I recently started trying Lara Hudson’s best-selling “10 Minute Solution: Pilates” DVDs after somehow herniating a disc in my cervical spine. The injury kept me from running, biking, swimming and lifting weights. But (with the blessing of my physical therapist), I found I could still do most of her DVDs, which consist of five, 10-minute mini-workouts.It’s easy to get bored with exercise DVDs. Some instructors start too slowly; others talk incessantly, are way too peppy or are hard to listen to on a regular basis. The workouts are usually too easy, but they can also be hard to follow. And if you have young kids, they’ll inevitably begin climbing on you within five minutes of starting the workout.
But Hudson, a former acrobatic dancer with superhuman strength abs, hooked me with her clear and concise cues, innovative choreography and a commanding but soothing voice. I tapped into core muscles that I’ve long neglected. And now I routinely use the final, 10-minute relaxation segment of the video to wind down at night.
“You can apply Pilates principles to any movement,” Hudson told me over coffee during a recent visit to the Chicago Tribune. “Exercise is a skill. You can exercise poorly or well. They key is understanding what you’re doing and paying attention to it.”
“It’s hard to get any benefit if you go into a class and flail around,” she added. “That’s where Pilates has a place.”
For the last year, Hudson has been designing her signature workout called The Mercury Method, a blend of Pilates and yoga with traditional fitness programs. She also has several new videos coming out, including “10 Minute Solution: Tighten and Tone Pilates” which incorporates a band to add resistance and a Pilates video for Weight Watchers.
Hudson, 41, who recently moved from San Francisco with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 2, also plans to open a Mercury Method studio in Wicker Park this fall.
During our interview, we talked about everything from how she makes her videos to why she doesn’t “phone it in” when she exercises. But because I can’t write very fast and forgot my tape recorder, she also answered the following questions by email:
Q: What was your workout today?
A: Today I did my early morning run, then enjoyed a big cup of coffee and a long shower. Then my husband and I packed the kids up and took them to the Green City Market, where we splurged on fresh peaches and cookies for the kids. In general, I take a Pilates class twice a week, and I run 2 to 3 times a week. As a mom, running works really well for me - I get up early in the morning, before the kids are awake, and I run 6 miles. I get back home between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and I can start the day energized and focused.
Q: Can Pilates make you a better runner?
A: Absolutely! I have trained many marathon runners and they find that, after a performance-designed Pilates program, they can run much longer without their hip flexors, IT bands or lower backs getting sore or stressed from over use. Their musculature is more balanced and works in co-contraction to greatly improve their running form and endurance level. I've got to call my producer with this excellent idea for my next video. Thanks Julie!
Q: No problem. Do you remember your first Pilates class? Did you instantly fall in love?
A: On my way to my first Pilates session, I thought to myself, ‘I used to be a gymnast, how hard could this Pilates thing be? I got this!’ My trainer put me on the reformer, a contraption I'd never seen before, and asked me to contract certain specific muscles - I was indignant that I couldn't do it, I couldn't find or even feel them! After eating some humble pie, I quickly realized that I didn't know how to use my body very well, and as I slowly awakened muscles that were previously dormant, my body transformed, and I was hooked!
Q: What Pilates move do you hate? Which one do you do on a regular basis?
A: Swimming is my least favorite - you're on your stomach with the arms, legs and chest lifted off the floor, and from there you kick the arms and legs in opposition, as if you're swimming through water. It's a great exercise and strengthens the entire back of the body, but it never gets any easier! I personally love the Rollover - I use it to stretch my low back and massage my spine - it requires abdominal strength, but it also feels so good on the back.
Q: What’s the difference between Pilates and yoga?
A: Pilates is no-nonsense muscle conditioning - it aims to build a uniformly strong, stable muscular system and restore the body to its birthright of ease, vitality and vigor. These goals are achieved by using the mind to fully control the body ('control' in the best sense of the word - Joseph Pilates called his method 'Contrology') through meticulous attention to proper form and precision.
Yoga aims to reach mental, physical and spiritual well-being by using breath and 'asana' ('asana' meaning a physical pose or posture) to 'yoke' the body, mind and spirit together in the present moment. While yoga has amazing physical benefits, fitness is not its main objective - mindfulness is the meat and potatoes of yoga, and fitness is the gravy.
Q: What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
A: Oh dear. When I was sixteen, I was a kohl-eyed, shaved-head, goth-girl malcontent! I think she needed to hear, ‘Don't let fear of failure paralyze you. Don't be so scared to fail, just go for it! No one's going to give it to you, so get out there and take it!’ It took me many, many years to learn that lesson.