After a two-week vacation, I welcomed resuming this Fitness Challenge column. Why? Because in that short space of time, I managed to put on some extra pounds. I love to eat and I did just what I loved—a lot more than usual. So a Pilates class was the order of the day on Monday. Certified teacher Madeleine Miller showed me the ins and outs of the exercise at her recently opened Pilates studio at the Hotel Normandie, St Ann’s. Pilates is a body-conditioning exercise that enhances flexibility, strength and co-ordination. A member of Body Control Pilates in London, Miller has been teaching the exercise for the past seven years and practising it herself for the last 12. She says Pilates is great for toning and strengthening the muscles of the core, legs, arms, hips and back. Unlike many Pilates instructors, who focus mainly on floor exercises, Miller incorporates various machines into her workout routines. “They add opposition and resistance and make it more interesting,” she explained.
I started on the Reformer Machine. Miller placed a weighted ball in each hand and told me to do some arm lifts for about two minutes. I got through those quite easily and Miller seemed impressed. “Very good,” she said. “You will feel your oblique muscles working to stabilise you.” Then it was on to leg exercises, which Miller said aim to align the body. She placed my legs in straps attached to the machine to add resistance and I did various stretching movements to strengthen the thighs and gluteus maximus (butt). Miller then guided me through leg lifts, which, for best results, must be performed while keeping the abdominal muscles firm and tight. She said the exercise puts emphasis on spinal and pelvic alignment. I also did two sets of side stretches on the resistance exercise machine called the Wunda Chair, which helps one maintain control while stretching. In Pilates, control as well as concentration, precision, breathing, and flowing movements are key. Although it’s not as intense as some other physical activities, Miller said when the exercises are done rapidly, you can work up a sweat.
Sculpt the body
Miller, who teaches a small, intimate class of clients in their early 20s to mid-50s, explained that Pilates is also great for relieving tension and stress, as “you have to concentrate and focus while you’re working.” In addition, Pilates increases circulation and helps to sculpt the body. Miller said people who do Pilates regularly have better posture, are less prone to injury, and experience better overall health. And while the exercise is fairly popular in T&T, she said not many men are into it, as they believe it’s a woman’s thing. That’s a notion Miller hopes to change. “Yes, that is a common misconception—but Pilates is for everybody,” she maintained. “It’s very heavy work… A lot of my instructors in London are men.” Miller said she first started Pilates to help treat her scoliosis (an abnormal curving of the spine) which has significantly improved over the years. She recommends the activity to those with similar muscular ailments, as Pilates is known to assist with muscle imbalance. After doing some research I discovered that Pilates was created by Joseph H Pilates, who used the exercise to rehabilitate bedridden or immobile patients during World War I. Overall, Pilates was a pleasant surprise for me. I expected to be on the ground on an exercise mat stretching and rolling my body every which way. But with the different machines incorporated into the hour-long class, and Miller’s easygoing persona, it was enjoyable and fun.
Fun: Six out of ten.Expense: $80 (mat-work class as part of a course) to $300 (private one-off class).
Skills needed: Strength, flexibility,
Convenience: Monday–Friday, 7 am/9 pm