If the thought of doing Pilates every day conjures images of long-limbed celebs and eye-wateringly expensive yoga leggings, know you’re not alone. I too believed it to be the fodder of the schedule-free elite – not the likes of me, at the time of starting my challenge, deep in a grey London winter with a third lockdown looming.
However, after months of strength training, cardio home workouts, kettlebell exercises and a smattering of half-hearted yoga, I was craving something different. Something decidedly low-impact. A one-time lover of reformer Pilates, I looked for similar workouts I could do sans a contraption the size of a small car. Mat Pilates seemed like just the ticket, promising to build core and glute strength, improve posture and sculpt muscle. Too good to be true? We would see.
What is Pilates?
I thought I knew what Pilates was: slow, controlled movements designed to work your core and lengthen muscles. Wrong.
Originally a set of exercises performed by founder Joseph Pilates whilst he was POW during World War One, Pilates began as a way to keep strong in confinement and help rehab injured soldiers back to health. Based on six key foundation principles (concentration, control, centre, flow, precision, and breathing), it was only after Pilates (the man) travelled to America that his method solidified into the practice we know (and struggle through) today.
History lesson over, let’s get back to the experiment: namely, two weeks of doing Pilates (the workout) every day. Yep, fourteen workouts to see if the hype actually checked out. Eek.
Monday: Full-body for beginners (27 mins)
I decided to start with an entry-level workout, getting back to grips with the basics before launching into two weeks of increasingly challenging exercises. However, in spite of its beginner-friendliness, do not be fooled into thinking this workout was a doss. Simple to follow? Yes. Easy to keep up with? Yes. Double-downed on tiny movements to intensify the burn? Oh my god, yes.
I loved that Nicole [McPherson] explained all the befuddling Pilates terms she was using – think: ‘imprint’ and ‘neutral pelvis’ – instead of steamrolling through. Knowing exactly what I was being asked to do (and why) felt empowering. Inclusive instructors, FTW!
Tuesday: Quickie ballet abs (16 mins)
Why not beast my core two days into a fortnight-long experiment with a spicy abs workout? Why not indeed.
Full disclosure: Fly LDN and instructor Chiara Bercuti are already part of my regular workout routine. In fact, ‘Quickie Ballet Abs’ is a favourite session of mine to tack onto the end of a lower-body workout. A mix of abdominal exercises inspired by Ballet moves, the emphasis of the session was on length, posture and form. Just over fifteen-and-a-half minutes, I felt my core engaged and activated from the jump. Post-workout laughter not encouraged. (Ouch.)
Wednesday: Blogilates total body (14 mins)
Blogilates (aka Cassey Ho) is pretty much the queen of online Pilates. Boasting 7.6m subscribers on The ‘Tube’, her workouts are streamed and sweat through on the reg. A first for me, I was excited.
Teaching to the beat, Ho lead the class through rhythm-based exercises, moving with the music. It was fantastic. Fun, quick and easy to get lost in the tunes, the challenging session flew by.
My abs, you ask? DOMS central. Still, I was only three days in – complaining felt fruitless. Instead, I emptied half a bag of Epsom salts into a scalding bath and soaked away the soreness. Onwards!
Thursday: Full-body sculpt (46 minutes)
Finally, a longer session. Heaven. Don’t get me wrong: short, sharp workouts are great to slot into busy days. But sometimes I want to go to my happy place for three-quarters of an hour, you know? Enter: Pip [Tunstall] and his full body sculpt class.
Featuring moves I had never even heard of before Pip’s class was the standout of week one. His calming, rhythmic-voice made the whole session feel highly ‘doable’ and pretty much every major muscle group was worked to fatigue. Lunge pulses, bird dogs and press-ups – all made more difficult by only resting for short snippets in between. ‘That was exhilarating’ I exclaimed after doing my first ever set of Pilates push-ups.
(Was I going Pilates mad?)
Friday: Core burner (13 mins)
The end of the week loomed, and my to-do list allowed for one very short workout: Frame’s 13-minute core burner class with instructor Melisa. I was under no illusion that this would be an easy workout (my foray into short ab circuits earlier in the week had rid me of that falsehood) but did I expect to be doing reverse plank leg lifts? Absolutely not. Taxing my arms as much as my entire core and glutes, I finished the session feeling much like I was made of jelly.
Saturday: Quickie booty (18 mins)
To give you an idea of where my body was this far into the two-week experiment, I spent three minutes of this workout laying on the ground cry-laughing at how much my bum hurt.
But with my Bala ankle weights donned, I persevered. Split into two, the workout exercised one leg to fatigue before switching over: with lateral lifts, donkey kicks and extensions targeting the entire glute muscle group. TLDR: It burned like hell.
Sunday: Morning workout with MickiPhit (11 mins)
A long time follower of @MickiPhit on Instagram, her Pilates workouts had long been featured in my ‘saved’ collection of workouts I’d like to do at some point. A calm, accessible workout Micki was just the thing my Sunday morning needed. Challenging but not crippling. Job done.
