Leather seats, stirrups, straps and springs all go into a workout with a difference

YOU wonder what Christian Gray would make of Janet Wood's studio.

A black leather bed commands centre stage, with four metal poles creating the look of a four poster. On the wall hang an array of metal springs and long black straps.

But this is no naughty pleasure dome, this is a fitness studio.

Janet is a Pilates instructor and owner of the MI Studio at the Railway Institute, Queen Street, York.

Pilates is well established as a strength and conditioning exercise programme following the teachings of its founder, Joseph Pilates.

It is hugely popular and classes take place in gyms and church halls, using floor mats, as in yoga.

Janet teaches this type of Pilates, but also coaches people on how to use a variety of equipment – originally designed by Mr Pilates last century – to carry out the exercises. Leather seats and beds, steel rods and pulleys, stirrups and straps all feature in these designs, which also resemble modernist pieces of furniture. All were created with the intention of helping students complete the moves correctly.

One of the most versatile inventions is the reformer. This looks like a large rowing machine, where the seat glides up and down, but instead of pulling on a bar at the front, you use straps attached behind. It's a multi-functioning piece of kit, and helps you carry out a whole raft of Pilates moves.

"The only thing you can't do on it is run," says Janet, an American settled in York with a lively Texan drawl.

Unusually, Janet runs group classes on the reformer. The sessions are small, limited to just six people at a time, which enables Janet to give hands-on guidance.

I practise mat-based pilates, so was intrigued to have a work out on the reformer.

Like all newcomers, Janet offers a free one-to-one introduction session, before joining a class. The first class is half price, thereafter people pay for a block of lessons (five lessons for £90 or ten for £170).

During my induction session, Janet explained how the reformer worked and how there were a set of resistance springs under the footrest that could be adapted in line with how hard you wanted to work.

It was a bit tricky getting co-ordinated at first, placing my hands in the stirrup-like straps and getting my body wedged in between the shoulder pads and foot rest. But once settled, I soon got the hang of it. In no time, I was sliding up and down on the moveable carriage, holding the straps in my hand and stretching my arms out wide. Soon after, I could see an improvement in my posture (thanks to the full-wall mirror). My back was long and straight, my shoulders relaxed and not up around my ears!

Next, we had to place our feet in the stirrups and raise our legs high into the air. I do this exercise in my regular mat-based class, but on the reformer it felt different: I felt more in control and more confident as the equipment supported me in carrying out the move correctly (as did Janet's guiding hand).

After the hour-long class, some regulars told me why they kept coming back for more. The main benefits, they said, were to build their strength and flexibility and allow them to carry out other sports activities without risking injury.

Matthew Midgeley has been attending a reformer class once or twice a week for the past two and a half years. He said: "I have an office job and it definitely helps with my back and shoulders which get sore sitting at a desk all week."

Janet says one big bonus is that the reformer gives you "feedback". She explains: "When you use the straps and foot bar, you can feel more of your body, you get a sensory feedback from them. Sometimes it can be stronger; sometimes it can be more assistive.

"Also because you are not having to use your own weight it is easier to do the exercises correctly."

At MI Studio, Janet and her team teach a range of classes, including one-on-one sessions. Pilates, she insists, is for everyone. "It is for every body – yes, that's two separate words! There are more ways to teach Pilates than is imaginable! There is remedial Pilates where you can teach the basics of how to stabilise the shoulders and trunk, to dynamic Pilates focusing on balance and control. It is for people who are injured or in pain through to people who are athletes and performers."

Six in ten of the people she teaches have back pain, she adds. The rest are fit adults who want to build strength, balance, endurance, flexibility and control – but do it in a dynamic and energetic way.


Janet is offering The Press readers a chance to try a reformer class themselves. The offer includes a free introductory lesson, half-price first lesson and 10 per cent off the first package of reformer classes. Email: info@mistudioyork.com and quote "York Press". Please note, the offer is open to new clients only.