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.
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!