ELLE Active

The curvy girl's guide to getting fit, by Huma Qureshi

With expert advice from celebrity Pilates trainer Radhika Karle

“I don’t practise pilates to look good, I do it to feel good,” says Huma Qureshi, about her training with Mumbai-based nutrition and pilates expert Radhika Karle. “I want to lose weight well, by building strength and muscle.” The actor will begin shooting her next film, based on Hollywood’s Oculus (2013), in less than a month, along with her brother Saqib Saleem (they play siblings in the movie, too). She won’t divulge much about her on-screen character; only that she’s never played a similar role before and that it requires her to be very fit without blitzing her Botticellian curves.

Lose weight while keeping your curves

And for Qureshi, crash diets are out of the question: “I don’t believe in starving myself to reach an ideal number on the weighing scale.” Pilates happens to be tailored to exactly what she needs. “What makes pilates special is that it works on realigning your body to the way it was when you were born. Bad posture and lifestyle destroys the body’s basic alignment and pilates corrects this,” says Karle. “It isn’t about losing weight aimlessly. I make sure the people who train with me reach their ideal body weight.”

This workout was founded by Joseph Pilates, a professional boxer and self-defence trainer, who blended eastern (yoga, tai chi) and western (weight training) systems to develop a form of rehab exercise for wounded soldiers during World War I. “So it isn’t just cardio or toning, it’s about building intrinsic awareness too. When Pilates moved from Germany to New York, several dancers went to his studio (at the time, he called his exercises and the studio Contrology) for training and rehabilitation, and you can still see the influence in the exercises. All the movements are focused on lengthening the body and stretching,” explains Karle.

CORE VALUE

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“I discovered muscles I didn’t know I had,” laughs Qureshi, recalling her first class with Karle. It takes just the first hour to jolt your system into awareness because pilates works on your core. “Your core is the powerhouse of your body and the stronger it is, the stronger the rest of your body will be,” says Karle. She begins with foot work to warm up before moving to the calorie-killing routines.

“The exercises are full-body integration moves so you work on at least 10 to 15 muscles. For example, when you do a back extension on the ladderbarrel (an apparatus used in pilates) you’re strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors; working your core; stretching your abdominal muscles and the lower-back muscles. Then we add in scapular stabilisation exercises so even your arms and upper body are involved. Scapular stabilisers work all the way from your rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone (humerus or our funny bone). These movements tone and create length, which is why you get a more curved and lean body rather than a muscle-y, blocky body,” she says.

CAUSE AND EFFECT

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Disciplines like yoga and tai chi work on the subtle body (mind, senses, breathing pattern) so while the full-body integration routine burns calories, the eastern influences work on a deeper level. “When I started working out, my core felt strong, and my level of concentration increased,” says Qureshi. To keep your core engaged (the most basic rule of pilates), you need to focus on those muscles all the time and do this while breathing right; this on-the-mat multitasking extends to life off the mat, too. “I’ve learned to listen to my body,” says Qureshi. “I'm more aware of my posture – I don't slouch when I sit and maintain posture when I walk or run.”

Achieving a heightened sense of body awareness is an imperative part of Karle’s training. The little details, like equal body weight distribution when you stand, or keeping your knees over your ankles, are drilled into her clients’ minds till they become an automatic reflex. “You have to learn to listen to your body to understand when and how long it needs to work out and when it needs to rest. When it needs to eat and what kind of food. I make sure Huma or anyone I work with develops the skill to read the signs their body sends them,” says Karle, and this philosophy is the reason Qureshi feels their equation works: “Radhika helped me understand my body and I think this is needed for pilates or any exercise to be really effective because having the tools to lose weight isn’t enough, you have to know how to work them to suit your body.” 

HUMA’S DAILY DIET

Hairloom Tomato salad Burratta sorbet Large

Oatmeal Breakfast
3 tbsp oats
2/3 cup low fat, probiotic yoghurt OR
almond milk
1/2 grated apple
2 chopped dates
Mix all the above in a bowl

Mid-morning snack
1 cup pomegranate

Lunch
1 cup salad (all raw vegetables with dressing made from 1/3 cup Greek yoghurt)
1 cup cooked vegetables (grilled/sautéed/stir fry)
100 g chicken (tandoori/grilled/BBQ)

Pre-Pilates snack
1 banana

Post-Pilates snack
1 banana

Whey protein
ELLE recommends: A glass of Evolution Sports Nutrition's ISO Whey Protein (Rs 3,398 per kg). When we work out we burn a lot of fat and energy, and as soon as we're done, the body goes into repair mode as reflex. This is the perfect time for a protein shake as the body needs to rebuild any damaged muscle. 

Evening snack
3 egg whites (any way you like) with 1/4 cup sautéed mushrooms, spinach and bell peppers

mini chicken pot pies 13

Dinner (latest by 7:30 pm)
1 bowl vegetable soup (homemade)
1/2 cup cooked vegetables
100 g cooked chicken or fish (knock out the fish during the monsoon)
1 tsp oil for cooking dinner

Find Radhika Karle at Balancedbody.in

Photograph: Manasi Sawant; Styling: Alisha Netalkar; Creative Director: Prashish More. On Huma: Mesh bodysuit, Koovs.com. Lycra and mesh tights, Nike.On Radhika: Jersey top and leggings; both Zara. Nylon sneakers, Nike. Gold earrings, The Line.