Phat Pilates

UPDATE: A pic of me from this blog post originally published on ONCE UPON A DIET blog showed up with an article over at Suite 101. The article is titled "Fat People Can Do Pilates Equipment Workout."  And yes, I'm proof fat people CAN.

~~~As promised, the pics of me during one of my Pilates training sessions. The pics were taken 6-10-10 and I was 265 at the time (for reference, for the fat gals out there who wonder if THEY can do it at X pounds. I have done it at 278 lbs, too.). I am an apple shape, meaning I carry my fat mostly in the middle, principally in that forward danger zone: the abdomen. My belly is huge. It actually IS an impediment to movement. So, we work around it.

If you aren't familiar with Pilates or are and have been intimidated by the equipment or think your size is a barrier, then I'm here to say: try it.

Yes. Fat folks can do it.   Here are pics of a plus-sized gal doing it. She's the only one I've been able to find online shown doing various poses.

The exercise community seems to be lagging behind the reality of what's going on in the US. They have only recently begun discussing how to deal with overweight/obese clients. And I've seen some advise the client to lose weight first. (Excuse me?!) But little by little, I see that conversation widening. (Not fast enough, not wide enough, but some). When I began doing Pilates in 2008, those pics I linked to were NOT online. I couldn't find pics of big gals like me doing Pilates, never mind BIG MIDDLE-AGED gals. :D

But we're the ones who need to exercise THE most, and many of us have back pain issues, joint pain, and could benefit from the increased core strength (to carry that heavy load) and flexibility.

I have bad knee joints and one slightly wrecked ankle, and I purposefully chose Pilates because it's easy on the joints and low-impact. I did fear I wouldn't be able to use the strange apparati (not strange now, but strange to me prior to doing it). I will confess that getting on and off the Reformer is TOUGH for us heavyweights. But you'll only look like an overturned, drunk turtle for a few weeks to a month, then you'll look like a sober overturned turtle, then you'll start getting up and off with more ease as you get stronger.

The Cadillac, though, is great for us. For big gals and guys, getting down to the floor and back up can be tough (especially if, like me, you have to be super-cautious about what you do with your knees). But the Cadillac is higher off the ground and it's a breeze getting on and off. I strongly recommend that if you're a big person, you tell your instructor to let you use the Cadillac to start, along with Reformer work, and avoid the mat as long as you can.

So, here it is. A morbidly obese, middle-aged gal does Pilates:

Okay, first pic is me on the Reformer (the apparatus that most folks will associate with Pilates, invented by Mr. Pilates himself.) It's got a sliding part you sit or stand on, springs, attachments, a foot bar, etc, so diverse and numerous exercises can be performed on it--for warming up and for strengthening, for arms and legs and core and back, etc. Here, I'm working upper body. I am sitting on a short bench in order to modify it to accomodate my belly (lets my legs extend without straining my lower back. I am doing the Airplane, which is part of the "essential" Pilates Reformer repertoire called BACK ROWING PREPS.). Like many Pilates moves, this LOOKS easy in the pic, but you are constantly focusing your attention on proper form and breathing, so I tend to be deeply in my brain coordinating the postural and breath stuff. I do less well on the breath being asthmatic, but when it's good, it does help a lot. Depending on the way the machine is configured (for tension), this can be REALLY CRAZY HARD.

Hah. Speaking of breath, you can see my cheeks puffed up here as I blow out air on exertion (ie, I'm pulling up on the rope). Again, this is the Reformer, I'm on that little bench for modification , and I'm in a half roll-down position doing biceps curls. (I do have hard lil biceps, too, now!) It's WAY harder than it looks when you've got a gazillion fat cells in the way of tucking butt under and holding stomach muscles curled so as to support weight with the core. This exercise is also part of the Essential Reformer Repertoire, back rowing preps category.

It took me a good, long while to be able to do this, and it's STILL really hard for me. I went into Pilates with the upper body strength of a newborn, I swear. My trainer has been merciless (thank you) with the upper body work to get me to a better, stronger place. (Man, can I carry a lot of groceries now.) But it's still not my forte, and anything where weight is supported by my upper body and is on my puny, carpal-tunnely wrists, it's tough.

