The Lithe life

This new fitness phenom is Philly-grown, stretching to N.Y. and L.A. Why Lithe? Founder Lauren Boggi just loves that word.

Posted: February 22, 2012

Thirteen women in running tights and racerback tanks are waiting for a Lithe Method exercise class to start, and there isn't a love handle, a muffin top, or an ounce of back fat in the entire room.

The Lithe Method studio in Old City is such a belly-fat-free zone that even a five-month-pregnant attendee is rocking muscular arms and amazingly tight quads. "I started lithing last year to help me get in shape for my wedding," said Carrie Maio, 30, a pharmaceutical researcher, after class. "Now that I'm pregnant, the only thing that's changed is my belly. Everything else is pretty intact."

That's the magic of Lithe.

Fitness buff Lauren Boggi introduced her Lithe Method five years ago, and the locally grown exercise style is becoming a bona fide fitness phenom. Some of the city's smartest women swear it's the secret to their shapely, but not skinny, yet fiercely toned bods.

Well-known local lithers include CBS3 news anchor Lesley Van Arsdall, a new mom, as well as Beka Rendell, special-events planner and daughter-in-law of former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (yes, she is preggers).

Lithe is so popular in certain Philadelphia circles it's not just an adjective anymore. It's accepted as a noun - as in lither - and a verb - as in, I'm getting ready to lithe.

Allison Lubert, owner of Philly's Sweet Freedom vegan bakery, lithes on the regular as does Christine Speer Lejeune, deputy editor of Philadelphia Magazine. Kate Egan, owner of Center City jewelry store Egan Day, says the Lithe Method is responsible for her boo-tay.

"It's a little bit like a cult," said Kelly Boyd, owner of Center City public relations firm KB Consulting, who says lithing keeps her perennially bathing-suit ready. "It's like a girls' club full of fit and healthy women."

Boggi, 34, a tiny-waisted mother of a 6-month-old, got her start in the fitness world as a Pilates instructor. The former cheerleader added some cheer and dance moves to her routine and the Lithe Method was born. Yes, the Lithe Method and Pilates are related, Boggi says, but are more distant cousins than direct descendants.

"I like to think of it as one part cardio, one part cheerleading, one part sculpting," she said.

At the moment, Boggi offers 38 kinds of Lithe Method classes, such as "Fab-u-legs," which tones thighs, and "Arm-istice," which promises to eviscerate bat wings.

Classes last about an hour, and getting through them requires mastering Boggi's breathing technique - a deep inhale through the nose followed by a sharp exhale through pursed lips.

The movements are low-impact and challenging. Hard-bodied instructors lead lithers through weights, rounds of squats against a ballet bar, and a series of jumps that require holding on to rubbery resistance bands that hang from the ceiling.

Ouch!

Where's the clock? How much longer?

Pain aside, the Lithe Method works because it strengthens the region between the nipples and the knees, commonly referred to as the core. A strong core helps us stand up taller, run faster, and look great in, and out, of our clothing.

"Lithing helped me build my strength," said Kate Spiller, 27, who started lithing last year to cross-train for the Philadelphia Marathon. "I can see a difference in my curves."

Next stop for Boggi is lifestyle. That, of course, includes a website, www.lithemethod.com, and a blog.

And food. Boggi teamed in April with local chefs Lauren Hooks and James Flail to introduce Lithe foods, a collection of smoothies, salads, and low-carb foods designed to keep folks lean.

In June, Boggi introduced a line of workout-to-cocktail-hour gear called Lithe Wear. Local women's-wear designer Bela Shehu is behind these sleek moisture-wicking tops and yoga pants with ruching. There is also a pair of $90 leather leggings.

Boggi sells water bottles and lunch totes, too, in ocean blue, her favorite color. And twice a year, lithers can take a trip with fellow enthusiasts: The Lithe Escape is a well-being jaunt taking 12 to 15 lithers to a tropical island paradise to relax and lithe.

The Lithe experience pulled in a little more than $1.5 million in sales last year, Boggi says. This year, look for more Lithe expansion. In March, Boggi will open a new studio on the Main Line in Haverford Square.

The Lithe Method New York is scheduled to open in late spring, and Boggi is working on a deal in Los Angeles.

"It's all grown so organically," Boggi said. "I'm not pushing it on people. They just want more. It's become a way of life."

The first time Boggi heard the word lithe she was 10 and watching The Nutcracker. A man sitting next to her described the dancers as "lithe."

Boggi went home to Vineland and looked it up.

"I fell in love with the word," said Boggi, who stands 4 feet, 10 inches tall. "I knew then that I would make being lithe my life's goal. Look at me: I'm short, I'm not skinny, and I'm definitely curvy."

So Boggi became captain of the cheerleading squad at Vineland High School. She went on to cheer at the University of South Carolina, but in her sophomore year she tore her rotator cuff. She began doing Pilates as a way to rehab it.

After college, Boggi moved to New York, where she got small parts acting in As the World Turns and Guiding Light. She started teaching Pilates to make ends meet, but something was missing.

"I didn't have that hot, tight cheerleader body I once had," she said. She wanted it back.

She began adding weights, push-ups, and sit-ups to her routines. Then, fed up with acting, she moved back to Philadelphia and invested $20,000 in a Northern Liberties studio she named Lithe Pilates.

Then she started adding lunges and weights, and changed the name to Lithe Evolved Studio. Next came the bars and hanging cardio bands. Finally, she settled on the Lithe Method as a name.

"It was so far from Pilates, I just couldn't call it that anymore," Boggi said.

Back then Boggi had just 25 regulars. Today, with her three locations (one is in Rittenhouse Square), she has more than 1,000 clients. Her 22 Lithe teachers all have perfectly lithe bodies, naturally.

And while Philadelphia still may not be one of America's healthiest cities, its change in attitude toward fitness has helped her grow.

"Philly is one of the toughest cities to introduce something new in," Boggi said. "But this method is all Philly. Lithe straight out of Philly."


Contact writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, ewellington@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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