Margot McKinnon Reformer Ring Pilates

I am often asked how much time I spend on physical exercise–Pilates and other types of workouts. To the layperson it would seem like I spend about five minutes a month. The true answer is, many hours, seven days each week. I “do” two types of exercise: Pilates and walking.

I don’t have an exercise schedule. I don’t have goals. I focus on how I feel and when I haven’t had a chance to move in a couple of days because I have been too busy, I make sure to get on the floor or pace or something. I never do something like this without the mental state to be able to concentrate on what I am doing. Not that you constantly have to think about how you’re moving. You don’t and furthermore, you shouldn’t. I do because it leads me to feel better, stronger, more aligned. If I could get the same result without any focus I would do it.

My weekly moves

To start, I teach eight group classes each week. I don’t do this to work out. Instead, these classes keep me close to my work, they give me a chance to watch people develop into expert movers (I am always watching to see what works for people and what doesn’t). When I teach classes they’re an opportunity to experiment with new exercises, concepts and ways of moving. I constantly gather information about human movement and I love sharing what I am learning about in my classes.

I demonstrate in group classes a lot. While it may appear that I am “getting a workout”, my purpose is something else altogether. I demonstrate to provide visual cues for people. Plus, the energy level of the group is elevated when I demonstrate because there is lots of interaction and banter. To the layperson I get a workout every time I step into a group class setting. I certainly move when I teach and I always feel better afterward, but I don’t personally consider this scenario a workout.

Instead, I define working out as moving. Period. Therefore, unless I am on a marathon of sitting, I think of it like I work out every time I move, seven days a week. For example, I choose to walk every chance I get. If I drive somewhere, I deliberately park as far away as my time permits. I am never the person circling the parking lot looking for the closest spot to the entrance. I move when I sit and pay attention to posture and how my body supports itself. Sometimes I sit on an unstable surface so I have to make unconscious adjustments and work my muscles as I sit. If I am in a meeting I often walk around. If I sit, I change position frequently. And, if possible, I lie on the floor to practise pelvic motions. In a car or plane I constantly move my thoracic spine in all directions and work on neck mechanics. I also work my feet all the time–I wiggle my toes in all their movements, I contract and release arch muscles, I move my ankles. Eye exercises are another favourite because of the effect on the neck and the entire spine.

When I work late at one of the studios I almost always take an hour or two to work on the Pilates equipment, in silence. What do I do? Exercises that reinforce postural support and leave me feeling strong, aligned and calm. These are magic hours because I experiment with exercises to see how I can make them more targeted, more accessible. I experiment with linking different mechanics to create full body movement with the simplest of exercises. A good example of this is footwork on the reformer. I can take two hours with this series and feel like my entire body has worked after the fact. I particularly like doing footwork on the jump board – no jumping of course, just pushing into the board from different parts of my feet and then tracking the effects up the kinetic chain.

One night I worked for two hours on the ballet stretches from the Cadillac repertoire. The effects lasted for three days! Another personal favourite is pelvic tilting. I once spent three hours in a hotel room, on the floor in the dark, tilting my pelvis forward and back, side to side. I moved from a number of different bony landmarks, then from different muscles, then from the organs, then with the integration of breath, then pushing with my feet, then with knees over my chest, and then into and out of a bridge. The possibilities can be endless. My goal is always the same: feel good, aligned and like everything is moving the best way possible.

In a traditional exercise and even from the Pilates perspective I probably qualify as a non-exerciser. It’s true that I don’t workout. I also never refer to my “practice” as exercise or working out. Rather, I simply think of it like I am taking time to pay attention to how I move. For me, it is a form of meditation. I feel very clear after the fact. I feel strong. I feel good… great actually.

Here’s an example of my physical fitness regime from the week I spent at the 2017 PMA conference. At the beginning of the week I did a series of workshops with Eric Franklin, one of my favourite movement experts. In two workshops I attended, we experimented with ways to move the pelvic halves. The information was not new, but it was concentrated time, being led and I could feel an immediate difference in my standing posture up and down the chain. As an added bonus my left IT band released, my left gluteus medius fired better and my lateral hamstring was participating better in my walking mechanics. So, several times a day, over the week, I moved my pelvis accordingly. It was really poignant when I was walking the 30 minutes to and from the conference centre. My gait changed dramatically and the tone of my hamstrings had never been better. When I presented on the following Saturday, I stood. I was focused on the group of course, and did not pay attention to my pelvis. However, afterward, I noted how good my legs and lower back felt. That was a result of a week of focus.

So, for me…

  • Working out is an all-day every day activity
  • Exercising on the Pilates equipment is a bonus that I don’t get often, but cherish; the equipment is brilliantly designed and is so good for human movement
  • I count all moving as working out
  • I exercise with a theme and often only do one or two different exercises over 60-90 minutes
  • I work to fatigue but only with good form
  • I do not count repetitions
  • I do not work toward mastering exercises
  • I exercise to feel calm and aligned which comes partly from the physical movements and mostly from mental focus


BH Shoptalk Icon

Sign Up

Enjoy exercise analysis, class design, career advice, success stories and more! Get Body Harmonics Shoptalk blog articles delivered to your inbox weekly. Plus, enjoy a 2-minute Mondays with Margot exercise video bonus with every issue.