Spring training: You've got to move it, move it

Spring has sprung, and with it the need to move. One lazy Lucy drags herself off the couch ...

Photo / Getty Images.
Photo / Getty Images.

What to do? What to do? Summer is just peaking above the horizon and all the while winter has seen my own girth take on planetary proportions - to the point where, distressingly, I'm in danger of forming my own gravitational field. This is definitely not a heavenly body.

The difficulty, though, is my natural allergy to exercise. It's the secret shame of modern times. While everybody else seems to be shaking their Zumba booties at any opportunity, or sadistically dragging themselves to the park every frosty dawn to be thrashed within in an inch of their lives by some evil boot camp trainer, I prefer to retire to the drawing room with a good book and a refreshing beverage. I have been known to move about occasionally to forage for food and impractical shoes, but exercise for the sake of it is something I struggle to understand, let alone do.

Sadly this is not working as a fitness regime. Advancing age and appetite are working against me. So, fellow couch potatoes, here is the plan. From this week forward I will be subjecting my winter self to a spring overhaul - testing out the good, the bad, the ugly and the just plain odd in the world of exercise - with the mission of helping us all find something we might actually enjoy doing.

First up: pilates - chosen primarily because it appears to involve a good deal of lying down. And lo, before you can say "core strength" I am lying on a mat at re:ab fitness studio in Grey Lynn, Auckland.

Having no previous pilates experience is no barrier here. The classes are relaxed and small, meaning the instructors can keep an eye on everybody and make sure you're doing everything right.

I soon learn pilates is pretty straightforward and most of the movements are simple to perform. The key thing is keeping your core (ie your abs) engaged so they're doing all the work. Once you get that body position right everything else kind of sorts itself out.

Copying the more experienced pilateans in the class, I start by lying on my back atop a rubber roll placed the length of the mat. I immediately feel my PC-worker's permanent hunch ease out in the opposite direction with a few gentle creaks and clicks. That itself was worth the price of admission.

By the end of the hour-long mat session I feel great. This is not a cardio workout, so you feel warm but not dripping and exhausted. My abs can certainly tell they've had a workout as can areas such as the inner thigh and upper arms, but not so much that I'll be in rigid agony the next day - the leading killer of exercise motivation.

I enjoyed it so much I find myself back a few days later for a pilates reformer class, essentially the same or similar groups of non-impact exercises, this time performed on a bed - albeit one that appears to belong to someone with rather specialist website tastes.

In fact, the reformer with all it's belts and straps, makes pilates more fun.

It takes a little more practice to get your co-ordination right, but once you do, you feel the benefits immediately and your muscles work a little harder. It feels more like an all-over workout rather than being so core-focused. Again, by the end of class I felt good - worked out, without being wrung out.

Pilates was a great first option for getting off the couch - think of it as lying down, with extras. It's not going to make you wafer thin but muscle tone is definitely on the cards with repeat visits. It was fun, relaxed and a good early indicator that it's possible for exercise to be enjoyable. Who knew?

What the experts say:

Pilates tips from re:ab fitness studio:

* Pilates can help with injury rehabilitation, ante- or post-natal strengthening, posture and sports performance. Pilates strengthens core abdominal muscles primarily, but also the glutes, legs, pelvic floor and upper body.

* Pilates is very effective in improving postural awareness and helps correct muscle imbalances. Other benefits include improved biomechanics, efficiency of movement and improved movement patterns. In general, pilates has great toning effects, making the body look longer and leaner. As there is no cardio component, fat-burning is minimal.

* Beginners should start with mat classes, as these focus a little more on control, correct movement patterns and efficient use of muscles. Reformers are more advanced, making it easier to use large muscle groups rather than focusing control to a specific muscle.

* Ideally, to notice a difference, clients should attend pilates two to three times a week, but once is better than nothing.


- Herald on Sunday

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