In this one, it's your CORE that is pulling you in (ie, sliding in the carriage), not your arms. Your arms stay still and firm and long, and, here's the kicker, your pelvis has to come forward (the shifting of weight is killer),  and then your abdomen has to do the work. So hard. That first pic is the out position (the carriage is slid out some). Here's the in position: my core pulled in the carriage.

I will add that it's very hard for me to do some straigtening moves (of arms, of legs) in particular positions, as my fat IS an obstacle. But that doesn't mean you can't modify or do what your body allows, safely.

Aha! At upper left--the Push Through with Modified Teaser on the Cadillac. This exercise starts with you laying down and then you lift your head and roll up your torso as you lift the bar.

To accomodate my level (I am NOT advanced yet) and my belly, we've done the legs in a diamond position. Here, my knees are bent with feet together.
We decided to see if I could get my legs straighter: a push through with teaser. And here's that move at left.

It's really tough for me to straighten my arms here due to the obstruction of fat in the upper arms/upper back/neck. But I do try. :)

We move over to the ladder barrel usually for the last minutes of the session. (The pics above are not in the order I did the exercises, as we began on the Cadillac, then moved to Reformer.)  Side bends (hate em, get cramps in my hips if I'm not perfect on form) are tough. You are lifting your upper body weight with your core, especially focusing on your obliques. Down and up. Down and up. I've done it with feet in this position and higher on the rungs. With arm out and with both arms bent with hands on forehead.

Again, I'm blowing out that air. Hah. Glad I did my pedicure before my trainer surprised me with the picture-taking.

After this, we tend to do stretches, getting me cooled down safely.

And we usually end a session with a roll down, which means standing, feet parallel, hip distance apart, then rolling down from the neck and down vertebrae by vertebrae until you just hand loose, then you tuck your pelvis and scoop your abs and roll up vertebrae by vertebrae to a slow count of 4, exhaling.

I didn't have pics for every exercise and stretch we did in 55 mins time, but these are to show what might be included in a workout on various apparati.

I hope if you're a fat gal or guy--obese or morbidly obese--you won't be afraid to try Pilates. I always feel so much better afterwards and, yes, it helps your activities of daily living and SEX. :D  As you can see, snuggish fitting clothing is good . This--in the pics-- is one of my baggier tops for Pilates, and I have camisoles, tank tops, and racerback tops, all sleeveless and all more snug,  that I wear as well. I also have Danskin shorts and bootcut pants that I've worn to a session, but capris are my fave, as they do offer my knees a layer of cloth to absorb sweat for the "on my knees" moves.

There it is. As promised: Fat Princess Does Pilates.

Now there's pics of TWO of us supersized, Pilates-loving ladies on the internet.

If you are in the Miami area and want to try a private session to see what you think of Pilates, do call Liza at The Pilates Room in North Miami Beach.  I strongly recommend a couple or more private sessions BEFORE undertaking classes, as you need to learn about proper Pilates posture (imprinting is hard for some to "get") and what will be the needed modifications for your larger body type. The link takes you to their site with contact info, class schedule, and bios of the instructors.

Later, and a happy, healthful Tuesday to all!

WARNING: These photos are the property of this blog's owner and cannot be used without permission and should not under any circumstance be hotlinked. But feel free to use a regular link to use this as a reference as needed to help other folks who have weight problems and wanna do this great form of exercise and rehab.



Here are some exercises I did Monday at my Pilates session (ignore the uberdorky hair that I hastily clipped up and off my face), and I left out a bunch, but I wasn't gonna upload the one with a crotch shot. HAH! I got that new active top at Lane Bryant last week. On sale, very comfy:

Man, why is it so much of my weight has to go and just sit in my dang middle. I'm so unbalanced. Ah, well.

Post from 09/20/10 added here:

I had planned to post this last Thursday, but got lazy. I hate uploading pics.

Interestingly, I'm posting this about modifying Pilates moves today, which was my FIRST time doing The Hundred--the quintessential Pilates exercise--without modifying into a diamond leg shape for my belly. No, I did it with the table-top shape. I noticed I could do that on Saturday when I first attempted it at home on my fitness mat. I only got to 50 at home (twice) in tabletop. At the studio today, I went all the way to 100. Yay.

