Just how good is the £30 workout that Meghan Markle says is best thing you can do for your body?
Liz Connor gave Megaformer Pilates a go - spoiler: it's pretty difficult
The silverware is being polished, the best man is practising his speech and the champagne is on ice - yes, the society wedding of the year is fast approaching. In just a matter of days, Meghan Markle will be walking down the aisle of St George's Castle to tie the knot with Prince Harry in what's set to be the biggest date in the TV calendar.
Call it the Markle effect, but all eyes are on the future Duchess, and speculation is rife about how she'll be prepping for the big day - from her hair and dress choice, to her diet and exercise regime. She's been refreshingly honest about her love for fitness in the past, and it's no surprise really - with a yoga instructor for a mother and gym-obsessed pals like Millie Mackintosh, Meghan's enviable bod clearly isn't just down to good genetics.
But there's one towel-bitingly tough workout that the future royal absolutely swears by when it comes to shredding fat and staying lean. Apparently she's a massive fan of the Megaformer, an intense full-body fitness class that takes place on a souped-up Reformer Pilates machine.
She's been quoted praising Megaformer workouts as "hands down the best thing you could do for your body," and is rumoured to be a big fan of Studio Lagree, the LA-fitness export that's fast catching on over here in the UK.
So how hard actually is it? I went and tried the class for myself at the studio's newest outpost in London's Nobu Hotel. Here's what happened ...
The Megaformer machines are pretty complicated
As I enter the room, I'm greeted by rows and rows of machines that look not too dissimilar to dark, leathery torture devices. If you've ever tried Reformer Pilates, you'd be forgiven for thinking the two workouts might be similar - both machines have a central carriage that slides back and forth, attached to a row of springs for resistance.
But get closer and you'll realise there are plenty more bells and whistles to play with on the Megaformer - from cutouts and handles to feet and arm straps. These are designed to bring you to a higher threshold of intensity, testing your core, endurance, cardio, balance, strength and flexibility all at once.
Navigating the precarious padded table (which moves with you) in the first 10 minutes of the class can be quite daunting, but the instructors are always on-hand to correct your form.
It might just be the hardest workout you'll ever do
Don't be fooled by the cutesy names for the movements, like "bear", "mermaid" and "catfish". One of the most surprising things about the Megaformer workout is just how ab-crushingly difficult it is, and I feel personally betrayed when a move called "sexy back" reduces me to a hideously unattractive, sweaty mess.
My instructor Matt McEgmont soon pulls me up on my pace. In Megaformer, it's all about excruciatingly slow movements - the slower you go, the better results you see, and there's very little rest between each position. One of the most challenging movements involves pushing the table backwards and forwards with my forearms, while holding a plank position. My abs are completely on fire and I look like a flailing fish.
The carriage is spring-loaded with resistance that ranges from 0 to about 115 kg, so you can make controlling the table with your legs and arms as challenging as you like. Because you always have some part of your body on the carriage you're also constantly challenging your core to keep you balanced.
Within 10 minutes my legs and arms are uncontrollably shaking from the resistance load and I'm wondering if I'll actually have to give up part way through. People often describe Megaformer with words like "humbling" and "crushing", and McEgmont assures my that the shaking is totally normal.
But it's okay to feel like you're terrible at it
According to McEgmont, failure is good. "The Lagree Method is focused on working the muscles to failure," he tells me. "The method integrates the key elements of resistance and counter-resistance in a sequence that allows for zero-gravity at peak muscle contraction, encouraging maximum exertion while allowing for a low risk of injury."
He says the movements in the 50-minute class target slow twitch muscle fibre (muscle fibre that can sustain force for an extended period of time), which is why you feel that deliciously torturous burn throughout.
There are loads of benefits
At this point you might be thinking, why would anyone voluntarily put themselves through this, let alone pay £30 per class? Well, the mantra 'no pain; no gain' is pretty true when it comes to seeing positive results fast.
McEgmont tells me that there are loads of benefits to honing a regular Megaformer routine - from weight loss and increased muscle strength to better balance and reduced stress. It's also pretty addictive. During the class I think, "Never again", but afterwards I feel strong, energised and, strangely enough, like I can't wait to go back for round two.
You will ache afterwards
That being said, the day after wrestling with the Megaformer is a painful affair. I shimmy my way down stairs, I avoid any type of extreme belly laughing and I actually make an audible scream when I try to sit down into my office chair.
Let it be said: the Megaformer method is not for the faint-hearted, but if you can survive a class and still have the guts to go back, you'll be rocking pins like Meghan in no time.