Fitness Face-Off: weeks 1 and 2

So if you somehow missed this week's Seek (the "What's Your New Your Age?" issue), Brian Farnham and I are engaging in a bit of friendly competition. He's trying to dunk a basketball, I'm trying to do the splits. We each have three months. So essentially, Brian's going to lose.

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That said, when I described my plans to Dr. Gerard Varlotta, clinical associate professor at NYU Medical Center, he was a bit concerned that I'd never been able to do the splits before, not even after, umm, like five years of ballet. But whatevs.

I figured my failure 15 years ago must have had something to do with alignment, so I sought out Brooke Siler, founder of Re:AB Pilates. Brooke is a guru within her world—people are obsessed, from celebrities to Pilates practitioners in far-flung corners of the world (when I'm there, there's always someone from the likes of Australia in the studio, who has made a pilgrimage just to train with her).

Not to oversell Brooke or anything, but I'm convinced that if anyone can get me all the way down to the floor, it's her. I had sort of imagined that I could be fairly passive throughout this process. That she would stretch me. But it turns out I sort of have to stretch myself (while she applies extra pressure)—Pilates is tough. And the splits, maybe tougher: There are myriad muscles involved, and even more myriad stretches to target the specific parts of those muscles. In our first session, I sweated through my shirt and felt so sore the next day (sore from stretching! mind-boggling!), I could barely walk.

My initial measurements:

Front toe to back arch (right leg forward): 63" (misleading, because I'm tall and have a 34" inseam)

Floor to hip crease: 21"

Throughout the past two weeks, I've made substantial progress—both in flexibility and in evening out the sides of my body (my right side is generally longer and looser than my left, the victim of a slew of things, like crew, poor posture, crossing my legs at work, jutting a hip out when I stand, lifting my right shoulder when I get stressed). Brooke has taken me into a lot of stretches backward (in Pilates you must master the minutiae of every move before you progress, but she started me with some advanced sequences for the sake of time, despite the fact that my form is inarguably pretty terrible)—something which she claims has given her faith in the fact that even bad Pilates is good Pilates. Over the past two weeks, my body has straightened (perhaps imperceptibly) and my form has improved considerably.

And when we took my measurements last session, I had added 14" to my foot to back arch stretch, and knocked 7" off the distance from my hip crease to the floor. Take that, Brian.