Salvation at My Local Pilates Studio

It’s my birthday week and, since blogging has been one of my work life balance joys in these last few months, I have decided to challenge myself with a blog post a day every day this week. Some are relevant to the milestone that is fast approaching, others are not, but it will be a gift to myself to reach my b-day week goal. Hope you enjoy.

 

I had a private reformer session today and boy, oh boy, did my instructor work me. She made sure she complimented me on the major strides I have made since I first sent her an email inquiry just over 24 months ago but then she worked my core, hips, and glutes like nobody’s business. And it hurt, and it felt so good, all at the same time.

Mostly, I was just proud that I took some time out of my day to make myself leaner and stronger (and hence healthier) when up until that email I was making no efforts to be well after more than a decade of ingrained self-negligence. If you’re not naturally athletic, if you weren’t raised in a home where being fit and healthy was a priority, and if you pick a life partner with basically the same wellness liabilities as you, it’s easy to use medical school, surgical training, and life as an attending surgeon as an excuse to not take care of yourself.

So here is how the email sent on 6/22/2012 went:

Thanks for reaching out to me by phone earlier today…To reiterate, I am a trauma/acute care surgeon with a busy schedule that I cannot sometimes control. That said, I need to be in better shape and I wanted to start pilates reformer 1:1 to improve my back pain and posture and make my overall cardiovascular endurance better. I wanted to meet with someone for a first reformer class and if we hit it off, move forward with a 10 pack but I could not commit to the same day and time every week and some weeks I could not do any session while others I could do two.  Is there someone there who might be able to work with me?
Leading up to this email, I had done some online research on other local fitness options and had done a qualitative study of sorts from my friends, neighbors, and colleagues. From the traditional gym to crossfit to bootcamps to private personal trainers, I had explored them all. For most, I was either put off by my perceived culture of the establishment or none of the offerings were going to meld with my hectic schedule. What drew me to my local pilates studio was multiple.
It was the story of the founder who wrote on her website about how her back pain dissipated when she learned pilates–I had been waking up with excruciating pain for the past 6 years (hunching awkwardly in the OR can do that to you). It was the studio interior which made my sort of frumpy suburban scene seem urban and hip–I left an amazing city to move to the burbs because it was the right thing for my family but I’m a city girl at heart. It was my research on the art and science of pilates which seemed like exactly what my body needed to become healthy from inside out–I had done the fits and spurts of diet controlled weightloss many times in the past and had failed. It was the flexibility of booking sessions the private instructors and paying with punch cards or passes that would only be charged for the sessions I signed up for–I had tried the motivation of automatic monthly fees or year long commitments only to lose money without imparting any improvement in my strength or agility.
And, so on the morning of my 38th birthday I arrived at 6am, a little fearful, a little exhilarated for my first Stott reformer class.v2max Something that I had initially viewed as a medieval torture device soon became my tool for healing my chronic pains, for gaining length and building strength. My goals was to be in the best shape of my life by the time I turned 40. That’s just 6 days away and like I was reminded today and am reminded every time I wear an awesome dress without Spanx, I have come a long  way.
Finding this studio has saved me from heading into the next decade of my life feeling tired, with a hunched, aching back, and a body shape with much to be desired. Last week was a banner week for me with a relatively light 87 hour week on service so I was able to do a lot at the studio. I took a group reformer class, zumba, and two barre classes at the studio in addition to my private which I still try to make at least twice a month (but my schedule is no better so it doesn’t always happen). Sometimes, however, weeks go by and I don’t go at all between call and travel.  But, all of the fundamentals I have gained by starting first with reformer and then adding in other offerings at the studio which fundamentally are focused on building and sustaining the core are now with me every day.
When I am too busy at work to make it to the studio, I might do a quick set of exercises on the floor of my office on call or use the edge of the OR table to do some more while waiting for the patient to get rolled into the room. When I travel, I have enough core strength and coordination to be an itinerant Pure Barre student (I surely would have died on site during my first Pure Barre class had I not already been a student of Stott Pilates method for well over a year). Finally, though it was not known to me when I wrote that email, I was also an aspiring runner. And, pilates has made me a stronger, safer, and faster runner. So when all I have is a pair of kicks and I hit the road, I am taking what I have learned at the studio with me.
There is no doubt in my mind that 40 is better if you are fit. I gave myself two years to be in the best shape of my life and today, as I start my 40th birthday week, I am. Do I have further to go? Yes, absolutely. I am just so happy that I have such a wonderful place to continue achieving my fitness goals–a true place of health and well-being salvation.

