True Life: I Swapped Cardio for Pilates and Transformed My Entire Body
I used to roll my eyes whenever I heard a model claim that Bikram yoga was the secret to her Victoria’s Secret–contracted body. It just seemed too easy. Spend an hour stretching in a warm room and walk out looking like Karlie Kloss, Miranda Kerr, Adriana Lima, or Alessandria Ambrosio? Eye. Roll.
Personally, I’ve always believed you need to be dripping in sweat for a workout to be worthwhile. If you crawl out of the gym gasping for air, you will see results, right? Wrong. It took two months and dozens of yoga and Pilates classes, but I can confidently say that working out harder is not the only—or even the most effective—way to become the fittest, leanest, physically strongest version of yourself. Let me tell you why.
Everything changed for me in October. After a cathartic few days visiting a health retreat in Australia called Gwinganna, I decided to conduct an experiment. My trusty treadmill-and-weights routine just wasn’t yielding serious results anymore (my measurements, weight, and muscle fat totally plateaued), and I was getting constant knee pain, so I was committed to swapping my cardio-crazed ways for a more relaxed routine focused entirely on hot yoga and reformer Pilates. “Might as well see what happens,” I thought.
What happened next
Guys, the results blew my mind. It’s been just over eight weeks, and not only have I dropped about a kilo, but I’ve also lost inches from all over my body—specifically; one inch from around my belly-button measurement and almost two inches across my hips. My body feels lean, strong, and flexible—I can now grab my ankles with my hands during a backbend, and I have nailed crow pose more than once. I haven’t complained about knee pain once. I’m feeling so good, and it’s almost been too easy.
What I changed
So, what exactly did I change, you ask? My schedule originally comprised of approximately four 6.5 km runs per week and one to three heavy weight training sessions or strength-based fitness classes. Now, I hit Y7’s 60-minute hot yoga class about four times per week for an invigorating, restorative practice, and visit reformer Pilates twice a week at either Karen Lord Pilates or New York Pilates. Occasionally a MegaFormer class at Brooklyn Bodyburn makes it into the mix.
The Experts Weigh In
I spoke with some experts to dig into why the move away from intense cardio has been so transformative, and their thoughts varied. Sharon Kolkka, the general manager at Gwinganna who has more than 15 years of experience in personal training, gave me a fascinating explanation. She said that people who lead busy, stressful lives (um, yes!) should actually consider avoiding equally stressful cardio training. “If work or home life pressure is high, resulting in an elevation of the stress hormone cortisol, too much training may push cortisol levels even higher,” she told me, adding that an overload of this hormone can actually reduce the body’s ability to use fat as an energy source. So, if you’re stressed all day, and then stress your body some more at spin class, your efforts could be wasted.
At the same time, these “less stressful” workouts still use up plenty of energy, and they are surprisingly effective at torching fat. Sarah Levey, the founder of Y7 Yoga, told me that just being in the room with the infrared heat that her hot studio and others use “burns 300 calories an hour.” She added that you could burn up to 500 calories in the class—and that’s without upping your cortisone levels in the same way a high-intensity circuit class might.
Then there’s another school of thought that New York Pilates Founder, Heather Andersen, shared with me. She says that because Pilates targets small muscles, you can strengthen the body’s stabilising muscles, improve coordination, tone, and improve agility and power “without gaining significant weight,” which is what gives supermodels that long and lean figure (as well as genetics, obviously). While high-intensity exercise like sprinting on a treadmill can increase your metabolism, she mentioned that it could also prompt you to eat even more calories than you burned at the gym, whereas a more relaxed Pilates or yoga class won’t leave you starving. Hands up if you’ve ever binged on carbs after a huge workout? Yep, same.
So will I continue sticking to the experiment? Maybe. All signs point to the fact that I should stay with this new routine for all eternity, but I really do miss that running-induced endorphin-rush you just don’t get from Pilates. However, even though my body won’t be getting any down time, I will at least give the eye-rolling a rest for the foreseeable future.
A Gaiam Yoga Mat ($30) is a must-have for any hot yoga sweat session.
Are you team cardio or team Pilates? Click here to see the workout Victoria's Secret models decided to swap for cardio, with major results.