04 Feb Pilates: Laurel Wassner’s Secret Training Weapon

When I was finishing up my chemo treatments for Hodgkins’ Lymphoma, my older sister, Aliza, suggested I try Pilates as a way to reintroduce my scrawny, non-muscular (but cancer-free!) body to the idea of fitness. At the time, I didn’t know much about Pilates and actually thought it was some form of yoga. I had tried yoga, but the repetitive sun salutations and “om”-ing just weren’t for me. But Aliza convinced me to join her at a Pilates Mat class, promising she’d treat me to a post-workout latte even if I walked out 10 minutes into the class.

Turns out that hour long class flew by—I was hooked after the first few exercises. Pilates was the first form of exercise I could actually do since starting treatment, and it was a genuine workout. I continued attending classes and week by week started noticing more and more strength and flexibility returning to my muscles. Eventually, the strength I built through 2-3 pilates classes a week gave me the confidence to start bringing back running and swimming into my daily routine.

Fast forward several years later.

Now, I’m a professional triathlete with seven iron-distance races under my belt. I routinely do 5 hour training rides and double digit distance runs no longer scare me. But I still rely on Pilates. I religiously attend a class at my gym on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings after swimming. It’s my little escape and time to unwind.  But, don’t be fooled, it isn’t easy.  The core work is essential for building strength for swimming, biking and running and in preventing injuries. At the same time, it gives me time to practice mental training, as in “yes, I can do one more set of the leg series!” even if my legs are burning.

So I urge you all to try a Pilates mat class. Here are my tips for beginners:

-Bring a water bottle into the studio with you and make sure to have a quick calorie hit, like an XRCEL Athlete Fuel before heading into the class.

-Find a good teacher. Not all Pilates classes are the same. Try out different classes until you find one that clicks. My favorite teacher changes the exercises and routine each class and keeps things interesting by using lots of props.

-Guys are welcome!

-Wear tights or capris without any zippers – you don’t want them pressing into your back.  Running shorts and loose yoga pants aren’t the best.

-Invest in a thick foam mat.  Most of the moves are done on the floor and it will be much more comfortable.  In some of my classes we double up on mats.

-Go consistently.  What will seem impossible the first class, soon becomes doable.

-Don’t fear the Teaser (the end of class move that is a very difficult V position sit up). I still struggle with it and I have been doing pilates for years! I often sub in my favorite exercise when Teaser time comes along.


XRCEL Athlete Fuel sponsored athlete Laurel Wassner is the first cancer survivor to become a professional triathlete. She scored her first iron distance win at the 2014 Challenge Atlantic City and in 2015  competed in the Ironman World Championships.  As an advocate for health and wellness, she founded the website Athlete Food  (www.athletefood.com) with twin sister and fellow professional triathlete, Rebeccah Wassner. Catch up with Laurel on Instagram (@athletestyle) or in the www.wassnertwins.com blog.

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