 

 

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Barre Hopping

It’s been more than 8 months since @surgeoninkicks introduced me to Pure Barre. As you may have read, I was both cursing and rejoicing in a new found love. Meanwhile, she had reached the hundred club and I had gone to four, yes only four, classes–all in different zip codes.100photo

As someone who has been working on strengthening my core, improving my posture, and just overall feeling leaner and stronger for a couple of years now, I immediately took to barre. It is a fusion of the music driven aerobic work that first drew me to group exercise classes years ago (yes, back then there were steps and grapevines involved!) and the focused core/seat work and long muscle sculpting of pilates which I started less than two years ago (yes, as gift to myself on the morning of my 38th birthday I tried reformer as an initial foray into being fit by 40).

As you also may have read, I really struggle (and have struggled for years during which school, and work, and a growing family–not to mention lack of any inherent athletic ability– made for easy excuses to neglect myself) to make time to exercise. Getting in a 30-60 min workout is hard enough without lead time. So, I have tried to make it easy–I have a home gym with professional grade cardio equipment and a Stott reformer, I belong to the gym at work with 24 accessibility so I can sneak in exercise while on call, and I am a short 7 min drive from my local pilates studio where, if work cooperates, I can take a variety of group classes ranging from mat pilates to Zumba as well as reformer classes (oh and I own a pair of running shoes). Sadly, I live 35 min away from the nearest dedicated barre studio. And no matter how motivated I am, no matter how I try to finagle the work and life schedule, that >1 round trip plus a 55 min class is just not going to happen.

So, I do what I can with my available resources while at home–cardiovascular fitness with running, cardio equipment, or Zumba and core/seat work/toning with reformer and occasional Barre Fit or Total Barre classes at the studio. Interestingly, as much as a struggle to maintain regular fitness while at home during the my usual work schedule, for years now I have been able to make time to exercise while traveling for work. So, instead of heading to the hotel gym, nowadays I get my Pure Barre fix when I am on the road for work.  purebarre-threepics After all, I was 3000 miles away from home when I first tried barre in San Francisco. Then I took another class in DC. Then Boston. Followed by Naples. Somehow, every conference hotel I have stayed at since that first foray into barre has been within 10 minutes by foot or by car of a Pure Barre studio. And so when I travel, I pack my grippy socks and I try to get into at least one barre class. I think of it as Barre Hopping. I can’t tell you how thoroughly disappointed I was this past March when during trips to both DC and Philly with Pure Barre an easy jaunt from both hotels (and yes even some fairly well known competitors and some further out Pure Barre studios) I was denied. If you haven’t tried it yet, this workout is just that addictive, that popular, that every possible class that I could have taken was sold out and had a wait list 6 deep. Drop in classes are typically $23 per class which, for the workout you get and the fun you have compared to the hotel gym where you might have paid a $10-$15 fee anyway, is totally worth it in my opinion to get a Pure Barre fix.

I learned from the DC and Philly experiences that one must plan ahead to be Barre Hopper so I looked ahead and booked a class for each each day of my two Chicago trips. I signed up for three 6 am classes and one 4pm class. The first trip I was 5 blocks away from the studio. The second just 7 blocks. I was so psyched. With this round of Barre Hopping, I doubled my Pure Barre experience in 8 days compared to what I had been able to snag in the past 8 months. I got to take classes from three different instructors which sort of felt like Barre Hopping within Barre Hopping.sock_lrg_1

I wish I had had some company as with my first foray into Pure Barre but I got over my stranger anxiety and my fear of looking like an inflexible, jelly-cored, saggy-butted fool and just went all in. It was my first Pure Barre since January and I loved every minute of every class even though the routines were unfamiliar and the hamstrings were unforgiving. The burn still made me curse under my breath but I did it for the entire 55 minutes and felt great when it was over. Just great. Longing for the next time.

So, if you don’t have a local Pure Barre to frequent, I highly recommend Barre Hopping. I only wish they offered a pre-paid passport of sorts to road warriors to use as Barre Hopping Guests at studios nationwide for slightly less than the $23 drop in rate. I would love to get into the hundred club myself one zip code at a time.

