Get Inspired: Pilates newcomer on quest to reunite with core muscles
Leggings, check. Water, check. Online booking, check. Basic knowledge of Pilates? Non-existent...
Five minutes you told me… FIVE! I curse my new-fangled smart phone, which was clearly not 'smart' enough to calculate additional time for getting lost on the way to your destination. My relaxed stroll turns into a panicked stride during which I attempt to find the instructor's phone number to apologise for my lateness in addition to finding out where the class actually takes place.
My mood decreasing rapidly, I nearly give up and turn back to go home, when I look up and see a fairly big sign indicating 'yoga and Pilates takes place here'. I breathe a sigh of relief. Perhaps not my ideal warm-up for what's supposed to be a relaxing, stress-relieving activity, but nonetheless, I am indeed, warmed-up.
Apologies made, and after a slightly embarrassing walk into an already busy studio, I settle for the only spot remaining with an empty mat. Of course this was right in the centre.
I've never done Pilates before. I've got to admit, I don't really know what it is. In my naivety, I had clumped it together with yoga as a stretching, posing, breathing, losing balance and falling-over type activity. However, I couldn't have been more wrong.
As a sufferer of back pain, Pilates was recommended to me by my physio. After only a few minutes lying on the mat performing 'pelvic rolls', I could already feel myself relaxing.
We warm up gently, and move onto the first set of exercises - raising legs and lowering them slowly without touching the floor. There are different levels of intensity for each exercise, but being super keen to make up for my lateness, I decide to attempt the 'deepest level' at the first opportunity, which I quickly discover means I, or should I say my core muscles, are unable to complete the set.
The teacher, Sophie, leads the class in an engaging, fun manner. She's definitely helping me, as a newbie, to not feel self-conscious, which is quite a feat when a large majority of the class involves having your bum in the air.
'Everyone grab your balls!'
Particularly enjoyable is the use of large, squishy red balls. Despite the female contingency of the class engaging their core muscles through quietly chuckling, the balls themselves help to increase the intensity of the workout.
We work our core muscles, engaging our one, two, five and six-packs. I was unaware at this point that I even had 'one-pack', but apparently all six were just pretty good at hiding away and happy not to be discovered.
Then we move onto working our obliques followed by legs. Having convinced myself I had found at least four muscles I didn't know existed, it was surprisingly difficult to get them to work collaboratively with me during this part of the session.
As the class went on, I started to appreciate the art of breathing. Obviously this is something I assumed I'd already mastered, but it's not until you have to focus on breathing in and out in time to the exercises, that you discover how timing your breathing correctly during exercise helps. I can hold my leg in the air longer, focus on engaging my core muscles more intensely and not give up before the end of a set.
Having previously done a lot of cardio exercise, I find the concept of leaving an exercise class not dripping in sweat an odd one, and was worried I'd feel I hadn't pushed myself. However, I can now feel the beads of sweat forming, and threatening to drip down my neck - an indicator that Pilates is as real a workout as any cardio activity.
Despite being an individual activity, being in the studio with the other participants feels somehow reassuring. Knowing that when you're struggling with the last set of oblique curls, or you've managed to mess up the rhythmic breathing (both of which I definitely did), someone else in the room probably is too, definitely helps.
With my first Pilates experience nearly over, we end with the same pelvic rolls as we began with. To come full circle feels pretty satisfying; and the knowledge I've taken part in a completely different kind of exercise and actually enjoyed it, is an eye-opener.
When Sophie dismisses us, I notice how she asks us individually how the class felt, if we had aggravated our various ailments or worked any body part too much. This care and attention to each person is definitely a step up from gym instructor-student relationships I've had in the past.
A quick chat with the others leads me to discover a lot of them had recently had babies and were using Pilates to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles (I now know what a pelvic floor muscle is and admittedly, I'm now quite scared of what having a baby can do to it…) or like me, had been recommended by a physio to help with a specific health problem.
Although I fitted into this second category of Pilates-goers, I have to admit that I'm quite pleased I was told to try Pilates to help my back, because if I hadn't, it wouldn't have crossed my mind to give it a go.
Despite not leaving huffing and puffing in a sweaty mess, I am certainly now very aware of my core muscles (in hindsight, I should have found them a long time ago). I will endeavour to continue to discover new muscles next week.
For now, I'm happy to hold my hands up and admit my preconceptions were wrong. Pilates does provide a very deep work-out experience, and to me, it's far more appealing than lifting weights at the gym.
Plus, I got to play with red, squishy balls.
Over to you...
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