Last week, a few members of the Greatist Team headed uptown to get lean, long, and strong at Uptown Pilates. Once at the studio — and after sipping some chia seed-infused water — we joined our instructor in the back room. Although some of us had done Pilates before, most of us were complete novices. We each chose a mat, plopped down facing individual mirrors, and waited for instruction.

Our instructor, Vehia Walker, asked us to sit with our backs tall and our feet planted on the mat. She then explained the six core principles of Pilates — breathing, centering, control, precision, flow, and focus. Pilates is all about developing flexibility, mastering good posture, gaining muscle endurance, and achieving balance Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. Kloubec, J.A., Department of Health and Exercise Science, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, USA. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Mar;24(3):661-7.. Created by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, the series of exercises is still popular a century after its conception.

The Greatist Team has tried Pilates before, but this class was different. Instead of lying on the floor on a thin roll-up mat, we used the comfy high mat, which provided extra support and cushioning during difficult moves.

The high mats, located a few inches off the floor, would have been great for a midday nap, but we knew there had to be some sweating (and you know, a workout) involved. Walker, who started her Pilates training over a decade ago, said our first task was to engage our powerhouse — Pilates lingo for the core (the 29 pairs of muscles located around the midsection and pelvis). To warm up our powerhouse muscles, we performed a series of roll ups, transitioning the body from a seated position to lying down primarily using the core to slowly curl up and down. Some of us were pretty wiped after just one exercise, but Walker warned us, “It’s going to get a little spicy in there.” She definitely wasn’t kidding.

Next up: the hundred. Lying face up, head and shoulders lifted, we extended our legs to a 45-degree angle with the feet in a Pilates stance (heels together, toes slightly apart). Okay, this was doable. Then, we pumped our outstretched hands up and down…100 times. It doesn’t sound all that intense, but by the last few reps we all had a little shake going on in our tummies. After more abs-centric moves including rolling like a ball, single straight leg stretch, and crisscross, we were in for a doozy with the double leg stretch. This toughie involved lowering both legs toward the mat while trying to keep the upper body from wriggling around. It was seriously challenging to keep the belly button pulled in, the neck comfortable, and legs hovering above the mat (and maintain that position for a minute or two).

After our abs were feeling the burn, we moved on to a few leg moves. We kicked one leg at a time up toward the ceiling, drew little circles with our toes, and even attempted to kick our own faces. Thankfully none of us were flexible enough to actually succeed.

One of our last moves was the teaser. Walker warned us that this was going to be the hardest move yet. Again, she wasn’t exaggerating. This move requires some serious balance and core strength, which was hard to conjure up after all that “spiciness” earlier in the class. With the legs suspended at a 45-degree angle, we rolled up (slow, steady, and controlled) then rolled back down to the mat, all the while keeping the legs from moving. Easy, right? We all managed to get the hang of it after a few tries, but I wouldn’t say we were teaser experts by any means.By the end of the class, we weren’t drenched in sweat like after an hour of spinning or kangoo, but Pilates was challenging in its own way. There was a lot of shaking, stretching, and activating muscles that seemed to never have existed before the hour-long class. I felt great, though my abs felt as if they’d been marinated in Tabasco sauce.

No time to hit the studio? Try our 10-minute core-blasting Pilates workout at home!

What’s your favorite Pilates move? Which do you think is the hardest? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.

Photos by Nicole McDermott

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