Exercise Experiment #2: Pilates

Hey, remember my new year’s pledge to try a bunch of different exercise classes for the first time and report back? Well, I haven’t forgotten, even if I haven’t written one up since January. One of these days, I’m going to write up water aerobics (short answer: LOVE IT), but right now, my first experience with Pilates is fresh in my mind.

So, there’s a studio right in my neighborhood that offers 3 private introductory lessons for $99 — a pretty damn good deal, since privates ordinarily cost nearly twice as much there, and from what I can tell, even that is cheap for Pilates. I went for my first one on Friday.

Fun Quotient: 4

I loved the machines like I can’t even tell you. (Which kind of sucks, actually, because mat classes are comparable in price to yoga classes, but working on the machines requires the pricey private or semi-private lessons. Sigh.) I didn’t get to do this yet, unfortunately, but I did get to do a bit of work on the Cadillac–mostly sitting on it and using trapeze-like bars for resistance. That didn’t quite satisfy the 5-year-old in me, whose gut response to the machine was “Whee! Monkey bars!” but it came close, and that was a big part of the fun. (I spent pretty much every recess in kindergarten and most in first grade hanging by my knees off the monkey bars–and simply could not understand why anyone, given the opportunity to be hanging upside down, would not take it. I also once got seriously busted for doing penny drops off the doorway of a friend’s backyard dog run, because once again… there was a BAR right there, BEGGING to be swung from! Never mind that it was totally unstable! So that background might help you understand why my heart goes pitter patter when I look at the Cadillac.)

The Reformer–which is like a souped-up rowing machine–was also cool. I started by lying on my back on the carriage and using my legs to push backwards, the trick being that I was only supposed to use my legs, without moving my pelvis a millimeter. Holy crap, harder than it sounds. And that kind of super-detailed muscle isolation shit is one of the things I’ve always loved best about yoga (at least the schools that focus on that), so it’s right up my alley.

Then I got to swing my legs above my head and put them into stirrups on springs, pulling myself back and forth in the other direction — I’m not describing that well, but it’s hard to put into words. Loved that, because if I can’t be fully upside-down, having my legs over my head is the next best thing. (Keep your gutter-minded jokes to yourself.) I will say I was really glad my own body was in between my eyes and the mirror for that round of exercises, ’cause if I could have seen myself, I’m pretty sure I would have been horrified. But it was a blast.

The only bit of Reformer work I didn’t enjoy was Eve’s Lunge, which the instructor tried to sell me as “just like Warrior Pose!” And hey, I can do Warrior Pose! Yeah, problem is, you add the machine in, and it becomes Warrior Pose with Flaming Rods Stuck into Various Parts of Your Body. I honestly think part of the problem there was my shortness — on a more compact Reformer, if such a thing existed, I might not have stretched myself so hard, ’cause with the length of my legs, moving the carriage backward at all in that position was really tough. But it also just puts my weight in different places from what I’m used to (you can’t put much weight on the back leg without fucking up your knee), and — not so shockingly, this being Pilates and all — is much tougher on the core muscles for me than Warrior is. Owie.

Oh yeah, then there was mat work. We only did a tiny bit of it, and it was very yoga-like, except for learning how to breathe differently, which was cool. (Of course, my old yoga teacher frequently brought some Pilates stuff into what we did, so it might not have been as technically yoga-like as I think.) I’ll probably try a mat class and could see myself getting into that, but I’m still in the Fun Quotient section here, and the fun was ALL about the machines.

Sweat Quotient: 0.

I left my hoodie on the whole time and didn’t even glisten. Now, I’m sure this is something that varies a hell of a lot, depending on whom you work with and what you do, but since it was my first time, we did everything pretty slowly, and it was quite literally no sweat. (Figuratively, some of the shit was intense, but just not in the way that makes me sweat. And practically everything makes me sweat.) Since Pilates was designed with rehabilitation in mind, there’s no problem with taking things slowly and adapting the moves to what your body’s ready for. So if you don’t want to sweat, I’d say you probably don’t have to — and you’ll still be working your muscles like whoa (see below).