On a side note a description of the workout and why I liked the mini Barre Hopping experience in Chicago:

I don’t know what it’s like for the regulars out there who are lucky enough to have a Pure Barre Studio nearby so that they don’t have to Barre Hop. Do they always try to stick with the same instructor or the same time of day? Do they do a class a week or 3-4x a week? So in my most recent experience, I took 4 classes with 3 different instructors. They all basically used the same set of tunes (and they are just awesome poppy remixes that just fire you up) which they would repeat or move through depending on exercise. They also adhered to the same general flow–1) a quick standing arm/leg warm-up, 2) quick “hundred” series with light weights 3) plank 4) back work 5) arm work 6) thigh work 7) seat work 8) abs, and 9) some low back work all with some quick stretching in between. So you got a sense of what was to come but it didn’t seem like same old, same old, since other than #1, #2, #8 I found that the instructors mixed up the other components just a little bit to keep it interesting. For example, they might vary how much thigh work is done at the barre vs on the floor or with the little red ball vs without. So it never felt boring or redundant. Most importantly, the tiny little muscles that I was certain could never do that again were fooled into doing it again because it wasn’t the exact same move.

To the dark side and back…

I am not going to lie, I have pretty much been on the thinner side of the scale my whole life (with obnoxious amounts of dieting as previously mentioned), but it’s true.  I rarely needed to buy a size larger than a 4.

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All of this changed, however, when my husband and I decided to start a family.  Two heartbreaking miscarriages and two fertility medications later, we were successfully pregnant.  And, about 25 pounds heavier than my usual weight….at the start of my pregnancy.  Well, add 22 pounds of pregnancy weight onto that over the next 9 months, and by the time I gave birth I had an overall weight gain of close to 50 pounds.  Now I know this may not sound like a lot to some people, but for the record, I am 5’ 1”.

Unfortunately some people were brutal to me about this weight gain.  I can absolutely sympathize with Kim Kardashian and Jessica Simpson.  I actually had one person poke me in my thigh and make the comment about how big my thighs had gotten.  Women would just look at me and make cruel comments about how you can never lose all the weight.

I dropped the 22 pregnancy pounds pretty easily, but at 4 months postpartum I was still with almost 30 extra pounds and I was depressed.  I was officially overweight, unhealthy, and unhappy. No, not post-partum I can’t get out of bed depressed.  It was a “I can’t stand the way I look or feel” depressed.  It really hit me when I looked back and realized that I had only ONE picture taken of my child and I together because of my insecurity.  That is when I knew I had to make a change.

My career continuously teaches me that life is too short, and that message never rang more true than at this point in my life.  Although I do believe that life is too short not to eat a piece of cake every once in awhile, life is also too short to not be happy with yourself…especially to the point that you won’t have your picture taken, even with your newborn child.

So, I talked to my wonderfully supportive husband who seriously is the best man on the planet.  I started to think about my life and wanted to set a goal… something that I never thought I could do in a million years.  I signed up for a 5K.  Again, this may not seem like much to some people, but even when I was young and thin and a cheerleader, I was Never a runner.  I hated it.  Running around the track in high school was my own personal 7th level of hell.  But I needed something, anything to help pull me out of the dark place I was in, and I was hoping those 3.1 miles would be it.

Let me tell you, getting back in shape and in the gym was tough.  I felt awkward, big, and quite frankly, ugly.  I didn’t have cute gym clothes and couldn’t find any that were flattering.  So I worked out in maternity t-shirts and baggy shorts.  And I started out slowly, working out 3 days a week and slowly increasing to now 6 days a week when my schedule allows.  I did the couch to 5K program and literally started by running in 1 minute increments.  I also slowly and steadily changed my diet.  I downloaded My Fitness Pal and began recording my food.

Six months after my first road race ever, and before my child’s first birthday, I ran a half-marathon.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment I can’t even begin to explain the depth of it.

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I was now 20 pounds lighter, but not yet still at my goal.  That is when I found Pure Barre.  I had a girls’ weekend and saw my best friend since 3rd grade for the first time in over a year, and she looked great.  I mean, high school thin and fit great.  So I asked her what she had been doing and she replied, “Oh, this is all from Pure Barre.”  I had no idea what Pure Barre was, but took a class with her over that weekend.  And just like the prior post, it was brutal!  I actually flipped her the finger during my first class, told her she was crazy, and that I didn’t realize that extremity seizures were supposed to be a good thing!  Well, needless to say, that first class unveiled my next self-imposed fitness challenge.  I signed up for the New Client Special, and told myself I had to go to at least 10 classes that month for the price.  I haven’t looked back since, and that was 5 months ago.  In the first 2 months I lost 2 inches off my waist, and those aren’t the only changes I have enjoyed.  Besides the better posture and the beginnings of sculpted arms and abdominal definition, I have regained even more confidence.  Confidence not only in how I look, but also in appreciation for what my body can accomplish!  I am working my way towards the 100 club, and loving every minute of it.

