Fitness Check-In: tru PILATES

Posted on October 24, 2014 by


Since I moved to Charlottesville in 2009, I’ve walked past the tru PILATES studio hundreds of times. I’ve always been intrigued by the little warehouse space by the train tracks, by what lurks behind the frosted glass garage doors.

truPILATESI had heard good things about Pilates, but I never really looked into it, because I was totally intimidated. I was intimidated, not by the exercise itself, but by the people who do Pilates. I expected to find myself in a room full of sleek soccer moms with flat abs, fab arms, and buns of steel. I’m a moderately fit person who  is open to trying most kinds of exercise and who counts chocolate chip cookies as a food group. I’m in shape, and I like my body, but I’m by no means a sleek soccer mom with flat abs, fab arms, and buns of steel.

“I wouldn’t fit in. That’s not for me,” I said to myself. Come to find out, Pilates is for me, and for everyone else. Especially at tru PILATES.

In the classes that I’ve attended, I exercised alongside people of varying ages, body types, and levels of flexibility.

I took a variety of the classes offered at tru PILATES to get the scoop on what the studio—a consistent “Best of C-Ville” winner—has to offer to a Pilates newcomer.

Step 1: Phone Conversation with Robin Truxel

Before even setting foot in the studio, I talked with Robin Truxel, owner of tru PILATES, on the phone, to discuss what I currently do for exercise (lots of yoga, running, spin, the occasional swim), any past and present injuries (I’ve been having some sciatic nerve discomfort thanks to a lot of deep hip openers in yoga), and to discuss what I’d like to achieve by adding Pilates to my workout routine (more upper body strength, better muscle tone and overall strength—especially in my glutes).

Truxel recommends that students who are new to Pilates begin with private sessions before hopping into a group class, so we scheduled a private lesson for a Tuesday afternoon.

Step 2: Take the Classes

Class 1: Private Lesson

I was both excited and nervous for my private session with Robin. I had never had any sort of personal training, and my last one-on-one fitness instruction was Saturday morning goalie practice with my high school lacrosse coach.

Fiona the Golden Doodle

Fiona the Golden Doodle

When I arrive at the studio, I am greeted by Fiona the golden doodle, the tru PILATES mascot and soother of pre-lesson jitters. I give her plenty of love before heading into the studio—a beautiful, tidy warehouse space with a loft, bamboo floors, big windows, and Pilates equipment spread neatly around the room—to meet Truxel. She is super friendly and exceedingly kind, very calm and encouraging. She also says “groovy” a lot, which I love.

We also bond over our shared love for chocolate chip cookies.

We begin the lesson on the floor, on a cushy mat. I lay on my back and Truxel kneeled down next to me to closely observe all of my movements and help me activate muscles properly. First, she walks me through the Pilates breathing technique, which involves deep breaths into the ribs and engaging all three layers of the abdominal wall (yes, there are mutliple layers of abs. This was news to me, too).

She then explains basic positions used in Pilates classes—the neutral pelvis, the table top, a proper crunch, and others—and had me try them out. All of the movements are small movements, working to engage the small muscles that are often neglected in other workouts. Truxel promises that these are waist-whittlers. I like the sound of that.

Next, we move to the reformer—called such because it helps re-form your muscles—where Truxel demonstrates, then walks me through each exercise. I’m not the most graceful gal in the world, so the idea of hopping onto a metal machine with straps and springs is a bit intimidating. It looks a bit like a medieval torture instrument, but after Truxel gets me sliding around, I don’t want to get off the thing. It’s fun. Really fun.

We do some leg exercise and some lunges on the reformer, and Truxel notices immediately that, because my right leg is stronger than the left, my right side gets a bit lazy. Truxel has me re-do exercises on that side, making sure that I feel the right muscles engaging as I slide back and forth in the lunge.

Soon, my glutes are burning like they’ve never burned before (“This is why Pilates instructors have great butts,” I think to myself. “Keep going!”). My legs are shaking, and I must be making some sort of crazy face, because Truxel assures me that shaking is When the body shakes, says Truxel, it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign that the body is getting stronger because the exercise is being done correctly.

I’m shaking a lot during this lesson, so I’m clearly on the right track.

Next, we move onto arms, first on the reformer and then back on the floor, where I learn to stretch out my chest and shoulders with big huge rubber bands. Truxel shows me the monkey gym and TRX equipment used in some of the classes. I’ve seen the photos of the monkey gym class, and I try to steer Truxel off course. “I don’t have a lot of upper body strength,” I tell her, “so monkey gym might not be my thing. I like the reformer…I can do arms there!”

Once the hour is up, we talk a bit about how Pilates can help me with other exercises, especially yoga and running. Truxel deems me body aware enough to take a group class. She signs me up for “After Work Pilates,” a mat and reformer class, the following Friday.

