By: Courtney Cerniglia, Fortemente LLC
I never thought of Pilates as more than a mat class at your local gym. Leg kicks, boat pose, and planks formed my impression of the method. Comparing it to yoga, I felt it was on steroids that I didn’t want to be taking. I also thought it was a exercise fad. Not a methodology or a practice, but equivalent to TRX, step, or Zumba.
Courtney would die after hearing this description of Pilates, but unfortunately that’s the picture I’ve had prior to starting with Waveforms Pilates. Only when I started private sessions on the Pilates equipment did I realize the impact the practice would have on my training program.
A Long-Term Goal for Endurance
I’m an endurance athlete. I don’t like to call myself one, but when you have that odd love for long distance sports it becomes the only word to define you. My main sport is cross country skiing; I train for the American Birkebeiner, a 56K ski race held in Northern Wisconsin. It’s the biggest cross country ski race in North America…and hard as hell. The other sports in my life: cycling, running, and yoga; all support a year-round lifestyle of training for the Birke.
This year I trained for my 3rd Birke. The times I’ve posted for the past two years haven’t been in line with what I’d like to see. I knew I was capable of better performance, mainly because I know I’m an exercise slacker. I do what I like, when I like. Thankfully, I like exercise, so it’s enough to get me through events, but it’s not enough for an athlete who wants to perform.
This year I wanted to be serious about skiing. I wanted to gain real strength and power, and gain the mental capacity to post a time I was proud about at the 2017 Birkebeiner.
This meant I had to get serious about resistance training. I have cardio down pat (love cardio). I’m the person who loves to be dripping sweat on my bike and have shaky legs when I’m done running. I love to be sore and feel accomplished. I like to see calorie deficits posted after a long workout. I avoid the weight room and I didn’t have time for gym classes like Pilates. I thought they’d take away from the work I needed.
Adding Pilates to a Training Program
In the Spring before training began, Courtney and I worked together to create a long-term training plan to build resistance endurance. This included the two areas I neglected most as a distance athlete: weight-lifting for power and low-impact resistance training. As part of the plan, I would go to Waveforms Pilates once a week for private sessions on the reformer and other Pilates equipment with Courtney.
I went in to my first session with mixed feelings. I love trying new things, but I’ve never worked with a coach at this level and I was new to the equipment. Courtney guided me through a few prep poses during the session and taught me what to focus on during the poses. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit overwhelmed after the first day.
While I’m a yoga teacher and there’s a lot of overlap, the movements on the reformer were so different than anything else I had done before. It was hard for me to concentrate on both moving correctly and the adjustments. I think many people feel this way after their first session, but of course! That’s why you don’t try something just ONCE.
It didn’t take long to catch on. After a few sessions I saw improvement I was astounded by. We worked together through the summer while I also did strength training. I toned up, built muscle and dropped fat. I started to develop real power in my core, back, and arms.
Gaining Power for Performance
I’ve never needed intense focus on my core muscles, as they’ve always been strong and toned. But, from my first day with Pilates, I realized although I had a strong core, parts of it were very weak. Courtney taught me how to work specific muscles within my midsection to become a solid tank. It’s never looked better or been more solid. This alone eliminated instability issues with my knees and any back pain I experienced moving through yoga poses.
Key for skiing technique, I also needed to strengthen my arms and shoulders. These areas were hands-down the most neglected part of my body. And, my shoulders are where I store tension PLUS agitation due to sitting at a desk during the day. Courtney would give me a 3-lb hand weight for shoulder exercises and I’d still want to cry from the difficulty.
Working on the reformer was great for me since there are endless variations of arm exercises you can do with your body weight. The design of the reformer couldn’t be more perfect for the poling motion of skiing. Courtney made sure she understood what muscles would be key for my technique and combined this with areas I was deficient in. Used together, she guided me through sessions that gave me the best low-impact resistance training for my arms and shoulders that allowed me to open and strengthen. In turn, this led to a more fluid poling technique on the snow and the power to continuously propel my stride forward.
Uniting a Fitness Regimen with a Holistic Approach
As an athlete, Pilates won’t make or break your training program. Like I described, I combined it into a full-spectrum training plan that included my normal routines, mental work, and diet monitoring. Great results never happen with a one-time quick fix. It takes deliberate practice, from all sides.
Pilates did, however, combine a mental focus to resistance training that allowed me to bring awareness to my body’s power. I adjusted the muscles I used for skiing to the ones that brought me greater efficiency and long-term strength. This alignment I learned on the reformer and practiced on the snow. It was the technical edge I needed to become a better skier.
It’s critical to work with the right coach. If I would’ve went to a gym Pilates class, I would never have seen the same results. Courtney brings a refined level of professionalism that’s backed by movement science, anatomy, and a goal-oriented attitude. I needed someone who could push me, talk to me as an athlete, and understand my constraints. Courtney kept me motivated while helping me to better understand my body as a system and how to use it as a whole for performance.
The story ends with a bit of a downer, as the 2017 Birkebeiner race was cancelled due to snow conditions. But, I felt prepared and ready to accomplish my goal. I’m stronger, leaner, and aligned. All the benefits I’ve gained, both mental and physical, will go with me as I train for next year. The best part about training through a holistic method is its universal application to whatever you want to accomplish. Pilates sets you up for success. Incorporating it into your regimen is a step towards achieving your fitness goals!