For over two years I’ve been working out religiously. I would wake up each morning and do a rigorous aerobics routine six days a week. My knees would hurt and for a half hour after the workout I’d be tired, breathless and sore. Later in the day, I’d head out for a 30 minute powerwalk. After all that exercise, I felt I was in great shape. I was strong. I looked and felt good. I lifted weights every other day. I wanted to regain the gymnast body of my eternal youth.

Unfortunately, even after all that exercise, I still had half a fistful of fat right beneath my navel and on each hip. That’s not too bad, but it was still not the ideal body I was seeking. Those “fat bits” were still there after 600 sit ups a day! There had to be a better way. There had to be a more sophisticated method of getting my younger body back while losing the fistfuls. But how? What workout program could I use to slenderize my body and lengthen my muscles? The answer came to me in the form of a conversation with Sigourney Weaver I had ten years ago: Pilates.

Not Closed Captioned!
Unfortunately, none of the videos reviewed overall in this series are Closed Captioned. Closed Captioning lets the Deaf and Hearing Impaired visually see what’s being spoken. Closed Captioning is also a valuable teaching tool for children and non-native English speakers who need to see, as well as hear, the spoken word in order to understand the issue at hand. My wife is Deaf, so I am especially sensitive to this universal issue of inclusion. My wife is unable to use any of the Stott videotapes for her workouts because there’s too much happening in too short a time with the camera pointed on a body and not a speaking face.

Prepare
The first thing you need to do is to get a good mat. The mats used in the videos are quite large and thick. I had a terrible time finding a good mat. I’m told Airex is a good brand, but I couldn’t find an Airex mat in all of New York City.

Frelonic is also a popular mat brand, but I’ve used them in the past and found them thin and wanting and that brand doesn’t protect my spine at all when I’m supine.

I’ve used Everlast mats in the past and I found them to be very good, but I can’t find one of those in New York City, either!

So… I’m presently using a folded blanket on a tiled concrete floor. I can tell you right now that means “Ouch!” when it comes to articulating my spine “on the way down” to my “mat” as Moira directs in the video.

Be sure to wear tight-fitting clothes. You’ll want to keep your eye on your body to make sure every piece of you is in line and looking good. It’s hard to tell in sweat clothes if your knee is in proper form or if your stomach is properly placed.

Review Lights
I will rate each video in the Matwork series individually with our standard system of one to five Go Inside Magazine Review Lights. Five green GO lights are best while all red STOP lights are the worst. The results and comments I share along the way should not be taken as a guarantee of product or a promise of performance. Before starting any new exercise regimen, consult with your doctor first to review your potential for working with the Pilates program. I’ll also place a text tag under the Review Lights so you’ll know the colors of the lights in case you choose to print out this review on a black and white printer.

Essential Matwork
55 Minutes
1997
$24.95
This video serves as your first introduction to Moira Stott and her take on Pilates. The set is enticing and the tone Moira sets right away lets you know she means business. She isn’t chatty. She doesn’t flash pearly whites at you. Moira is not bubbly and I welcome the lack of levity she brings to the workout. I’m serious and I want to get my body in shape. She seems to already understand my state of mind and offers the method to move me to my goal.

Moira explained proper posture (the neutral spine) and proper positioning (the imprinted spine) and the difference flew by so quickly I didn’t readily grasp the concept. She went on to discuss proper breathing technique, rib cage placement and spinal alignment. The use of two demonstration models was refreshing. The model closest to you is the “amateur” (with a perfect Pilates body!) and Moira spends most of her time with her hands on that model showing you how to make technique corrections yourself.

A second model (with an even more perfect Pilates body) is stationed behind Moira and that model does a bit more advanced version of the exercises. That’s a brilliant move: You can pick and choose which model you wish to follow based on your ability. The dual models concept also works well when you have more than one person watching the videotape because you can each work on a level that feels most comfortable for you. Moira also introduces the use of her Fitness Circle in this matwork program and I confess I really like the resistance the Fitness Circle provides in a workout. The exercises were straightforward and simple.

(three GREEN, two RED)

Power Mat Workout
36 Minutes
2000
$24.95
The dual model concept is employed again and I once again suffered from “mat envy” as I watched Moira Stott work her models on thick, foamy mats! I was confused at the start of the tape when Moira said something about each model doing variations on the exercises based on “body type, not strength.” Did she mean because one was a man and one was a woman there were different issues involved? Did she mean musculature only? Did she mean program experience? Did she mean skeletal differences?