I leave the studio a bit shaky, but feeling strong and excited to hop back on the reformer in a few days. The next morning, I wake up feeling extremely relaxed and a little sore deep in my muscles, as if I got a massage. It’s glorious.

Class 2: After Work Pilates 

I arrive back at tru PILATES at the end of a long work week, ready to glide around on the reformer and straight on into the weekend.

Romina de los Santos, that afternoon’s instructor, starts the four of us off with a mat warmup, where we practice breathing and do some ab work. The movements are familiar, but because I’m still new, I need—and receive—a few reminders. De los Santos moves around the room as she instructs us, giving each student plenty of attention, helping us modify the exercises if need be.

After class, I help set up for the studio’s 9-year anniversary party and get to know de los Santos a bit more. She’s been teaching for around 14 years, and has taught Pilates all over the U.S. At the party, I eat three enormous, gooey, delicious chocolate chip cookies and meet John, a carpenter who says Pilates helped him heal his back, helped him retain and maintain his flexibility and mobility; and his wife, Ida, a local artist who says Pilates helps keep her strong. I leave the party with more chocolate chip cookies, a tru PILATES bumper sticker for my car, and Ida’s contact information for a future C’Ville Niche article.

I also leave with instructions (from Truxel) to “Take a couple different classes. Like monkey gym. Definitely monkey gym.”

Class 3: Pilates Infused with Monkey Gym

Photo by Linnea White

Photo by Linnea White

My notes on monkey gym, written after class, read “HOLY FREAKIN COW.”

Pretty much. Oh, and there’s photographic evidence of this one.

This is a super intimidating class, touted as a Pilates class with some gymnastics tossed in. My lack of upper body strength holds me back in yoga, keeps me from practicing postures that I would like to try. Truxel insists this class will help me there.

I kind of don’t believe her, even though she’s been right about everything else so far.

Thursday’s monkey gym is led by Desiree Cafaro, another of tru’s wonderful instructors. She starts us off with ab exercises and some uncomfortable but mega-helpful wrist-strengthening stretches. We do some tabletops. We do some planks. Actually, we do lots of planks. Another excerpt from my notes: “Planks. MOAR planks. EVEN MOAR PLANKS.”

We break off into groups to work on glutes, using the TRX straps and elastic bands on the ladder. It’s fun to chat with fellow clients, to count the reps as we build our own buns of steel.

I dread what’s next. Desiree demonstrates the hanging moves—various types of pull-ups and hangings—on the bars along the wall. As she does so, my eyes widen and a lot of “oh hell no” and “nope, nope, nope” thoughts race through my mind. I share a nervous glance with a couple other students, and I avoid the pull-up for as long as possible.

I’m at work on a handstand in a doorway when Desiree walks over to ask if I’ve done a pull-up yet. “No,” I admit, and we walk over to the pull-up bar. Every student in the class needs help from a rubber band in order to do a pull-up, so I feel a bit better. Desiree helps me get my legs into the band, and the resistance of the band helps hold me up as I pull and release. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s not impossible.

By the end of class, my arms feel like jelly. But I did all of the exercises, and I’m proud of me for it.

My arms and shoulders are sore the next day, but I notice a difference in my yoga class. I don’t collapse my shoulders as much, and I feel stronger.

Two days later, I sign up for the next week’s monkey gym. I’m hooked.

Class 4: Elongate and Stretch

I walk into stretching class on a Sunday morning, not entirely sure what to expect. I stretch a lot—in yoga, before and after running, before and after cycle—and I’m a pretty flexible person. Lolly Young, the class instructor, greets me warmly and asks how I’ve been enjoying my classes. We’ve never met, but she somehow (somehow = through the virtual grapevine) knows that I’m a newbie, and that I’ve taken a private lesson, a mat/reformer class and a monkey gym class.

Young explains that this class is all about deep stretching and isometric stretches. We’ll hold the stretches for a long time, and we’ll use some props to help us get there.

I’m the youngest in the class by far, and perhaps the most flexible. But the class is humbling—Young gives me lots of help with my alignment, especially in my hips. She explains how I can make small adjustments to better distribute weight across my limbs, and how I need to use my core to stabilize my body, even in the exercises that don’t seem so active.

I tend to hyperextend my arms, and Young picks up on this immediately. She helps me modify some on-the-wall shoulder stretches so that I can build strength instead of relying on my natural flexibility.

The class is very relaxing and restorative, and I’m so blissed out after the hour-long session that I can barely keep my eyes open when I get home. So, I enjoy a nice Sunday morning nap before going on with my day.

