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A total body workout: Pilates

An interview with Sarah Simons, Pilates instructor and owner of Pilates on 8th

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It’s always inspiring to meet someone who is so passionate about what they do. Sarah Simons says Pilates found her in her early twenties and she has been a devotee ever since, training in New York City and Philadelphia and now opening a studio, Pilates on 8th in Honesdale, PA. I sat down on a Cadillac (not the car, a Pilates machine) and talked with Sarah about her passion. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

Q: What is Pilates?
A: It is the basic question. It’s the easiest and the hardest [to answer], and it’s hard because you don’t want to flood people with too much information, because they are already thinking it must be like yoga. I get that a lot. Well, there are elements of Pilates that can be like yoga, but for the most part it’s completely different. The way I would personally describe Pilates is it’s a total body workout. Pilates is three things: cardio, strength training and stretching—all in one. That’s what makes Pilates so great; in a 50-minute session you work every muscle in your body. It focuses on your core and core stability, but when done correctly it’s kind of magical what it does for the whole body.
Joseph Pilates created all of these different pieces of apparatus to assist people in movements. Maybe somebody comes in that has a back problem, so I immediately want to get them on the reformer, because they get to do their whole workout lying down. Pretty much all the equipment utilizes spring resistance. Based on what they have going on with their body, I level resistance to give them the best workout for their body.
I’ve been using the phrase “total body workout” a lot because I think that people look at Pilates and say it’s probably easy, but it really is an intense workout. That being said, Pilates is appropriate for all types of bodies. I have women that are younger, women who just had a baby and are looking to do something for themselves. I have elderly clientele who are looking to be able to get down and off a chair safely knowing they’re supported with their core muscles. I have runners; I have quite a few marathoners. The feedback I get from them is that this has taken their running to another level. I have one girl who just from adding the Pilates in, her marathon time has gotten better.

Q: What are the benefits of Pilates?
A: I think that there are so many benefits for so many different types of bodies. I’ve seen a surge of men come through the doors. I have a couple of men that religiously come to mat class—notoriously mat classes are usually women and men don’t want to come, but men are really seeing the benefit. As men get older, in an age where everybody is so ‘we have to lift weights,’ they forget about this part of their body [the core] that supports every other part of your body including your back and legs. They realize that it’s not this girly workout; they can get an intense workout out of Pilates.
I try to say those three things: your cardio, strength training and your flexibility, because when I go into all those other things, it’s overwhelming to people. So I say come in, try it, and then you usually understand why I just say those three things.
I can tell you a question that comes up a lot is how many times a week should I do Pilates. You can do it once a week and that’s going to give you a benefit. Ideally, it’s meant to be done three to four times a week to get the most benefit. On average, my clients come in between two to four times a week. I have a few that are religious and come in three to five. You usually find with Pilates that it’s addicting in a good way; it leaves you with energy.
One of the first exercises that we generally start with on the mat is called the 100, and what that does is engages your core muscles, wakes them up, and then the idea from there is that sets the tone that your core muscles are engaged and you’re going to use them for the rest of the workout. The 100 is the quintessential exercise. It completely invigorates you. You lie down on the mat and your first thought is, ‘I don’t want to work out,’ and then you start the 100 and you’re like ‘alright, I can do this,’ and then you don’t want to do this, and then you get to the end and there’s new oxygen in your system and it sets the tone for the rest of the workout. Each movement builds upon the one before it, which is one of the coolest parts about Pilates. And then within different exercises you see an exercise from before. A lot of the movements, once you get the basics down, you build from there.
I don’t want to sound corny, but there’s something so magical that happens here when people walk out that door; they have so much more energy to go on about their day. For me personally, that’s what hooked me on Pilates. It was the first workout I did where I was like, ‘I want to go for a walk now, I want to walk the dogs, I want to clean my house.’ And I hear that time and time again from people after they come in. I have runners that come in on Saturday mornings and then they go out for a run and have the best run of their life after they do this.