Monday: Full-body Pilates workout (30 mins)
Normally, a Monday workout would be the stuff of revived energy and motivation after a weekend off. Eight days of constant Pilates down I was feeling very much in the flow but also like I may never laugh without wincing again. Think, high (sore) vibes.
I kicked off the week with another Move with Nicole goodie, this time a non-beginner class to see how I fared upping the ante. I most enjoyed the inclusion of cat/cows to release my back, squat pulses for lower body burn and glute bridge holds for extra spiciness.
Not to be cliché but as ‘does what it says on the tin’ goes, this was exactly that. Full body – worked.
Tuesday: Glutes and abs (32 mins)
Very much still in the belly of the beast, Tuesday dawned with a ‘burn-filled’ glutes and abs Fly Ldn session on the cards. I decided to go straight into using ankle weights – call it Pilates-induced mania – but I felt like challenging myself would be just the thing to push me through.
A mix of dynamic plank movements and glute-isolating exercises, the half an hour flew by. I won’t say it was pleasant but it was effective – tiny pulses and flexes that really got into those hard to reach muscles. Winner.
Wednesday: Dynamic Pilates (30 mins)
Not gonna lie, the ‘strength and stretch’ element of Lottie Murphy’s class was what drew me in. 10-days in without a stretch session in sight, spending time releasing tight hip flexors as well as lengthening and strengthening my back, core and arms felt truly delightful.
Thursday: Intermediate full-body (20 mins)
Perhaps thinking of myself as an intermediate was foolhardy, considering I was on the home stretch of a body-taxing challenge. However, the launch of Peloton Pilates had excited me to my core. (Geddit?) The latest modality drop, I chose a class by the inimitable strong and graceful Aditi Shah.
Whilst I loved the plank holds and glute bridges my body absolutely did not. One exercise, grabbing both legs and rolling back and forth had me topple over like a coconut-shy coconut, almost kneeing myself in the eyeball. (My personal beauty and grace representatives were very much ‘OOO and not checking emails’ by this point.)
Friday: Beginner full-body (10 mins)
Having had my ego firmly checked, I took things back to the drawing board for my Friday sesh. Another Peloton sesh, this time led by Hannah Corbin (again, beautiful, graceful, etc.) I felt like a womble let loose on a yoga mat. Everything hurt. Fortunately, the majority of this class was taken in a supine position and I performed side-lying crunches with as much gusto as I could muster for day twelve.
Saturday: Pilates with weights (30 mins)
A rogue choice to wait until the very end of the experiment to try a weighted session, PT Isa Welly‘s 30-minute weighted Pilates workout blasted my entire body. Renegade rows with static donkey-kick holds, weighted sit-ups and calf raises – after almost two weeks of non-weighted exercise, I immediately felt the gears change. Exercises I could comfortably perform rep after rep of became that much harder trying to counter against two handheld weights at the same time. Sweaty and wonderful on a Saturday morning, I finished feeling wonderfully accomplished. Yippee.
Sunday: Quick core (10 mins)
Hollie Grant – aka @thepilatespt – really is the go-to source of expert Pilates knowledge. Championing workouts that are safe and effective without ever steering into fad territory, I chose a core workout from the archives to round out the two weeks.
Explaining in depth everything she was asking us to do, I particularly liked the slow, controlled nature of the movements (and how much harder I felt myself work because of it).
3 things I learned doing Pilates every day
Taking some time to reflect on my fourteen-day Pilates bonanza, I realised a lot of what I’d discovered could be simmered down to three key takeaways:
1. It’s not the ‘easy’ option
Pilates is not a doss. Just because it’s a workout done by tween influencers, A-listers and grandmothers alike, the strength and control it takes to perform the exercises correctly with proper form is unparalleled.
Saying that – there are options. If you’re new to Pilates, a beginner session will be just as challenging as an intermediate workout for those better-versed in the discipline.
2. A lot of the moves are fairly similar
Pilates focuses a lot on building strength throughout the entire core (that includes your pelvic floor and all abdominals, btw), which meant a lot of the exercises were repeated across workouts.
Planks, glute bridges, single-leg isolation exercises, crunches and table-top movements were big hits in most of the sessions, whether the workout tackled full body or focused on a specific muscle group.
3. Not enough can be said for a strong core
A strong core is integral for any type of exercise you do. Whether that’s learning how to strength train or smashing out HIIT workouts at home, it’s your core that provides the powerhouse to make it happen without injury.
From squats to deadlifts, pull-ups to planks, strengthening your trunk (horrible word for your core but roll with it) is essential. Pilates is fantastic for that. After two weeks I feel more stable lifting heavy weights, speeding through burpees or performing jump lunges.
So, am I a Pilates convert? Absolutely. Will I be taking a little time off to do [insert: anything else]? Yes.
As with everything, variety is the spice of life and 2 – 3 Pilates sessions a week hits that metric bang on for me.
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