Fat Friendliness: 4 for what we did, probably 3-4 if you go further on and/or are fatter than I am.

On the little “about me” sheet they had me to fill out, it asked if there was anything they should know about, and I wrote “Might need some modifications for big belly/breasts.” The instructor (middle-aged, skinny) read that and laughed — but in a good way. A “nobody’s ever said that to me before, but yeah, boobs can totally get in the way” way. And she did, at one point, start to have me do something on the chair, then move me over to the Cadillac because it occurred to her that my boobs might interfere with her first idea. I probably would have liked to try the first way and see if it actually was a problem for me, but she was cool about it, and I appreciated her really keeping that request in mind.

My fat didn’t cause problems with any of the exercises we did — but I don’t know how the machines are weight-rated, and I could see some of the things I did being more difficult in a larger body. Again, though, Pilates is very much about meeting you where you are, so I imagine you could do plenty of it at any size. The only question mark is how fat-friendly the instructor you get is; mine wasn’t judgmental or flummoxed at all, so you want to hold out for one like that, I guess. And if you’re concerned, it might be worth calling ahead and saying “Look, I weigh X and I’m built like Y– do you think I can use the machines effectively?”

My experience was 99% great, but I didn’t give it a full 5 points for fat-friendliness for two reasons. 1) The Reformer, regardless of its weight-rating, is definitely more accommodating of a narrow body. I was supposed to keep my arms at my sides while lying on the carriage, which I could do, but if I were about two inches wider on either side, there wouldn’t have been room for them. I’m sure there’s probably a work-around for that, but I suspect the machines you find in a typical studio would just be straight-up too small for some people. The good news is, the Reformer is not the be-all and end-all of Pilates, but that’s something to be aware of. 2) The 1% that wasn’t great… Pilates is all about working the core muscles, basically everything from your ass up through your ribs. Which means, as with ballet and yoga, you’re constantly being told to “engage your abs” — i.e., suck in your gut. That’s fine, in and of itself — but a few times, the skinny instructor would be staring at my stomach, telling me to engage my abs, and I was like, “Honey, they’re as engaged as they’re ever gonna be — you just can’t tell, because they’re UNDER A LAYER OF FAT.” She also at one point talked about how if my abs were engaged correctly while I lay on my back, they’d make “a flat shelf,” which… *snort* I mean, the actual muscles probably were flat under there somewhere, but I ain’t gonna be balancing a teacup on my gut any time soon, is all I’m sayin’.

I want to emphasize that she didn’t actually come off as rude or even insensitive with that stuff — just like her teaching habits were not geared to larger bodies, which they probably aren’t, with good reason. She was totally respectful and did make a conscious effort to consider how my body would work with the machines and stuff, so she gets very high marks from me in that regard. But if you’re more self-conscious than I am or get a teacher who’s the kind to bark, “SUCK IT IN!” that kind of thing could be problematic.

Exhaustion Quotient: 0.5

Again, we were working very slowly, it being my first time out, so I didn’t get tired at all. I worked and felt it, but it didn’t wear me out a bit.

Post-Class Invigoration Quotient: 0.5

That would be the downside of not getting even a little exhausted. I felt good walking out of there, but not so much invigorated.

Humiliation Quotient: Variable

This would totally depend on your level of self-consciousness, where the mirrors are, how cool your instructor is, and how many other people are in the room. I ended up in a LOT of positions where I’m sure I looked beyond redonkulous, but since there was no one else there, the instructor was nice, and I mostly ignored or couldn’t see the mirrors, it was no prob. And there was nothing in the way of humiliation because I just couldn’t get what I was supposed to be doing. When I was doing stuff wrong it was because, like, my pelvis was tilting up a tiny bit, not because my arms were flailing around and I was going in entirely the wrong direction, you know?

Pain Quotient: 1

I spent a lot of time wondering if I was really doing stuff right, because I mostly didn’t feel my core muscles working all that hard. I did do a couple insanely intense leg stretches on the Reformer, but except for Eve’s Lunge, they stayed just this side of the line between good-intense and OWWWWW.

