Tony Takes a Pilates Class

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Nope, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, and you’re (probably) not hallucinating.

 

As I’m writing this I’m about two hours removed from taking my very first Pilates class, like, EVER. As YOU’RE reading this, it’s more like 24 hours after the fact. But I decided rather than wait until the following morning (today) to write my summary, it was best to hash out my thoughts and observations now while everything was still fresh in my mind.

Well, there’s that, and the fact that my legs are still shaking and I can’t walk anywhere and I’m pretty much glued to my couch at the moment writing this.

So you may be wondering to yourself, “Um, yeah, Tony, how in the heck did this ever transpire?”  Good question, because if you were to rate on a scale the likelihood I’d ever take a Pilates class (1 being “lets go, baby!”, and 10 being “Dude, what’s next:  eating a tofurkey burger and peeing sitting down?), I’d say it would be around a + 56,000.

Me? Pilates? Hahahahahahahahaha.  That’s like trying to mix oil with water; or Ted Nugent with Democrats. It just doesn’t jive.

But 2012 has seen the fruition of a new Tony Gentilcore.  As some of you may recall this past winter I stepped outside my comfort zone (waaaaaaaaaaay outside my comfort zone) and took a few yoga classes with my girlfriend.  For those interested and who missed it the first time around, I highlighted my experience in Tony Takes a Yoga Class Part I and Part II.

To give the Cliff Notes version:

– In the past I’ve had my misgivings about yoga, and I still feel that it’s woefully misrepresented to the masses as some magical panacea of health and fitness.

– That being said, I took the class, kinda/sorta liked it (the instructor was less than to be desired), and I certainly do see the many benefits that yoga has to offer in terms of flexibility/mobility and the whole mind-body connection.

– As with anything, when done right, yoga is a tool and if it gets someone motivated to get off their keester, get out of their house and move around a little bit, who am I to poo-poo on it?

In light of this, I had still never really considered taking a Pilates class for whatever reason.  Maybe I felt I met my “trying new things quota” with the yoga experiment, or maybe I was just a teeny, tiny bit intimidated.  Whatever the reason, I never really had the inclination to try it.

That is up until a few weeks ago when a buddy of mine, Mike  – who works as a trainer at a local commercial gym here in Boston – sent me an email saying that his fitness manager approached him asking whether or not he felt I’d be interested in trying a Pilates class?

My initial reaction after reading went something like this:

 

But after thinking about it, I thought to myself “sure, why the hell not?  What do I have to lose?” I’m not that much of an a-hole where I can’t accept a free offer when its given.

Besides, I’m turning a new leaf, right?  I’m trying new things, venturing outside my meat-headed ways in an effort to become a more well-rounded, cultured human being.

Next thing you know, I’ll be wearing Lululemon pants!

Okay, not really.  That’s taking it a liiiiiiiitle too far.

So anyways, fast forwarding to this morning, I sent an email to Mike (who agreed to join me on this little adventure):

“We still on for today?  What time should I show up?  What should I wear?

He responds:

1:15. Wear shorts.  And underwear.

Dually noted.

At one O’clock, with a clean pair of underwear on hand, I made the seven minute walk down to BodyScapes Fitness in Coolidge Corner.  There, I met up with Mike and our instructor Shelley Hardin.

Right from the get go I felt really comfortable with Shelley.  She introduced herself  and we immediately started chatting about Pilates: what it is, who’s it for, and all the different variations.

For those not familiar – Pilates was designed and developed in the early 20th century (so it’s not that old) by Joseph Pilates, a German born physical-culturist who, I believe, came up with the idea as a way for bedridden soldiers during WWI to still be able to exercise.

In every sense, it was his belief that even if you had a shredded up arm, a broken leg, or some other form of illness or disability, you could still get a training effect.

And I am totally down with that, as I’m constantly telling people that you can ALWAYS train around an injury.

Expounding a bit further (cut/pasted from Wikipedia):

Pilates is a body conditioning routine that helps build flexibility and long, lean muscles, strength and endurance in the legs,abdominals, arms, hips, and back. It puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing to relieve stress and allow adequate oxygen flow to muscles, developing a strong core or center (tones abdominals while strengthening the back), and improving coordination and balance. 

My only qualm with the above definition is the whole notion that you can build long, lean muscles.  To be frank, this is utter nonsense, and it takes every ounce of willpower I have not to plant my face into the nearest wall every time I hear or see those words in succession.

Lets be clear:  a muscle has a set origin and insertion point, and the only way to make it “longer” is to increase the length of a bone. So, unless you’re into medieval torture or happen to be a character from Harry Potter, you’re not lengthening anything.

But that’s just semantics, and the last thing I want to do is make this into some long-winded rant that takes away from the actual discussion at hand.

Shelley explained to us that, much like yoga, there are several variations of Pilates and that the two most common are classical (mat based) Pilates and those variations that utilize the Reformer apparatus (STOTT being the most common, and one which Shelley said was very popular in Boston).

For her part, Shelley noted that we’d be doing classical Pilates since that’s what she studied and, well, we needed to keep things as basic and simple as possible since both Mike and I were newbies.

