THE BASICS: A strengthening, core-focused workout that promises to leave you toned, lean and sculpted, in a scrummy studio, right opposite Angel station. All on a machine that looks like a 17th century torture device.
THE BITCHES: Carly. VERY. EARLY.
THE CLASS: I had been thinking about Pilates for a while. In my tiny brain, there have always been two sorts of people. The pilates people. And the yogis. I am a yogi. I was suspicious of this lean, stretchy exercise concept that wasn’t yoga. Was pilates pretending to be yoga? Was it just yoga on a machine? Was it yoga’s poor cousin? I took to twitter in search of education.
Like a pilates fairy, Hollie tweeted down from the internet in the clouds and encouraged me to come along to one of her Reformer Pilates classes at Pilates HQ. I was scared- I was almost certain of the following scenario (I don’t even know how to express the horror in words, so instead I have decided to draw it to help explain):
Hopefully you get the idea from that scrawl- the next picture in that series ends up with me running out of the class, with the imprint of machine springs on my forehead.
But in the spirit of Project Hot Bitch, I was determined to man up and head along. And head along I did- to the EIGHT AM CLASS at that! I know- I was even annoying myself with how smug I felt on the journey there.
Upon arrival, I slunk into the waiting area, just as the previous class was coming to an end (a class that must have started earlier than 8am, good lord). I put my things in the dinky changing room and waited patiently outside the studio. With each clunk and slide of the machine that carried through the doors, my heart fluttered a little faster.
There were about 8 of us for this class in total, and Hollie was really chirpy and friendly as we all entered. Whilst the others lay back on the big padded part of their sliding machine (the “carriage”) and started some gentle leg extentions, Hollie nipped over and showed me how to change my machine’s springs, and quickly ran through the tension created by each.
As the class progressed, we would change the spring colour and combination with a quick flick and hook- yellow was low tension, and red was high; combinations also featured.
In the moments before the class began, I took in the studio around me. It was stunning- the machines looked almost new, it was airy and neutral, and had big mirrors to check our form. The best part was definitely an outside terrace, opening from one side of the studio and onto Upper Street. This was my beautiful 8am view- an autumn sunrise over London whilst it had a stretch and woke up for the day. This early morning exercise thing was actually pretty exhilarating!
Class began- I took some time to get used to the tension of the machine, and also how to achieve each move fluidly. It took me a few moves to achieve enough pace to keep up a good rhythm, but move slowly enough to maintain a good level of control and engage my core.
Hollie talked us through the difference between flat and rounded back; we moved between flattening our entire spine against the carriage, and then squeezing the shoulder blades together to raise the lower spine and create an arch. This really made me notice of the different stomach and oblique muscles that were involved with each movement. It came in handy later as tiny adjustments were made to our exercises, in order to correct them or take them up a notch.
I cant even begin to describe the sequence of exercises we did during this class, and that is for two reasons- firstly, the exercises were so varied and the machine and apparatus so versatile, that each movement flew out of my overwhelmed brain pretty quickly, to make room for the next. Secondly- I was concentrating with all of my might to keep coordination, strength and poise up, that I was completely absorbed by each movement, with little thought for the previous.
I am sure the following has an official name, but for the purpose of the ignorant among us (and, er, because I don’t know the name) one that stuck out in my mind was the “standing-on-bar-and-down-into-plank”.
Now bear with me here!
This move saw us kneel on the carriage, facing our machine. We placed our feet on the static bar at the foot end of the machine, and our hands on the shoulder handles. We then hoiked our knees off of the carriage and straightened our legs, so we were now standing on the bar, in an upside down V shape. Finally, we slooooooowly slid our hands forwards, core engaged, and ended up in a plank position, suspended above the machine. It took all of my concentration to stay stable, which I guess was the point. It was incredibly tricky!
Other exercises included “Feet-in-straps-&-squeeze-fitness-circle-between-ankles”, which left me shaking from the word go. “Dumbbell-in-circular-movement-behind-back-&-pass-to-other-hand-above-head” was a little easier to achieve first time.
One thing that really impressed me about this class and about Hollie as a teacher, was the instruction. She was so clear and precise, only a once or twice did I have to look up to get a visual of what she was explaining with words. This is an awesome skill, and one that not every teacher is able to achieve. She spoke us through every step of each movement, which was so helpful, as I was tasked with keeping arms, legs, core and breath in unison.
I am certain I did a few of the moves wrong, which I shall be working on in future classes (!) Despite this, for a first class I was pretty flabbergasted with the level of coordination and strength I just about managed to maintain. Maybe I should start getting up earlier- magic things happen!
The class left me on the brink of muscle exhaustion- and ended with a deep stretch, especially of the hamstrings. After class, I had a quick chat with Hollie about how the class went, and pledged to come out and try out her amazing sounding Model Method class- pilates mixed with a high intensity interval training (HIIT) class. Excited is not the word!
THE VERDICT: Today was somewhat of an epiphany. You can like yoga…. AND you can like pilates! And by jove I think I like both! I am hurting as the hours go on after the class, and I could feel something happening to my muscles during the class, for sure.
You absolutely mustn’t worry about the scary looking machines- you will feel so good about yourself after this class. You may laugh at this, but I have been stroking my abs all day in a kind of quiet, confused wonderment- and thats after ONE DAY, people. Imagine what a month of this could do! Yes I look like a weirdo but they are just SO FIRM. Seriously.
THE EXTRAS: When chatting to Hollie at the end, she said I had done surprisingly well for a complete newbie; she thought I was strong and had managed to pick up the moves and machine use really quickly. I beamed like a child, proudly presenting a good school report to their parents. ME!! GOOD AT PILATES!!! ME!!! I am pretty sure I nearly lost my job in the hours that followed this class, purely through my levels of hideously unbearable smugness.