This, however, only refers to how I felt in the studio. The next day was a different story.

Next-Day Pain Quotient: 2.5-3, depending on your threshold

After the aforementioned leg stretches, I fully expected my inner thighs to be on fire the next day. Funny thing is, they weren’t — I only had the tiniest twinge of leg pain. But OMG, MY ABS. Turns out I really was working those babies. Especially the upper abs, which I can still feel two days later. Put it this way: I actually said the words, “It hurts when I laugh” yesterday. It was sorta satisfying, in that “Wow, I did more than I thought” way, but definitely don’t plan on doing anything strenuous the day after your first Pilates class, even if you think (as I did) you’ve got a pretty solid core.

Other Thoughts

I’m looking forward to going back to the next 2 privates I’m signed up for and to trying a mat class. I think I would really love working on the machines on a regular basis–and I definitely really love that the studio is a 5-minute walk from my house, which makes dragging my ass there frequently much more plausible than if it were somewhere annoying to get to. But working on the machines is fucking expensive. Getting really into anything other than mat Pilates would be a big financial commitment.

But if money were no object? I’d probably be there 3 times a week, working diligently toward being allowed to hang upside down on the Cadillac. ‘Cause, dude… YOU GET TO HANG UPSIDE DOWN!

48 thoughts on “Exercise Experiment #2: Pilates”

  1. I love pilates mat work. I have never been on any of the machines, though – they look fun. And I’ve never taken an official class (although was introduced to it via Self Day by an instructor).

    With the mat work, my belly and boobs don’t get in the way for the most part. I have a lot more difficulty in that area with yoga (I am pretty flexible in my lower half and often my boobs stop me from going further into a pose, heh).

  2. OK, I’m geeking out right now, because I am a BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW PILATES INSTRUCTOR!!!! Yep, I’ve just been certified, and I’m teaching my first class tomorrow night!! (OK, my first class as a certified teacher.)

    I just want to let you know, that some YMCAs and community centers (and even some gyms now) have group reformer classes that are a lot less expensive than semi- or private sessions.

    Let me also say that I have a belly and boobs. I am NOT what a “typical” Pilates teacher looks like, AT ALL. I was lucky, because the woman I started taking classes with is also a nurse, so her emphasis is always on the health benefits of the exercises, as opposed to the “this will make your thighs thinner” approach. And the woman who ran our certification is also a physical therapist. It is possible to find teachers who will focus on health, not looks.

    And, yeah, I want to hang upside-down on the Cadillac, too!

  3. Congrats, Alyssa! And thanks for the tip about group classes. This place doesn’t have them, though they do have multiple reformers, so I guess it would be possible. Hmmm.

    Also, if you don’t want to be anonymous, feel free to pimp out your classes here. I’m sure there are Shapelings who’d love to know where you’re teaching.

  4. Congrats Alyssa!

    I tried mat Pilates from a dvd, and I think I would definately need a lesson, and maybe even private lessons because I don’t think I was doing it right at all. I also think it requires more body awareness and ability to concentrate than I have. I suppose Pilates might be a good way to develop those things, but it would also be pretty frustrating for me I think. I think I’ll stick to my water aerobics and deep water workout!

  5. I do Pilates mat work at home from a book, and now I am really jonesing to try the machines. Alas for my poverty.

    On the other hand, Pilates at home is pretty awesome. I am completely enamored of it, and most Pilates books walk you through it thoroughly enough that you can get the exercise done in a fairly precise way. Hoorah for literacy and flexibility!

  6. I need a PE credit for school, so I’m signed up to begin a Pilates class in a week. I’m really nervous about it – I haven’t done any exercise aside from walking for a long time. This makes me feel better though. I just hope the other students and the instructor will be cool.

    I’m not sure if this is the place to ask, but I was curious about where to get sports bras. I wear a 38 F or FF, depending on brand, and I need something that will fit when I’m 45 inches at the fullest part of my bust and 37 inches just below my boobs. I tried ordering some from Junonia, but they were waaay too loose at the band, though they felt tight across my breasts. Any ideas?

