Hard-core Pilates may be brutal but the results speak for themselves.
Pilates. Is it just me, or does the word fill most people with mind-numbing boredom and a sudden desire to do anything – rearrange the laundry cupboard, buy light bulbs, tackle that tax return – rather than lie down and breathe?
I’ve always said I’d rather do anything but Pilates, even though I knew it would be good for me. I knew it would make me strong, toned and supple, and would develop my core muscles. I knew it might give me some sort of inner peace and, very best of all, give me a flat stomach (which is, after all, the holy grail of exercise for most women).
The problem is that if I really have to exercise I want something like running, that makes me feel the burn and gives me a bit of an adrenalin hit. From all I had heard, this was not something that Pilates came moderately close to delivering.
Recently, though, I have had recurrent back problems. At my last session, my chiropractor shook her head. “Pilates,” she said firmly. “You have to do Pilates.” I whimpered and covered my face with my hands, but she was unrelenting and shoved me in the direction of Caron Bosler, a pneumatic blonde with a can-do Texan attitude and killer abs.
Originally a dancer, Bosler has been teaching her own special brand of hard-core Pilates for the past 17 years and rolls her eyes at anyone who says it is either boring or easy. “Lots of people say that they can do Pilates and that it’s no sweat, but they’re talking about the remedial English method of Pilates,” she explains. We are in the studio in her London flat and, while she talks, she sets up a terrifying looking machine with various springs and straps.
Bosler explains that, just like yoga, Pilates has a spectrum from slow and quiet to fast, exhausting and very painful. The version she teaches is called Boot Camp Pilates and has come to Britain from California.
“I like to work on the machine because you can use heavy springs and lots of repetitions to feel the burn and get really sore. And it’s easier to torture someone on the machines.”
No kidding. We don’t work on a mat at all. Instead, she straps me into a machine using springs against my weight to increase the pressure on my muscles. I thought I was relatively fit, but after five minutes with Bosler I’m begging for mercy and completely redefining the way I think about Pilates.
Bosler is an inspirational teacher who loves her work, cranking up the sound system in her flat and then forcing my body into positions it had never ventured to before.
Her clients range from teenagers to people in their nineties and include the odd celebrity. “The first thing I want all my clients to achieve is to have a good time, as no one will keep it up if it’s boring. Playing music and working quickly through exercises keeps things fresh and means that each session is very interactive.”
All her sessions are one-on-one and she promises astonishing results. As a trained dancer, she achieves this in part by the use of dance moves in her Pilates routines, and earlier this year released her fourth book, Caron Bosler: 15 Minute Dance Workout.
“It makes sense to mix Pilates with dance. Joseph Pilates used a studio based at a dance school and often dealt with dancers, so couldn’t help being influenced by them. He’d had a varied career as a martial arts expert and circus performer, and if you study Pilates you can see how he borrowed from dance.”
Today Bosler happily incorporates dance moves into her own classes to add to the variety of her teaching style. “If I know someone has had ballet training I tell them to project to the back audience, and anyone who has had ballet training has a certain grace and elegance.
“Sometimes I mess around with clients, particularly the older ones, doing Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers dance moves, because as long as the shoulders are open and energy is moving through the body from the core, then it’s using elements of Pilates and it makes the class so much more fun.”
By the end of my class I’m exhausted and my body feels like it has done the equivalent of a long run or a hard gym session. I’d like to come back for more. She laughs. “Lots of younger men who use a gym regularly think that Pilates is just too easy, but if I get them on the machine for a bit, they always change their mind. I just like them to feel that nice little burn and then see if they still think it’s easy.”
- More toned – hard-core Pilates has a serious toning effect. Regular sessions should see a marked improvement in the tone of problem spots like inner thighs and upper arms.
- A stronger back – recurrent back problems are often down to a weakness in core muscles, which Pilates targets, strengthening and lengthening the spine.
- Improved posture – hours spent at a computer play havoc with posture, which can lead to back problems as well as RSI (repetitive strain injury). Pilates encourages good posture and an awareness of the importance of breathing from your core.
- A flatter stomach – too much fat on your stomach can increase the chance of diabetes. Pilates targets core muscles, minimising fat around your middle and with regular practice, flattening your stomach.
- A happier outlook – regular exercise increases levels of happy-hormone endorphins.