Kate’s Pilates Adventure: Day 1

Kate Senecal author/writing coach extraordinaire

I sprained my ankle for the first time when I was in eighth grade, then twice in tenth grade, another time junior year of high school and finally, after a misguided attempt at being a hurdler in track, spent the last two months of my senior year of high school on crutches with the same busted ankle. I identify this injury as the root of a series of structural and postural issues that has caused me a few decades of leg, lower back, shoulder and neck pain that I’ve managed with reasonable success via a consistent Iyengar Yoga practice, acupuncture and a few life-saving massages. For years my dear, old friends Katrina and Laurie have urged me to try starting Pilates with them at The Pilates Studio, so in the spirit of overcoming some of these issues once and for all, increasing my minimal core strength and spicing up my weekly workout rotation I took them up on their suggestion.

Since I have old injuries, I felt that starting pilates with the private lesson introductory package which includes three private sessions in four weeks for $180 would be best. I arrived to my noon appointment early, excited to have someone look at the way I move and design a series of exercises just for me. Laurie and Katrina greeted me warmly at the front desk, and set me up with the paperwork I needed to fill out as a new student. The studio is huge, full of natural light, fun looking contraptions, and people of all shapes and sizes working hard but looking psyched while doing it – sort of like a playground in a daycare center but for grown-ups. I immediately felt comfortable and ready for action. My instructor, Cathy, lead me over to a crazy looking bench/table fully equipped with bars, pullies and all kinds of straps. I liked Cathy right away – she has a warm face and a gentle voice – and she’s also a physical therapist, so I knew I was in good hands.  She asked me thoughtful questions about the ways I move my body, then talked me through some movement that would help her assess my functional mobility.

Cathy told me that I over pronate my feet, which means my ankles collapse in toward each other. This can cause all sorts of problems like bunions, ankle pain as well as knee and hip tightness. She also noticed right away that my shoulders are very tight and my trapezius muscles were very weak which is likely the reason I experience so much neck and shoulder pain. Finally, along with having minimal ab strength, Cathy noticed that I also have Lumbar hyperlordosis – which just means that the natural curve in the middle of my spine is exaggerated in such a way that it often looks like I’m sticking my belly out when I think I’m just standing normally.

Once it was clear what I needed to strengthen, Cathy brought me over to the reformer – another bench similar to what I sat on at the beginning of the session, but instead of having a top that spans the reach between all four legs, the reformer has a slat with wheels which allows you to move fluidly while doing strength building exercises. I laid down and put my legs up against a bar, and was instructed to push on the bar with my legs as if I was using a weight machine that targeted my quads, but to be careful to keep the natural curves of my spine pressed against the table and to not move my pelvis at all. This was exceptionally difficult despite the movement seeming so simple.

Cathy was clear in her instructions, and intentional about how many repetitions of things she asked me to do as well as what order I did the exercises in. Appointments are only 50 minutes, but I felt like we made good use of the time. I moved in a lot of different ways, and worked harder than I expected both because of Cathy’s expert instruction and the fact that all of the equipment we worked with really helped me in understanding what muscles I use (or don’t use) habitually for different kinds of movements. I could really feel the weak parts of my abs, and how important strengthening that area will be for correcting the hyper curve in my back. Cathy talked a lot about integrating my lower body with my upper body via my pelvis, and I was shocked at how clear is was that they moved in a disconnected way when I was doing the exercises Cathy asked me to do.

Cathy was optimistic that it would not take me long to gain the strength I need to get out of pain and achieve my fitness goals, and I feel ready to work hard. I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of the great community at The Pilates Studio, and can’t wait for my second appointment!