Pilates Plus improves muscle flexibility, increases energy

Tucked away on Broadway and 9th Street, Pilates Plus is a hidden gem amid the hustle of its busy Downtown location. Despite its position across from the Orpheum Theatre, the studio is easy to miss without a keen eye on the lookout for its gray and yellow signage. One of the first businesses on Broadway, Pilates Plus was opened by owner and instructor Judy Hong in 2008. Hong admits that the location was a big risk that has since paid off. The area developed quickly and is now full of restaurants, businesses and apartments. Pilates Plus attracted quite a following, so much so that Hong and co-owner Joy Plas opened a second location in Long Beach several years later in 2011. The urban location hasn’t hindered the business of the studio, as most clients live or work around the area, and those who travel usually find metered parking or park in a multitude of lots nearby.

Pilates Plus follows the LaGree system of Pilates, equipped with the Megaformer, a modified Reformer designed by Sebastien LaGree. Through this intimidating contraption, Pilates Plus is able to offer challenging and strong workouts without damage to joints. As Judy explained, the workout minimizes injury but is also great for people with injuries, as exercises can be easily modified according to each client’s needs. Pilates maintains form and principle, promising an intense workout for clients no matter their fitness or experience level. Each class caps out at about 10 students, ensuring individual attention while maintaining the energy of a group setting, The 50-minute-long classes are filled with people who have limited time but still want a killer total-body workout.

The studio offers three different classes: standard Pilates, which I took; Pilates Form & Technique, recommended for both new and experienced clients hoping to shape and perfect their technique; and Pilates + Rev Cycle, a combination class of Pilates and indoor cycling. Classes run seven days a week to accommodate any busy schedule, with weekday classes ranging from 6 a.m. to 5:30 or 7:30 p.m., depending on the day. Pilates Plus offers a special rate for USC students: $189 for unlimited classes per month instead of the normal $229 per month, as well as a buddy special through which new clients’ first month of unlimited classes is $99 when they sign up with a friend. The studio offers new faces their first class for free, but classes can also be bought by one, 10 or 20 sessions.

I admit I severely misjudged the workout. Never having done pilates before, I asked friends what to expect, to which one friend described pilates as “yoga but with more abs.” I liked this idea and pictured my experience as some sort of group stretching, surrounded by mood lighting, candles and soothing sounds. I could not have been more wrong.

Upon entering the small studio, it was clear that Pilates Plus meant business. The space was neat and clean, with everything in its place. Megaformer machines lined the mirrored wall to my right, with indoor cycling machines toward the back of the studio. Though I expected the class to be small, I was surprised and intimidated to discover I was one of only two students in the class. A third joined us later. I could tell the other student was experienced, so I felt nervous about being the newbie — I’m not usually a fan of individualized attention. My instructor, Juliet, however, was very kind and patient with me in explaining the basics of pilates, the machine and the mechanics of the class.

After asking if I had any injuries she should be aware of, Juliet explained that if I was going to take anything easy, it should be the arm portion of the workout because the leg exercises were where I’d really feel the burn. I happily agreed and carefully climbed onto the Megaformer, unaware of exactly what I was about to encounter. Juliet started us off with some lunges and leg stretches, which seemed easy enough until it was my turn to do it. It wasn’t until Juliet pumped up the music and came out with a headset several minutes later that I truly realized what I was in for.

Like yoga, pilates has a lot of terms for its positions and exercises. One of these names is pulsing, which consists of swaying or pushing in and out of a lunge or other exercise. Pulsing quickly became the death of me, as I’d try to push my limits on Juliet’s cue. A few minutes into the workout, and my legs were already shaking like a leaf trying to hold a lunge and keep correct form, the core of the pilates workout.

Things got serious when Juliet announced it was time for pilates burpees. I’m not a fan of burpees in general, so I knew this would be a personal accomplishment for me. One by one, I looked in the mirror to see beads of sweat quickly forming on my forehead; I was convinced this was the hardest workout I’d ever done. Though she was very kind in giving me personal attention and tips for modifying the exercises according to my skill level, just as I thought I had gotten the hang of an exercise, Juliet would come by and tell me to straighten my leg, raise my back or push it just a little bit further.

I had never felt so relieved when Juliet announced the end of class. I had pushed myself to the limit, and I had spent the class on the easiest resistance level. My legs felt like they could barely support the weight of my body, but that was exactly what I wanted in a workout. My class at Pilates Plus was brutal and completely intense. In just 50 minutes, I felt like I had worked harder than I ever had before. As Juliet informed me, it usually takes people around five classes to get a hang of this intense total-body workout, but until then, “Advil helps.”