After more than a decade, it’s time to say goodbye.
Last week, PlanaForma, the first boutique fitness studio in the Philippines announced it closing its doors.
“It is with a heavy pulsing heart that Plana FORMA will be pulsing its last Forma at Home (live) class on November 25, 2021,” read the Instagram post declaring the closure. “Thigh Warriors are nothing but resilient and we are hopeful that this is not a goodbye but rather a “we will see you again once we’ve regained our footing.”
The reactions were instantaneous, with comments from people like Xandra Rocha to Electric Studio owner Kristina Sy expressing their dismay. After 11 years, it is the end of an era.
Nowadays, boutique fitness studios are the norm. If you were wary of a formal commitment to a gym, boutique studios allow you the experience of trying out a workout and deciding whether or not you wanted to continue, without having to deal with the myriad ways of institutionalized shaming from the usual gym industry. But in 2010, this was an unprecedented idea.
Owner Iya Lagdameo, however, tells me that she knew Manila was ready for a change. “Eleven years ago, the fitness scene in Manila was different, we were limited to gyms and group classes that were more aerobics based. Hardly anyone even wore athleisurewear,” she tells me.
The idea came from Physique 57, a barre studio in New York City that Lagdameo’s partner and sister-in-law Tina tried and fell in love with. Wanting to fill a gap in the market, they conceptualized PlanaForma, and watched over the years as it evolved.
“It became a completely different studio altogether because we were able to create and combine different techniques and create a community that went well beyond just working out,” says Lagdameo.
Community is important to PlanaForma. While teaching good technique is a given, Lagdameo knew that they needed to get people to buy into the concept as more than just exercise alone. “We wanted to build a community wherein we could share our love for fitness, movement, and the barre technique,” she says. “Helping people create long, lean muscles as well as strong minds. We always saw PlanaForma as a way to complement other workout genres.”
The benefit of watching people start from scratch along with PlanaForma, says Lagdameo, is that they were able to see everyone’s progress. “That has been the most fulfilling part of this journey, seeing people work toward their goals with us alongside them helping and cheering them on,” she says.
Looking back, for Lagdameo, PlanaForma is full of happy memories. “We have created a family,” she says, adding that work never felt like work. “We had fun for most of the 11-year run.”
To wit, while there are some things she would change, there are no regrets. In a completely new market in the Philippines, Lagdameo mentions they were constantly learning throughout the years. “Of course mistakes were made. But that is how we learned and moved forward. We were constantly adjusting, evolving, and adapting.”
As in all businesses, COVID-19 forced PlanaForma to re-think its operations.
“We had to pivot and adjust quickly. We were doing online classes as early as May 2020, a month and a half into the pandemic/ lockdown,” says Lagdameo. “As soon as the lockdown was announced we put our heads together and did what we could. A month after, we were ready to give our Thighwarriors Forma at Home.” Forma at Home is the PlanaForma program adapted to at-home needs, for those looking to keep up their strength and flexibility.
Over the last year and a few months, while gym re-openings have been sporadic, none of the boutique fitness studios have re-opened. In this dynamic, ever-shifting situation, PlanaForma saw their physical studios close down one by one. They had to make the tough decision to end operations.
“Battling the unknown was the most difficult and still is,” Lagdameo admits. “We do not know what will happen, what will come and unfortunately, we had to make the painful decision to close.”
Like any forward-thinking business owner, Lagdameo never thought PlanaForma was a complete product. “I never considered it to be a ‘success’ in the sense that we were always striving to be better. We were constantly evolving, constantly trying to be better than we were the day before. We never stopped.”
If she could pinpoint the day she realized that that PlanaForma was indeed successful, Lagdameo says it would be the day when the closure was announced.
“The number of calls, messages, photos, and outpouring of emotions that came and continues to come in really showed me how many lives we touched, changed, and made an impact on these past 11 years,” she shares. “We forged so many relationships that will carry on forever.”
For Lagdameo herself, so much has changed. When PlanaForma started, she had one daughter. “Now I have three! My girls have all grown up inside the walls of PlanaForma so it is going to be different without it,” she says. “PlanaForma has made me stronger with all the ups and downs we have been through.”
With a legacy of being pioneers in the industry, Lagdameo says she wants PlanaForma to be remembered as a refuge. “A place people could go to work out, hang out, feel that PlanaForma burn/pain, see the results while finding lifelong friends,” she says.
Lagdameo is proud when she hears PlanaForma customers say that they have instilled the best discipline and talent in our instructors. “Many of them are still in the industry,” she says, “and as we leave, I know that they will keep the PlanaForma fire alive as they continue to teach different forms of exercise.”
When I asked her if this was truly the end, if ever there was a way to reopen or do something new in the next few years when the situation has improved, Lagdameo had one answer for me. “Fingers crossed,” she says.
Anika Martinez, Plana Forma Instructor
“I started as a squadmate for PlanaForma in 2017, right after graduation. I transitioned into marketing shortly after, then instructor by 2018.
My best memories would have to be when the team went to Pearl farm for our team building. We had different activities that solidified our friendship and made so many happy memories.
Completing a challenge was always one of the best feelings. Staying true to the studio’s very heart, every time I finished a challenge I discovered how powerful my body can be. The workout is not easy, but it’s always worth it!! Every pulse and every shake made me stronger, every joke and motivation from my instructors kept me going. But more than anything, my best memories would be our pre and post-workout chikahan. There’s something about dying together in a studio that creates undeniable bonds and friendships. There were so many people I met and encountered and never expected to be friends with until today. PlanaForma is my happy space, it taught me to truly love my body and what it could do for me.”
“I started going to Plana Forma when it just opened in 2010. My best friend is the sister-in-law of Tina and Iya, so I was able to go to their soft opening and trial classes. I never worked out beyond PE class and so Plana Forma launched the fitness branch of my life. They were the first contributors to my first ever “workout playlist”. I remember buying workout clothes (that weren’t big t-shirts and gym shorts) which made up the first pieces of my athleisure wardrobe.
I was fresh out of college and started my first job in advertising. It was a busy 9 to whenever job, but I was religious with attending my Forma classes. I would go to the early morning classes, shower in the studio, and then rush to work OR I would make a mad dash to Forma after work for their evening classes.
They started offering Zumba classes and they were the best ones I’ve ever attended. I remember trying to go to Zumba classes in other places, but nothing could compare. I remember they had a Zumba party on a Thursday and I booked a slot. I rushed all my work that day and announced to my officemates that I had somewhere to be at 6:45 PM. I worked so hard to finish on time because I knew that the huge amount of endorphins I will get after this Zumba party would be soooo worth it. And it was! I made it on time (although I had to change while at work and run to the studio) and they surprised us with cupcakes, cookies, and other treats after class! It was my happy place. From the enthusiasm and warmth of the teachers, the front desk remembering you, to the energy everyone had in the studio…You can’t help but feel happy to be there -and on top of all of that, I saw great results!”
The last PlanaForma Live Class will take place on November 25. Forma on Demand will continue to be available until December 25, 2021. Get the Forma At Home Monthly Unlimited package for only PHP1,500.
Photos from PlanaForma