Today, Pilates, and fitness in general, is becoming a bit complicated. There are so many methods it can make your head spin trying to figure out what you should be doing for your body type, and when, and how often. Which is why I was glad to speak with Carmen’s personal Pilates trainer, London-based Francesca Giacomini, aka 'Francesca The Method', whose approach is refreshingly simple. Sitting with her to discuss her methodology ahead of one of Carmen’s classes, the petite and impossibly toned Italian talked me through her rules for achieving your ultimate #goals body.
Can you tell me about your background and how you got into what you are doing now as a Pilates trainer?
In the 70s, my father was the first to open up a gym based on martial arts in Rome, my mom practiced judo and my uncle is a judo coach now, so I started to do professional judo. So that’s how my love of fitness started.
At 18 I started teaching in my mom and dad’s gym, and at the same time I was studying theatre. Then I started as an aerobics teacher, all the while doing competitions in judo, so I’m also a judo champion. I then came to London, where I started teaching in gyms while studying for my Masters in theatre directing. That was based on musicals and theatre, so I went to Thailand and Moscow. In Thailand we studied theatre, in Moscow we studied Michael Chekhov’s techniques of acting and we saw these amazing actors that were so talented with movement.
I wanted to find a midway between my fitness background and my love for the theatre and the arts and theatre as movement, so I decided to do Pilates because it’s based on ballet, and it’s a mix of all the training methods together. So I studied Stott Pilates which is Canadian based, and I studied in London with Body Control, so classical Pilates. Then I went to LA to study modern Pilates, like a mix of boot camp on the machines, which was fun, the reformer, and then I taught the Cadillac Chair. From there I created my own method, which is a mix of everything I learnt from my theatre studies, my judo, discipline, and the food. So it’s a methodology that’s not only based on body as exercise but body also as healthy eating, a mix of everything.
How did you arrive at the perfect formula?
I did fitness competitions, bikini modelling, and I did competitions in America, Las Vegas, Toronto and Alberta, which gave me a little bit more knowledge how to change the body, as I was a bit bigger when I was in my 20s. Actually now that I am older, my body is so much better, and I learned that that by doing less, but the right things, and eating the right food, you really can change the body.
What are the differences between the standard Pilates that you would do at a gym and your method?
The Pilates in our days has been diluted a lot, and as you know there are different forms of Pilates. The classical Pilates is very good, it works more like ballet, so to elongate, and you do small repetitions, while my way to teach Pilates is a little bit stronger with more repetitions. And I throw in a lot of different techniques, I use the circle, I use the ankle weights, I use the sculptor, I use the machines, I mix everything together and I do lots and lots of repetitions, like four sets of 20, because I believe in sculpting. So the more you sculpt a piece of marble, the more it becomes like Michelangelo. The formal Pilates, it’s called like a boot camp with the reformer, some of them can be dangerous. Because they push your body so much in a class background you need to be careful not to get injured, so you need to get very good body awareness. That’s why I always think private is a little bit better if you can, or start with private to understand what’s the base of Pilates. So you need to get to the core, then after that you may expand and try different classes, so it’s all about quality more than anything.
I learned that by doing less, but the right things, and eating the right food, you really can change the body.
Do you teach on the reformer as well?
Yes, on the reformer, on the Cadillac, on the chair, so all the equipment of Pilates. I studied them all, but I think mat work is kind of the best because you really have to work with your own body. Because sometimes the client can cheat and use the machine more than they use their own body, whereas with the mat work you are forced to use you.
Let’s talk about the importance of food.
Eating is 80%. Which means, not not eating, but only the food that Mother Nature gave us. The other 10% is exercise, and the other 10% is genetics of course.
Speaking of food, do you have several rules that you go by, that are non-negotiable?
First of all, nothing is processed and everything is from Mother Nature. And if you buy things from a supermarket, you must always read all the ingredients. The other thing is cut the sugar out, that’s the main thing because sugar is like the cocaine of food and gives you addiction, that’s why they add it to food so that you feel like you want more and you crave it.
I think we should start to eat again like babies. If you think, babies have very regular meals. For example, I always eat my breakfast at 8am and my lunch at 1:30pm and dinner between 7:00pm and 9:00pm, but I try to eat always at the same time. I think the body likes regularity.
And also if you think about babies, they eat very simple food, and vegetables have to be very well cooked, fruits have to be pureed, and I eat exactly the same because you facilitate your digestion.
You must eat a good combination of carbs, protein and fats, so I eat rice, brown rice and white rice. I eat buckwheat a lot and I mix it with chicken or turkey or fish, olive oil, a very Mediterranean-based diet, and I never mix more than three things on my plate. The more you digest easily the more your tummy gets flat because it’s processing the food better. It’s a bit like Chanel, everything is very simple right? Stick with the simplicity. Not adding sauces, not dressing the food because most of the dressing contains sugar, or maple syrup or honey, which spikes up your glucose.
What about sushi, if you're concerned about sugar?
Sushi is not good, but sashimi is. In sushi the white rice, especially here, contains sugar to increase shelf life and to bind the rice together. So it’s better to have sashimi and a bowl of steamed rice, or if you have like the proper sushi, it's a small percentage, but if you want to be picky about it, it’s better not to.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions now around health and wellness?
Oh my goodness. So many! Like, oh coconut sugar. It’s amazing! It’s still sugar. Oh kale! It’s all about kale. Kale is so difficult to digest. That’s for cows. I don’t eat kale. It’s really, really difficult to digest. And people get into trends. Oh, now it’s the trend of quinoa. It’s all about the combination of food as well. I think food is not a trend and people think food is a trend.
Also, people should not be juicing. You don’t want to juice, you want to eat your food. We have to eat because we were meant to be chewing. If we were meant to be juicing, we wouldn’t have teeth.
Do you think there are individual differences as well?
I believe that you need to tune into your body, because maybe today I’m eating much more sweet potato and chestnuts because they are in season, but then in December, I may have less carbs and more protein. So you need to be tuned into your body because the body also, not only the type of body, but your own body in the year changes so much. Ask do I need more carbs today? Or do I need to eat more vegetables? Or do I need more fruit with my protein or the fish?
If someone does your method of Pilates is that enough exercise or do your recommend doing cardio or something else to complement it?
I don’t believe in cardio because it stresses your body a lot. I don’t believe in heavy things, especially for women. Men need to work with their heart a little bit more because of their testosterone. I believe that a woman should do in general exercise that you can do when your 0 to 100 years old, so that it’s not painful for your joints, but you need to move, so like instead of getting the lift, take the stairs, park the car further away. So you need to always be moving. Fidgeting is also a good way to burn calories. You can bike or do cycling, but not in a way to exhaust your body because then you become tired and than you have sugar cravings, then you want to eat more, so I believe more in conditioning exercises, everything strong but that keeps you grounded, especially for women.
At last, Carmen joined us for the class, which involved concentrated work with the ring and resistance band, as well as 'the sculptor'. While Francesca and I were confused about the perhaps unpractical outfit, rest assured there was workout gear underneath that flamenco-style skirt.