I started doing Pilates regularly exactly a year ago. In June 2011, I decided this cardio queen needed some muscle tone and definition in her life. Being the impulsive person that I am I immediately looked up the class schedule at Equinox, saw that there was a noon Mat Pilates class. Internally I was panicking. I’d tried Bar Method (and failed, miserably), I’d tried yoga (and almost fell asleep I was so bored). Should I just go? Or be content in my cardio-only life? Ultimately I decided to suck it up and try it out.
To call my first Mat Pilates class humbling would be the understatement of the year. I did sit-ups (approximately 10 per gym visit, I’m still shocked I didn’t have a 6-pack at that time), why was this so hard?! I had zero core strength. I hadn’t even met my obliques. Triceps? Biceps? No thank you, I’ll take the elliptical thanks.
But then I stopped seeing results. I would bust my booty on a cardio machine (non-running mind you this was early 2011) and I still wouldn’t have that strong, toned look that I craved.
Enter Pilates. After that humbling and embarrassing first class I kept at it. I was on my mat every Monday and Wednesday at noon and every week I felt a little bit stronger and saw myself being able to do things that just one week before I couldn’t. After a couple of months of twice-weekly Pilates and cardio on the other days I was finally, finally seeing results.
(Although full disclosure – I also cleaned up my diet. I’m a firm believer your body is 70% diet, 20% exercise and 10% genetics).
Come August when I started marathon training, I knew I needed a form of strength that would double as cross-training. I didn’t want to get injured, and I wanted to be strong while I ran. I envied the runners who held perfect form after 20-miles, and who had the strong core that was essential for running speedy races.
I felt comfortable enough with Mat Pilates and wanted to try the next step. The Reformer.
A quick Google search led me to a Pilates studio in my neighborhood with a “West Coast” style. (“West Coast” is a more progressive approach - it follows anatomically based concepts of a “neutral spine” to support the spine’s natural curves, while “East Coast” or Classical follows the teachings of Joseph Pilates almost exactly, and uses the “pelvic tilt” to flatten the back.)
They incorporated multiple muscle groups into each exercise to burn more calories (ie: a front lunge on the machine with a shoulder press while holding 3 lb hand weights), and had a few quick intervals of cardio thrown in to keep the heart rate up. I tried (really hard) to get into yoga but the athlete in me just hated how slow and boring it was. I was nervous Pilates would be the same type of thing, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I attended my first Pilates Essentials class (for beginners) on August 9th, 2011 and I left on cloud-freaking-nine. I loved it. My muscles felt worked to the point of near failure and I relished the feeling of using muscles I never used. Combining multiple muscle groups felt like every move I made was effective, and was making progress towards a stronger me.
Fast-forward through marathon training, I kept up my 2-3 reformer classes a week, (something that I will swear up and down gave me an injury free training cycle and helped me run my fastest first full marathon in December) and in January made the impulsive decision to get my teaching certification. I wanted other people to feel the way I felt, and I wanted to help them get there. I figured if I put it off, I would always have an excuse for putting it off. I decided to just go for it. Goodbye Monday evenings from 6-9:30pm and Saturday mornings from 9-1pm. Pilates owned you for a solid 5 months.
A few hundred hours of lecture, practice teaching and observation hours later, I am officially able to teach Pilates! I’ve upped my own classes to 3-4 times a week (both for my own fitness and also to observe as many teachers as I can) and the results are coming in faster than ever. I can honestly say I’ve never felt stronger or more toned before. As a complement to that – my running has never been better either. I’m running faster and stronger and holding paces that never would have imagine I could run at.
Another bonus? When you do something you love you meet all kinds of like-minded, we-have-everything-in-common friends. I’ve met some amazing people through Pilates and can’t wait to meet more. I also love when friends join the studio because it makes it so much more fun, and gives us a reason to get together even more. (KendallJaimeApril I’m talking to you).
Benefits of the Reformer
- The reformer builds overall strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
- Pilates targets the core: rectus abdominis, transverse abdominal, internal and external obliques. Or in english: the area that makes up the six-pack, the lower abs, and the side abs. Flat abs, strong backs, toned booty and thighs are all results of this emphasis.
- The reformer allows for full-range motion and is great for increasing flexibility while building strength – giving us the long muscles we want.
- Pushing and pulling with legs or arms against the resistance of the springs, carriage, and body weight is perfect for building muscles and creating definition.
- Eccentric muscle contractions. This is when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. The reformer is a set-up for eccentric contraction. That is one of the keys to achieving the long, strong muscles without bulk that Pilates is known for.
- The instability of a rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides all kinds of stability challenges that develop core strength and promote better balance. Your core is working the entire hour of the class.
- Heavy isn’t always better. When the springs are on a lighter setting some exercises are more challenging for the core because it has to work harder to control and stabilize the movement. Because of this, almost every exercise targets the core + another muscle group giving you the most bang for you buck. The stronger core, the better the balance, posture, and overall well-being.
I’m starting to teach classes in the next few weeks and would love to see you there! I promise I’ll work your arms, core, back, legs, booty and shoulders like crazy. Just in time for swim-suit season too!
Have you tried Pilates?