  7. This sounds great! I don’t know if there’s anywhere near me with machines but I might have to find out.

    I had a 0.5 pain quotient with mat pilates, and ended up abandoning it for yoga for pretty much that reason (that and the instructor kept touching my feet). i really wasn’t feeling that supposed core workout, and I don’t remember being even as sore as I am after a long hooping class — but holy shit did my tailbone feel bruised all the time.

  8. I just want pipe up and say that Kate’s pilates experience was similar to my own (mat) experience.
    1: It doesn’t seem all that hard while you’re doing it, and then later you realize how much work you actually did, and
    2: It’s the kind of thing I could do at lunchtime and go straight back to work, because the “sweatiness quotient” is low, low, low– if I was wearing comfy clothes I didn’t even have to change for class. It’s basically like taking a little nap/meditation, with some core muscle work thrown in.

    Also, please don’t be shy about taking group classes because of worry about how you’ll — everyone looks ridiculous, Pilates is definitely equal-opportunity ridiculous. : )

    Weetz: I recommend that you try figleaves.com or bravissimo.com for exercise bras. I’ve gotten some good ones at bravissimo that go up to 38H.

  9. I love Pilates, although I’ve only ever done the mat work. I’ve done mat work at home and in classes. I have pretty much the same experience as Kate: it feels low-impact while I’m doing it, then the next day, it kind of hurts to move my torso. But when I keep up with it, my posture is so much better and I feel more comfortable in my skin.

  10. I second the recommendation for the exercise bras available through Bravissimo. It’s a pain that the racer-back one doesn’t go up to bigger sizes, though – the straps on the conventional-strap one are a bit flimsy. Still, it’s the only thing I’ve found that can get me through kickboxing without feeling like someone’s been punching me in the chest. :)

    I’ve never tried the Pilates machines, only the matwork, but I’m definitely curious now.

  11. Loved the word “redonkulous”…so clever! I just found you, after reading about your site everywhere. It’s refreshing…thanks for being here!

  12. Hanging upside down from the Cadillac is so much fun. I don’t, and couldn’t, do that crazy-ass pose you linked to, but I finish most workouts by hanging from my ankles from the top of the Cadillac (feet secured in fuzzy loops), hanging off the edge with my hands over my head, almost grazing the ground. Very relaxing — and then the really fun part is that you can curl up from your hanging position and grab your calves (or ankles, if my core were stronger, I’m sure), which means that YOU SWING BACK AND FORTH LIKE A MONKEY for a while. It is so goddamned awesome, I can’t even tell you. (There is a different exercise that is actually called “Monkey,” which is nothing like that but is also very, very fun.)

    I agree that the mat routine is not as much fun as playing on the machines is, but matwork with an instructor kicks your ass in a much more immediate sense. (I’ve been doing Pilates at least once or twice a week since last summer, with only a few breaks for vacation, and I still cannot finish the Stomach Series without whimpering and coughing at the end.)

  13. I too am interested in the machines now. I recently started a beginner’s mat workout to alternate with my weightlifting, and I am having some trouble with the fact that it is not difficult enough, probably ’cause of the whole beginner thing, and if I do it a few times in a row then I find that I have lost some of my strength next time I go to lift weights. On the other hand I am finding it pretty complex to breathe correctly at the same time as using the proper form so I don’t think I can move up in difficulty yet–I already find myself pausing the DVD a lot and trying to get the form right before I move on.

    It’s currently really frustrating me, much like yoga does, but I’m gonna try to stick with it and see if the breathing/ab positioning becomes a little more automatic and allows me to move on to more strenuous exercises. My posture sucks and I really do need to mix up my regular weightlifting routine so I want to stick with it, and taking a machine class or two might be enough to keep me interested until it becomes a little more natural to me. So thanks for the detailed review!!

  14. I do a weekly Pilates class at my gym (when it’s not full… grrr) and I absolutely love it. It’s just mat work because I can’t afford one of those fancy gyms and the class is free with my membership, but the instructor has the most soothing voice and manner of anyone I’ve ever encountered, and she always puts on one of those new-agey meditative music CDs ad dims the lights. I end up feeling simultaneously like I’m working my muscles really intensely and like I could fall asleep anytime because I’m so relaxed.