I then got a little lost when she had her models sit over the edge of their giant mats with their legs hanging over the side. I’m on the floor on a folded blanket: Do I sit on the floor? Cross my legs? Keep my legs straight? Pointed feet? Heels out? Should I move to the couch? I decided to just sit there with my feet extended and do my best to imitate the breathing ritual I was witnessing. No Fitness Circle was used during this exercise program.

The workout was a bit short, but very easy and not painful in any way. This could be a good daily warm up video for the start of a hectic day if you don’t want to spark up a sweat.

(two GREEN, three RED)

Intermediate Matwork
44 Minutes
1998
$24.95
This video is a favorite because it provides an excellent all-body workout on a level that challenges but doesn’t defeat. It has the perfect mix of manipulation and sweat while not overwhelming you with high end exercises you can only half-do. There are three giant signs on the wall behind Moira that make the video look like a really fancy Eye Chart Exam. A darker background coupled with a pool of light on Moira and her models would be much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

A single model is used here and Moira seems more at home concentrating on a single person instead of trying to split her attention between two bodies. Moira hits her stride when she explains “hip flexing” and “neutral spine.” It’s too lengthy to detail all the differences here, but Moira’s explanations of those concepts work better in this tape because the model has a body that allows you to see individual muscles in motion. You can detect every little change in body position and that makes it much easier envelop the concept and make it your own. I can now recognize an imprinted spine from a natural spine and — believe me — my wife is tired of being the one I was practicing recognizing! Seeing is easier to understand than imagination.

On that note of visualization, Moira said something about balancing a teacup on your abdomen and that was a difficult idea to grasp. A balancing teacup assumes one has a flat stomach. A teacup can slide off a fat belly even if the abdomen is in proper form, can it not? A teacup is an external idea trying to impress itself into an internal frame. Watching Moira direct the model to a proper a spine press into a mat needs no imagination: The intent and result are right there before your eyes.

This tape will humble you if you think you’re in shape but you haven’t concentrated on being limber. I discovered I have a very strong abdominal area, but my hamstrings are simply tight and awful. Slowly, as I used this tape over a few days, my body started to loosen up and I could see the proof of my success as my hands came closer and closer to my toes during the Saw exercise.

The Side Bends are really tough if you’re not used to moving your body in that way, but it feels simply wonderful to move and stretch in directions you had never imagined were possible! When the model can’t hold the cross-legged Boomerang position because Moira is talking to us instead of releasing her, I laughed out loud because I realized the perfect-body Stott Pilates model was as human as me and suddenly, somehow, my imperfectly flexed leg got a little straighter and my hamstring didn’t resist quite so much.

(three GREEN, two RED)

Advanced Matwork
58 Minutes
1998
$24.95
I can’t say I could do every exercise perfectly, but I was there and present and in form. My form wasn’t pretty or perfect (bent knees are still my bane, but every day they get a little straighter!) but I was not discouraged and I felt a great sense of accomplishment and satiety as I kept up with the expanse of the exercises.

The videotape starts with ten minutes of breathing and body positioning. If you’re familiar with that technique, you can fast forward to 10 minutes and 21 seconds to begin the Hundred exercise.

The set here returns to the “Eye Chart” look, but it isn’t a bother this time because the program moves so quickly and you’re spending your time watching the model and not the scenery. It’s also good to learn proper technique for transitioning between exercises — that’s a big part of the program to ensure safety and softness as you re-position — so pay rapt attention and don’t invent your own floppy way of getting into place for the next exercise.

It’s also welcoming to see the model’s stomach sweating through her bodysuit near the end of the program because it proves the videotape is challenging even for a “Pilates Pro.” I had to mop a bit of sweat off my brow a few times during the last few exercises as I bent, twisted, un-twisted, twisted the other way and then un-bent myself! Don’t let anyone tell you Pilates isn’t an Aerobic workout: If you challenge yourself to be perfect, careful and swift (but always in total control), you’ll break a sweat every time.

(three GREEN, two RED)

The Complete Mat Manual
24 Pages
$19.95
If you’re interested in mastering Matwork this manual can help give you more detail, but the directions aren’t very precise compared to other Pilates manuals like Brooke Siler’s fantastic (and beautiful!) The Pilates Body. The Complete Mat Workout Diagram on page 23 is helpful, but you could create your own chart by simply watching the videotape and writing down the order of the exercises. Not all of the exercises are illustrated and none of the exercises show any visual “step-by-step” guide to performance.

(all RED)

Conclusion
You can visit Stott Conditioning for more information.