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30 Day Pilates Challenge

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What happens to your body if you do Pilates for 30 days? We got a male and female guinea pig to find out. She’s fat, hes fit… what can Pilates do for them?

Joseph H. Pilates, the founder of the eponymous exercise method, said of Pilates, “After 30 sessions you will have a completely new body.” But is that true? With the kind help of the team at Real Pilates, Awakenings put Mr Pilates’ claim to the test using two guinea pigs who couldn’t be more different. Mika is an unfit and slightly overweight female and Erin is a super fit male without an ounce of extra body fat. What will 30 days of Pilates do for them? Read on to find out…

First, meet the guinea pigs.
The male: Erin Ewing
An Advertising Director for a media company, Erin is in his early 30s and has been a long-term regular gym goer who’s been doing Pilates for a few months. Fitness-wise he is in great shape but he would like to abolish the continual back pain from his years of dancing and gymnastics as a teenager. He’d also like to sleep better and improve his posture – like many people, hunching over a computer all day is taking its toll. Finally, he wants to be better at the more advanced Pilates exercises that he currently struggles with.

The female: Mika Brison
In her mid 40s, Mika is a financial magazine editor who has worked in print media for 20 years – which means she has spent 8 to 10 hours a day sat at a computer for two decades. She is carrying too much body fat and her lower abdominals are weak – despite ongoing efforts to strengthen them. She would like to have toned, strong arms. The last time she did a Pilates class was about 10 years ago and she wasn’t a fan, “They made me hold painful positions for far too long and lift medicine balls.”

MIKA

Day one: So far so good. My first class was great. To kick off the challenge, I did a Total Body Toning class. It involves using various bits of kit like weight balls, toning balls, flex bands, rubber bands and this circular contraption that goes between, say, your knees or thighs and you have to squeeze it. The time flew.

Day two: We got some good news and bad news after class tonight. Erin and I bumped into Paul, a Real Pilates instructor who’s been teaching Pilates for 10 years. He told us that Pilates is not about sweating (that’s the good news) and that it is not a
fat burner (bad news). The ‘no sweat’ news was a surprise because I’d just watched Erin sweat so much in the Core Physique class that there was a little puddle on his mat at the end. Pure Pilates, said Paul, is about finesse – doing the moves with precision and care in order to fire up the many smaller muscles we don’t normally use because our big muscles take over. It’s by recruiting these smaller muscles that we transform our posture, sculpt our physiques and fix a variety of injuries, such as spine and back pain. He’s seen people miraculously change their bodies with time and hard work.

Day four: Pilates can make you taller. That’s why Hollywood celebs do it. Pilates is all about the spine. Keeping it flexible and stretching out the vertebrae. Real Pilates instructor Manny told us this during a Group Discovery class, that’s the learner class you have to do before you’re allowed to do the Reformer classes that involve the machines with lots of bits that move about.

Day six: I have push-up envy. And plank envy. In the last two days, I’ve done classes involving lots of push-up and planks – Weight-loss Pilates and Core Physique. The instructors, Elisha and Dora, make them look effortless. This is because they have core strength of steel and abdominals of iron. They effortlessly do full push-ups – not the ones on your knees – the full body push-ups. Then they make them harder by raising one leg or rolling a ball between their hands. Me, my whole body shakes with the effort, my arms give way beneath me and I end up face first on the mat.

Day 10: Happy days. My trousers feel looser. No change on the scales but the waistband is baggier.

Day 11: In a Total Body Toning class with Paul, he tells me that I’ve been doing crunches and sit ups incorrectly my whole life, which means I haven’t been recruiting the deep abdominal muscles. Instead, I’ve been using my neck to lift my torso up, which is why I quickly get severe neck pain and have to support my head with my hands. That’s why, despite having done bazillions of crunches and sit-ups over the years, my core never gets stronger. Darn.

Day 16: More depressing revelations from Paul. He tells me that 20 years of sitting at a computer and having a “sedentary lifestyle” (Sedentary? How very dare he!) has caused me to have a flexed posture – this means I’m collapsing in the front, hunching in other words. “This is causing your head to come forwards,” Paul said, “which has a negative impact on your spine because of its weight placement.”

If I spend another 20 years sitting like this, he says, “You’re looking at degenerative discs; herniation of the discs, which
means the disc comes out of its casing and ruptures. “You’re looking at pain and nerve damage; and constant stress in your upper trapezius and neck muscles. People develop nagging back pain because of a lack of stability throughout the body.”

He had some reassuring words if I changed my ways though: “We’ll rebalance the muscles around the structure. Muscles have memory, if you train them a certain way, they will restore the natural balance of the body.”

Day 20: Met a friend for coffee and when we hugged ‘hello’ she grabbed my arms and gasped, ‘When did you get such toned arms?’ Yessss!

Day 28 – My boyfriend said to me today: “You’re looking good Honey. All that Pilates is doing something isn’t it?’

Day 30: I absolutely love Pilates. I may be addicted to it. I don’t want this challenge to end, I feel amazing for it.
I can see the difference; my clothes are looser and my arms have shape. It’s not over though. My lower abs are still too weak to do roll-ups properly and I want to be able to do more full push-ups.

BIRTH OF PILATES

Pilates is a low-impact exercise regime started by Joseph Pilates. During WWI he worked as a nurse in the UK and developed exercises to rehabilitate injured soldiers. Having no gym equipment, he used whatever was available; bed springs and beer keg rings became resistance exercise equipment and were the prototypes of the equipment used today, like the reformer and the magic circle. General health, Joseph said, centres around body posture, mechanics, correct breathing, spinal flexibility and appropriate physical exercise. He studied eastern and western forms of exercise including yoga, Zen, Greek and Roman wrestling. 

