Before this morning, Pilates was, to me, just a lot of crunches with little pulses, or leg lifts with little pulses or arm circles with little pulses. I had done a couple Pilates DVDs, and, sure, I could feel the burn sometimes, but it didn’t interest me much. But when Ansley Watson, owner of Joie de Vivre Pilates Studio, contacted me at 303, I decided to give it another try. A live class would bring a little more to the table than a DVD, I imagined.
Ansley and I met up on the sidewalk outside the studio on 29th and Wyandot Street and I told her I’d never done Pilates before. “I’ve done yoga before, but I guess they’re different.”
“Well, yeah,” Ansley replied, opening the door to a studio painted a sunny yellow. “Pilates is done on machines.”
I followed her into the studio, and, sure enough, there was a small group of machines as well as a cabinet with foam rolls and those rings that you squeeze between your hands that tighten every muscle in your arms (usually if you squeeze them tight enough they sproing out of control and hit you in the chin) and stability balls on the opposite wall. The machines themselves looked like weight benches made out of smooth wood and also kinda like torture devices with all of their straps and springs.
We got right into the first exercise. The benches of the machines can have two sections so it looks like a massage table with shoulder pads (Cadillac) or the bottom section pulls out so the whole bench slides toward and away from the base where the straps are attached (Reformer). Ansley put me on a machine for a Reformer class. I started on my back with my toes on the bar at the bottom. I went into a series of squats, where the resistance came from springs attached to the bench I was lying on. After a minute of those, I did another minute of the same exercise but only going halfway up. I did these with the bar at the bottom behind my toes, then under the middle of my feet and finally under my heels. This slight change of position was enough to make me feel a burn in every part of my legs, from quads, glutes and hamstrings to calves, shins and feet.
The focus of this class is interval training—and if you’re familiar with Miss BeFit, you will know she is a fan—with emphasis on strength training and stretching. Ansley used to practice a combination of yoga and Pilates, but after a car accident that left her shoulder injured, she found that these classes seemed to aggravate her injury more than heal it. It turns out that the yoga part of her classes stretched her shoulder in a way that was unnatural because you are always pushing for longer lines. When Ansley worked more with Pilates, it gave her the stretching that was necessary, but it also helped a great deal with strengthening her muscles again.
Before our next exercise, Ansley asked if I had any injuries. I told her about a groin injury that happened in dance class seven years ago that severely limited my flexibility in my left leg. She showed me how to balance my movements for the next exercise on my right leg so that my injured leg could keep up, rather than overcompensate. When I turned on to my right side to do the same scissor kick-like exercise on my left leg, Ansley observed that my movements on this side were much sturdier and I seemed stronger, but I fatigued faster.
Interesting, especially as I’m a righty.
Ansley then explained to me, while I was hard at work on leg circles with my foot in a strap, that injuries like ours could have happened ,ultimately, because of something as simple as our posture or the way we walk. The trauma of the injury was just a last straw of an unnatural pose. For example, Ansley was a swimmer in high school and her shoulder actually started bothering her then. After that, perhaps she wore a heavy bag on that shoulder every day and slouched at her desk until her accident yanked her shoulder that much out of place. She said that my left side was sturdier because I baby that side now that it’s been injured. What if I’ve always cocked that hip out when I stand, or lie on that side on the hard floor when I’m watching a movie and my groin injury was nature’s way of saying STAND UP STRAIGHT?
What Ansley found in Pilates was the rehabilitation she needed and the strength training to maintain. I loved that I had finally found out why my leg wouldn’t heal, I was getting a strengthening workout without the creaking joints that usually come with weight machines and, with the conscious lengthening of my spine and muscles, I felt like I was getting the kind of long-lines workout that I used to get in ballet class.
During my class, Ansley sat by me the whole time, (a private class is recommended the first couple times you go for this very purpose) picking up on my strengths and weaknesses, and tweaking the workout to smooth over trouble spots. We ended the class with some plié squats on the machine and I realized Ansley had custom-tailored me a workout based on my active background, my injury and my personal fitness goals.
I left the yellow studio and stepped out into the real sunshine feeling the old wobble I used to get in my legs after a good ballet class but without the fatigue I would have felt after a weight lifting session. I feel like I have a better understanding of how to rehabilitate my leg as well as how to avoid an injury in the future.
How do you like Pilates, Denver? If you’d like to try it, Joie de Vivre is offering a few more weeks of four classes for $37.50. Treat yourself with a few sessions with Ansley and report back to Miss BeFit.