Will Pilates give you bum like Pippa Middletons?
The younger Middleton sister credits her exercise teacher Margot Campbell with shaping up her show-stealing rear, so Kate Whiting books a class
As recommendations go, none could come more highly for a pilates teacher than from the Duchess of Cambridge's little sister. Cast your mind back to April 29 last year when, besides the lacy number worn by Kate, all eyes were on her sister, Pippa Middleton, and more specifically, on her rear.
Now, the woman Pippa credits with helping her create that internationally renowned hour-glass figure, has revealed her secrets...
Pilates guru Margot Campbell has just released a workout DVD, entitled The Perfect Pilates Bum, with a ringing endorsement on the front from Miss Middleton, as well as a book, Pilates On The Go.
Despite having a studio in the leafier part of west London, there is nothing haughty about Campbell — she's a grounded, bubbly Scot, who's partial to a bit of Abba.
With Thank You For The Music blaring from a stereo, Campbell steers me to one of her pilates ‘beds' — which, if it weren't for the Cath Kidston-adorned cushions, look like something out of a hospital ward or horror film — all moving parts and draped with springs and spiky rubber balls.
Within minutes, I'm jumping, but not in the normal, vertical fashion. Instead, I'm lying down with my neck in a brace and springing off a board at my feet. It sort of feels like being an astronaut and after a few tentative jumps, I'm flying.
First-timers should not fear — the beds are simply an aid to doing the exercise which was pioneered by German Joseph Pilates in the 20th century.
As pilates has developed, Joseph's mat exercises have become more popular and you'll often find these are the basis for local classes. Campbell's book is a series of such exercises, with exotic names such as ‘Bananas' and ‘Clams'.
“They're all designed to develop and strengthen the core muscles in your body,” says the instructor, whose glossy dark bob and smooth complexion render it virtually impossible to guess her age.
A former health and safety officer from Glasgow, Campbell turned to pilates as a “calmer” form of exercise to supplement running, swimming and aerobics. She now does hot yoga too, but prefers the way that pilates works to strengthen the body over traditional yoga.
“It wasn't just all about stretching and holding positions. In pilates, we modify positions. So you might be in the plank position, but we'll do a press-up out of that. With yoga, you'll just hold the plank,” she says.
“We keep it quite warming and we keep it going.”
After just five minutes of lying on my back, sucking my tummy in and raising my head ever so slightly and lifting up my legs into ‘tabletop', I can see the appeal — pilates seems pretty easy.
How exactly did this shape Pippa's bum? While Campbell says you can tailor her exercises to focus on certain body parts, it's better to work on the whole body — and you'll be better off combining pilates with other forms of exercise to get that Middleton shape.
“The bottom line is pilates can be enough for certain people,” she says. “If someone came in here and hadn't done any kind of workout for a number of years, they will start to see results, because they're going from a baseline of zero.
“But if triathletes (like Pippa) come in here, they're incredibly fit already, and pilates helps them to stretch out and tone in a different way.”
So it helps if you add it into the mix with other regular exercise — and you'll see the difference in the way you perform those sports, says Campbell.
“If you're a runner, you'll be running a little bit taller and be drawn in, supporting your back a little when you're doing it. If you're doing aerobics, you'll breathe better and draw your tummy in — it's all about connecting the abdominals and stomach muscles.”
Pilates is often recommended to those with back problems, because as you strengthen stomach muscles, you give your back muscles a rest, meaning they'll hopefully ache less.
“For people with non-specific back ache, a lot of it is to do with how we carry ourselves and if you can use pilates to strengthen the stomach, learn to stand up and walk tall, you'll be using your abdominals more and your back muscles less.
“And it will improve your wellbeing — you'll look and feel better.”
My first attempt at a pilates class left me feeling like I'd played an hour of that game where you have to pat your head and rub your tummy.
I was so busy trying to hold my tummy in, my back in an arch, my pelvic floor tight and focus on breathing out while I moved my legs up into the air. It was horrible.
But Campbell reassures me that you only need to focus on one thing at a time and get it right.
“The most important thing is pulling the tummy in by about 60%. By doing that, you're starting to use your abdominals and then you're protecting your back, as it's doing less work.
“Eventually you should pull up the pelvic floor, but don't be caught up by ‘imprinted' or ‘neutral' placement, all that means is pushing your back into the mat or not. Don't try to do too much at once.
“One thing that puts people off when you first start pilates is it's quite slow, because you're learning the basics, but you'll be rewarded tenfold, because you'll be so much better and more controlled and you'll get so much more out of the exercises because you're doing it correctly and you'll see the change in your shape. You've got to stick with it and persevere.”
The following day my stomach muscles were feeling nicely tight and slightly sore, it might not be that easy after all...
The Perfect Pilates Bum with Margot Campbell is available on DVD, £16.33 & Pilates On The Go: Sculpt Your Body In 14 Days by Margot Campbell is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99