Tony Takes a Pilates Class
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?
1:15. Wear shorts. And underwear.
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.