Yes, we know, pilates has been around for ages: 100 years, in fact. Joseph Pilates, a German circus performer and boxer, opened his first studio in New York in the 1920s with his wife Clara. He’d created the core-based, low-impact workout while interned in England during the First World War. The strength-building regime was long seen as a dependable but low-key proposition – maturer types doing leg raises in draughty village halls. Not any more. Pilates has had a sexy makeover. Now it’s incredibly glam, really hard, extremely Instagrammable – and very expensive.
Blame the A-listers swarming to the new breed of super-chic studios for the reformer machines. Moving beds with springs, pulleys, ropes and bars, they look like torture devices but hone the most sculpted abs and leanest limbs in the business. (Look up the new Kuwaiti outpost of West London studio Pilates in the Clouds, with its stunning skyscraper views and reformers rendered prettily in millennial pink.)
Svelte singer Rita Ora’s Instagram grid is littered with her elegant pilates poses, while the newly whittled Harry Styles uses a Pilates Wunda Chair to make him beautiful. Actors Lily Allen and Emma Corrin are fans of New York’s Flatiron Pilates, another spot with cityscape views – the ideal backdrop for social media boasts. Finally, Margot Robbie’s longtime personal trainer David Higgins roped the glittery cast of Barbie into group reformer classes up to four times a week during filming to hone their doll-like physiques. It worked – have you seen Ryan Gosling’s biceps recently?
Pilates 2.0 has also lured in civilians. Fitness industry training provider HFE says 70 per cent of exercisers now prefer pilates to yoga. Health club chain PureGym ranks it among the top trends of 2023, citing an increase of 84 per cent in Google searches.
Brace yourself (and your core muscles). Styles’s special chair costs £2,000, while if you want to buy a reformer machine for at-home workouts, they cost between £2,000 and £5,000, although Argos has a basic number for £700. An online private class with Amy Nelms, Allen and Corrin’s NY-based teacher, will set you back $500 (£390), while a group session at Pilates in the Clouds in Notting Hill costs £175 – if you can get to the top of the long waiting list. Obviously, those are high-end – you can find normal reformer classes priced between £20 and £35 per session.
Don’t fancy sweating on a rack next to Rita Ora? Try one of the other new iterations instead. Wall pilates is huge news on TikTok (6.9 million views and counting) and all you need is a mat and – yep, good guess – a wall, which serves to add resistance. A plank with your feet placed on the wall, for example, works your abs harder than a standard plank. There are loads of free workouts on TikTok and YouTube.
For serious sculpting, you need Strong Pilates, an Aussie variation that’s hit the UK and promises to burn up to 800 calories per session. The studio-based class is a cross between rowing and pilates on a Rowformer (see what they’ve done there). It has reached London, but more venues are to follow later this year in the Midlands and Belfast.
I see your Rowformer and raise you a Megaformer – the machine used for new class Lagree, a Hollywood import (the Duchess of Sussex and Jennifer Aniston are fans) that’s just launched in London’s Chelsea, at MAD Lagree Studio. It’s not technically pilates but there are similarities – it’s a circuit class on a reformer-type machine. Next gen pilates? It’s time to lean in to the leanness.