While Pilates Collective has been an institution on the South End of the island for 20 years, the company only recently opened a location in Oak Harbor.
Clinton resident Melody Ward, who is part owner of Pilates Collective, reached out to the News-Times with an idea for a reporter to try Pilates for the first time by taking classes at the studio. I bravely volunteered without knowing what I was getting myself into, as I didn’t actually know what pilates was.
Ward and her partner Nicole Falso opened an Oak Harbor location in Fidalgo Loft in February 2020. Due to the pandemic, they had to close that location soon after but reopened on Bayshore Drive last year.
The original Pilates Collective location was founded as Island Pilates Center in Langley about 20 years ago. Falso was the youngest person to go through a teacher training at the studio when she was 16 years old. Falso inherited the studio from the original owner. Ward and Falso both grew up on the island, but Ward moved to San Diego after graduating from college. She had a marketing job she didn’t particularly enjoy and decided to follow her passion and become a Pilates instructor.
In 2018, Ward moved back to Whidbey Island and began taking classes at the location in Langley. She wanted to open her own studio but didn’t want to compete with Falso. Luckily, Falso needed the help. Ward opened a second location in Freeland and then eventually one in Oak Harbor.
Ward said this is the first year since COVID-19 they haven’t been in survival mode.
“Now it feels like we’re actually operating a multi-location business and not just trying to get through the day,” she said. “It was a little touch and go there for a while.”
The Oak Harbor studio is located on Bayshore Drive and has views of the waterfront. The location has three Pilates machines, also known as reformers.
An easy joke one could make about Pilates machines is that they are reminiscent of Medieval torture devices. The reformer can help make certain positions less challenging by helping the user hold the pose, or more challenging by adding resistance via spring tension, Ward explained.
“The way that I sometimes describe Pilates to somebody who doesn’t look like they care is: Basically you’re just standing on something that’s moving and I’m telling you to move around your arms and legs in weird ways and you’re trying not to fall off,” Ward said. “That’s what the reformer feels like.”
My first class was on the reformer and her statement turned out to be pretty accurate.The machines are a little confusing at first because there are so many ways you can use them.
For the first part of the workout, we lay on our backs atop the carriage, which is a mobile platform. It felt strange to be doing squats and other exercises while lying down. Ward said that it is easier to have proper form this way because all of your joints are supported.
Then, we put our feet in the machine’s straps and made wide circles with our legs, which challenged the entire lower body, including the hip flexors. We also simply lowered and lifted our legs with our feet in the straps; the spring tension made this harder than it sounds. Sometimes the instructor would hand us a ball or resistance ring to hold between our legs or ankles, which ups the ante even more.
For the upper body portion of the workout, we sat on a moveable platform on top of the carriage and pulled on the straps with our arms. These workouts also challenged the core, as we had to keep our bodies stable and stay balanced on the carriage. The most difficult exercise was holding a plank position with my feet on the carriage.
My first class was just challenging enough but it went by pretty fast. Ward said you should feel invigorated after a Pilates class, not exhausted and sweaty, which turned out to be true.
By my second class, I felt a lot more confident on the machine and felt like I got a better workout because of it. Plus, the resistance the spring tension provides feels like it helps the body get into deeper stretches.
Pilates Collective offers more than just traditional Pilates classes. Pop Pilates is a mat-based class set to music. No reformer is used. It was easier than the reformer class because you are only using your own body weight. However, the coordination and mental strength it takes to follow along with the choreography adds difficulty.
By contrast, the TRX suspension training class at the studio was extremely hard. TRX stands for total body resistance exercise. The class involves holding onto straps that are suspended from the ceiling and using body weight and gravity to do various exercises including squats, lunges, and upper body moves. With the straps, you can essentially do push ups while standing up. The most difficult move was doing planks and other core workouts while having my feet elevated in the straps.
The studio also offers barre classes, yet another form of Pilates. Most of the exercises are done standing up using the barre for support, incorporating movement inspired by ballet. This class really gets the leg muscles burning but for me, it just wasn’t as fun as being on the reformer.
Ward wants to do away with the common stereotype about people who do Pilates. Pilates Collective, she said, has a lot of male clients and people of all ages, including people in their 60s and a woman who is 90 years old.
“There was this feeling that Pilates was only for like, rich housewives and it was just this thing that’s unattainable by most people, and we want to do the exact opposite and teach people that it’s literally for everybody,” she said.
Ward explained that men are often more challenged by Pilates because its inventor, Joseph Pilates, designed it to combat the things that plague a man’s body, such as tight hamstrings, weak glutes and poor flexibility. Women tend to be more flexible.
All of the pilates classes I took were total-body workouts that felt as if they were improving my overall physical fitness, such as strengthening core and balance, which is good for posture and any other physical activity. The machine and reputation of pilates definitely were intimidating at first but once I got into the studio, I was only focused on the workout.