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Pilates…but not as you know it

Cardio lying down? Yes please! Muddy tries out Adele's fitness of choice, Reformer Pilates, at a brand-new studio in Tiverton.

Having done Pilates on and off (yep, more off) for years I thought I knew all there was to know. It improves your core strength, you can do it without getting all sweaty and it’s pronounced pill-art-ees (not pilots). Easy-peasy!

So, with the waistband getting a bit tight over the summer season of Mini-Magnums and intravenous Prosecco, I thought I’d take myself off for a one-to-one sesh at Red Yew Studio in Tiverton. It was opened last October by Stacy Weeks who was a hot contender for best fitness instructor in this year’s Muddy Devon Awards.

The studio is on the first floor of Tiverton’s Grade 1 listed ex-library, with leaded sash windows overlooking the river on one side and old-town architecture on the other. Inside is 1500 square feet of stylishness: bright and airy, grey walls, inspirational quotes and pictures from Stacy’s time as a professional dancer. You can come here for classes – there are four teachers in total – a one-to-one with Stacy, or a Duet class for two.

Stacy, who is smiley and friendly and, as you’d expect, has a fab bod, explains that not all Pilates classes are equal: think of them as like Heinz beans. There’s your fancy-pants Heinz beans with extra bits, your ordinary beans, and your own-brand basics. Stacy teaches the magic beans, Reformer Pilates – reputedly the reason for Adele’s recent weight loss – as created by German founder Joseph Pilates in the early part of the 20th century. And she really knows her stuff, having a qualification from the world-leading Pilates organisation BASI (Body Arts & Science International) and over 600 hours of observation, teaching and self-practice (four times the hours it takes to gain the basic matwork qualification), plus an award to prove it from LUX International – Best Pilates & Dance Production Company 2017 South West England.

While she does teach on mats, most of Stacy’s classes are on special apparatus, called a Reformer. Though it sounds like a torture instrument for someone who gave it up and is now doing it again, it’s a wooden beech frame with an upholstered carriage which slides up and down the frame on wheels. It has straps and other functions, meaning you can lie on it and work your arms, legs, abdomen and bum just like you would on a leg-press in a gym, but in a much more precise way – targeting very specific muscles with just a slight change in the position of your feet, for example.

I started by lying down (always my favourite exercise position) with legs bent, and my feet on a metal foot-bar. Stacy (who’s posing for the pics to spare you my flubber) told me to place my feet and toes in various positions and I was amazed by how a small tweak could work a different part of my stomach muscles, including ones running down the centre which I’d no idea I even had.

Even when I was exercising my arms and bat wings (I can’t lay claim to triceps) your core is tense so you’re always working your abdominal muscles.

You can even do cardio lying down – not as easy as it sounds – using a jump board which you fit to the end of the reformer, bouncing backwards and forwards on your feet. Much less challenging on the bladder than leaping about on trampolines, apparently, and easier on the bones and joints for those suffering with osteoporosis and arthritis. 

Spinal articulation looks quite intense, think I’ll leave that one to the experts – brilliant for your core though.

Reformer Pilates is good for toning up without bulking up, gives you a stronger body and improves your posture. Because of the intensity, it’s perfect for time poor people, as a little goes a long way.

Stacy told me after a few months of using the machines she’d went from a 34-C to a 32-D – and though I’m not one to gossip *guffaws* she also reckoned Holly Willoughby’s new thigh gap was thanks to a reformer.

It’s more expensive than most classes at £20 per hour, but I reckon it would be worth the money as I feel like I’d tone up far more quickly than from the half-half-hearted running I do, and without the strain on my knees.

I’d also come for Stacy – she’s a real motivator and she likes wine, cake and Haribo. She took up Pilates after being involved in two car accidents a few years apart, which halted her dancing career and saw her weight balloon by almost four stone. Her method is less about depriving yourself and more about making little tweaks. So, when I confessed a weakness for salted peanuts, instead of telling me off, she suggested diluting with healthier pecans. And my fondness for fizz? Switch to something with less sugar and drink gin, she said. Just the kind of advice I like from a fitness instructor.

Red Yew Studio, First Floor Former Library Memorial Hall, Angel Hill, Tiverton EX16 6PE Tel: 01844 251222

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