Out There: Persuaded By Pilates

It may look strange, but Susan Lacke discovered just how effective Pilates is. Illustration: N.C. Winters

Who knew that Pilates was such a good core workout?

“So this machine —”

“Is from ‘Fifty Shades of Grey!’” I interrupted excitedly. In the middle of the room, chains dangled from the columns of a structure similar to a canopy bed.

“Um, no,” Ashly said as she glared at me, “just … no. It’s called the Reformer.”

“Ooh, the Reformer! Sounds kinky.”

“Are you going to be like this for the whole hour?”

“Probably.”

Truth be told, I only signed up for Pilates lessons as a favor to my friend Ashly, who needed to log teaching hours to become certified as an instructor.

Though I was so proud of her for finding something she was passionate about, I had a hard time accepting Pilates as a legitimate workout. I frequently watched the parade of middle-aged women exiting the Pilates classes at my gym while I ran on the treadmill — they rarely, if ever, seemed to break a sweat!

Still, I wanted to support my friend. Besides, it was only Pilates. How hard could it really be?

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“So we’re going to start by sitting up straight.” Ashly demonstrated perfect form. I pushed my shoulders back. “No, Susan. Straight.”

“I am straight!” I scoffed.

“No.” Ashly reached across and pulled me up by my skull: “Now you’re straight. Next, I want you to activate your core muscles.”

I exhaled as I sucked in my belly button, my nostrils flaring.

“What are you doing?”

“Activating my core,” I grunted through clenched teeth.

“You look like you’re pooping.”

Ashly maneuvered me into the proper position, pushing my rib cage together like she was closing a coin purse. “OK, now push out with your legs. Inhale going up, exhale going down,” she sang as I awkwardly maneuvered through her directions. “Activate your core. No, your core. No, your core. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Core.”

I was breathing like a dying fish on the shore — loud gasps that would concern bystanders if I had been at, say, the grocery store. But Ashly squeezed my rib cage together again and looked on with satisfaction.

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“Good job! How do you feel?”

“Ow.”

Ashly chuckled softly as I leaned back on the Reformer and rubbed my stomach. I had just used muscles I didn’t even know I had, and they burned. As I lay there moaning, I realized that while I was eye-rolling at the Pilates parade at my gym, they were probably doing the same to me: Aww, she does marathons. That’s so cute! I can stop bullets with my stomach. Super-abdominals, activate!

Six months later, Ashly has earned her instructor certification, and I’m one of her most loyal clients. Each week, she guides me as I whoosh air in and out of my lungs until I think I’m going to pass out. But I’m improving, and my running is much better for it.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so smug. Turns out this Pilates stuff is legit.

I still think the Reformer is a kinky name, though.

This piece first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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