a Ben Wa ball, it's P.volve: a workout described as "a mix of physical therapy, functional science, and hip-opening movements." Color me intrigued.
P.volve was created by Stephen Pasterino, a trainer who's best known for working with Victoria's Secret models and hosting an extremely problematic "thigh-gap workout." As the story goes, Pasterino was fed up with workouts that didn't translate to real life movements. "What the muscles do when you're moving versus how people use them in the gym are two different things," Pasterino says. So, he decided to make his own method of training, and P.volve was born.
Functional fitness is certainly not new, and it's one of the most important concepts involved in exercise. Basically, functional training can be defined as doing movements that are performed in daily tasks or life activities, explains Tara Romeo, CSCS, CES, USAW, director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City, NY. Training functionally can improve the overall way your body works, she says. Some classic functional movements include squats, lunges, presses, or biceps curls, but functional exercises can range from simple to complex, Romeo says. For example, medicine ball sit-to-stand with a press, a farmer's carry, and dumbbell step-ups all classify as "functional" exercises because they simulate things that you do at work or at home, she says.
At P.volve, Pasterino is very intentional about the exercises he chooses. Most of the movements mimic walking, and although the class is billed as a "functional workout," he does not do any squats or lunges, because he believes they go against functional training. His rationale is that most people have overly trained quads, which is a "dysfunction," or not the way the body is supposed to work. Instead, Pasterino tells his clients to do something called a "P.sit," whereby you hinge at your hips kind of like you would in a deadlift. "Most people don’t have really good hip flexion, and their butt doesn’t turn on when they go down, so everyone bends through their back," he says. Using the P.sit and a series of steps and reaches, it can increase hip flexion and activate the glutes, he says.
While Pasterino's theory may have legs, most of the movements in a P.volve class are so far from activities of daily life that they are impossible to figure out. I took a private P.volve class with Pasterino and was mostly confused by the small stepping patterns and hyper-specific, abnormal hinging motions. The publicist for P.volve kept giving me corrections (she's not a trainer, but has done the workout before), because I just couldn't get it. Pasterino says that he spent three years "intensely studying and working" to understand how complex motions can be. "I don't expect anyone to understand this," he says, describing the purpose each exercise. At one point, I was told to turn my feet in (pigeon-toed) and hinge forward at my waist into a P.sit, and I literally said, "My body doesn't do that."
Then there's the crotch ball. According to Pasterino, the ball is meant to put pressure on your inner thighs. Lots of exercise programs (like Pilates or barre) incorporate exercises with a ball between your legs, because it requires strength to keep it in place. The P.ball is strapped to your legs, so you don't have to do any muscular work to stabilize it, it's just there to "help those muscles communicate with the brain to activate them," he says. "My ball has the right amount of pressure to push into those muscles, and then it also has a strap that holds it in the right place." The function is unclear, but it certainly does leave a lot to the imagination.
With gimmicky equipment and salacious subway ads, many of us may be quick to write off P.volve as another fitness fad, not a true functional training program. But it's important to note that what makes a movement "functional" for one person doesn't necessarily mean it's functional for someone else, Romeo says. "Each program should be tailored to a person's specific needs, and what they are looking to improve for their overall quality of life," she says. In other words: You do you.