The fitness industry is saturated with information on how to drop dress sizes, how to burn fat and how to tone up. But it's unhealthy. Exercise is about so much more than your shape or size. Hollie Grant, the Pilates PT, is one of the few fitness instructors who doesn't care about how you look, and who is entirely focused on improving how your body performs and moves. And she's taking the industry by storm.
Here, she talks to us about why exercise is important, delves deep into whether HIIT is good or not, and tells us exactly why she is so passionate about Pilates.
What are your top reasons for exercising?
Physical health: My father used to be in the Parachute Regiment and still trains and competes as a strongman now, and he’s in his 60s. This has instilled an awareness in me that exercise keeps us young, strong and mobile, and I hope I’m still able to work hard well into my 60s, just like he does.
Mental health: I suffered with depression when I was a pastry chef. It was such an aggressive environment and it ground me down. Exercise really built me back up and made me realise how much not exercising had affected my mental health. It will get me through any tough period and has been a huge part of my post-natal recovery.
Fighting against diet culture: Diet culture teaches us that exercise is a tool for weight loss. We are told which exercises are going to give us pert bums, ripped abs, and which will get us skinny fast. This dialogue actually brings about a negative relationship with exercise and I am 100% against it.
I don’t care how many calories my sessions burn, or what part of the body they’ll chisel. I train because it makes me happy, keeps me healthy and strong, and I’ll help anyone I can shake off the ”fitness rules” that come from diet culture!
How does Pilates tie in with these reasons?
The reason I instantly fell in love with Pilates was that it’s focused on how your body performs, not how it looks! Aesthetics go out the door, and function, mobility and strength are top dog. I want to be faster, stronger and more flexible, and Pilates really assists with these goals.
How did you get into Pilates?
When I finally realised how unhappy I was as a pastry chef, I decided to take some time out and decide what I really wanted from life. My friend mentioned her boss owned a Reformer Pilates studio and needed a receptionist. I got the job and as part of my role I was allowed to do a class a day. I was the happiest I’d been in years! I was promoted to manager and was encouraged to do Pilates teacher training.
Fast forward a few years and I was Head Trainer at 2 top London studios, and had created my own method; ‘The Pilates PT Method’. I opened my first studio 5 years ago in Fulham and our Knightsbridge studio 2 years ago. I’m more interested in and passionate about Pilates than anything else I’ve ever tried and I still enjoy every day of teaching even after 9 years.
As a key advocate of the motto “athletics not aesthetics”, what advice would you offer someone who feels committed to exercising in order to be a certain shape or size?
The diet industry is a multi-billion-pound industry that plays on our insecurities to make money. It’s totally understandable that we internalise its messages we hear - that if we are slimmer we will be happier, and this can be hard to shake off. My advice to anyone struggling with this would be as follows:
Acknowledge that diet culture is present. This will put you in a much better position to see through the numerous marketing strategies used, and help you make informed decisions based on your body!
Remember not all we see is accurate. Many exercise studios will choose inspirational images to sell their services, showing you just how slim / happy you could be if you trained with them but remember that images are of models, not clients.
Trust me when I say that “fit” does not look a certain way. I have trained many women in bigger bodies who are fitter, stronger and more flexible than those in smaller bodies.
Choose an exercise regime you genuinely enjoy, rather than the one Tracy down the pub used to get ready for her wedding, because if you enjoy it you’ll soon stop caring what it does to your body and you’ll do it for you!
What are your thoughts on HIIT?
I am big advocate of HIIT when carried out in the right way, and it forms a large part of The Pilates PT Method. HIIT involves short bursts of high intensity exercise that push the heart rate up and challenge your cardiovascular system. It is one of the most effective ways to boost cardiovascular fitness, has numerous health benefits such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and it can also reduce visceral fat levels.
However, there is a time and place for HIIT, and it needs to be balanced out with strength work. It should not be practised daily – try to allow 48 hours between HIIT workouts to allow glycogen levels to restore and cortisol levels to reduce.
It is a powerful training tool but should be practised with caution. Remember, that just because something is high intensity, doesn’t mean it has to be high impact. Using an indoor bike, the cross-trainer, running etc. can all be used for HIIT training – it needn’t all be aggressive burpees and squat jumps.