ERIN

Day one: Excited to be starting this challenge. I feel confident because I’ve been doing Pilates for a while. I want to get the most out of this so my focus is on being precise and accurate with the moves and being conscious of how my body works.

Day three: Class was awesome last night and I felt amazing leaving. It was tough but good fun and I can feel that my balance is getting better. My abs are pulled in and tight though I am not getting the upper back stability that I need and my lower obliques feel mushy. Though, all in all, a lot better.

Day six: I’m struggling with the roll- ups because my lower abs are weak but I’m sleeping better, which is a relief. I’ve been off and on insomniac for years.

Day 10: Really sore today after doing two Core Physique classes in a row. Elisha, the teacher, is great but it’s a killer work out. I’ve noticed I’m getting less lower back pain as well… but it’s not gone. I’m making the effort to think about my posture all day and I took a private lesson with Paul to get some help with specific issues.

Day 15: My abs are much more pronounced so happy about that but the back pain is still bothering me so I went to back to my osteopath. Turns out that I have a tilted pelvis but even the osteopath noticed that my body looks more toned.

Day 20: My balance in the mat classes is improving and I can really see my stomach muscles now. My obliques are more defined than they’ve ever been – despite years and years spent doing crunches and sit-ups in the gym.

Day 25: I’m focusing on refining the really small movements this week so I can work on stabilizing. I’ve already noticed that my posture is better; I’m stacking my spine more easily. My shoulder blades still aren’t doing what I want them to though.

Day 30: Done! The challenge is complete. I’m not stopping Pilates though. I’ll keep going because I really want to master the advanced moves – anyone who thinks Pilates is easy should try a Power Pilates or a Cardio Reformer class then shut the heck up.

In just a month of classes, I saw significant improvements in some areas. For example, my ability to do some of more advanced moves that I just couldn’t do on day one. Some of my more stubborn issues remain though, like the back pain. It’s
going to take more than a month to unravel some of the deeper structural issues but
the difference is that I am now conscious of what I’m doing incorrectly. I’m 100 per cent committed to continuing. I even went out and bought toning balls, a medicine ball, Stott Pilates video and elastic bands so I can do the exercises at home.

What I learnt through this is that effective exercise isn’t always about pumping weights or getting out of breath on a treadmill. Some of the most difficult and transforming exercises involved tiny moves of a centimetre. The important thing is to do that tiny, precise move in the correct way.

The various classes are very different though and you should pick your type of class based on what you want to achieve. For example, if you want to drop body fat, get a few Core Physique and Power Pilates classes into your week.

WHAT CAN PILATES DO FOR YOU?

Real Pilates trainer Paul Thornley reveals what Pilates is all about and what it can do for you…

“Pilates is about improved lifestyle and overall health through a clearer awareness of how your body should structurally work. Longer term, that prevents pain. We’re not focused on intensity or repetition; we’re focused on quality of movement. There’s
no point in exercising if you’re doing it incorrectly just to get through a set of repetitions because the body will always find the easiest way to do the work, it will always try and cheat, usually by recruiting the big muscles. We promote a more balanced muscular activity so give these smaller muscles the opportunity to work by not allowing the dominant muscles to take over.

“Pilates promotes better spinal movement so gravity doesn’t have such a negative impact on us as life generally does. These days everything we do is seated – we sitatadesk,weeatatatable,weflopon the couch to watch television so we don’t recruit the muscles to help us sit upright anymore. If we use our muscular structure incorrectly and allow it to negatively
effect our skeletal system, our bones, then you’re going to have pain so whether it’s for rehabilitation after an injury or an Olympic athlete wanting to complement their strength and conditioning programme, Pilates is absolutely for everybody.”

THE RESULTS

What did 30 days of Pilates do for our guinea pigs? Drum roll please…

Mika lost two kilograms in weight and lost 11 centimetres in measurements – including four centimetres off her waist along with an increase on her biceps of half a centimetre each. Her muscle mass went up very slightly and body fat went down 1.5 per cent.

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Mika

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Day One

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Day 30

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Result

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Weight

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66.4kg

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64.4

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– 2kgs

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Body fat %

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31.5%

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30

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– 1.5%

Muscle mass

36.2

36.5

+ 0.3

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Chest cms

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100.5cm

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96.5cm

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– 4cm

Waist cms

81cm

77

– 4cm

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Hips cms

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98

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96

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– 2cm

Thighs cms (L&R)

57/58

56.5/57.5

– 1cm

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Biceps cms (L&R)

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26.5/27.5

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27/28

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Erin lost three kilograms in weight and his body fat fell by almost one per cent. His muscle mass also fell slightly, probably due to ceasing his heavy weights regime in the gym with the less-mass-focused Pilates. His back pain reduced but did not leave completely. He made big improvements in his ability to do the advanced postures that require considerable core strength.

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Erin

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Day One

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Day 30

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Result

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Weight

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76.2kg

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73.3kg

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-2.9kgs

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Body fat %

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14.8%

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14.0%

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-0.8%

Muscle mass

37.0kg

36.4kg

– 0.6kg

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Chest cms

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120cm

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119cm

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-1cm

Waist cms

82cm

82cm

no change

Hips cms

90cm

92 cm

+ 2cm

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Thighs L/R

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54.3/54 cm

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55/55cm

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+0.7/1cm

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Biceps L/R

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34.7/35.1 cm

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35/35cm

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+0.3/-0.1cm

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