High-Intensity Interval Training is tough. Pilates is also tough. Can Megan Wood survive a class that combines both?
I went into this cardiolates class with eyes wide open. Described as 55 minutes of high-intensity cardio and Pilates that will "push you beyond your comfort zone and have you longing for the nearest exit", it's safe to say I knew it was going to be tough. I'd skimmed over the part that mentioned kettlebells though – I hate kettlebells! - and when they came out I panicked a little, but I was determined to give cardiolates a chance.
In the 1920s, Joseph Pilates developed what we now call pilates, although he called it "contrology". Pilates developed his "contrology" exercises in a prison camp during World War I, aiming to improve muscle strength and endurance in his fellow internees.
Pilates also invented and patented a range of equipment to support the exercises, including the reformer machine, and a few more creations that sound like instruments of torture, such as the Wunda Chair and Spine Corrector.
Before I faced off with the reformer it was all about the High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Whose brilliant idea was HIIT, you ask? It turns out a few people are to blame.
During the early 20th century, Olympic runners, such as Finnish gold-medallist Hannes Kolehmainen, started to experiment with the effectiveness of interval training.
In the 1990s, Dr Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, started to research and develop his own version of high-intensity training while observing Japan's speed skating team.
By the mid-2000s Pilates popularity was at its peak, but for two twin sisters in New York this wasn't enough. Katherine and Kimberly Corp, owners of fitness centre, Pilates on Fifth, decided to combine cardio and pilates to make workouts more challenging and fun. They debuted their cardiolates concept in 2006 at the International Health and Racquet Sports Association Convention in Las Vegas.
Despite its popularity in the US, cardiolates is only just taking off in New Zealand, with a few studios in North Island offering this unique combination.
Let's stick with Dr Tabata. Noticing the positive results of skaters training in short, intense bursts, he set out to prove his theory on interval training with a simple experiment: One group of subjects performed an hour of steady cardiovascular exercise on a stationary bike five times a week. The other group did a 10-minute warm-up on a bike, followed by four minutes of intense intervals, four times a week, plus one 30-minute session of steady exercise with two minutes of intervals.
After six weeks of testing, the interval group had increased their anaerobic capacity by 28 per cent and their VO2 max (a key indicator of cardiovascular health and maximal aerobic power) by 15 per cent. The control group also improved their VO2 max, but only by 10 per cent. They saw no improvement in anaerobic capacity.
The science to support Pilates is a little murkier. Research into its efficacy reveals a lot of inconclusive and anecdotal information, with one positive study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2016.
The report, titled the Effect of the Pilates Method on Physical Conditioning of Healthy Subjects: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, found Pilates performed regularly for five to 12 weeks "improves abdominal muscular endurance for both genders, when compared to no exercises". Which basically means so far studies have only been able to prove that Pilates is better than no exercise at all - doesn't seem like an earth-shattering revelation, does it?
In the relaxed and welcoming Reform studio in Parnell, the class was divided in two, with one group alternating bike sprints and the other box jumps and lunges. Neither option looked like fun, but I chose the bike first. The sprints got my heart rate up nicely, but the box reminded me that my netball-damaged knees still hate me. Next came the kettlebells (did I mention how much I hate kettlebells?), followed by planks and push-ups and, lastly, more box work. By the final step-ups I was fading, my face resembled a beetroot and I really wished I hadn't left my water bottle out of reach.
Finally, the high-intensity part of the class ended, and we moved on to the reformer machine. A combination of stretches and strengthening followed, and though I knew my stomach muscles were going to be yelling at me the next day, I really liked the Pilates component.
It was hard, but I surprised myself by getting through and actually enjoying it. Our instructor, Eli, was informative and encouraging, and everyone was free to work out at their own pace. At the end of those 55 minutes, I was exhausted and felt like I had worked every muscle in my body.
If you are looking to kick your fitness up a notch, fast, this class could be for you. If you are more interested in stretching, toning and strengthening, try a straight Pilates class – the reformer machine wasn't so scary after all.