She took us into the group exercise room, placed a few mats on the floor, and we were off!

What I Liked

1.  As I noted, I felt really at ease with Shelley. For starters, she mentioned that the form of Pilates that she generally teaches has more of a base in Physical Therapy and corrective exercise, which I thought was pretty cool.  Secondly, she took the time to ask whether or not either of us had any injuries we were currently working around, which is something that the instructor from the yoga class I took just kinda haphazardly tip toed around.

Above all, she admitted to lifting heavy things on occasion, so she automatically earned a gold star in my book.

2. Unlike yoga which is generally done in a group setting with upwards of a couple dozen people under the tutelage of one instructor, Pilates has a little more of a one-on-one feel, and I really appreciated that Shelley was a little more “hands on” with the two of us.

As a coach myself, and as someone who takes more of a kinesthetic approach when doing so, it was interesting to listen and observe her give her cues and adjust us accordingly.

Oh, so THAT’s what that’s supposed to feel like.  Gotcha.

3. Interestingly, in a handful of ways, Pilates is the exact opposite of what I’ve programmed my body to do for the past decade.  I tend to want to brace and hold my breath for E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Whether it’s hoisting a barbell overhead my head, picking something heavy up off the ground, or, I don’t know, licking a stamp and slapping it on an envelop….

….I’m seemingly engrained to hold my breath, and brace like mofo.

Just learning how to inhale and exhale appropriately and without passing out was challenge in of itself, and probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  This includes sitting through an entire season of Sex and the City when Lisa and I first started dating, looking at this picture of model Larissa Riquelme and trying really hard not to see how intelligent she looks, and taking (and failing) my driver’s test – TWICE – when I was a teenager.

Yes, I failed twice. Don’t ask.

In any case, learning the proper breathing mechanics while performing all the exercises was really eye-opening and something I feel has a lot of applicability to what I do as a strength coach.

4.  Having actually done it now, I can say without wavering that Pilates is no cake walk and that it’s freakin godawful. But in a good way.

I like how every movement was easily progressed (or regressed) using any number of simple tools such as light dumbbells, a strap, or a block.

While I’m not going to disillusion anyone and say that you’re going to break personal records in the gym, there is something to be said for learning how to control your own bodyweight and being more cognizant of what you activate and when (and in what sequence).

Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera with me to take pictures, but I’m pretty sure this picture best represents what Mike and I looked like after our session:

I’ll admit it:  it was humbling.  But, by that same token, I felt AMAZING afterwards.

What I Disliked

1. The only drawback was that I was a little leery of all of the cues to “draw in the abs” and breath into the chest.  It seems Pilates buys into the drawing in or “hollowing method,” and I can’t say I’m a fan of that approach given the amount of time I spend coaching people to increase intra-abdominal pressure (PUSH OUT) – in an effort to increase spinal stability – when they’re lifting heavy weights.

But that’s just my personal opinion, and isn’t necessarily a knock against Pilates. I understand that it doesn’t use heavy weights, and that UN-LOADED spinal flexion is okay

Too, given the prominence of faulty breathing patterns we see in our society (most people are chest breathers and have no idea how to use their diaphragm), it’s a hard pill to swallow to actually cue people to breath into their chest.

But I get it.  Shelley fully explained why breathing into our chest was important – to learn to allow the ribs to move – and it wasn’t the end of the world.

2. Outside of that, however, other than my ego being crushed like a bug, I can’t say I had all that much to be negative about. Again, this is a testament to Shelley and the fact that she wasn’t trying to push Pilates as the end-all/be-all of everything.

That said, I can definitely see how given the wrong instructor (ie: someone who doesn’t take into account one’s movement quality, skill level, injury history (past and present), postural deficits, etc) this medium could be construed into one massive ball of fail, especially when you consider taking the spine into end ranges of motion.

But that’s just me being nit-picky.

I really did enjoy myself and I had a blast doing it.  I’ve been offered the invitation to go back, and contingent on surviving the barrage of ball busting I’m inevitably going to receive once my colleagues and athletes from CP read this, I think I’m going follow up on it.

If anything, I see this as a way to give myself a day to lay low on the heavy stuff, work on some postural imbalances, RELAX, and more importantly to have some fun.

That’s never a bad thing.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • 4dpharris

    Re: “Long, lean muscles”:

    Don’t we often talk about the anterior core (abs/obliques/hip flexors) getting “tight” or “short” as a risk of too many crunches?  While I think “long” is misleading, it probably actually makes sense if you take it to mean “this method of exercise emphasizes the ability to move through a full range of motion”.

    “Lean muscles” on the other hand, makes no sense to me at all.  I guess the translation is “LOL nobody likes being fat and we pinky swear we won’t do this” even if the program doesn’t do much to promote leanness.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Great point – but I really do feel a lot of practitioners feels it’s possible to make a muscle longer and they’re NOT referring to increasing ROM.

