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We Tried It: Reformer Pilates

As part of our ongoing series, "We Tried It," health reporter Catherine Pearson and nutrition and fitness editor Meredith Melnick tried a session at True Pilates studio in midtown Manhattan.
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As part of our ongoing series, We Tried It, health reporter Catherine Pearson and nutrition and fitness editor Meredith Melnick tried a session at True Pilates studio in midtown Manhattan.

Catherine's Take:

I have long wanted to try Pilates, and not just the mat class, but the real deal. Like, on the machines. They're so intriguing -- How do you use them? Are they as scary as they look? -- and the Pilates afficionados I've met always have the loveliest figures. They're long, they're lean and they carry themselves like ballerinas, only somehow less stiff. Which is all a long way of saying that I went into my first reformer Pilates class with pretty robust expectations.

They were met. In my hour-plus long, one-on-one session, my instructor coached me through the basic sequence -- some time on the reformer, sort of the central piece of equipment, as well as the Cadillac (very roughly, tricked-out monkey bars attached to a mat upon which I did a lot of leg and bum exercises). We did each move only a few times -- the emphasis in Pilates is in quality, not quantity, my instructor explained -- and with exacting attention paid to my form. I was told to squeeze my ribs in and scoop my abdominals, schooled on my posture (apparently, I have no idea what it feels like to actually sit up straight, which was a real eye-opener) and did a few simple leg swirls that immediately help open up my very, very tight hips.

It was challenging, both in terms of working my muscles and also forcing myself to pay particular attention to how every inch of my person was aligned, but I also felt extremely safe in a way I sometimes haven't in yoga classes. The machines kind of nudge and keep you into certain positions, and having an instructor there to watch my every, single move no doubt helped, too. When I left, I was walking differently -- head higher, shoulders pinched back, and much more aware of how engaged and strong I could be in my core. And it lasted. For days after, I've been catching myself slumping over on the subway or at my desk and forcing myself to contract my abdominals and straighten my spine.

The issue for me going forward will be cost. Private reformer sessions are just too far out of my budget, although the instructors explained that a few sessions can help build the muscle memory you need to really be more aware of what your body is doing in larger (and less pricey) mat classes. I think I will give that a go. The exercise just really speaks to me -- it's challenging, while also encouraging gracefulness and helped me be more aware of my body. But seriously, would that I were a millionaire, I would go to private reformer sessions all the time.

Meredith's Take:

Although it was predetermined from the time my mesomorphic parents decided to have children, it didn't occur to me until age 15 or so that I would never have a dancer's sinewy physique. Mine is more of a soccer player's build. And since that discovery, I've relegated certain fitness behaviors to an off-limits category called 'What Dancers Do." These include: point work, foot taping, highly-restricted dieting and, well, Pilates -- especially reformer Pilates. So it was with detached curiosity that I approached the True Pilates studio in east midtown.

The swanky two-story gym had the calm warmth of a spa -- and a price tag to match. (Certainly a special treat on a journalist's salary.) A series of reformer machines -- with names like "the guillotine" and "the ladder" -- were laid out across each of two sunny studios. We were introduced to two knowledgeable and patient instructors, who (I was pleasantly surprised to note) looked like us: fit people with some meat on their bones.

As is customary for private sessions, our instructors spent the entire hour adjusting us as we moved through a series of repetitive, isometric exercises. Each one required small muscle movements, but a great deal of realignment. We tucked our tailbones, elongated our torsos through the rib cage and "scooped" our stomachs. I felt my body's bones stack up in a totally novel way.

As a fit person of moderate-flexibility and strength, I found the exercises challenging but doable. What's more, I could imagine how they applied to my regular exercise regime, which consists of running, biking and occasional yoga. My instructor relayed that she'd recently gotten her brother, a firefighter, to practice reformer Pilates -- which he found to be useful.

Walking back to the office after the appointment, I felt pliable and energized. But what really sold me on the technique was how differently I carried my spine. Even now, when I think of it, I adjust myself in my chair. That was the class's most valuable legacy.

For more on pilates, click here.

For more by Meredith Melnick, click here.

For more by Catherine Pearson, click here.

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