The pilates body

A look at the real stories behind the shapes. And no, there's not a dancer in the bunch.

For most people, the words Pilates Bodyhave a very specific connotation: Dancer. Lithe. Woman. And yet the faces of the practice couldn't be more diverse. "It's not just dancers," Susan Mario, Director of Pilates for Equinox, explains emphatically. "Men do Pilates, athletes do Pilates. It's a full-body, vigorous workout."

As the practice evolves from misunderstood niche to mainstream workout, Pilates is earning a well-deserved reputation for guaranteed results. How? Through resistance training that stretches and strengthens simultaneously. "All bodies need strength and flexibility work, and Pilates does both at the same time, teaching you how to engage your core deeply," says Mario. "No muscle is ever over-trained or under-trained, which creates balance in the body and lets you achieve what you want to achieve."

What attracts many devotees to Pilates is that it's the opposite of a one-size-fits-all workout. Equinox's private clientele ranges from athletes to those in their 80s — each able to practice at their own level, push themselves to their individual limits, and get benefits that no other workout can provide. "It’s not impactful," explains Mario. "It’s gentle yet challenging. And I think for our busy members or for athletes, you already do things that sort of beat up your body, so Pilates is a nice balance to that. It's like a sneaky hard workout."

Click through the slideshow above to read the stories behind some real and remarkable Pilates bodies. Man, woman, athlete, professional, they all share one thing: Results.

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  • Aicha Herbrand, Coral Gables, FL

    Aicha Herbrand, Coral Gables, FL

    Her Pilates body: "Pilates changed my posture completely, especially my shoulders and back. It also helped flatten my tummy, which was always my problem area."

    Surprising benefits: "As an old national gymnastics champion in Belgium, I thought that I knew how to execute movements, but Pilates taught me how to use my muscles in a much deeper way. Before I would use mostly the big muscles to realize an exercise, now I know which exact little muscle needs to work and which bigger muscles need to disengage to have a better result. It's a complete control over my body that I didn’t have before."

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  • Anthony Servidio, Bronxville, NY

    Anthony Servidio, Bronxville, NY

    His Pilates body: "I've seen [increased] flexibility, range of motion and core strength. It's also lengthened my body and fixed my posture and shoulders (one was hiked up more than the other from years of carrying a bag.)"

    What to know: "It's more than just stretching and movements, it's a full body workout. I am a former high school and college swimmer and was introduced to Pilates through a massage therapist. I still weight train three times a week and I do Pilates twice a week to relieve tightness. Weight training and Pilates go hand in hand because you need stretching to relieve the tension caused by weight training. Pilates is the perfect solution."

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  • Breanne Bader, Coral Gables, FL

    Breanne Bader, Coral Gables, FL

    Her Pilates body: "Since starting Pilates six months ago, my body is noticeably stronger and leaner and my posture has improved dramatically. I've done traditional personal training in the past and I got stronger but bigger, and I didn't like the way I looked. I've finally found the feminine, lean look I was hoping for."

    Surprising benefits: "Body awareness. I have a much better understanding of how all my muscles are connected and why a strong core is so important. In traditional weight training, it always felt like the focus was on the large muscle groups. In Pilates, the focus is on big and small muscle groups, which allows for each one to do what it's supposed to without the larger muscles overcompensating. I also shaved off over a minute per mile in my running time."

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  • Lauren Andree, New York City

    Lauren Andree, New York City

    Her Pilates body: "The most amazing thing was that within a few weeks I lost a jeans size, without losing a pound! It was pure toning in my lower body."

    Surprising benefits: "I began taking Pilates because my voice teacher told me to. I'm an opera singer and singing is incredibly athletic. Pilates trains the same inner muscles used in singing and has made my vocal development skyrocket. It's also quite satisfying to watch exercises get easier as you get stronger. This morning I completed 10 reps of an exercise I couldn’t do at all when I started. People don’t realize how hard you work in Pilates. From the outside it looks like I’m sitting on a chair, for example, barely moving my legs. But internally, every muscle in my core and thighs are shaking!"

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  • Rick Torres, Los Angeles, CA

    Rick Torres, Los Angeles, CA

    His Pilates body: "I always thought my core was one of the stronger parts of my body until I tried Pilates, when I realized how weak it really was. Now my core is so much stronger."

    Surprising benefits: "I have always been an extremely inflexible person. I was into lifiting weights, which was shortening my muscles and making me very tight all over. Pilates has lengthened my muscles and increased my flexibility. Also, now I can touch my toes, which I was never able to do before. But the single [best] thing that my practice has brought to my life is passion. I have been in Real Estate for almost 20 years. When I started doing Pilates I loved it so much and wanted to share that passion, so I am now also an instructor and practice at least six days a week."

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  • Virginie Promeyrat, New York City

    Virginie Promeyrat, New York City

    Her Pilates body: "Because of Pilates I’ve been able to stay long and skinny but keep everything toned. I'm a hat designer and one of my models canceled at the last minute for a recent photo shoot, and I was able to stand in without embarrassing myself. Also, I never ran before and now I'm able to run — and train for a marathon — because it doesn’t hurt my joints as much."

    Best part of the practice: "It keeps working even after you’ve been doing it for a long time. And it keeps my body young. Also, it’s time set aside each week where I’m forced to take care of myself rather than my family, my business and my friends."

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  • Maria LoTempio, New York City

    Maria LoTempio, New York City

    Her Pilates body: "My muscles have more definition, I am stronger, my energy is higher and I've gone down a clothing size. I am finally happy with my body and it has taken me decades to achieve this."

    Surprising benefits: "Because I have more physical strength than ever, I am able to move throughout my day [as a plastic surgeon] in the operating room and perform surgery for hours without pain. Pilates gives people physical and mental strength to be able to tackle any challenges."

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