The Gym Diaries

The Gym Diaries

Part 4

It is freezing and I don’t want to move.

Even as I type this, hot water bottle on my lap and 73 layers deep into my fluffy jumper collection, the cold that sweeps through the gym doors every time someone has the audacity to open them has me doing my best Kate Winslet impression circa 1997. No, there isn’t room on my door, now shut that one on your way out.

Now, you might ask: why is she moaning about the weather when the purpose of these blogs is to inform, nay, inspire, those with an aversion to exercise and a phobia of treadmills?

Well, because it’s true. Winter is well and truly here, and while there is literally nothing more beautiful than the forest turning from orange to I can hardly appreciate it if I'm struggling for breath on my three-minute attempt at a run. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is better for me than a long walk somewhere pretty, but sometimes it is just. too. cold.

So, what can I do?

Darker days and earlier nights leave us with less time outside and the lack of sunlight can have a huge impact on our moods, meaning I really need to ensure I’m taking care of my mental health. I spend most of my time writing at a desk so my posture SUCKS, and I’m struggling to motivate myself following the issues mentioned in my previous post (CW: mention of suicide).

Plus, by the time I get out of work it isn’t exactly safe to go for a run, and on really drizzly days the only option is to find something to do indoors. So, with that in mind, I’ve been trying something else.

Yoga baffles me. I love the concept, I love the message, and I really love the outfits, but I’m afraid that's where this particular romance ends for me. I’ve lit the candles, played the twinkly music, bent myself into ridiculous positions that could never, in any universe, be seen as relaxing and, after a lot of soul-searching, I have decided that we just aren’t meant to be.

That being said, I’m still desperate to try something new and kick my endorphins into action. I know what I like (strength training, stress relief, and an excuse to wear great leggings) and what I don’t (intense cardio, the cold, and being shouted at by Bootcamp instructors). So, I racked my brains and found the answer: Pilates.

Disclaimer: if anyone says ‘but that’s just like Yoga?!’ you will be banned from my gym. It is not. In fact, it has everything I want to love about Yoga combined with the strength training I need, and something about the mix of weight and mobility helps me to focus in a way Yoga just doesn’t.

Created in the early 20th Century by Joseph Pilates (yeah, seriously), Pilates was established as a way to help strengthen the entire body evenly, with a focus on core strength. Requiring intense concentration, it has some similarities to Yoga, including mat work and an emphasis on the connection between mental and physical health. However, Yoga focuses on relaxation and uses mediation which, for me personally, just doesn’t work. I think that in pushing myself to feel calm, I inevitably wind up more stressed than before I started.

Pilates, on the other hand, manages to chill me out and leave me feeling achy, which is basically the best thing ever for a woman who has a fear of running and an insatiable thirst for sleep but still craves post-workout smugness.

The main benefits of Pilates are:

  • Increased strength and muscle tone of your ‘core’ muscles
  • Increased flexibility
  • Balanced muscular strength on both sides of your body
  • Stabilisation of the spine
  • Improved posture
  • Rehabilitation of injuries
  • Improved concentration
  • Stress management
  • Increased lung capacity
  • Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries

Now, this list is obviously not exhaustive, but it pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with me in ten points. So that’s encouraging. Ever since I was little in Ballet lessons, I struggled to understand why I had the flexibility of a plank of wood and throughout any exercise I’ve done, this has always been a major sticking point for me.

Plus, a history of smoking has left me with a less than perfect ability to breathe and that’s really something I’d like to work on, you know, in general. So, this is my starting point!

Alongside my regular weight training and endless walking, I figure Pilates could be the missing piece of the ‘get Ruby to chill out’ puzzle. Plus, literally, none of it needs to be done outside, so, until I come out of hibernation it seems like the ideal setup!

My first try involves a lot of mat-repositioning and awkward reshuffling to make sure I’m actually doing what the instructor is telling me to whilst wondering if anyone has ever actually managed to fall asleep on one of these things before. My guess is no.

I like that it feels more like a workout than Yoga, and with the amount of time I spend in a plank it’s not surprising that my core is burning by the end of it. I also spend less time worrying about whether or not I can bend my legs behind my head and more time focusing on the movements, resulting in a chance to just ‘be’ rather than worry about appearances. Afterward, I actually felt sore and ever so slightly zen.

Win win!

Already, I notice I’m holding myself differently. Taking the time to focus solely on my body and shut out all distractions for even just half an hour allows me to notice things I normally find too easy to ignore.

The way I stand, sit, even walk around, is suddenly put under a microscope and I find myself correcting the most minute posture mistakes I otherwise would have missed, but complained about later.

I also notice how my mind stops racing about the many, many articles and essays I have to write and just centres itself on whatever it is I’m doing in that moment, and for someone with a million deadlines all seemingly landing on the same day, this is a BLESSING.

So, my verdict?

If I’m honest, I really surprised myself by enjoying this. I workout to get strong and tire myself out, and at first, I wasn’t sure if Pilates could deliver the same high I get from strength training but I was pleasantly surprised! It doesn’t wear me out as weights do, but I absolutely did feel a full-body burn by the end!

Plus, I feel more flexible and this is something I’ve always wanted to improve, so I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t become a part of my regular workout routine. Also, I’m 99% sure I felt an actual ab coming through. What’s not to like?