Did That SNL Pilates Sketch Hit a Little Too Close to Home? Here’s How To Make Pilates Feel Like Less of a Horror Movie

Photo: Lauren Clements/NBC
If the phrase “Alright mamas, go ahead and grab those 1-pound weights” strikes fear into your heart, you might have attended a Pilates class or two.

A recent Saturday Night Live sketch gives Pilates the horror-movie-trailer treatment. In the sketch, Jess (Chloe Fineman) and Meredith (Molly Kearney) take a reformer class with host Kristen Wiig, who plays an unsettlingly cheery yet brutal Pilates instructor who basically blasts Fineman’s Jess into the spirit realm when she forgets her sticky socks.

Black and neon pink lighting, a haunting rendition of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body,” possessed Pilates devotees, and the menacing tagline “embrace the shake” paint Pilates as a torture-centric cult. And to be honest—it can totally seem like that, if you’ve ever subjected yourself to a surprisingly difficult megaformer class and thought “What the actual hell.”

Experts In This Article

“I mean, they nailed it,” says Strengthen Lengthen Tone (SLT) megaformer Pilates instructor Steph Kroeger. In the video, the fictional studio is called Strength Length & Ass. Kroeger and her fellow instructors are delighted by the video, noting it’s a great spoof specifically of what it’s like to enter a Pilates studio as a beginner.

“It's like, why does everybody know what they're doing?" Kroeger says. "What is this machine that I've never seen before? And you're throwing words like [Pilates moves] ‘scrambled eggs’ and ‘catfish’ in my direction, is that supposed to mean something to me? And then you look around and everybody's in formation doing the thing.”

“It's like, why does everybody know what they're doing? What is this machine that I've never seen before? And then you look around and everybody's in formation.”—Steph Kroeger

Stranger still, once you’ve acclimated, you might just find yourself strangely addicted to the muscle quaking–filled time warp that is a reformer/megaformer class—just like Kearney’s Meredith.

“There's a beautiful fluidity to Pilates sessions, where time seems to melt away as we immerse ourselves in the movements,” Laura Quinn, a certified Pilates instructor on Alo Moves and head Pilates instructor at the Alo Wellness Club, says. (According to the trailer voiceover, the Pilates “movie” is “from the creator of SawX and the marketing director for Alo.”)

Quinn was similarly tickled by the trailer sketch (and Alo’s inclusion), but also sees it as an opportunity for some reflection.

“I found it so amusing and felt a surge of pride that Pilates was gaining such attention,” Quinn says. “While the sketch was undoubtedly lighthearted, it does offer valuable insights for both teachers and students of Pilates.”

Quinn specifically notes that making Pilates approachable, comprehensible, personalized, and—dare we suggest—fun can make it feel like less of a horror movie.

7 ways to make sure you’re not haunted by your Pilates experience

If you’ve stared down a megaformer and wondered if it was a machine “designed for torture but also somehow sex,” creeped out by eerily perfect and unnaturally bendy practitioners, or even felt a hypnotic pull to Pilates as you crave the shake, here’s how you can make Pilates feel like less of a nightmare.

1. Find an instructor you actually like

In addition to being demonic, Kristen Wiig’s instructor character offers no modifications, spouts confusing instructions about where to place your various straps and limbs, and apparently runs a pretty boring class, where 11 seconds feels more like four hours (ouch!).

“By providing clear instructions and expectations before each class and offering modifications as needed, I aim to create an environment where everyone feels confident and capable, regardless of their level of experience or familiarity with the equipment,” Quinn says.

Kroeger says she likes to keep things light and fun, and not offer instruction nobody really wants to hear.

“My goal as an instructor is to try to not make it feel like you've been doing this for four hours,” Kroeger says. When giving encouragement, she imagines her students want entertaining motivation more than the exhortations of a drill sergeant. “At a certain point, we don't want to hear you say that you should be feeling this in your arms because we actually have no feeling left in our arms because we've been pulsing for this long.”

This might require checking out different instructors and studios. Hey, maybe a blacklit torture chamber helmed by evil Kristen Wiig is your vibe! Or maybe, ya know, it’s not. You can also investigate whether you prefer traditional pilates or more hybrid strength-cardio-yoga pilates (often done using a megaformer)—here's a rundown on the difference between traditional pilates vs. hybrid pilates.  The point is, you have options, and finding your sweet spot might take a little hunting.

2. Avoid the comparison trap

Find yourself entranced by the precise pulsations of the hot Pilates mom on the next reformer over? Stay focused on your own movements, and remember: That mama is not as “perfect” as she seems (no one is!).

“I think it's really easy to look at somebody else when you're in these classes, you have people on the sides of you, sometimes you have people in the front and back,” Kroeger says. “But if you are looking at that person the entire class, then you're not doing your class. So in the glances that you've seen out of the corner of your eye, you think that they are perfect, but they're also taking breaks. We all are.”

3. Give yourself permission to take breaks

On that note, take that break if you need one, and don’t beat yourself up about it! Find the line between pushing yourself and listening to your body and what it can or can’t do that day.

“You can just get back in it and nobody else cares that you're taking a break, so it's not a big deal,” Kroeger says.

4. Remind yourself that this fresh hell will end—and then feel amazing

Yeah, Pilates is tough. Really tough. Your muscles shake and fatigue and you are basically engaging your core for an hour straight. Your best bet is to remember that the challenge is fleeting, and probably even worth it.

“Remind yourself that it will end and nothing is forever,” Kroeger says. She notes that her classes are just as much a mental challenge of perseverance as a physical one, so sticking it out delivers a real sense of accomplishment. She has seen students think they can’t do it.

“And then they get to the end and it's done. And they all say the same thing. They're all like, oh my gosh, that was so hard. The great thing is, yeah, but here we are at the end of it.”

5. Go for more “community” than “cult”

When Kearney’s Meredith doesn’t make it to class (because she’s icing her whole body), the menacing Strength Length & Ass receptionist calls to check in on her, calls her “boo-ba,” and pops up out of nowhere to ex-nay any excuses.

No one wants to be berated for missing one class, but one aspect of community is that people notice your absence when you’re not there. So yeah, the outfits, the synchronization, the overall uniformity, can be off-putting, especially if you’re in a place that doesn’t include and celebrate bodies of all shapes. But Kroeger says it brings her joy when she sees her students grabbing coffee or hanging out before or after class, and checking in on each other if someone doesn’t show.

“I just think it's amazing to see people come back week after week and hang out with their new friends that they've made in class, or hang out with their friends outside of class,” Kroeger says.

6. Embrace the shake (to an extent)

Literally, muscle shaking might be a sign that you need to back off or take a break. You can think of it as a yellow light, with your body telling you to pay attention that you’re approaching your limits, and moving into territory outside of your comfort zone. However, as long as you give yourselves those breaks without judgment when you need them, an “embrace the shake” mindset that you’re going outside of your comfort zone doesn’t need to feel scary.

“‘Embrace the shake’ embodies a mindset of growth and resilience for me,” Quinn says. “It signifies pushing through discomfort, knowing that with each tremble, I'm becoming stronger and more capable.”

7. Really though, remember your grip socks.

“You need 'em,” says Kroeger. (Check out our favorite grip socks here.)

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