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I celebrated my “Run-niversary” last weekend.  I ran the same race, but instead of the 5K, I ran a 15K at a pace three minutes less per mile.  The past year has been a journey from a very dark place, but having had the “overweight” experience has been an enlightening one.  Having been subjected to all the negative comments and jokes has made me not only a more sympathetic person, but because of the determination it gave, a healthier one as well.

B!%#? you can take that barre and shove it!

Recently, a friend of mine convinced me to try a barre class with her. We were on a work-related trip together. Reunited after a year of not seeing each other. I was impressed by how she had reclaimed her body since I had last seen her when she was just 3 months post-partum, partly still bloated and partly still carrying the extra weight we all put on especially during our first pregnancies.

So as I admired her sheer awesomeness in getting back into shape (which she did despite taking 10 calls per month and having an under-one-year old at home), she told me about her new obsession, Pure Barre. No matter how busy she was, no matter how unbalanced her work-life situation felt, she so enjoyed these barre classes that she would make them work. It helped that her local Pure Barre had like a bazillion classes a day that gave her the kind of flexibility she needed with her schedule. But, let’s face it, if there wasn’t something to love–about the experience or the results–she obviously would not make the time in her 36 hour days to snuggle up to some barre when their was undoubtedly a hot bath, or a glass of wine, or a dvr’d episode of Homeland, or a box of sea salt dark chocolate caramels to be had.purebarre-threepics

Given the freedom from patient care and childcare and spousal interaction (see husbands I didn’t call this ‘care’!) the trip allowed, my friend had already signed up for 3 barre classes during the short 4 day meeting. I honestly hadn’t paid much attention to the barre offerings at my local pilates studio (more on that in a later blog because that place has literally changed my life) and had never heard of boutique barre studios like Pure Barre and Bar Method that it seemed to me were the Jazzercise of the 2010s. I was curious to see what this new (at least to me) fitness phenomenon, that has so engaged my friend, was all about.

The-Bar-MethodShe warned me that it would be challenging, that she had been going for months and still hadn’t perfected the individual moves that are altered for each month’s new routines. She told me how she had stumbled upon her own first Pure Barre class serendipitously during a girls’ weekend and had spent every minute of that class cursing those girls. She gave me a brief tutorial on all the very small moves that work the core and the seat before starting the class. I was confident.. I said, “Pshaw! I have been working my core, hips, and glutes with a year of Stott pilates on the mat and the reformer. I got this!”

Holy crap was I wrong. I thought I might die during the class the tetany got so severe (granted it was purposeful tetany but still…). While I could clearly see the parallels between the imprint and the in-joint movements of my dear pilates in every move at the barre or on the mat, the sustained, repetitive movements against my own body weight just detroyed me. They broke me down. I uttered every expletive I know and maybe even made up some new ones, cursing my friend under my breath (and occasionally even out loud) for a full 60 minutes. I felt like one of the interrogation victims I had seen in my most recent dvr’d episode of Homeland: defeated, ready to divulge state secrets.

Yup I loved it. It was so much fun. I wanted to wrap my sweaty, sore body around my friend in gratitude. I could totally see why she made the time to do this to herself at least a few times a week. Sure the end results were amazing as was evident by my friend’s fabulous post-baby physique, but I suspected there was something about the experience, living through it, that made it so addictive. Or, maybe it’s just the Stockholm Syndrome in effect.

I was crazy wanting to do it again. It inspired me to try the Total Barre offerings at my local studio which sadly are just 3-4 times a week and rarely mix with my schedule that I am already carving into pieces to fit in the pilates (more on why I won’t give that up on a later blog). Unfortunately, there are no dedicated barre chain outposts in my immediate vicinity. I was longing to do it again. I needed another hit.

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On my next work-related trip, I was sadly without this dear, fit, barre obsessed friend. So, I sought out a Bar Method class of my own volition figuring it would be fun to compare (and, it was also walking distance whereas the Pure Barre class was not). I cursed a bit less, possibly because it’s harder to curse perfect strangers, but I still loved every torturous second of it. I am sure loyalists to one brand of barre or the other will be up in arms about this but I thought that the work outs were equally challenging and well taught.

For now, I am back to (or trying to get back to) my usual routine and sneaking in a local barre class if possible, eager for my next trip when I can hit a Bar Method or Pure Barre again, fondly remembering that first hour when I said to my friend “B!%#?, you can take that barre and shove it!”