If you’re a facebook fan*, you’ll know that I recently started Pilates classes (or you won’t, you probably don’t take that much interest in my life).
Having been to around 20 classes, I’m clearly now an expert in the field.
And so I thought I’d share some wisdom. The below nuggets of knowledge are very hard-earned – many bruises and aching muscles went into the compiling of this extensive list.
Which brings me neatly to….
1. It’s ok if your muscles shake like you’re an epileptic in the midst of a particularly violent fit.
At the start, this quaking caused me no end of embarrassment. Then I realised that it’s actually a great indicator that my muscles are working. Also those tremors can be an excellent measure of progress – I tremble much less than I did a month ago and there will come a day, eventually, when I barely shudder.
That’s the day when I’ll go around boasting about my hardcore abs of steel and inviting people to punch me in the belly…..if they dare.
2. Exercise balls can cause all manner of pain.
They look friendly enough but those inflatable balls can reduce grown men to tears. My dignity has taken a beating over those things, honestly.
If you’re reluctant to join a class, my advice would be: buy yourself a ball. They usually come with an instructional DVD/booklet and those exercises are a great starting point.
3. I do not respond well to military-style instruction.
One week our instructor went on holiday. His replacement (who we’ll call Perky Miltant Girl) seemed friendly enough. Petite, warm and with a big smile, I thought she’d be a pushover. Instead PMG started barking out orders like an extra from Apocalypse Now.
During one particularly heinous move (something involving roll-ups on an exercise ball), which I’d never attempted before, I collapsed to the side and missed the reps.
She noticed, called me out on it in front of the whole class and made me do five shameful push-ups as a ‘penalty’.
This burned (and even the memory of it sends me into a rage). Not because of the punishment – if I had flaked out, I would’ve deserved it – but because I physically couldn’t do it. I have many faults but I’m not a quitter and pushed myself to the limit to do that move.
4. Your own bodyweight can be just as effective as fancy equipment.
There are mornings where I walk into the gym and it looks like the playground of a highly disturbed child – exercise balls strewn over the floor, foam rollers in the corner, those bizarre circles that usually are wedged between sweaty thighs, weights of various sizes scattered near the yoga mats.
That’s all well and good, some of those things really hurt (in a good way). But it’s also true that some of the most difficult exercises I’ve ever done involved nothing more than my mat and muscles.
Lifting your own weight can be a killer. So if you want to increase your strength, tone your core and/or build your muscles, the best tools are right in front of you.
Oh and fun fact: there are ants that can lift up to 100 times their bodyweight. So next time you feel like flaking out on your floor work, just remember that somewhere a tiny ant is calling you a loser.
5. Quasimodo and I have something in common.
Before taking Pilates, I had no idea my default sitting position was somewhere between Quasimodo and Golem. Yep, I’m a huncher. To look at me, you’d think I had the weight of the world on my shoulders (whereas I’m probably just thinking about cake).
These days, I still slouch but at least I know it. There’s nothing like bending yourself in impossible positions and regularly busting out insane ab moves to make you aware of your spine. Your mother was right – good posture is important.
6. Getting up early to hit the gym is only a drag for the first five minutes.
After that, you’re gold. Not only have you accomplished something before most people have put their breakfast bacon in the pan (what? breakfast bacon’s a thing) but you are going to take the benefits (those lovely endorphins) with you into whatever the day may hold.
My class starts at 6:30am. I’m not going to lie, it sucks getting up when it’s dark (especially in the winter months) but I do it twice a week because the initial shock of the alarm is vastly outweighed by the smug, wholesome feeling of tired muscles.
7. Discard your sense of shame early in the game.
To my shame, I’ve always been a self-conscious exerciser. It’s the main reason I loathe gyms.
The rational part of my brain knows everyone is concentrating on their own thing, but the irrational part (which comprises about 80% of entire brain mass) screams: “oh my GOD, they’re looking, they are looking at my sweaty pits and flabby muffin top! They want me to die, I am that disgusting to them!”
(yeah, my inner voice is extremely melodramatic)
There is just no way around this but to (wo)man up. Pilates in particular will have you contorting yourself in very unattractive ways (legs over the head, ass waving in the air) but the point is that everyone else is too busy negotiating their own backsides to worry about yours.
Just let loose, have fun and, if it bothers you that much, find a bigger class for greater anonymity.
8. If you want to lose weight, you’re going to have to do more than Pilates.
Pilates doesn’t shed the pounds. There, I said it. It might get you leaner, it will certainly make you stronger and it will definitely tighten your core, but there will be minimal weight loss unless you combine it with something else.
Don’t believe these celebrities sucking on rice crackers and telling interviewers that the only thing they do to stay in shape is Pilates. It’s a foul lie (unless they are naturally skinny of course, I try to give the Miley Cyrus’s of the world the benefit of the doubt).
My goals in taking Pilates were to tone up, get stronger and deal with some back pain issues. It’s doing that beautifully.
Sometimes there is too much emphasis on that number on the scale.
9. Pilates (or probably any exercise) will make you a zen master…even if it’s only temporary.
It doesn’t matter how foul a mood I’m in when the alarm goes, I always finish class with a beatific smile on my face.
It’s not just a great physical workout, it’s a spring clean for the mind. I usually burst through the door after class (at 7:30am) with a smile on my face. Unfortunately the only person in the household who’s also awake at that time is Dog, so he’s the lucky recipient of all that good feeling.
I’m not proud of it but most mornings I drop to my knees, wrap my arms around that fuzzy head, look into his inscrutable eyes and indulge in some mortifying baby talk along the lines of: “how’s my handsome guy? how’s my big fella? aren’t you the fuzziest, smoochiest, most gorgeous dog ever? yes you are….YES YOU ARE!”
It’s degrading for both of us but, as long as someone is touching him, Dog bears the mushy stuff stoically.
10. It’s ok to dress up for the gym
Don’t get me wrong – I am not that girl. I hate high heels, I rarely wear make-up and most of my clothes come from the ‘sale’ section of chain department stores. Basically, I don’t give a teeny, tiny, rat’s ass about fashion.
And yet, mere weeks into my class, I found myself trawling the internet for cute tops and booty shorts. While it’s fairly certain that I will never actually wear booty shorts, the illicit thrill of imagining I could was pretty heady.
In the end, I became the proud owner of some cute cut-off pants and very comfortable sports bras. But even if I’d indulged in those shorts, I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.
My gym has a lot of floor-to-ceiling mirrors so you spend 95% of the class staring at yourself. If you don’t like what you see, it’s not going to motivate you.
Weigh in: What life lessons has the gym taught you? Ever tried Pilates? Are you a self-conscious exerciser?
*if you’re not a facebook fan, please consider becoming one by clicking the link on the right. I post a lot of extra goodies on there, not free cake unfortunately but, given technology and time, that might be a possibility in the future.
**this is from ogorgeous.com. Those guys don’t pay me or give me free stuff, I’ve actually never tried their products but they’re on my WANT list.