June 18 2011
I’m flat on my back on a bed no higher than my knees, my legs spread-eagled, my rear an inch off the mattress, feet in stirrups that are attached to springs, with a very good-looking man standing and staring between my legs correcting my technique. Whoa! So this is why I had to wait a whole week to get a place in a class with David Higgins.
You would be forgiven for thinking that I was in some wild, sordid Eyes Wide Shut-style party; but alas, it’s simply the latest rendition of a by-now classic: Dynamic Pilates. It’s one of the fastest growing exercise programmes in London, with a new centre opening up every month, it seems. In May, BootCamp launched its fourth studio in Richmond, with none other than the sporty MP Zac Goldsmith in tow; Vita Pilates (headed up by well-known trainer to the stars Matt Field) opened its small but perfectly formed space opposite KX Pilates in Chelsea (very clever strategy); and now TenPilates has opened in Hanover Square – surely to keep all those Condé Nast pins in shape.
As an avid punter first and entrepreneur second, I’m always excited about new trends, especially those that deliver on their promise. I trawled the web earlier this week to see which brand of the new Pilates would best suit me. Like new-generation yoga, there are quite a few players in the market – each with a unique style, pace and approach to the ancient Hindu body-mind practice. It’s taken a few years for me to find my groove and the perfect version of yoga for me. Dynamic Pilates is totally the opposite. It seems there are very few points of difference between the various approaches: equipment, routine, price structure are all virtually identical. In fact, apart from the brand name, instructors and locations, it appears to be virtually the exact same offering – right down to the countless celebrity names each brand claims to have converted to their formula. So I thought I would try a session at each and see what the hype is all about.
So here I am at TenPilates in Kensal Rise for a class with the famous David, co-founder of TenPilates. Loud music pumps through the brightly-lit basement as 20 of us take to our individual Pilates reformers. We have a stack of kit under the bed. “Grab the ring from under your bed, put your feet in it and give it a good stretch, push the carriage away with the other leg, now put your legs at 90 degrees, grip the ring firmly between your thighs, don’t hook your feet, the resistance needs to come from your inner thighs. Now squeeze, squeeze, squeeze! I want to see the side of the rings touch.” David marches like an army officer from left to right, barking orders. The first 20 seconds are just about bearable. “You can go a little harder, can’t you? C’mon, stick with it.”
David Higgins was one of the first to launch Dynamic Pilates in the UK. He trained with well-known self-described Beverly Hills founder of Dynamic Pilates, Sebastien Lagree, who has a cringeworthy website and a serious self-praising issue. Lagree claims to be the inventor of this new version of Pilates reformer – first created by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago in an internment camp during the first world war. Many of his fellow inmates were bedridden so he used anything he could – springs, cables and pulleys – to create resistance training to encourage their muscle rehabilitation.
Back in the present, though, my legs are trembling. “Can’t any more… not exercise – it’s a torture machine.” I’m muttering my thoughts aloud. David refuses to let me stop, just administers a gentle pat on the back as he explains: “It’s muscle fatigue, that’s what is happening. We are isolating the muscles through controlled and precise movements, which lightly stretch and work the body.”
In Dynamic Pilates, he continues, these movements are woven together to create a smooth and continuous flow of exercise which increases the intensity and, ultimately, causes the searing burn I’m currently experiencing. “It’s all about body sculpting; we literally do what no other form of exercise can do. We’re stretching, lengthening you, unlike many weight-based sports that tend to bulk out the muscles.”
Now it’s to squatting on the reformer – one leg on the static shelf and the other pushing the carriage away, one red and one yellow spring attached to the carriage, slowly sliding the carriage in and out with just a pole to balance. Dynamic Pilates incorporates all the alignment benefits and core strengthening of traditional Pilates and all the fat burning of a cardio workout; the net-net is, you get a serious bead on while you tone. “Stop grimacing! Smile, it’s almost over.” The class lasts about 55 minutes. I try to justify my poor performance to David: “This is one of the hardest and most intense exercise routines I’ve ever done. For a fit person, which I am, I know I looked like I haven’t seen the inside of a gym for years.”
He smiles. “It’s always tough in the beginning, but persevere – you’ll have a new body in 10 sessions.” The good news, fellow mortals, is that the reformers can be adjusted according to your fitness level; throughout the session, you are asked to change the springs to increase and reduce the resistance. However, be warned; a fairly “gung-ho” attitude prevails in the Ten classrooms; I’m not surprised there have been a few cases of injury. As with all exercise, we don’t come at one-size-fits-all experience levels; my advice is to not be shy: stop if you feel you can’t do more. I recommend beginners’ classes for everyone – this is not Pilates as you know it. And if you have never done Pilates, it is imperative to get to grips with the basics; the movements are rather tricky at the best of times, but with the Dynamic’s added pace you could come unstuck. Literally. I hobble out.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.