Losing this last batch of pounds on a higher-protein, lower-carb diet clearly has made my belly a scosh smaller so I could reposition. Yay. The trainer was encouraged enough to have me do other exercises with tabletop and not diamond legs. (See pic at upper left of modified "teaser" on the Cadillac to see what I mean by "diamond" legs that make room for my tummy. Pic taken back in June, when I weighed about 12 more pounds. If your fat is localized largely in your torso/belly, this is one type of modification--basically, just making room for that "belly obstacle.")

All right, a few pics from last Thursday's workout session--not the whole session, not nearly all the pics, just some to give you ideas for what you may need to do in a class/session--which I post for fellow fatties who want to try Pilates but maybe don't know if they're local class will/can/knows how to modify for us apples/big-bellied types:

Here, I'm just doing some balance work with the chair. If your fat is largely in your belly, you can be thrown off balance FORWARD. I started with my fingertips on the bars you can see there attached to the chair. Just the fingertips to give me balance.

But as you can see, I can do it without holding on now (better balance, stronger legs, stronger core.) I'm pushing down the movable chair arm with the ball of my foot.

I have so much fat you can't see the muscle action, but you do use your abdomen a lot for centering, strength, staying upright and steady, and to help the leg move more smoothly up and down.

Here, we're doing armwork while the legs also work on the chair. I've got weighted balls in my hands. For those of us who are overweight or obese, upper arm and upper torso fat can get in the way of lots of arm maneuvers. I know that when I started, it was torturous to get my arms straight up over my head--pretty much couldn't do it. The fat around neck, upper arms, shoulders, etc literally got IN THE WAY. So, you may have to hold your arms wider to accomodate that.

Same with the legs on the chair. You may need to place your feet as wide as possible on the up-down movable arms to accomodate the belly/thigh fat. But you CAN do it. Just need to find the posture that allows you to move with control.

The move. Arms go up as legs press down. Sounds easy. :)

It's actually harder to get the arms up than to push against the weighted arm.  Having the feet in the down position feels good, having them up puts some pressure on the belly.

Breathing matters a lot in Pilates, and in constricted positions (The Hundred with head up and knees bent; rollbacks, etc) people with lots of fat in the neck/torso areas can find it hard to breathe.

Tell your class or personal instructor ANY TIME you find breathing obstructed. It's time to modify or focus on how to get you oxygen. :)

Here's that rollback that makes it hard for ME, an asthmatic, to breathe:

You may not be able to tell, but my pelvis is curved under, my spine curved (yeah, the adiposity makes it hard to tell), and this requires I really engage abdominals to hold the position. The ball held like this was more stressful 20 pounds ago, but it's still not easy to put arms this close due to upper arm/upper torso fat. I'm going to swing from side to side with that ball (passing it to one had, then passing it to other). Here is the modification: stopper farther back, feet under strap to make room for tummy.

This is a similar exercise, but on the chair.

I have weighted balls, instead of the one ball. I'm in a rollback position and doing side twists.

Modification: My feet are on the box, instead of being held straight out, which would then put my belly in the way of movement and strain my lower back.

I'm hinging back here. This is modified for my belly the same way as the rollback: I'm on a box, yes, but my feet aren't on the reformer pad. They're under straps on the frame, which gives me support and lets my legs stretch out some.

I wish I had pics from today's session, cause I did some arm work on the Reformer without having my legs stretched out. They were in lotus position on the box. My balance was great and my back didn't feel strained.

You can see in the pic where my feet are flexed under the straps. The Reformer's settings are also placed to give me more room (the stopper is placed farther back).

Whatever your body needs, the machine CAN be set for it.

I am still working the, a lean to the left and right are added.

I'd probably tip over if I didn't have my feet in straps. That's a lot of weight shifting to the sides!

In any case, this is a hard exercise. I always dread it. I can breathe better than with the rollback, but having my arms up is still a struggle (see those hams that I call upper arms?)

