This summer, I was looking for a new fitness routine. I wanted something I could do from home, something that wouldn’t make me sweat like crazy in the heat, and something that I could keep up with during a travel-heavy summer. Plenty of things came to mind: running was free and easy to do on vacation, but the heat was just too much; walking was a solid alternative, but I wanted something that would build strength; weight training seemed like a natural fit and was possible at home with dumbbells, but most of my workouts took place in the morning, when I didn’t have enough energy or fuel to safely handle anything heavier than five pounds.
With these factors in mind, I turned to Pilates. Partially because it’s been so buzzy lately, and partially because it was a perfect fit for my workout needs: it builds strength, it isn’t too sweaty, and you can do it with just your body and a mat. To encourage myself to spend more time outside, and for those days when I wanted to move physically through space, rather than staying on my mat, I decided to pair Pilates with walking. After all, if it’s good enough for Kylie Jenner, it’s good enough for me.
“Walking is a great tool for active recovery, meaning it aids in the repair process that follows muscle strengthening,” says Grace Taylor, PT, DPT. Pilates and walking also complement each other to build a well-rounded fitness routine, says Ashlea McKee, certified Pilates instructor. Pilates offers strength, and walking is a simple and accessible form of cardiovascular exercise. Essentially, these two exercises are a match made in heaven.
My Pilates and Walking Routine
I generally practiced Pilates in the morning before work, then walked when I got home, although sometimes I switched it up depending on my schedule or the weather. While I wasn’t a perfect disciple, I was pretty consistent overall: if I couldn’t squeeze both exercises into my day, I almost always made time for one. For walking, I challenged myself to try new paths in my neighborhood, and for Pilates, I used a subscription service — Pilates With Ashlea ($26 per month or $245 per year) — which was super accessible and inexpensive but still gave me great results.
As a Pilates novice, the app workouts had lots of helpful visual and audio cues to help me learn the proper form, and the mat workouts were plenty challenging despite not having a Pilates reformer. I also liked being able to choose different focus areas or workout lengths, depending on soreness or how much time I had that day, rather than committing to a studio workout for an hour every time (although that may be my next fitness venture!). Trying something new in the privacy of my living room was also much more comforting than stepping into a studio and hopping on an intimidating machine.
I added ankle weights, resistance bands, and the occasional heavier weight to make my workouts more intense. I firmly believe in the importance of investing in yourself when you start a new fitness routine, so I treated myself to new gear from Bala and Vuori. I swear my gorgeous Bala ankle weights ($55) and resistance bands ($35) were part of why I was excited to hit the mat every day, and don’t get me started on Vuori’s luxe and comfy material. Meanwhile, my trusty Hoka Bondi 8 sneakers ($165) made every mile a breeze.
My Results From Doing Pilates and Walking For 1 Month
When I started this fitness routine, I didn’t anticipate how much it would do for me: it strengthened my core, my awareness, and my knowledge of Pilates. It also helped me slow down and enjoy the softer workout life that’s been so trendy lately — and I have to say, I loved it.
Practicing Pilates made me so much more mindful of my body, which in turn made me more mindful of the world around me when I walked. Pilates encourages you to slow down and feel every inch of the movement, which I certainly did. I paid more attention to when I was holding my breath, or when I was sucking in, rather than holding my abs tight. Moving slowly and mindfully helped me get better at feeling my muscles engage, then properly activating them when I needed to.
As I gained mindfulness on the mat, I was gaining it off the mat, too. I decided to forgo headphones for most of my walks in an effort to practice observing what was around me and the thoughts I was dealing with that day, rather than tuning them out with another Taylor’s Version. Just as I noticed my lower abs activating for certain Pilates exercises, I paid more attention to whatever thoughts were rattling around in my brain. It was a great way to decompress after the workday, and I noticed so many interesting little features of my neighborhood that I wouldn’t have otherwise: beautiful gardens, historic homes, wildlife, and more.
A Stronger Core
Of course, one of the major benefits of Pilates is a stronger core, and I certainly experienced this perk firsthand in my month-long experiment. Not only did my abs feel stronger, but I also became more aware of engaging my core in everyday life, whether I was hiking or unloading groceries from my car. I noticed the biggest change in my lower abs, which can be so hard to feel engaging during exercise.
My new-and-improved core was noticeable in other ways, too: for example, when I rolled down the mat into a final resting pose, I was finally able to articulate the vertebrae in my lower back one by one, the way yoga instructors have been asking me to for years. Instead of having my lower back hit the mat in one movement, I could feel my lower abs pulling in tighter, helping me to lower slowly down. The first time it happened was a proud moment for me, because I could feel how well Pilates was working.
A More Consistent Routine
I loved this workout routine because I could do it anywhere. A travel-heavy summer didn’t stop me from working toward my fitness goals. I did Pilates on my parents’ carpet, in hotels, and on the beach; just about everywhere I went, Pilates followed. Of course, the same goes for walking, which was a great way to explore the new places I was visiting. I also loved how adaptable both workouts were: I could add weights and resistance bands or skip them, depending on how I was feeling.
What I’m Taking Away From This Experiment
As the fall starts, travel slows, and routines settle into place, I’m not sure what fitness looks like for me yet, but I do know I’ll carry my Pilates lessons with me. I’m much more aware of my core and how to activate it, whether I’m doing planks or deadlifts. I particularly noticed this change when performing bird dogs: I’m doing them correctly now by using my core instead of my back, and they’re not nearly as easy as I thought they were!
I think Pilates and walking is something I’ll return to again and again: when my body needs a break from high-intensity workouts, when I feel my lower core in need of training, or when it’s just too damn hot out. This was a routine that I loved, and I certainly plan to keep Pilates on rotation in the future.
Image Sources: POPSUGAR Photography / Kaley Rohlinger and Photo Illustration: Aly Lim