Something I’ve learned doing this column over the past couple of years is that Pilates is a lot like pasta sauce among Italian grandmothers: Everyone has a slightly different way of doing it and everyone claims theirs is the right way. I’ve tried a number of variations – both “classical,” which adheres closely to the foundational teachings of Joseph Pilates, and “contemporary,” which may transform the basics or incorporate exercises from other disciplines – and each of them has been a good experience that taught me something about balance or movement.
Frankly, I don’t have any particular fidelity to Pilates’ original practice. I just want to work out. And that’s where my prior experiences have left a little something to be desired. Whatever the positive effects of those classes, I did not walk out of the studio sweating. If you do a one-hour fitness class and don’t break a sweat, does it really count?
Before arriving at Providence Pilates Center on the East Side, I exchanged emails with owner/instructor Cheryl Turnquist. She explained that she teaches according to a classical Pilates training program that “keeps to the integrity of the teachings of Joseph Pilates” – but that wasn’t the part that interested me. “It is meant to be a workout,” she says. “We want you to sweat and feel challenged, which is different than other types of Pilates that may be healthy and valuable ‘movement experiences’ but not necessarily a workout.”
I joined Cheryl for an intermediate-level “classical mat” class. “We stick to a very regimented format,” she explained. “There is a routine to the work that allows for what we consider ‘depth of practice’ when practicing on a regular basis. In our style, every exercise is considered a total body exercise.” True to her word, it was the most challenging Pilates class I’ve experienced, requiring not only strength and balance but stamina as well.
We typically think of Pilates as an equipment-intensive practice, requiring expensive machines with serious-sounding names like “The Tower” and “The Reformer.” This class was refreshingly devoid of springs, straps, bars and such. Save for a few key props, like a mini-balance ball and something called the “Magic Circle” (a ring-like tool providing light resistance when pressed), this class mostly consisted of exercises you could repeat at home. Simple movements like “one-leg circles” and “rolling like a ball,” which are exactly what they sound like, activated the muscles and got us revved up for more challenging sets later in the hour.
Cheryl’s approach is heavy on routine and progression. Each segment of the class is structured to use one basic starting point for a variety of movements, such as the “Series of Five,” which consists of several leg stretches performed face-up on the mat with the torso lifted slightly to engage the abs. Similarly, the segments are ordered in relation to each other to achieve that total body workout.
Within that basic structure, there is much that can be done. “I work off of the same routine for young adults that I do with my 80-year-olds,” Cheryl says. “I can modify as needed to make the concepts doable for those that need support, and I can have challenging variations for those that need more.” Indeed, with each exercise she would demonstrate the basic movement and then offer slight variations to increase the level of difficulty – mostly simple twists like pointing a toe while stretching a leg or extending the range of motion on a particular movement. At times, I experimented with those extra flourishes and at others the default setting was enough.
Like all of my previous Pilates classes, it was both mentally and physically challenging, helping me better understand the correlations among strength, control and balance. Unlike the others, however, I left this one dripping with sweat. Count it.
5 Lincoln Ave, Providence