Pilates and your inner movie star

Laying flat on my back, legs balanced in the air with both feet held firmly in harnesses, I contemplate my position.

A woman’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “It’s going to be weird,” she says. “You are going to feel like you don’t know what you are doing up there. But you are going to have to trust me.”

With my legs still in the harnesses, I think about my stomach muscles, focus on breathing and pull my legs down about eight inches. Lying on a moving table with springs, this pushes my body backwards several inches. I can feel the muscles in my legs, stomach and bottom contract.

This is easy. I could do this exercise in the Energy Pilates and Fitness Studio in Cricket Square, George Town, all afternoon. I excitedly push my legs up and down in the harnesses, under the careful eye of fitness instructor Colleen Brummer, as she tells me to breathe in and out.

The harnesses seem to jump-start my imagination as I picture myself in the villain’s lair in the middle of a Quentin Tarantino film.

Then curiosity gets the better of me and I turn my head toward the wall-to-wall mirror to see what I look like with my feet in harnesses.

I am disappointed that even in this odd position, I don’t look like I am in danger. In fact, I look pretty ordinary.

“Everyone who tries out this machine for the first time has to look in the mirror,” Colleen says.

The moving table I am on is one of several specialised machines in the studio, called reformers. These keep clients challenged and involved in Pilates, an exercise programme that incorporates core strength, flexibility and resistance training.

“Reformers add that extra element of something different,” Colleen says. “It is a crazy-looking machine. And putting your feet in straps is a nice break on a routine that a client might have been doing for years. It keeps people interested,” Colleen smiles.

We move on to the floor mat, where I do exercises lying down and standing up. For a Pilates first timer like myself, co-ordinating breathing, posture and movement simultaneously means having to tell myself to be patient. I tell my over-caffeinated mind to slow down and forget about all the other things I have to get done.

There are reasons why Pilates is gaining momentum.

One compelling reason is its reputation for getting participants physical results. Doing Pilates three times a week for three months can step up your fitness level considerably. Combine Pilates with a cardiovascular workout, and the average person with a few extra pounds can lose a significant amount of body fat, increase muscle mass and drop a few clothing sizes.

Many people who suffer from chronic neck, shoulder or back pain find that Pilates is one of the few exercise programmes they can do without pain and still get a great work out, Brummer explains.

About 50 per cent of the people coming to the studio have some form of chronic pain. Physically there is nothing wrong with them, but high-impact cardio or training with heavy weights aggravates the pain. Many clients have been referred by a chiropractor, physiotherapist or physician to keep working on flexibility and building core strength.

What is also stepping up Pilates’ appeal are the celebrity and women’s magazines which seem to have an endless list of Hollywood stars, who credit Pilates for regaining their svelte physiques, especially after having a baby. Angela Jolie, Madonna, Uma Thurman and Jennifer Anniston are just a few A-listers who claim that Pilates is a part of their fitness regime.

The morning after my Pilates session, my body had the ache of a new workout, but it felt good. In the office a few people said that I looked different. Was more rested? Had put on new make up?

My responses were non-committal, but I could feel my inner movie star beginning to emerge.   WH 


Stephen Clarke