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I regularly do dance cardio for one reason: I’m good at dance cardio. You’re likely the same; odds are you’re only twerking to Beyoncé or rowing on the regular because it made you feel good early on.
I work out constantly, but my deep dark secret is that I have no strength. I am not toned. I’m like one of those gloopy snakes you buy at the in the children’s aisle at the drugstore that slip and slide out of your hands. I can do jumping jacks for an hour, yet my "modification" for anything in plank position is to lay on the ground and watch other people do it.
As a fitness writer who can no longer be in severe denial of my lack of tone, I set out to see if those lean, strong women proclaiming SLT’s wonders were real and not just fitness holograms. If you’re unfamiliar with their brand of exercise, you need to know three things: it’s like pilates on crack, it’s exceptionally hard, and everyone who does it regularly looks phenomenal. There’s a reason the workout has a cult following and never discounts classes: this shit is for real, and there’s a reason people struggle through it and return religiously.
Ah, that struggle though. Word is that to really get into SLT, you need to try it for a month. So I spent four weeks straight planking, pike-ing, and twisting my body like a cone of cereal milk soft serve in order to discover if somewhere below the triple-creme-fed layer atop, ab muscles could be excavated. (Want to try it for a month of your own? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about October's challenge.)
I experienced the full spectrum of stress, sadness and strength — and some serious results, too. Did I end the month wearing sports bras as clothing? Do I still feel like a fit person stuck inside the Michelin Man’s body? Can I just pull sweatpants up to my bra and live my flabby life as intended? Find out:
First day of fitness school! I've taken class a few times before, but it’s been a while and I've clearly lost my sea legs. I mean that literally, because this could be legitimately billed as a Titanic workout — it's the only class where the machinery can float away from you. (Warning: it’s horrifically embarrassing.)
My core, which is essentially a small sack of double cheeseburgers, is pathetic but improving.
My core, which is essentially a small sack of double cheeseburgers, is pathetic but improving: I can do most of a regular class’ sit-up series… with modifications… and holding onto my neck for dear life the entire time. I spend most of this class, however, in child’s pose, praying for it to be over.
If you’ve tried SLT, shook your head no for an hour, and never returned again, you know how the first-day foray into megaformer madness can be. I view everyone else in class, their Instagram-ready tummies floating above the black platform with jealousy-hate in my eyes.
I later sit down on the studio’s toilet and it slightly unhinges, rocking back and forth, leading me to sulk home with a newly-sore knee, feeling like a fatty bridge troll who isn’t even fit enough to pee. I scream at a stranger, then my husband; I shower while I cry. This is going to be a very long month.
SLT: 2, the crumpled bag of day-old Italian subs formerly known as your exercise writer: 0. I didn't know until I did this that there's a difference between core strength and moving-a-weighted-platform-with-your-core core strength, but oh wow, now I do.
I started in good spirits, but it's too hard to follow along in class. The lunge portion feels like my legs are a Thanksgiving turkey wishbone being pulled apart by two squabbling siblings. I can't help but think, if it's this hard and takes a month (at a minimum!) to be able to do it, then what do I do after this? Maintain... forever? Will this be my whole life, sliding back and forth, straddling rectangles and hoping my limbs don't get torn apart?
My obliques were so sore the other day that I couldn’t cough! Oh thank the lord that it’s working and I’m not a complete lost cause.
I'm physically able to do the warmup today (success!) and I start sipping the KoolAid that this is something I may in fact be able to do. My one week of classes immediately goes to my head, until I’m left in a heap during the plank portion, brainstorming potential story titles, like "The Girl With No Abs!" and "A Triple-Creme Tummy: One Girl’s Story."
I bring a friend along who points out what I’ve always tried to ignore: some of the instructors here can be abrasive. This class, like many of the ones I continue to attend, has no instruction on form so I feel so lost. I assume I’m doing it right, but the forward-leaning Elevator Lunges feel so foreign to my body that it’s fighting the shift in gravity; they take weeks to master.
In cardio you can kinda hide everything you're bad at, but here you can't. I have poor posture, no core strength and balance issues, so I am Patient Zero for being horrible at this. I never really do things I’m bad at, I realize — and I am so bad at this.
SLT is masochistic, perhaps delightfully so. "French twist" and "teaser" are now my terror-ridden safe words and unfortunately, as I’m learning, their signature moves.
"French twist" and "teaser" are now my terror-ridden safe words and unfortunately, as I’m learning, their signature moves.
Due to an illness and a yoga injury, I'm essentially flying at half mast, which is awesome because I can take it easy and not feel guilty. Thus far, the only time I’ve ever been adjusted is when I mention an injury, which is confounding. My knees continue to hurt, and I realize it’s because I’m not doing any of this right. The classes feel more rehearsed than taught — if you already know how to do everything, they’re spectacular, but, if you’re like me and overthink the slightest adjustments of where your limbs or weight should be, you’ll drive yourself wild.
