I can say with quiet confidence that there are some things in life that most men won’t experience; baby showers, bra shopping with their mum, and being gooched by Donald Trump to name but a few. Pilates is also one of these things.
In this age of equality why is it those of us with XY chromosomes are still steering clear of Pilates for our exercise fix? In a bid to find out, I task myself, a Pilates virgin, with trialling a selection of the best Pilates classes that London has to offer.
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Transition Zone – Reformer Chair Pilates with Claire Finlay
I’m a big fan of an independent gym, not backed by faceless investors but run by individuals driven by their passion for fitness. Transition Zone in Parsons Green is one such gym and owner Claire Finlay is one such individual. Claire had the dubious honour of teaching my first ever Pilates class. This took place in the middle of their open plan gym. There aren’t separate studios here and so it was that I popped my Pilates cherry in front of an audience.
Claire started by introducing me to the Reformer Chair –essentially a padded stool with a moveable bar that, at rest, lies flush against the long side of the top of the stool. The bar is on resistance springs and the general idea is to use different parts of your body to press the bar down towards the floor.
The session started with leg work – pushing the bar down with our feet, either from a standing position or whilst kneeling on the stool. So far so good. We then tried a “pike” by placing our hands on the stool with both feet on the bar pressed to the floor. The idea is then to allow the spring tension of the bar to raise your lower body up so your feet are level with your hands. “Great for your core” Claire said.
My first attempt saw the bar shooting up too quickly almost catapulting me over the front of the chair. Thankfully I managed to avoid a full on face plant in front of my audience and was soon pulling off pikes Tom Daley would have been proud of. I’m lying of course, but that’s what it felt like in my head. We ended with some upper body – pressing the bar down with our arms, then stretches and finally a life affirming beetroot juice from their Recovery Bar.
So how was my first time? I felt, not the sweaty exhilaration I usually crave, but an all over muscle fatigue, a clear head and a sore butt.
Classes £28 per group session. Discount packages available.
Alan Herdman Pilates, Third Space, Canary Wharf
After a couple of days moaning over stiff limbs, I headed to Alan Herdman Studios in Canary Wharf for a private session with Mauro Oxola. Alan Herdman introduced Pilates to the UK in the 60s having been trained by instructors taught by Jo Pilates himself. Jo was born with twisted limbs and developed a series of exercises to correct his disabilities. He then helped wounded World War I soldiers regain mobility with springs attached to the bedframe, so they could move safely and tone their muscles. These early mechanisms were the prototype of the machines found in Pilates studios today.
Having quit the rat race years ago I have never had the occasion to visit the Third Space in Canary Wharf. Oh sweet Jesus it’s beautiful. With an entrance lobby to rival the best Ian Schrager hotels I felt like I’d discovered a wonderful secret that only the rich, perfectly sculpted city folk were in on. It even smells beautiful.
I made my way, open-mouthed to the 2nd floor to meet Mauro at his studio filled with contraptions that reminded me of a porno I once watched. “There’s one of these in the Tower of London” Mauro said pointing to a particularly evil looking machine. Mauro used to be a personal trainer. He began training in Pilates, merely to enhance his CV, but once he saw how it changed his body he was hooked. Whilst he strapped me into something called the Trapeze, he explained that gym work tends to only target one muscle in a group whilst Pilates reaches all muscles. Particularly important if you want a six pack Zac Effron would give you shade for. I was starting to see the attraction. Like most guys, I had thought Pilates was just for women who wanted firm buns and a tight front bottom, ahem, I mean pelvic floor. An hour with Mauro and his Trapeze made me think differently.
The trapeze, also called a Cadillac, consists of a padded bench from which rises a rectangular frame. Foot straps on springs hang down from one end of the frame and the majority of our session involved moving my body against the tension in these springs in order to target certain muscle groups. What I found rewarding was that the exercises didn’t just work my legs, but also my core, arms, chest and back. A full body workout that gave me a pleasing ache throughout my entire body.
Classes from £20. Private session with Mauro – £65.
Heartcore Fitness, City Studio
“I’m Here To Be Awesome” were the words that greeted me as I entered Heartcore’s City studio for a Dynamic Pilates class with Katie. As I muddled my way through our session I thought that “awesome” may be pushing it. I was at best, not a total embarrassment. Heartcore uses Reformer style machines for their Pilates classes. These are long low padded benches that have a moving section at one end on springs. The number and thickness of these springs is used to alter the level of resistance dependant on which exercise you are doing and how brave you’re feeling.
As with the Chair and the Trapeze, the Reformer allows for a full body workout. Heartcore’s instructors are all personal trainers by trade rather than pure Pilates teachers. Perhaps as a result, I found my session with Katie to feel more high intensity than the other Pilates classes and for me personally, more rewarding because of it. It certainly seems to attract more guys too. There was a high ratio of boys to girls in the class. This may be purely down to its city location but I suspect it also has something to do with the type of offering here. Chatting to one of the guys in the changing room afterwards, he said his girlfriend dragged him along once and now he goes more than she does. “It gives you this hardness and strength. I kept getting injured at the gym but since coming here I can lift more – and I look way better”. Well I’m not sure what he looked like before but if Pilates can do that for me then sign me up.
Classes – Free for first time then £27 per session. Discount packages available.
BodySpace – Kingwood, Hans Place, Knightsbridge
BodySpace has just launched two studios in the UK, one at the Corinthia Hotel and the other behind Harrods in Knightsbridge – a part of London so eye wateringly expensive that only oil rich royals and James Bond villains can afford to live here. My session was with founder David Higgins at the Knightsbridge studio.
And I thought Third Space was fancy. This subterranean grotto is so pretty it made me want to weep. From the goddess on reception to the marbled changing rooms, its clear that Body Space is aiming at the ultra high end of the fitness market. As if I needed further substantiation, David casually mentioned that he’d just returned from the set of Mission Impossible 6. Well if it’s good enough for Tom.
David guided me past an enormous glass walled wine cellar into the Pilates studio where he explained the concept behind Body Space. David has an enviable Pilates pedigree. Bootcamp Pilates and Ten Pilates were both his brainchild. He now divides his time between sculpting Hollywood actors into superheroes, and working with his BodySpace clients.
BodySpace isn’t the kind of place you run to having woken from a chocolate binge induced coma to realise you only have a week to get Mykonos ready. It’s not for the quick fix. Trainers here target all elements of your wellbeing. They devise a tailored plan that always starts with strengthening the body’s key “building blocks”. Only once these foundations have been laid will they move to the next stages. David clearly thought my building blocks were made of cardboard, laid by some cowboy builder, as we spent most of our session on a foam roller and only the last 15 minutes actually on the Reformer. It turns out that this was exactly what I needed. Having spent the time stretching and releasing tension in my muscles, I found my second encounter with the Reformer to be much less Guantanamo Bay. Far from torture, it actually felt pretty good.
As I left BodySpace feeling all energised and zen I had to ask, “Why the wine cellar David?” “Why not” he replied flashing me a smile that even the most hardened A-lister couldn’t help but warm to.
Classes – BodySpace Corinthia Hotel – £120 per one to one session. BodySpace Residency, Knightsbridge is members only.
And therein ends the confessions of a Pilates virgin. I admit that I started out as rather cynical. After all, yoga managed to cross the great gender divide years ago. Pilates must just not be for guys? But having sweated and strained my way through studios across London I realise that poor Pilates just needs better PR. It offers all the elements that we’re looking for in our fitness goals, and then some. It just needs a youthful, Instagram worthy attractive instructor to champion the cause and before long we’ll all be signing up and strapping in!