  • Shelley Hardin

    Hi Tony, Shelley here.  Thanks so much for writing about your experience!  Glad to hear that you felt amazing after the session.  That is the point after all!
    Just wanted to point out a few things that I probably wasn’t clear about before.  Classical Pilates is not only mat-based. In fact, “classical” Pilates stays true to the method Joesph Pilates originally designed, including the apparatus he created.  All types of Pilates styles include work on the apparatus and on the mat.  I chose to teach the mat work because a) it is safer, and b) it is important to move your own body before you try to move your own body AND the equipment. 

    Again, thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone and giving your body a chance to try something different.  Hopefully that will inspire others to try new things and challenge themselves mentally and physically. 

    ps.  I appreciate the pics!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Shelley!

      Thanks for chiming in (and for the clarifications!). I really enjoyed the session and appreciated you taking the time to take us meat heads through a session.

      Hopefully we can do it again sometime.

  • Jenniferblake33

    This article makes me so happy.  Your openmindedness and willingness to try new things is SO refreshing.  And I heart the pic of the sad kitty. 🙂
    I’ve been practicing Pilates for the past 15 years, teaching mat Pilates for 6.  The term “long lean muscles” is bunk.  It makes no sense at all, but I believe when Pilates came to the masses in the mid-90’s it was a major part of their marketing and the phrase just stuck. And the testimonials of people saying they looked leaner and taller. . .well, a major focus of Pilates is opening up and strengthening postural muscles.  Ergo, they just started standing up straight.  But that phrase never has, never will make it into my class.
    Whether or not you enjoy and or understand the benefits of Pilates depends a LOT on your instructor and it sounds like you had a great one.  Thanks for writing another funny, informative article!  

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Jennifer. Always appreciate the feedback!

  • Hank

    Great post! I just started taking it myself and love it. I am going to post something similar soon.
     

  • Cameron

    Tony, well done on a great post and congratulations for finally getting a picture of Larissa Riquelme into your blog.  Love your work!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yeah, what the heck took me so long??????? I never knew she existed until a few days ago.

  • Good stuff man. I was the same way towards Pilates and instead of taking a class first I just went all in and did a Mat certification course thru Stott Pilates. I wanted to get the full scope of it and the methodology behind it. I was very impressed and being the only guy in the class, and a pilates newbie at that, I was very humbled and moved terribly during it. Having said that I loved pilates for what its benefits towards low load movements especially for the hips & low back.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Daniel, really appreciate it!

  • Jay

     Now Appearing at CP: Tony’s Tulip Tuesdays!!

    Just kidding that is awesome you did that and something I have been thinking of trying as well. I like the idea of increasing the mind body connection, and it is easy on the hips!

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahahaha. Hey, you never know….;o)

  • Drew

    “That said, I can definitely see how given the wrong instructor (ie: someone who doesn’t take into account one’s movement quality, skill level, injury history (past and present), postural deficits, etc) this medium could be construed into one massive ball of fail, especially when you consider taking the spine into end ranges of motion.”

    This quote also applies to weight training. Of course, a wise instructor is essential to any sort of training.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Of course….;o)

  • Kellie Davis

    I recently had the humbling experience of starting yoga back up after a 10 year hiatus. I had no clue what muscular endurance was until yoga. Yeah, what I thought it was and what it actually is are two different things. And let’s just say I don’t have it. Or as my daughter noted, “Mom, ou were shaking the whole time.”

    Kudos to you for trying this out. I have several clients who do Pilates along with strength training and adore it. They also have incredible instructors, which indeed makes all the difference.

    I may get brave and try it someday.

    • TonyGentilcore

      DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Domenic

    Tony, 
               I always tell people to check out your blog for the best tips on the most obscure new hot chicks there are.  Keep it up!

    Did you think that first sentence was headed somewhere else?  Good stuff as always man.

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  • “M”

    “So you may be wondering to yourself, “Um, yeah, Tony, how in the heck
    did this ever transpire?” Good question, because if you were to rate on
    a scale the likelihood I’d ever take a Pilates class (1 being “lets go,
    baby!”, and 10 being “Dude, what’s next: eating a tofurkey burger and
    peeing sitting down?), I’d say it would be around a + 56,000.”

    See, I never understand why guys say this stuff if they know anything about the method.

    One, Joseph Pilates was a guy. The first introduction of his method was to prisoners of war so their muscles wouldn’t atrophy as they healed from injuries sustained in battle. They were also guys.

    Additionally, other multimillionaire guys — Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Jason Kidd, the UC Berkeley football team — also credit Pilates method for giving their conditioning an edge.

    Even Balanchine, who made his dancers do it, was a guy.

    I guess, given all that, we girls should feel lucky you guys “let” us do it. You usually hog all the really good conditioning tools for yourselves.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Uh, M……it was said sarcastically. You know, tongue-in-cheek. Also, I took the flippin the class! I liked it, even (hence why I wrote about it).

      I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s the bees knees and that it’s something I’d do long-term (I like to lift heavy stuff), but certainly the post was meant to highlight the fact that I stepped outside my comfort zone and tried something new.

      If you can’t recognize sarcasm when you read it, why even go out of your way to bust my chops?