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This summer I was looking for a new fitness routine. I wanted something I could do from home, something that wouldn’t make me sweat like crazy in the heat, and something that I could keep up with during a summer of travel. A lot of things came to mind: running was free and easy on vacation, but the heat was just too much; walking was a solid alternative, but I wanted something that would strengthen; weight training seemed like a natural fit and could be done at home with dumbbells, but most of my workouts took place in the morning when I didn’t have the energy or fuel to safely handle anything heavier than five pounds.
With these factors in mind, I turned to Pilates. Partly because it’s been so busy lately, and partly because it was a perfect fit for my training needs: it builds strength, isn’t too sweaty, and you can do it with just your body and a mat. To encourage myself to spend more time outside, and for those days when I wanted to physically move around the space instead of staying on the mat, I decided to combine Pilates with walking. After all, if it’s good enough for Kylie Jenner, it’s good enough for me.
“Walking is a great tool for active recovery, which means it aids the repair process that follows muscle strengthening,” says Grace Taylor, PT, DPT. Pilates and walking also complement each other to create a well-rounded fitness routine, says Ashlea McKee, certified Pilates instructor. Pilates offers strength and walking is a simple and affordable form of cardiovascular exercise. Basically, these two workouts are a match made in heaven.
My pilates and walking
I usually did pilates in the morning before work and then went when I got home, although I sometimes changed it depending on my schedule or the weather. While I wasn’t a perfect disciple, I was pretty consistent overall: if I couldn’t squeeze both practices into my day, I almost always made time for one. While walking, I challenged myself to try new trails in my neighborhood, and for Pilates I used a subscription service—Pilates With Ashlea ($26/month or $245/year)—which was super accessible and cheap, but still gave me great results.
As a Pilates newbie, the app workouts had lots of helpful visual and audio cues to help me learn proper form, and the mat workouts were very challenging even though I didn’t have a Pilates reformer. I also liked that I could choose different areas of focus or length of training depending on soreness or how much time I had that day, rather than committing to an hour-long studio workout each time (although it may be my next fitness business!). Trying something new in the privacy of my living room was also much more relaxing than walking into a studio and jumping on an intimidating machine.
I added ankle weights, resistance bands, and the occasional heavier weight to make my workouts more intense. I’m a firm believer in investing in yourself when starting a new fitness routine, so I treated myself to some new gear from Bala and Vuori. I swear my gorgeous Bala ankle weights ($55) and resistance bands ($35) were part of why I was excited to hit the mat every day, and don’t get me started on the luxurious and comfortable Vuori material. Meanwhile, my trusty Hoka Bondi 8 sneakers ($165) made every mile a breeze.
My results from Pilates and walking for 1 month
When I started this fitness routine, I didn’t anticipate how much it would do for me: it strengthened my core, my awareness and my knowledge of Pilates. It also helped me slow down and enjoy the softer training life that’s so trendy lately – and I have to say, I loved it.
Practicing Pilates made me much more aware of my body and it made me more aware of the world around me when I walked. Pilates encourages you to slow down and feel every inch of movement, which I certainly did. I paid more attention to when I was holding my breath or when I was inhaling rather than holding my stomach tight. Moving slowly and mindfully helped me better feel my muscles engaging and then activate them correctly when I needed to.
As I gained attention on the mat, I also gained it off the mat. I decided to forgo headphones for most of my walks in an effort to practice observing what was around me and the thoughts I was having that day instead of tuning them out with the next version of Taylor. Just as I noticed that my lower abs would activate during certain Pilates exercises, I paid more attention to all the thoughts running through my mind. It was a great way to unwind after a day’s work and I noticed so many interesting little features of my surroundings that I wouldn’t have otherwise: beautiful gardens, historic houses, wild animals and more.
A stronger core
Of course, one of the main benefits of Pilates is a stronger core, and I certainly experienced this benefit firsthand in my month-long experiment. Not only did my abs feel stronger, but I became more aware of how I was engaging my core in everyday life, whether I was hiking or unloading groceries from the car. I’ve noticed the biggest change in my lower abs, which can be so hard to feel when exercising.
My new and improved core was evident in other ways, too: when I rolled off the mat into final resting position, for example, I was finally able to articulate the vertebrae in my lower back one by one, as the yoga instructors practiced. they’ve been asking me for years. Instead of my lower back hitting the mat in one motion, I felt my lower abs pull tighter, helping me slowly sink down. The first time it happened, it was a proud moment for me because I felt how well Pilates works.
A more consistent routine
I loved this workout because I could do it anywhere. A summer full of travel hasn’t stopped me from working on my fitness goals. I practiced pilates on my parents’ carpet, in hotels and on the beach; Pilates simply followed me everywhere I went. The same goes for walking, of course, which was a great way to explore the new places I visited. I also liked how customizable both workouts were: I could add weights and resistance bands or skip them depending on how I felt.
What do I take away from this experiment?
As fall begins, travel slows down, and routines settle into place, I’m not sure what fitness looks like for me, but I know I’ll be taking Pilates classes with me. I’m much more aware of my core and how to activate it, whether I’m doing planks or deadlifts. I’ve noticed this change especially when performing bird dogs: I’m doing them correctly now, using my core instead of my back, and they’re nowhere near as easy as I thought they were!
I think pilates and walking is something I’ll come back to again and again: when my body needs a break from high-intensity workouts, when I feel like my bottom needs a workout, or when it’s damn hot outside. It was a routine that I loved and I definitely plan to alternate with pilates in the future.
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