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I’ve never done proper Pilates before. I’ve tried the odd stretching class where they get you to do some Pilates moves but I’ve never used the machines. So when Flex Studio invites me to partake in a 10-hour Pilates Challenge, I’m intrigued. Pilates always seems too tame for me: when it comes to working out, I tend to go for more energetic, aggressive fitness classes like Muay Thai or HIIT routines…Lately, I haven’t been able to push myself as hard as I’d like due to some chronic illnesses I am battling. Pilates seems like the perfect activity to try: it’s not crazy intense but it’s still really good exercise. Plus, it’s meant to do wonders for your flexibility, which I need since my once innate flexibility powers seem to be getting weaker: I can’t touch the floor like I used to and I can’t hold a stretch for more than a few seconds.
Below, I share diary of my Pilates Challenge adventure. Find out how it felt, what I learned and what happened to my body.
Day 1 – Oct 29: Pilates Allegro Multilevel with Megan
For my first time, I am thrown into the Pilates deep end with an Allegro multilevel class. As per the class name, there are students of all levels, the teacher offers variations for each movement so everyone can push themselves to their individual limits, and we are using the Allegro brand of Pilates machines (usually referred to as a reformer, or a carriage). Megan, the instructor, is lovely and makes me feel comfortable right away. There are only 8 other students and I have no idea what I am doing but by mimicking my next door neighbor and relying on Megan’s helpful asides, I am able to follow the class somewhat. We do a range of exercises using all different techniques on the carriage. Since I have never actually seen a Pilates machine before this class, and since I have not had any kind of prior introduction to Pilates, it’s hard to remember what I was doing. The time flies by and I come out feeling like I want more. From what I have just experienced, Pilates is a subtle discipline, with the movements working smaller muscle groups. My next class is a private session with Megan, which I am looking forward to because I get to learn about the machine and the basic movements.
Day 2 – Nov 1: Private Session With Megan
Today is a one-on-one with Megan, who is truly one of the more grounded, intelligent and calming fitness instructors that I have had the pleasure of encountering in Hong Kong. After a chat about my overall health (a work in progress), and my exercise habits (inconsistent with disappointing results), Megan gives me some insight into the philosophy of Pilates. Pilates works best as a complement to another physical discipline you may be struggling with. In and of itself, it is not necessarily meant to be your sole form of exercise. Josef Pilates, its creator, suffered from a range of muscular and nervous system conditions and originally developed the moves whilst he was bedridden: the machines with the resistance springs came about when he realized the springs in his mattress could assist him to perform movements he was unable to do on his own. Megan also emphasizes that Pilates is about your own body: moves are personalized to your needs and you are on a journey to get to know your physical self on a more intimate basis. This resonates with me as I often feel totally disconnected from my body. After years of being in chronic pain on an almost daily basis, not to mention the regular physical fatigue I experience, I am a pro at overwhelming my physical limitations with my mental fortitude. It is comforting to take a moment to reconnect with my physical self on the Pilates carriage. So far, I like the rigor and technical aspect of Pilates. I also enjoy the assist the machine provides during what feels like extreme stretching- it’s incredibly therapeutic. Without the body weight pressure on your joints, you can go deeper into each movement.
Day 3 – Nov 2: Ab Blast Pilates Allegro with Elvin
This class feels less like Pilates (though I am no expert) and more like Barre or an abs workout (not a total surprise given the class name). The Allegro reformer seems like a side prop rather than then main focus of the class. Elvin, the instructor, makes it clear this is an advanced class and with this being my third Pilates session, I cannot keep up. He is as patient as he can be, but my ineptitude is frustrating. The pace of the class is fast, and I am not able to complete the full set for most of the exercises. I find myself yearning for Megan’s more nurturing approach.
Day 4 – Nov 3: Pilates Group Trio with Megan
A trio is basically a semi-private Pilates class with up to three students. Due to some last-minute cancellations, I get to enjoy another private session with Megan, who is fast becoming my favorite fitness teacher. This session is all about establishing some foundations in my pilates training. Megan goes through all the basic movements and exercises I need to know about to be able to semi-fluently follow a group class. Like most disciplines, Pilates has its own language. I get more intimate with the main apparatus, aka the reformer (also referred to during class as the carriage). There is also The Chair, The Mat, The Barrel, The Pedi-Pole and The Cadillac but we leave those aside for today. I learn about The Hundreds, an exercise that involves making tiny movements with your arms stretched out in front of you whilst in stirrups. I learn about The Imprint (one of Megan’s students cleverly calls it The Beyonce Butt), which is the protective positioning of your lower back against the machine during the exercise. I do all kinds of exercises that target very specific muscles that I fear I have almost never put to work. I greatly enjoy the class. Pilates has the therapeutic effects of a really good Thai message, thanks to the stretching inherent to all the positions, and yet it’s also a workout, so I do feel somewhat virtuous at the end of it! And the next day, with my muscles in pain, I can feel that it’s working.