Photo by Linnea White

Photo by Linnea White

Step 3: Take More Classes, Become a Regular

After the stretching class, I found myself counting down the days until my next class, another monkey gym (yes, the class that intimidated me the most!), a few days later. I’ll be coming back for more. The classes, the instructors, the clients, Fiona the golden doodle– it’s a place I  want to go back to. Let’s be real– classes aren’t cheap ($30/class), but there’s a reason for that: the classes are small, they’re personalized, and they can be one hell of a workout. It’s a great place to walk into, to stick around for a bit after class and ask questions, chat with fellow exercisers, and maybe play with a very soft golden doodle. My plan is to bring my lunch to work every day (it’s healthier anyway!), and one class a week is easily do-able.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to step through the blue door near the train tracks, but I’m glad I walked through it eventually.

Photo courtesy of tru PILATES

Photo courtesy of tru PILATES

Q&A with Robin Truxel, owner of tru PILATES

What is tru PILATES and how is it different from other niche fitness gyms in Cville?

tru PILATES is a group Reformer Pilates studio. We offer contemporary Pilates training as well as specialized training to get you super strong like TRX and Monkey Gym (gymnastics-based strength training).  We also offer stretching classes that are THE most efficient way to get more bendy!  Our small class size (6-8 people max) sets us apart from other niche gyms, allowing us to tailor each class to the clients that attend!  This helps to meet our clients’ goals more quickly and minimize potential for injury.  We also work with a lot of injured clients and athletes to help get them back on the road to recovery.

We work a lot with baby boomers, injured athletes of all ages and levels, people with Parkinson’s, pregnant women and moms.  We specialize in injury prevention, rehab and making fitness fun and attainable!

How did tru PILATES get its start?

I’ve wanted to open a fitness oriented shoppe since I was 14!  I feel so lucky to be able to combine my knowledge and passion of physical therapy, Pilates and personal training in an environment that makes people feel safe, good about their bodies and like a superhero when they walk out the door!

What is your (fitness) background? How did it lead you to becoming a Pilates teacher and opening the studio?

My background is in physical therapy; I practiced 6 plus years in sports and orthopedic settings.  My personal training background is as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  I discovered Pilates at a Golds Gym in Northern Virginia and fell in love with the fluidity of movement and length it provided my body (opposite of what I was doing in the weight room). It was the missing link for the professional and semi-professional athletes that I was doing Physical Therapy with at the time!  My passion increased and I just needed to get to a smaller town to open tru PILATES.  I opened in October 2005, moved into a bigger space in 2008 and we just celebrated our 9 year anniversary!  There are 8 AMAZING instructors who I am so lucky to work with; each one has a unique background (fitness, rehab or dance) and everyone continues to inspire everyone else. It is AWESOME!

Describe tru PILATES in 10 words or fewer.

Fun, forward thinking Pilates studio appropriate for sloth to athlete!

What are the benefits of this type of workout?

Pilates is great because it is low impact ,so it won’t make you super sore before a long run, tennis match or golf game.  You can do it every day if you like!  It works on strengthening your inner “glue” muscles so it helps to support your spine and acts like spinal insurance.  It not only improves your posture, but your awareness too, so you move with more grace.  It gives you long, lean muscles and doesn’t bulk you up.  It is also very targeted at exactly what YOU need (another reason the classes are so small!).

For someone who has never tried a Pilates workout, is tru PILATES a good place to start? Why?

Yes!  We have highly qualified instructors who take you through 1-3 introductory privates so you can learn about your body – your posture, your imbalances, why this or that body part hurt at the end of the day and we teach you how to do the movements CORRECTLY so you get more out of the classes.  And so you don’t get your hair caught in the springs :-)!

How should someone prepare for a class? How should someone recover from a class?

Pilates is like a workout, a massage and a nap rolled in to one – we warm you up, workout you out and cool you down so no prep or recovery needed!  You will sweat and work hard, depending on the class and feel a good inch taller walking out!

When you’re not at the studio, what are your favorite things to do in and around Charlottesville?

I love hiking Sugar Hollow and the secluded farm trails at Monticello with the pups.  I enjoy going to shows (loved Trombone Shorty at the Jefferson!) and talks around town and enjoying all that the ‘ville has to offer.  We love going out to eat or staying in and cooking for friends.

What’s your favorite spot to grab a bite? A drink?

I love Bizou for lunch and brunch, Monsoon for dinner or C&O for special occasion.  I love Citizen Burger Bar for games (or whenever) and Bang and Commonwealth for drinks and apps!  Can you tell that I LOVE food?!?

What are you excited about for tru PILATES this year? What’s next?

I am super excited about the newest addition to tru : our little bambino or bambina is due the first week of December!  I’ve been having a lot of fun teaching prenatal and post partum classes, and teaching mamas throughout my pregnancy!  I am excited to keep learning the safest and most fun ways to get fit and share them with Charlottesville and beyond! Excited to keep growing with the super knowledgeable and fun group of instructors at tru!