    Pilates also has this weird anti-self-consciousness effect on me; usually I’m pretty aware of how I look to other people, but when I’m in the Pilates-groove I honestly could give a crap about what sort of ridiculous poses I’m in. Part of this, though, is because there is a huge variety of body types in this class and the instructor is not only fat friendly but also age and disability/injury friendly. It’s such a positive and healthy space.

  15. I just noticed fillyjonk’s comment on the tailbone–ditto! I bought a mat and I lay it on carpet and I still am not sure I can tolerate that “roll down, roll back up” thing. Boy does that hurt my tailbone.

  16. Kate,

    Thanks for being so thorough in your review. I have tried Winsor mat Pilates on my own at home and didn’t really enjoy it (part of it was Mari Winsor’s lack of personality, but I digress).

    If/when I have the extra dough, I’m definitely going to try a few machine classes with an instructor!

    I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  17. First off, I second gemellen about asking where this was – and via email is fine, for privacy reasons yada yada. I’m in Chicago so I’m hoping I’m also nearby.

    I did take a Pilates class at my formerly-nearby YMCA and totally overdid it. I think I was trying to “feel it” during the class so I totally overdid it on my abs, shoulders, butt, upper thighs…oh, everywhere. It was a big group class and I think I should’ve spoken with the instructor beforehand to let her know I was new. Or go on the first day of a new class semester (this was an open class, go anytime, but obviously there are some “regulars”). My nearest Y now is a ways away, at least a bike ride or a car ride, so I’m looking for other non-chain-gym exercise options, ya know?

  18. I honestly think part of the problem there was my shortness — on a more compact Reformer, if such a thing existed, I might not have stretched myself so hard, ’cause with the length of my legs, moving the carriage backward at all in that position was really tough

    My teacher uses half of a foam roller and pushes the flat side against the shoulder blocks of the reformer to help shorter clients (or people who are tall but lack flexibility) make the reach. A yoga block would probably work well too … just something hard and stable you can push your foot against w/out fucking up your knee.

    I love the upside down aspect of the Cadillac too. At the end of my session I put my feet through the short stirrups and hang by my ankles (like an inversion table) and it’s awesome! I used to feel like I was getting through my lesson just to be able to do that at the end. Well, that and bumping into Gabriel Bryne who used to have the slot after me … hee!

  19. fillyjonk, I have to ask: when you do Pilates mat work do you engage your abs by, er, making a smile with your bellybutton? I had the same problem — no workout, bruised tailbone — until I got this book, which explained in detail that to engage my core I should imagine my bellybutton smiling and engage my abs sort of… out to the side, if that makes sense? I mean, your bellybutton doesn’t actually make a smile when you do it, but the visualization really clicked with me and helped me engage my core the right way — and now my Pilates mat work kicks my butt. So to speak.

    Uh, anyway. I’m kind of starting to feel like SP’s village idiot or something, because it seems like I’m always a) rambling, b) saying something inane, or c) making typos. What was that I said about literacy?

  20. Sarawr, I’ve never heard the smiling belly button thing, but one of the most helpful things my yoga teacher ever told me was that the core muscles aren’t really just the abs — it’s front and back, all the way around the spine. Once I started focusing on engaging everything, it made a big difference.

  21. That’s what the smily belly does, I think — as you engage your abs to make a smile, you feel your lower and central back muscles sort of… draw up and strengthen; it’s different from just standing straight and tightening, if that makes any sense at all. The whole thing pretty much revolutionized my Pilates work, which up until that point was completely sucking. As an added bonus, the smily belly has corrected my posture to the point that — hey, cheer with me — I can breathe! And fully utilize my arms! I do it pretty much all the time now, even when I’m just hanging out on a slow Easter night refreshing my favorite sites to see if anyone’s being entertaining. ;)

  22. I took a beginner mat class last year at my local rec center and enjoyed it. The instructor was NOT a skinny little thing, and she was very good at describing the moves, asking if anyone was having trouble, and adapting stuff for different body shapes.

