I tried mat Pilates for the first time a few years ago at my local YMCA. We crunched for minutes at a time, we planked for what could have been hours.
In groaning unison we went from lying flat on our backs to sitting upright holding weighted bars with our hands an equal distance apart; we passed fitness balls between our hands and feet, all while holding resistance rings between our legs. It was hard. The next day I was sore all over; every move was a struggle. And it felt great.
Ever since, I’ve wanted to try Tower Pilates, and finally, several years later, I took my first class at Plank Pilates Studio (187 Chrystie St., 212-260-2501, Plankpilates.com).
The method uses what looks like a medieval torture chair (the Tower) to lengthen and tone the body, with a focus on developing and strengthening core muscles. Throughout our 60-minute semi-private class (only five slots per session, and only two others showed up), instructor Danielle King worked our abs, arms and legs, with the help of resistance springs and bars that in equal parts challenged and facilitated our sit-ups, push-ups, leg-lifts and -lowers.
I threw myself into an advanced class for fear of not getting enough of a workout from the regular or beginner classes, but this proved to be a mistake.
In order to get the most out of Tower, it is essential to know certain fundamentals about the positions, apparatus and the way your body should feel.
The small sessions meant that the each of us received personalized attention, allowing the instructor to adjust our positions when they needed finessing. It also fostered camaraderie among the students: After scissor kicking our legs down, and lifting them up — over and over again — we shared a few laughs and sighs of relief about that particular move being over.
There were a lot of those sighs of relief at the end of each position, come to think of it. But despite the challenges, I felt great afterward. I noticed myself walking a little taller, with a straighter back, my abs held in. And I wasn’t even that sore the next day.
Tips from Pilates instructor, Danielle King
1. Wear form-fitting clothing. This will allow to the instructor to correct and adjust your poses more easily. Baggy gear makes it harder to tell if your form isn’t correct.
2. Go to classes at your level. If you’ve never taken a Tower class before, take a beginners session. This will give you a good foundation in the practice by familiarizing you with the positions and the way your body should feel in each position.
3. Come to class with an eagerness to learn, and you’ll get an education in how to move your body with more control, grace and efficiency.
4. Tower Pilates is about developing your core strength. Mix up your Tower classes with the studio’s Plank 360 sessions, which mixes cardio interval training with contemporary Pilates. And don’t leave out other aerobic exercise like running or cycling; you’ve got to take care of your heart.