One thing I was really excited about following the marathon was doing different things. Although I am a (very) keen runner I love fitness as a whole and doing just one thing can be very frustrating. So, as you can imagine, I was quite excited when I got an invite from Hollie Grant to try out a reformer pilates session with her. Hollie runs the Pilates HQ studio in Angel and also offers one on one reformer pilates tuition.
I went along to a 7am session at the Pilates HQ studio in Angel and it was definitely worth the early alarm call. Hollie’s studio is bright and sunny, up on the top floor of the building with big windows and even a beautiful terrace!
The studio is completely mirrored on the front wall which makes the studio feel even more bright and airy. The reformers are nicely spaced out and well equipped, with extra hand weights and mats for a full range of exercises.
I was pretty apprehensive prior to the class. I’ve always thought the reformer carriages had an air of, erm, victorian torture about them and all I’d heard was that reformer pilates was absolutely killer. However when I turned up Hollie went through the different parts of the reformer which put me at ease and it started to feel less like I was about to be put on the rack.
My class only had 6 or 7 people in which was amazing – I love smaller classes – and Hollie knew everyone’s name, commenting on our form or praising us throughout the class. I thought this was really attentive and the mark of a good teacher.
The class itself was really enjoyable. Reformer pilates is challenging and (obviously) completely different to running. I could feel my muscles engaging, lengthening and stretching throughout the class which was such a great contrast to the muscle tightening effects of my usual fitness fare, running and weights. It is definitely hard, but much more manageable than I had anticipated, which was a nice surprise! It uses your whole body with a particular focus on your core, which means it is a great all body blast in itself as well as brilliant type of cross training for pretty much all sports.
Hollie says that she has been practising reformer pilates for three years and she is a fantastic ambassador for it. When I met her I was instantly struck by her brilliant posture and beautifully strong and feminine frame – she is a walking talking advert for the sport! I got the lowdown from her on reformer pilates and why it’s so great for runners…
What are the main benefits of reformer pilates?
Pilates is slowly changing peoples incorrect view that it is easy and simply about stretching, and I think Reformer Pilates has alot to do with that. Pilates is mainly centred around strengthening your core (the entire collection of abdominals, not just the 6-pack ones) which in turn supports the spine, keeping it in its safest position, and improving ones posture. It is one of the safest forms of exercise as it is low impact, promotes healthy muscle movements and a Reformer machine further helps support each exercise and stretch, making it ideal for injury rehab. My aim however is for clients to use Pilates as prevention rather than cure! Reformer Pilates can also be really tough and is a seriously effective way to get into shape. It creates muscles which are long, lean and healthy as it works muscles in both a concentric and eccentric way, and through isometric and isotonic actions. It doesn’t create bulk and hence streamlines the body, think Ballet Dancer-strong, lean and bendy! It has been my main form of exercise now for 3 years and I can’t imagine a day without it!
What’s your favourite exercise on the reformer and why?
There is no limit to number of potential exercises on the Reformer and this is why I love teaching on it so much!! If I had to choose one it would be the Pike as it requires the use of such a vast range of muscles. It revolves around using the abdominals to elevate the tailbone and draw the carriage in (which you feel straight away) but you have to recruit the seriously important Serratus Anterior, lats and lower traps to keep scapular neutral, and there is effort through the legs to support the trunk. You also see your improvement as you progress through the spring options!
Why do you recommend reformer pilates for runners?
I first became addicted to Reformer Pilates when training to run 7 marathons in 7 days for charity, across the incredibly hilly and unpredictable Coast to Coast route in North England. I was starting to struggle with my knees and decided to incorporate Pilates into my training to reduce injuries. It quickly became my favourite part of training! It improved my running technique and endurance as I became more aware of how my body worked (particularly evening out imbalances in the tracking of knees) and prevented further injury during the lead up to the run. After the marathons understandibly my knees were damaged and incredibly painful, I could hardly walk. Pilates was the only comfortable exercise I could manage and really helped recovery! As runners we very rarely stretch and if we do it isn’t for long enough. Tight hamstrings and hip flexors are commonplace and eventually pull the pelvis out of alignment. Add that to the high impact nature of running and it is a back injury waiting to happen. Pilates helps to realign the spine and pelvis and even out muscular imbalances, meaning we can run further, for longer and with less injuries.