    My class had a pretty wide variety of body shapes in it and everyone had things they picked up quickly, things they struggled with, and things they needed modified.

    On nights when attendance was low, the instructor moved the class to the Reformer studio, and we got to use the machines, which was a ton of fun.

    I think this beginner mat class was a great compromise between individual instruction and group lessons. It went at a slower pace with a lot more individual attention than a standard group class, but was much more reasonably priced than a private lesson.

    I just finished 12 sessions of physical therapy for back issues caused by not being able to do any serious core exercise for 2 months after surgery. Many of the exercises are the same or similar to ones I did in Pilates, and the sweat factor is also about the same (not very sweaty). My PT recommended that I go back to Pilates to maintain the work we did together to make my back feel better.

    Another thing I found with the beginner mat class was that if I was going to do both Pilates and cardio on the same day, the cardio was much more successful if I did it first or after a few hours rest.

  23. That is the best ending EVAR! lol :D

    I’m glad you had fun. I’m not big on Pilates, but I might consider trying it some time.

    Thanks for the review. :)

  24. I’m dying to try pilates but I’m a little scared of it. I might start with the mat and work my way up to machines.

    BTW, it’s too bad so many people think sucking in and engaging your abs are the same thing. I wasn’t doing it right until I started working with a physical therapist with a PHd in training. She would put her hands on my stomach and tell me if she felt me suck in I was doing it wrong. You are supposed to be able to breathe when you do every exercise. The real feeling of engaged abdominals in a lot more subtle, if you can’t feel it in your belly because you’ve got some padding there, try and feel it a little lower by putting your hands on your pelvis just below your hip bones, you should feel the muscles come together, if they pop up or in your’e not doing it right. It takes a while to learn but it’s worth it, and fat or thin, nobody can really tell if you are doing right unless they touch your abodmen while you do it.

    Thanks for the report!

  25. I like the smiling belly! It’s kind of Twin Peaks, but I just tried it and it totally makes sense when you’re doing it.

    The answer to whether I was doing it at the time is “probably not” — I found my pilates teacher so distracting (why do you keep TOUCHING my FEET??) that I probably wasn’t doing anything right. After more than a year of belly dance, though, I can usually engage any section of my abs that I want to, so it should be better if/when I go back. (I just found a friend who’s interested in yoga or pilates, but we haven’t decided which.)

  26. Ha, the main that that keeps me out of classes is the fact that the instructor always touches me for some reason or another. They should just put them behind glass or something.
    Pilates isnt meant to work up a sweat, which is why a lot of people like it. It feels easy while you are doing it but you really reap the benefits afterwards.
    I only use certain moves with my clients here and there, I would never make pilates a theme for the workout. i think you should always get your heart rate to make it worth it.

  27. I have a question about the mat work (and I think this question applies to yoga as well). I have tendonitis in my left wrist that makes it very painful to put any pressure on it, e.g., by leaning on it or supporting my body using my wrist. I took one pilates mat class a few years ago and the wrist thing was the number one reason why I never went again (a lot of standing on all fours).

    So are there classes or exercises out there that wouldn’t involve leaning on my wrist so much? I really like the idea of pilates, but I can’t get past the wrist thing.

    And WORD to fillyjonk on the coxxyx thing. I am actually getting physical therapy right now on my pelvic floor, which includes work on the butt muscles. I had no idea just how much pain I carry around in my butt on a daily basis. (When I sit back and think about it, the idea of chronic butt pain is endlessly amusing to me.) Sitting on the floor without a very thick mat is almost impossible for me.

  28. Hee, chronic butt pain!

    Julia, I’d start by telling any instructor you work with that you have wrist pain. Instructors WANT to know about your injuries, so they can offer you modifications and keep you from hurting yourself. And I’ve definitely been in yoga classes where the teacher would say, “Okay, everybody do X–Julia, you try this instead,” where Julia has tendonitis/a bum knee/a recently broken ankle, whatever. If you can handle having that called out in front of the whole class, they’re happy to do it. (One thing that helps some people with the all-fours thing is to rest your weight on fists instead of flat hands, for instance. I know that’s cool in yoga and assume it would be in Pilates.)

