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Review: APPI Pilates

T&L's Rhiannon Roy gives Pilates a go for the first time at APPI in Wimbledon.

Being a complete newbie to Pilates, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at APPI. I even struggled to get the front door open, and hoped that wasn’t an omen for the lesson I was about to receive.

Once I had successfully crossed the threshold, I was greeted by my instructor for the session, Helen, who is not only a trained Pilates instructor, but a qualified physiotherapist to boot – a quality shared by most of the instructors at APPI.

First things first, I was put through my paces in a ‘Body MOT’ so that Helen could assess my range of movement and have a rough understanding of my current physical ability. Prior to the session, I had answered a few questions about my personal fitness level and goals, to which I responded that I was very active, but suffer from lower back pain and tight hamstrings.

Helen focused on the areas I was concerned with, slowly putting me through a range of back movements and hamstring stretches so that she could see the level I was at. Having someone scrutinise you while you attempt to touch your toes may sound uncomfortable, but Helen chatted away and made me feel like we were part of a team working towards my fitness goals. I felt so relaxed that I actually managed to reach further than I normally do.

Next, I was asked to lie down so that Helen could talk me through the five main points of interest in Pilates: the alignment of the neck, shoulders, ribcage, back and core. These five points were what I should keep in mind throughout any Pilates session, to ensure that I was doing the exercises correctly. Having awful posture myself (due to a minor back injury in childhood and terrible habits of sitting slumped at my desk), I could instantly feel the difference in the alignment once I had concentrated on those five key areas, and felt lighter and more relaxed.

Then it was time to put some real work in. We went upstairs to the studio, which is a bright, airy room filled with all sorts of strange looking equipment, with even stranger names, such as the ‘Cadillac’ and ‘reformers’.

I began on the Cadillac, which is (essentially) a big padded bench. Helen gave me a few movements to do, keeping in mind the five points she had just taught me. Keeping this alignment made even the smallest of movements more difficult, and soon my core muscles (which I had until that point perceived to be reasonably strong!) were feeling the burn. When I mentioned this, Helen said that even big, beefy rugby players with rippling six-packs would also often struggle with these movements, because they confused their ‘core’ muscles with their abdominals. Your core muscles are much more on the inside, and help control and hold together your ribcage, diaphragm and pelvic bone. Pilates works these muscles specifically and is universally recognised to help with back and posture problems, as well as improve your movement range, strength and flexibility.

Next, my balance was put to the test. I stood on two squishy pads whilst doing one- and two-leg squats. Having done a lot of gymnastics in my childhood, my balance was deemed acceptable and we swiftly moved on. This is the benefit of a 1:1 lesson; it is tailored specifically to your goals, so you work on exactly what you need to.

Last up was work on the reformers – a daunting array of pulleys, springs, ropes and handles that allow for a wide range of resistance-based exercises. Helen guided me through several exercises that involved pushing and pulling the pulleys attached to differently-weighted springs.

The hour absolutely whizzed past and soon I was putting on my coat to brave the cold winds outside. I left with a personalised plan for movements to try at home, and a curious feeling of tiredness – I wasn’t red-hot and sweaty, but my core and legs felt worn out, as well as my brain from an hour of concentrating on parts of my body I had never given a thought to before. As I cycled home, I thought back to the alignment lesson and readjusted my posture, and I’ve kept readjusting my standing, walking and sitting positions ever since. From one lesson, I can already feel a vast improvement in my posture, which will hopefully last a lifetime!

To try Pilates yourself, visit www.appihealthgroup.com to book yourself in for a session.

APPI Pilates in Wimbledon