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Reigning queen of Dancing with the Stars, world champ and Olympic gold medalist in figure skating -- you might think losing just isn't in Kristi Yamaguchi's DNA. But in the age-old epic battle between time and fitting in exercise, the skater, who stopped touring professionally in 2002 to start a family, was getting her butt kicked. "At first I was making it to the gym three times a week, but gradually that stopped, and I didn't have a consistent workout schedule," says Yamaguchi, mother of two girls with her husband Bret Hedican, a professional hockey player. "I would aim for a half hour on the elliptical, plus some stretching, light weights, and ab work, but I was a preschool mom. Running after my daughters was usually my workout for the day."
She's also like other moms -- and non-moms -- in the way that she has belly issues. "I've never had definition in my stomach. There's always this layer on it," Yamaguchi says. That was the case even when she was at her fittest, training three hours a day, five days a week. And it was even more the case when she left the pro tour circuit. "I've always been good when it comes to diet -- fresh fruit with yogurt and granola for breakfast, maybe a turkey-and-cheese sandwich for lunch and chicken stir-fry for dinner.
"I believe in moderation, and I avoid certain junk foods," she explains. "My stomach is just a family trait." Take her tummy and her softer focus on exercise, factor in two pregnancies, and you have a sense of why, mentally and physically, Yamaguchi decided last year to go out for DWTS. "I'm a fan of the show, and I'd seen the transformations people went through after just several weeks," she recalls. "I figured it'd be a fun way to get into shape."
But before even going on the show, Yamaguchi wanted to tone up and get better conditioned for the eight-hour days of rehearsing. She turned to Pilates, the strength and stretching method she first tried when she was 12 and in rehab after surgery. "The dancers with the San Francisco Ballet were using it, and since ballet and skating are similar in that you need flexibility and lean muscles, my doctor recommended it," Yamaguchi explains. Over the years, she added Pilates to her regimen. "It's about building your core, getting it strong, because everything radiates from there. But I've found that you can use it to work all the muscles in your body. And since you're not doing a lot of reps, you're maintaining a lean look."
In Raleigh, North Carolina (her husband was playing for the Carolina Hurricanes at the time), Yamaguchi worked out at Smart Body Pilates with instructor and co-owner Missy Grant two times a week. Putting in 60- to 90-minute sessions for six weeks got her DWTS-confident. "I felt it was good training not only because it's a great overall body workout but also because Pilates incorporates some body-awareness and dance-type moves, which was perfect for me," she says.
Perfect, as in perfect score of 60 -- her number both going into the finale and coming out the champ. During the 14 weeks of rehearsing and competing on TV, Yamaguchi says she got the body transformation she'd been hoping for, though hers was slightly different from others'. Her weight didn't really change -- she lost maybe a pound -- but her muscle tone and cardio strength radically improved. "My calves especially got firm from dancing in heels," she says.
Since capturing the mirror-ball trophy, Yamaguchi is doing a better job of sticking to her three-times-a-week exercise routine, having found a new Pilates instructor, Joy Petrash, closer to her present home in Northern California. She also sometimes joins her husband, as she did when they first got married, in his strength-training workout. Her winning streak lives on.
"Special K Bars. I usually have one in my purse or the diaper bag."Her Instant Stress Fix
"A cup of chamomile tea. It really calms me and helps me sleep. I was drinking it every night before the performances on DWTS."Her Home Gym
"An elliptical machine, free weights, an exercise ball, and Thera-Bands."Her Workout Playlist
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2008.