Day 5 – Nov 5: Xtend Barre Multilevel with Katie
Due to scheduling issues, I end up doing an Xtend Barre class instead of Pilates and regrettably, I don’t enjoy it for even a minute. While I am sure to cause extreme controversy with this statement: I can officially say that Barre, basically an athletic workout inspired by ballet positions, is not for me. It’s repetitive, fast-paced and supremely boring. I remember why I gave up ballet to take up salsa dancing when I was young. Also, I don’t think I have ever been to such an unfriendly exercise class. While Katie is a lovely and cheerful, doing her best to help me as I struggle through the class, the class participants are all blank faces and hard stares, not to mention an unwillingness to move even an inch to accommodate others. Yikes!
Day 6 – Nov 9: Pilates Group Trio with Anna
Today is a strange day. I attend the class during the last few hours of the US Presidential election, and I am totally distracted. I keep sneaking peaks at my phone, and watch the screen as America elects Donald J. Trump, in one of the greatest upsets in political history. Long story short, I wasn’t too focused on Pilates but I have to say: Bonita is an excellent instructor. She is patient and cheery, and I am able to forget about the election craziness for most of the hour and focus on small muscles I did not previously know I had. We do some carriage work, some mat work and I get to try The Chair for the first time, which is fun. I realize during the class how important focus is when practicing Pilates. Unlike disciplines like running, where you can be listening to music or reviewing your company strategy in you head, if you look away, ponder a deep thought or distract yourself with what’s around you, you will lose control of your posture and alignment during Pilates’ specific movements.
Day 7 – Nov 10: Pilates Group Trio with Megan
Today during another Trio session with Megan (and this time, there are two other students) and I get to see a different side of Pilates. After some mat work (side note: I very much enjoy the foam roller which really opens up my back and shoulders and am thinking of investing in one for home use. It’s really therapeutic for someone like me who spends hours sitting at a desk), we go into jump board exercises! Turns out Pilates HIIT is a thing! We do jumping jacks and tuck jumps and ski jumps and star jumps, all while lying on the carriage. You can push harder because you don’t have the pull of gravity (like when you’re standing) and your joints are protected. It is so much fun, and a great interval workout- I really got my sweat on. Definitely want to do jump-boarding again.
Day 8 – Nov 11: BLT Pilates Allegro with Karin
This class is super tough- lots of movements I can’t hold for very long and lots of positions I don’t grasp technically. Karin, the instructor, immediately notices my lack of experience and does her best to assist me during many of the exercises. At this point in my Pilates journey, my muscles hurt in between lessons and things do feel firmer. Some movements are definitely getting easier but on the whole, I am still a beginner and while I am naturally quite flexible, which helps, my abs need some serious work, as does my coordination. I enjoyed the class but I had trouble keeping up. Of all the sessions, this is by far the most exhausting. It is a Friday evening though, so maybe I’m just tired from a long week.
Day 9 – Nov 15th: Pilates Allegro Multilevel with Karin
I start the week with Karin, the same instructor I ended last week with, an energetic Italian who will not give up on getting you to push yourself and engage your abs! The class was less intense than the BLT one but still a very brisk pace. It was certainly an invigorating way to start the day.
Day 10 – Nov 16th: Pilates Allegro/Mat Combo Multilevel with Fang
This class is tough. I am definitely lacking compared to the other students and the instructor has to spend extra time with me. As I struggle through the movements, I think to myself that the connection you feel with an instructor makes a real difference to your session. Are they on the demanding side or are they easygoing? Energetic or quiet? Fast-paced or more relaxed? How good are they at explaining movements and exercises? Do they have a sense of humor? I realize I probably do best with a laid-back style of teaching. The strict and intense vibe is not for me, especially given that I need help during sessions. Flex Studio has a really fantastic stable of instructors. They are all extremely experienced, attentive and generous with their knowledge and time.
Day 11 – Nov 22th – Pilates Allegro Multilevel with Megan
So happy to end my Flex Pilates journey with Megan, whom I have really bonded with. I love her classes and for me, her style of teaching is ideal. Since she was my instructor for my first ever Pilates session, I will always see Pilates in the way she teaches it, as a restorative, therapeutic and invigorating form of exercise that I hope to continue practicing going forward.
The Flex Studio Pilates Challenge was inspired by the founder of the discipline. According to Josef Pilates, after 10 Pilates sessions you feel better, after 20 sessions you look better and after 30 sessions, you have transformed your body. After 11 hours, I can say that I do definitely feel better. And fitter. I am more aware of my body, everything is tighter and firmer and more sculpted, and I have vastly improved my posture. I find myself standing and sitting straighter. My clothes fit better, and I have a flatter midsection. My sleep has improved, too, which is a huge and unexpected bonus. I want to keep going on my Pilates journey.
I also loved Flex Studio. It’s a gorgeous, bright space with a very comfortable changing room. The warmth of the front desk staff made a huge difference to my overall experience. I did my sessions at Flex’s Central space (they also have a Wong Chuk Hang studio and one in Stanley) and I felt so welcomed. It was straightforward to book classes, they were very accommodating of last-minute schedule changes and flexible the two times I arrived late. Ditto for the Flex teachers, who really love what they do and want to share their knowledge and expertise. There’s a real personal touch, not least of which because classes are small (6 to 8 students max) so the teachers can spend a lot of time with each student.
All images courtesy of Flex Studio.