My First Pilates


The Reformer

The Reformer

My delay for not getting with the Pilates movement decades ago when the rest of the world was, went a little something like this:

I’m an athlete – pilates and yoga don’t make me sweat and I’d rather concentrate on beating someone to the finish line instead of rhythmic breathing, downwards dogs and pelvis tucks. I want to hurt the day after my workout – that’s proof I pushed my limits.

Those are words you NEVER say to Elizabeth Sullivan, Certified Pilates (and Yoga) Instructor at The Athletic Club at The Westin at Beaver Creek.

“You want your arms to burn tomorrow?” Sullivan asked. “No problem!” she said with a challenge-accepted look on her face.

This was exactly how my private session at The Athletic Club at The Westin, which recently completed a beautiful $1million expansion featuring more than 27,000 square feet of wellness offerings including the new Pilates Studio, started yesterday.

Still a skeptic to the whole Pilates practice, I quickly attributed my heavy breathing after just two minutes of activity to the Rocky Mountain altitude. Looking at Sullivan, at the age of 51, my qualms started dissipating with each passing rep. With her immense energy, glowing skin and fit body, surely she wasn’t more than 35-40 years old I inaccurately guessed.

Ok, Pilates, I’m listening…

The first glaring sign I was a novice at this whole Pilates thing? I showed up in my Brooks pure flow running shoes, ready for action. Looking down at my bulky shoes, Sullivan kindly asked me to remove them and then head over to the reformer.

Doing work on The Reformer

Doing work on The Reformer

The reformer? Where’s the mat? Doesn’t Pilates involve some sort of mat, I asked? According to, “a reformer is an exercise machine used to incorporate the Pilates exercise technique for a challenging and intense workout.” There are springs that allow the instructor to create more or less resistance providing an individual workout all while using the same machine. Resistance, I found, not weight, is really all one needs for a full-body workout.

As Sullivan explained, Pilates is a rhythmic practice of precise and “controlled movements” ultimately focusing on multiple parts of your body while keeping your core (abs/midsection) engaged the entire time. “Pilates is all about core and strength – your core is engaged in every single exercise. The attraction to Pilates is that it’s an all-body workout without being hard on your joints. Another benefit is that it lengthens your muscles without bulking, which is key for many women. The premise started as a method of rehab many years ago,” she explained.

The reformer looked like some of the apparatus, one I used many times throughout my physical therapy career – on the receiving end of course. (Remember I’m currently on 23 surgeries and hopefully not counting, so PT and I are well acquainted.)

I again was right back to my original skepticism – if this whole process started as a form of rehab when elite athletes were injured and not performing at the highest levels, why would an able-bodied fitness-craving individual want to do Pilates? But then something clicked, as each movement got harder and harder. PT was good for me back then, why wouldn’t it be good for me now? I saw firsthand how it built muscle and strength and never caused injury (like many workouts today do), so clearly Pilates was a good fit for me, right?

Jayme and Elizabeth Sullivan - still smiling post Pilates session

Jayme and Elizabeth Sullivan – still smiling post Pilates session

It turns out the fitness craze is a workout. The controlled movements in Pilates are key – just as it is with lifting weights or running downhill. You don’t carefully lift 80lbs on a bench press and let the weight come crashing down on you, instead you control it in both directions making it twice as hard while still engaging your core muscles.

The toughest part throughout the entire session? Figuring out how to breathe on cue as Sullivan instructed. Leave it to a blonde to not know how to breathe.

Oh, and back to the whole I want my body to burn and hurt tomorrow thing? First thing this morning, I booked a massage at Spa Anjali (which was named the #4 U.S. Resort Spa for 2012 by Condé Nast Traveler), because my body did in fact hurt.

While Pilates still doesn’t jive with my regularly-scheduled workout routine and I felt like an awkward turtle the whole time, I will go the distance and say I can see why many people choose Pilates as their form of workout. And I do plan to check out Yoga and Pilates for Golfers on my visit to The Westin this winter.                                                    

This post was part of the The Blonde Side’s marriage of Sports + Fitness+ Travel: tying sports trips into travel trips and working out while doing it.