I notice a pattern of straight dying during SLT’s workouts, but feeling oddly energized afterwards, as though I didn’t empty my tank. I miss that pooped feeling from cardio, that muscular reminder that you’re working so hard until I realize that my posture is completely different afterwards. I walk better. I walk correctly! This could be the secret to fixing my balance issues! But that means doing Scrambled Eggs for life. Damnit!
Today was good! I feel like my limbs are starting to get the hang of it. I don’t panic during side lunges, I move springs more quickly. I ask for help early and stay after, and that extra attention makes a huge difference.
One thing is for sure, though — the entire class operates less like follow the leader and more like a game of telephone between class attendees. Pro tip: grab a machine near someone only wearing a sports bra. They usually know what they’re doing!
Oh boy. I didn't think I'd get this personal in an article about pilates machinery, but I've been very off all month. I’m two parts dopey, a handful of sad and constantly run down for no reason. I am at a minimum, bummed out; at a maximum, trapped inside my chronically sore body. I take a few days off until this class, and as I make 50 Shades of Grey jokes to myself about the machine’s straps and loops to pass the time, I realize that all the sadness is coming from… this.
I’ll save you the sad, whine-y notes on my phone to say this: I’ve never hated myself more than while doing something I’m terrible at. There should be pride in getting stronger, but instead, I feel weak and wasted, like I’m getting beat up but keep throwing myself in the ring. Britney Spears's midsection circa 2002? I’m coming for you!!
Still, even after nearly three weeks of this, I was feeling like a complete outsider.
I so badly want to be one of those people who brags to her friends over martinis about how toned she feels — about how much this has done to strengthen her pelvic floor! — but still, even after nearly three weeks of this, I was feeling like a complete outsider. My body is so tense that a masseuse yelled at me, so I tried to do it to my extent and stop. At most other studios I visit, "making things your own" and "modifications" for not being as fit are encouraged but this just feels out of place at SLT, since everyone here seems like they’ve been doing it forever.
I want to like SLT, and today, I’m determined to make it happen. Instead of leaning into or worrying that the machine will rip my appendages off, I decide to buckle down and trust it. I ask for feedback and advice about adjustments, and the teacher spends a much-needed few minutes helping me correct my shoulder position. I try to take class without inventing judgement, without feeling bad about myself for not being an expert… and it goes really well. I think we’re onto something.
I find out a week after this class that today’s teacher is known for being mean, but rolling in with no context means I kick and push and fly in a spiral of anger for a straight hour.
The only time he corrects me is when I’m doing the modification I was taught at the last class. He pokes fun of people who complain about class, saying "SLT didn’t fuck up your back! You fucked up your back!" He makes digs about how we’re doing workouts wrong at Barry’s Bootcamp and the gym, but frankly, I’ve been here 10 times and still don’t know what these cockamamie movements are, nor have context for doing them correctly. Granted, sometimes my body kicks into gear but I’m always at least halfway lost. (Speaking of: I catch a glimpse in the mirror and realize I now have, well, "an ass." When did that happen? I’m furious, but goddamn, it’s working.)
I didn't come here to try yelled at about how I'm not transitioning quickly enough. When will my best good enough? Train, cry, repeat.
Well, this is interesting. My last class had me ending in a shame spiral, and this week ended in a high-five. The teacher is a dream, full of pep and encouragement, likely having spent a past life as a southern belle or Disney princess. It’s wild how much their styles differ — and how badly I also need to take class with Bethany, the pro in these photos, who manages to simultaneously be strong and sweet, encouraging and affable. With her, and with this morning’s teacher too, it looks easy and fun, and a world away from how I felt last class.
I catch a glimpse in the mirror and realize I now have, well, "an ass." When did that happen?
The telephone game analogy still rings true — a girl on my left was following me, and I was following the woman on my right — but this class was better. I felt capable. Could the levels really fluctuate this much between confident and cowardly/vowing to never return?
The teacher called out a girl in class, a sort-of example, who has been coming here for seven months. I cannot possibly imagine doing this six more times… but can’t imagine reaching the level where I accomplish it and stop, either. Maybe that’s how everyone gets so good. They know how hard it is to get through the first month, how bad this struggle was, and don’t ever want to experience it after that. And neither do I.
Clearly, I’m planning on going back. Often.
...I did it. I didn’t do it perfectly, I wasn’t a shining star, and I’m definitely not ready to show my stomach on Instagram, but I did an entire class without fail, and it feels good.
I walk out, my month finally complete, and take inventory of what’s gone on in the past month. I notice my posture has gotten better for the first time in my life. I can stand normally! I’m getting stronger. I'm probably doing many things wrong — I still think this class should have five teachers, not one — but I have a lot to learn about how my body and mind work, too. I need to be okay with taking breaks. I need to stop judging myself through others’ eyes. I’m here for me, after all, and I finally have something no other class has been able to give me: teeny-tiny little ab muscles I can finally see.