If there was ever a complaint about Amy Nelms, a sought-after Pilates instructor who’s responsible for sculpting Manhattan’s fashion elite, it’s that the Romana Kryzanowska–trained Flatiron Pilates founder is perhaps too good at her job. “Everyone [complains] that I see everything,” says the petite blonde with waist-length waves and kohl-rimmed eyes, “but I really like to focus in on an individual person’s imbalances, so I can bring the body into harmony.” That laser-sharp attention to minute details, while potentially frustrating mid-sit-up, pays off, says the Australian model Alexandra Agoston. “Amy moves you two millimeters and all the sudden you feel your butt burning like never before. She’s completely changed my body.”
Of course, for any true transformation to take place, the practice must extend past the studio, sans tough-as-nails trainer: “When you make people learn more actively, they see quicker results,” says Nelms. Plus, “I can tell when people don’t do their homework.” Which is why Agoston, who is often away from her Manhattan home base—be it to front an Inez and Vinoodh–lensed campaign or to walk the Comme des Gar?ons runway—takes her hard-won Pilates knowledge with her on the road.
The at-home routine, which is customized for each client, and carries with it a mix of physical therapy and ballet technique, too, is simply “an extension of what we work on in the session,” says Nelms—broken down into simple steps that Agoston can squeeze in whenever she finds a few spare minutes on set or in her hotel room at the end of the day. And because Nelms is ruthless on the reformer, “When I’m at home I can get my body in alignment because of what she’s taught me,” says Agoston. “[Mostly] I learned that I can rely on myself.”
Below, Agoston demonstrates seven of Nelm’s body-strengthening and lengthening steps for anytime, anywhere.
Place the barrel under your lower back. If you don’t have a barrel, you can use a bolster, a foam roller, or some strategically placed pillows. Be sure you don’t feel any pressure in your neck. Bend your knees and extend your legs straight up to the sky. Keeping your navel pulled into your spine, and your hips squared and toes pointed, extend one leg forward and the other back, so each is pointing towards opposite sides of the room. Switch legs and then open them wide and out to each side, keeping the tailbone down and stomach pulled in and up. Repeat three to five sets.
Lie on your side with straight legs stacked one on top of the other and at a slight angle. Have your abdominals pulled in and up, making sure hips are directly on top of each other and you’re not leaning back. Place one hand behind your head and the other in front of you, being mindful to keep your wrist lifted and engaged. Point your toes and reach your top leg to the sky. Once there, flex your moving foot and try to lengthen your leg as you bring it down. For the advanced version, put both hands behind your head. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
In the same starting position, feet pointed, externally rotate your top leg then bend and pull it up along your bottom leg. Try to reach your knee behind your shoulder. Make sure not to tuck your pelvis or rock back and forth. Extend your leg to the sky and then try to lengthen as you bring it down. Reverse by raising your extended top leg first, then bending your knee behind your shoulder and sliding your pointed foot down your bottom leg. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
Begin in the same starting position—legs out, hips stacked, toes pointed, and abdominals pulled in and up. With a slight rotation, lift your top leg to a low hover and reach it even longer. At the same time, keep your bottom leg engaged and reaching, too. Make tiny circles with your top leg. Then reverse. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.
Sit up nice and tall with legs extended straight in front of you. Think of a string lifting the top of your head to the sky as your navel presses in and up towards your spine. Place your hands behind your hips about one hand-width apart, with elbows slightly bent and fingers turned inward towards your hips. Take a deep breath and press your hands to the floor as you straighten your arms and lift your pelvis, squeezing your inner thighs and glutes. Try to make a straight line with your body. Exhale and hold the position for a moment before slowly returning to start. Repeat five to eight times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart, keeping arms at your sides and the palms of your hands face down. Press into your feet as you lift your hips up. Try to engage your abdominals and keep your hips square as you raise one leg and extend it. With a pointed foot, lower your leg down and flex it back up. Repeat. Switch sides. Repeat three to five times on each side.
Lie on your back and bend your knees to your chest. Place your hands at the nape of your neck, lift your head, and extend your legs to the sky. Keep your abdominals engaged as you lower and lift your legs about 30 degrees. It is important to only lower the legs to the point where you can keep your abdominals flat and engaged. If you have tight hamstrings, keep your knees slightly bent. You do not want to arch your back. Repeat five to 10 times.