Q: What is your background?
A: My mom and I were out to lunch and we ran into her Pilates instructor whom I now know as Maggie. My mom was like ‘I can’t make it to Pilates this week.’ I said to her, ‘well I’ll take your session,’ and that was how it started. I went to the session, and I remember calling my mom and saying ‘oh my God I need to do this all the time.’ That was it for me. I started working with Maggie then. I just loved it. My body constantly craved more. I had so much energy all the time. When I was in my early 20s I experienced a lot of anxiety, any girl in her younger 20s experiences anxiety, right. I was amazed at how I didn’t, not that I completely didn’t have anxiety, but how it freed me from the anxiety that I had. I’ve always gone a holistic route with things in life. Being able to find something like this, this method of movement that made me feel so great in my body and like I could take on anything in the world, was the answer. I would pay endless amounts of money just to be able to do something like that.
So I was working with Maggie for a couple years, and I knew pretty much right away that this was something that was different for me. But there was one day that I was in the middle of an exercise, and she said to me something to the effect of, ‘girl are you gonna do this or what?’ And that was it. I went home and decided what was going to be the best method for me to get trained. And I embarked on a journey. There’s a lot of different certifications, and I went through Power Pilates in New York City. And then I also trained at their regional training center in Philadelphia. She helped me to realize what I was supposed to do in life.

Q: What does your studio offer?
A: I offer private and duet sessions. The equipment session incorporates every piece that Pilates has to offer. A duet session is mainly the same as a private session; it’s just generally done with a friend or a student I know is at the same level. Most people find the private sessions are amazing. They are for if somebody is a special case, like is coming off physical therapy and needs to continue to strengthen, or somebody that has had a hip replacement. I create a workout for them based on classical Pilates that’s safe and effective for their body. Generally people find after a few sessions they may want to enter a mat class. I also have private sessions that are just for a kick-butt workout; I can challenge people in ways with this equipment that’s on another level.
And then the tower classes incorporate the three towers machines. I teach four people, because the Cadillac also serves as a tower. The tower has everything the Cadillac has: a roll back bar, a push through bar, leg and arm springs, and everything is attached to a spring for resistance. The tower classes are a cheaper price point than the private and duet sessions, where you’re getting my undivided attention and focus. There’s nothing like using the equipment. Using the wall unit, it combines the mat work and incorporates those exercises. That’s pretty much what it is. I don’t want to be doing everything for them. That being said, the first few sessions it’s overwhelming because there are so many things going on. So I change all of my client’s equipment for them when they first start, but then as we go and they start to settle into the movements, they change their spring [themselves].
And then I have two mat classes each week. Tuesday class is mixed level; I break down the exercises more so if somebody is new to class they can follow along. And then Thursday is open mat; that has people who are religious about coming, and that class flows, meaning I go from one exercise to the next so people get more of a challenging workout. In both classes I throw in light weights and a magic circle. This is a less expensive form of equipment that gives you resistance and helps you connect to your core. I also use resistance bands.
One of the reasons that I wanted to move to a downtown space, number one, I see such great things happening in downtown Honesdale, there’s a lot of movement, which is amazing. I wanted to be a part of that, but more than anything, I wanted to introduce people to a full classical Pilates studio, and what it has to offer. That’s what I’ve been able to create here. You can do the private sessions, and can add the tower in. I’m very aware that Pilates is a huge investment, I don’t take that lightly. My prices come in lower than some other people. In the cities you pay upwards of $100 for a private session, and I only charge $50 a session. I break down packages to make them affordable for people, I’m happy to offer people a package.

Q: Is there anything else you want to say?
A: Just that Pilates is fun. I think sometimes people look at it and think it’s so serious. Some of the best moments with my clients are when we just are uncontrollably laughing; you have to be able to look at yourself and laugh. It’s not always that serious, it’s fun. It’s about progress, not perfection. When I was in my younger 20s, I tried to hit the gym, I tried personal training, I tried running, and this is meant to give you back your health. He [Joseph Pilates] said it invigorates your mind and your body. There’s a saying: in 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 you’ll see it, and in 30 you have a whole new body. It’s absolutely true, especially if you’re committed to it. That being said, it doesn’t work for everybody for the rest of their life. I do work with clients to create a mat workout that they can do at home in between to keep them fresh. I just love Pilates. Everybody that knows me will tell you this is my passion in life.

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