Back to the Chair. Here is one way to do the Twist that my stomach liked. I've done it on a box on the Reformer, on the Cadillac, on a fitness ball--never on a mat.

BUT..on the chair, because I press down as I twist, I have lots of room for my middle to move in a circle left, circle to the right. It feels really good. Normally, the twist is a battle against the fat obstacle in my middle. The press down on the chair relieves the obstruction beautifully.

 If you carry a lot of weight in your torso, just getting balanced on the chair to do a side bent or side lift can be tricky. It's important you TAKE YOUR TIME with the trainer to be in a proper position, yes, but to feel as if your weight is distributed in a way that you don't topple. When I was first learning this move, it was a fiasco. I just could not balance.

Now..the balance is easier on one side (weird how that seems so often to be the case) but not daunting. Keeping the balance as you push down and raise up, well, that's another thing. :) It gets easier.  For large-bodies, the command to press legs together can be nearly (or actually) impossible. My feet weren't this close 20 pounds ago when I was first doing Pilates. As my thighs slimmed, i could get my legs tighter together, which also helped.

A stretch I used to DREAD. Why? I'd get sooooo dizzy doing this. You start with the carriage on the Reformer towards the backrest, kneel on it with foot against the headrest, then push out. But whenever I did it, I got so dizzy. I think having my belly pressed down there was just squeezing my organs and doing something to my blood flow. No kidding.

Well, last Thursday, when this was taken, was the first time I did NOT get dizzy. Again, losing weight is less taxing to the organs during movement, and there's the proof.

After class, we took a few minutes to work on postural work. If you carry a lot of weight up front like I do (belly, bosom), your posture will tend to get out of alignment (think of pregnant women with big bellies compensating by arching spine or throwing shoulders back or both). So, we worked a bit on getting me in proper alignment.

So, there. Just a few exercises that can be modified for the overweight/obese.


Now, go inquire about classes or training. Let Pilates pros know we need classes with teachers who know how to modify and train larger bodies. This is an area the Pilates community (just as does EVERY other fitness community) needs to address aggressively. I know I was intimidated going to the studio, to the gym, etc, and I am not alone. Pilates trainers need to get themselves training on dealing with the FAT and the VERY VERY FAT, cause we need exercise more than the already slim and/or  fit. :)

Happy fitness endeavors to you! Hope this helps you try Pilates!!!

Note: I weigh 258 in these pics.

As of Feb 8, 2011, I've progressed to 223 lbs (76 pounds lost total) and still do Pilates 2x a week along with walking and some at-home exercises . I will update with lower weight pics soon. Stay posted.


March 24, 2011 at 217 lbs...

Decided it was time to update the Pilates Progress pics for my own documentation purposes and to remind me of two things VISUALLY: How far I've come, and how much I still have left to go. I'm more than halfway to my destination, but that's still a loooooooooooooong way to go, and it's the harder side of the journey (ie, even at 1200 calories, I lose slower than I did eating 1200 when I had 20, 30, 50, 70, 80 more pounds). The lighter you get, the less the chasm between calories in and calories needed. So....that's how it is.

I have made great progress. I need to make MORE progress. We keep keeping on, to use an old phrase.

So, the pics will eventually be fully uploaded to the PHAT PILATES page that can be accessed by the tab up there, under the blog title. It takes a long time to upload a bunch of pics and I get lazy/bored, so a bit at a time will do.

Here are some:

You can go ahead and compare with the older pics. (The silly ninja socks are required now at the studio for hygienic reasons, which is great, though they look dorky. And what's with all the white threads on me during this session? ha.) My middle is still the main repository of the big, ole fatload. But it's gonna go. Has to. Eventually, the belly will cry "uncle". :) (Well, I'll always be belly-poochy-heavier-appley, since even at age 15 and 135 lbs, I had the poochy tummy and these skinny arms and legs. I am a spider, I guess. :P

Have a good one, people! Fight the fat, no matter where it wants to reside on your bod!
(Pics above from 3/24/11 at 217 lbs)

Some pics of my session on 9-29-11 at the weight of 181 lbs:

Above taken at THE PILATES ROOM studio by my trainer Liza on 9-29-11.