    Also (and again, I’m only talking from yoga experience), sometimes an instructor will even change her plan for the day to focus on things that won’t strain wrists, or whatever other injured body part someone in the class might have. Especially in smaller classes, I’ve heard teachers say things like, “Okay, wait, I was going to have you do X, but since Kate’s knee is flaring up, let’s do this instead.” I know there’s a specific series for Pilates matwork, but I don’t know if that’s carved in stone. If it is, you might just want to try yoga. :)

    But most importantly, if something is causing you pain, you should stop doing it–and your instructor should keep reminding you of that. If that means you sit out ten minutes of work, so be it. You know what your body can and can’t take.

    If you can afford a few private lessons, you could also work specifically on rehabilitating the wrist, and on learning modifications you can use in classes without needing the teacher to call them out for you. But even if you can’t, just talking to the instructor before class would probably be a big help.

  29. Can I just say how much I enjoy being around people sharing tips about exercising without constantly wondering when the diet tips are going to break out?

  30. “Okay, everybody do X–Julia, you try this instead,” where Julia has tendonitis/a bum knee/a recently broken ankle, whatever.

    …chronic butt pain…

    (Honestly, I wonder whether my tailbone thing is the result of having fallen on it many, many times. After the fifth or sixth time practically putting myself out of commission by landing right on my ass and sending shock waves up my entire spine, I’ve probably chipped or twisted it permanently or something.)

  31. I had the opportunity to take private Pilates reformer lessons 3 times a week for about a year, and in the beginning, I had the same experience as far as not breaking a sweat or feeling like I had “worked out.” As I kept doing it though, I actually started to feel like the same movements got harder, and I started breaking a sweat. My instructor told me that was actually pretty normal: since Pilates is so precise, many people find that as they get stronger and more able to do the movements correctly, the movements actually feel harder, because you’re isolating more and more muscles, thus working fewer muscles in each exercise, but working them much harder.
    (That might be the longest run-on sentence I’ve ever written.)

  32. Thanks for the tips, Kate! I may look into the private lessons. It’s something I can afford, and I find that having appointments with an instructor is really the only thing that can actually motivate me to go work out. I see a personal trainer on Saturdays for weight training, which I LOVE. I know I wouldn’t push myself hard enough if I were doing all the exercises on my own.

    Now if I could just figure out a way to get my husband to come with me. I want to be more active and try to find methods of exercise that are fun and interesting, but I work long hours and as a result have very little time with the husband. If we could work out together, that would be ideal. But anything that he thinks of as new-agey, like yoga or pilates, just doesn’t interest him. He’d rather throw around a medicine ball and do chin-ups.

  33. Not that there’s anything wrong with medicine balls and chin-ups! My husband and I just have very different taste in our physical activities of choice.

  34. Yay Kate, I’m so glad you liked it!

    I’m actually training to be an instructor right now, and I’m getting a callus on my coccyx from the mat. Seriously.

    If you’re shorter and having a hard time stretching on the reformer, you can stack mats or something on the floor and stand on those–most studios have them around somewhere if you ask. My studio has some with wooden bases that are perfect for this. I think I’d feel a little unstable with a yoga brick against the shoulder rest, personally, particularly as you get into a higher number of springs. Then again, I get really sweaty feet when I do pilates, and have been known to slip off the damn footbar altogether.

    Which, by the way, is an AWESOME way to get everyone to look at you like you’ve grown a second head. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt uncomfortable as a student, though.

  35. Honestly, I wonder whether my tailbone thing is the result of having fallen on it many, many times.

    You are probably right about this and it’s definitely worth checking out! Any pain you’re having that doesn’t seem right, isn’t right. End of story. That being said, anyone who’s doing Pilates mat work or thinking about it should definitely use a really thick mat and not a thin light yoga mat. You can layer your yoga mats, use a towel … etc… but you have to have lots of padding for Pilates, and maybe even extra for an injury. Be comfortable. As you learn to tuck your pelvis under consistently and engage your core, the tailbone issue should go away, but it takes time!

