Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review: Barrecore and Reformer Pilates

As many of you know over the last year (or two) I have really found my love and motivation for fitness and exercise. Going from not even owning a pair of trainers to working out 5 times a week I am now trying to settle into a manageable routine that I can enjoy without feeling time deprived, while keeping my new found level of fitness and shape. With working long hours alongside a host of other commitments I do sometimes struggle to find balance. I know many people say they feel guilty if they do not exercise, but since I have learned to enjoy it I genuinely miss it if I don’t and have to confess that I have turned down social invitations in favour of a gym class… honestly I find Zumba on a Thursday night a much better stress reliever than a glass of wine (or 3) in a cramped City bar and it definitely leaves me with a much clearer head on Friday morning.

So with this in mind I have tried to expand the type of exercise I do, especially now we are in the depths of winter and going outside is just not an option for me (although I have signed up for my first 10k in Feb... madness). Often if you do a particular exercise repetitively your body does adapt so you may no longer feel the benefits. I definitely noticed this when going to the same weekly gym classes so I am trying to change up my routine to keep it effective, challenging and fun. In the last week I have tried both Reformer Pilates at Klinik  (Liverpool street) and a barrecore class at their new Chiswick/ Turnham Green studio.
Barrecore – Having heard so many fantastic things about barrecore (if it’s good enough for VS models!) I was super excited to be invited to their new Chiswick studio to try out one of their classes with Niki the founder. Barrecore is an innovative type of class that integrates the fat-burning format of interval training with static stretches after each major muscle is worked. The changes seen through barrecore are the results of working and exhausting all muscle groups and subsequently stretching the muscles for relief. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect as my ballet training finished pre teen (being 5’10 definitely didn’t help), but I knew that it wouldn’t be easy as I am extremely inflexible and often struggle with touching my toes, let alone anything more acrobatic!
Before I share my experience I have to confess that this class was more challenging than I had envisaged, but I absolutely loved it as it was such a different way of exercising and a huge eye opener! The class concentrated on very small, repetitive movements to try and exhaust specific muscles. It is a sheer case of determination in those last few minutes, and definitely as much of a mental exercise as a physical one, as your muscles start to burn while you have to carry on ‘pulsing’. A lot of the exercises are done with a small rubber ball to help you really squeeze and tone. One of my particular favourites was what I would call a reverse sit up where you use your core to push back into a ball placed midway under your back, rather than curling and pulling yourself up. It felt quite strange, but I could definitely feel my stomach muscles working in a completely different way to regular crunches. Some of the exercises done at the bar were fun, but also very challenging, such as attempting a standing split while balancing one hand on the ball on the floor and pulsing your raised leg outwards. I have no shame in admitting this was not one that I came even close to achieving, but it was fun trying and I imagine it would be extremely rewarding to see how quickly you can progress after a couple of classes!
(Niki and me after our class)
Niki was a fantastic instructor and to my amazement did all the exercises with us while also correcting us if we got a little tangled along the way. She looks absolutely incredible, toned yet very feminine, which is exactly what barrecore hopes to achieve. I definitely felt the burn throughout many of the exercises, but though I was a little sore the next day it was not at all debilitating and I felt that I had worked areas that many regular gym visits don’t target (such as the inner thighs). I will definitely be returning to barrecore in the future as it is such an effective exercise that perfectly compliments my existing routine.
Reformer Pilates – I had tried reformer before many years ago at Bootcamp Pilates in Fulham. However, this was before I had any fitness capability and to say that I struggled was a major understatement. As I have a variety of back problems keeping alignment and balance is a real challenge for me. I therefore decided to concentrate on my stability and having now done mat based Pilates once a week for the last year and a half I felt I was ready for the challenge. Plus the first class at Klinik is free so there was nothing to lose! 
I found the beginner class at Klinik really fun as it had quite a slow pace, but still let you work specific muscles well. Many of the exercises were similar to those in regular Pilates, but of course with movement on the machine, which used the muscles in different ways. I also loved the fact that some exercises that I wasn’t able to do well because of my back were doable on the reformer due to the counterbalance of the springs. It was a good way for me to practice without having to hold my whole weight (eg. while lowering your legs straight down and keeping back flat in the supine position).  It was also a great way to stretch and I particularly felt it in my hamstrings, which are always super tight.
While I enjoyed the reformer class and will definitely try to progress to the more advanced classes in future I would stress that the best way is to start with Pilates on the mat, work on your core and stability, before moving on to the reformer. I discussed this with the teacher and he was very clear about his views following the many beginner classes he had taught. If it is your first time trying this kind of exercise you may find it near impossible to get the correct alignment while moving using the pulleys and therefore may not get the intended benefits. He said that it wasn’t about strength or fitness, but mostly core stability and just knowing how to keep your back in certain positions, which takes some practice. However, if you are familiar with Pilates and have a good base to work from I think Reformer is a fantastic addition to your routine. It’s such a fun and dynamic class and I can’t wait to try it again! Frankly I always feel that if I can do a class with my lack of coordination and horrendous back problems anyone can!
What are your favourite ways of keeping fit and healthy? Have you ever tried barrecore or Reformer Pilates? I would love to hear your recommendations of new classes to try!
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