words by Francesca Londono-Brasington

For me, it’s all about the sweat. I love it. Unless I sweat, working out seems pointless. I want to feel the burn and my blood pumping.  For that reason I’ve always concentrated on high intensity cardio training like swimming, running and spinning. Although truthfully, I’m envious of those yoga types with their long, toned limbs and dancer statuesque. I can’t deny it, I want to look like that! However I’ve tried yoga numerous times, attempted all kinds of classes but to no avail. The honest truth is; I find it the most mind numbingly boring exercise in existence. I wish I didn’t, I really, really do. There is nothing I’d like more than to experience that Zen like feeling people tell me about. But truthfully, the only time I feel vaguely Zen, is lying down on the mat at the end of the class thanking my lucky stars it’s all over. It probably doesn’t help that I’m embarrassingly inflexible (i’ll admit it, I can’t even touch my toes) and therefore every movement involving my hamstrings is a struggle and not enjoyable.

I was incredibly excited when Bikram became all the rage, I thought I may have finally discovered a joy for yoga; the heated room covered my love for sweating and the exercise would fulfil my limb lengthening, body beautiful ambition. Sadly, after many classes and parting with many of my hard earned pounds, I still found myself clock watching and my mind wandering. It was not to be. Although I loved the heat of the room and I had grown especially fond of snoozing on my mat before and after the class (the warmest place to be mid winter), the exercise itself was just too repetitive and I knew I couldn’t continue. I didn’t take it lightly, I am not a quitter. I just had to admit yoga was not for me.

In recent months, I’ve been plagued by lower back pain. A result of years of competitive swimming (butterfly being my main stroke, which is terrible for backs although ironically is the only bit of me which is flexible) coupled with sitting at a desk all day long. I complained constantly about my back and time and time again Pilates was heralded as the solution. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in Pilates, I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about it. Yoga had always hogged the limelight in the press and I assumed Pilates must basically be the same and I’d hate it just as much. Plus the only people I knew who did Pilates were my mother’s friends which led me to believe it must be easy and therefore pointless. How very wrong my initial view would prove to be!

My first foray into Pilates was at my gym and luckily for me, the teacher, Alison was fantastic taking the time to explain the breathing and how to do each movement. Despite thinking I had a strong core, I quickly realised I hadn’t been using all my small internal muscles correctly, if at all. Of course, we all hear about the importance of pelvic floor muscles but actually engaging them and using them properly makes a huge amount of difference to every movement, especially balance and also helps to protect the back.  As well as the core, we worked on our arms doing various push ups and squats for those all important glutes. Amazingly, I wasn’t bored, I loved the strengthening element as well as the lengthening and really felt my back loosen. And it certainly wasn’t easy! I’ve since been back each week and have been raving about it to anyone who will listen.

Since becoming such a Pilates convert, I’m making it my mission to try out different types. Yotopia have just opened in Covent Garden and together with Boutique Sport they hosted an event last week in which they invited 50 people to attend Hot Pilates. Of course, I jumped at the chance, my new love of Pilates coupled with a lovely hot room to sweat in – fantastic!  And I wasn’t let down, it was definitely hot (the room reached 53degrees) conducive for the all important sweat. As per my usual Pilates, the movements concentrated on the core muscles with variations of the exercises according to whether you’re a beginner/intermediate or advanced. I really liked the fact it catered for all levels and I found stretching out my legs with a band at the end of the class particularly useful for my tight hamstrings. The heat helps for a deeper, more intense stretch without the risk of injury.

I also managed to try out Reformer Pilates at the Fulham branch of Bootcamp Pilates.  The reformer machine looks a little like a torture device with pulleys, springs and ropes but do not let that put you off.  It was the hardest but most effective class I have tried yet!  It works every single muscle in the body.  I still ache all over!