    One quick aside — the first yoga class I ever took, I brought my heavy duty Pilates mat to use and wobbled around like a toddler the whole time because it was too thick to balance on — live and learn!

    Wrist pain in Pilates is really common at first. Eventually as you get stronger, you learn that the exercises that involve balancing your body on your hands use much more of the back and hamstring muscles than your wrists and arms. However, don’t grimace through wrist pain until you get stronger … if it hurts, stop the exercise and talk to your teacher about how to shift your weight off of your hands and wrists. Communication helps you get better at your practice, and helps your teachers become better teachers!

  36. Oops Kate … I didn’t read your entire wrist post to Julia before I posted my 10 cents … sorry ’bout that.

  37. Can anyone recommend a good Pilates instructor in or around Philadelphia? (I have a feeling the people who teach at my gym just watched a few DVDs)

  38. I just noticed fillyjonk’s comment on the tailbone–ditto! I bought a mat and I lay it on carpet and I still am not sure I can tolerate that “roll down, roll back up” thing. Boy does that hurt my tailbone.

    Superthick mat required, SG. If you were ever going to drop major change on an exercise mat, this would be a good time.

    KH, if you would like to sweat during Pilates class (although I sort of get the sense you are genetically built to generate much less water than I — my aunt is like you; it could be 100 degrees and she’d be talking about “dry heat” or how “cool” the breeze is) when you come to New York on your book tour, please feel free to accompany me to Pat’s Tower class at DLFit. You will cry when you’re there; you will be able to move nothing the next day, and the next week you will fly around like Supergirl cleaning entire apartments and sweeping all the work off your desk in one day.

    Alyssa, congrats! Are you in NYC? Can we take class from you?

  39. Also, for those of us whose feet/knees/hips/lower back need strengthening and support, it’s all about the Pilates WundaChair, bebe.

  40. Thanks, Kate!!!! And everyone! I will willingly e-mail my info to anyone who lives in the San Francisco/San Mateo County area! My email is alyzu@comcast.net.

    Weetz, I have an Enell (sp?) sports bra and it’s great.

    spacedcowgirl, the breathing doesn’t have to be exact. I know some instructors are real sticklers about it, but the main thing is to keep breathing and just not hold your breath. Hope that helps!

  41. Thanks, guys, for the tips on the thick mat and the engaging all the way around to the back. I got a thicker “Pilates” mat instead of the yoga one, so we’ll see if that on carpet is adequate. I considered an even thicker one which I probably should have just gotten, but this one came with a neck pillow, resistance band, and 3-workout DVD so it felt like the better deal. We’ll see…

    After a lot of practice I felt like I was doing what the instructor was saying as far as engaging my core, e.g. it was definitely deeper than just sucking in my stomach. And the DVD I have (it’s the Jillian Hessel beginners’ DVD) has a whole section where you practice breathing and engaging the core before you get to the mat work, so that was good. But I don’t think I was feeling it all the way around to my back so that is a great tip.

    Also thanks for the advice on breathing, Alyssa… it does help. I felt like it really had to be exact and although I can expand my chest on the inhale and engage my lower abs/pelvic floor on the exhale (or at least it feels “right” based on what the DVD is saying) I can’t do it very fast. So where she’s like “breathe! extend! switch sides!” I can never keep up. Maybe I can relax a little on that for the faster exertions.

  42. Hey littlem, what is Tower? I’m intrigued. I want to clean entire apartments and clear my desk in a day! :)

  43. I thought about this post when I saw the new Madonna video. Seriously, Kate, it’s pilates gone mad. She looks like she took the pilates reformer machine and beat the hell out of it. Then she took those arms and shoulders of hers and picked the entire US strawberry crop for 2008, collected all the shopping carts at every grocery store in Chicago, and then climbed up a skyscraper.

    She is fucking toned, yo. It’s kind of sick.

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