It’s a week of Pilates men here on the Fuse blog, and there’s no better example of a hardcore Fuse dude than instructor Abe Ahern.
This month’s Fuse Teacher Feature star is famous (or is it infamous?) for his intense upper body workouts, which always feature multiple sets of killer pushup variations. Don’t let the nail polish fool you: this former military man delivers some seriously challenging classes that will work your body from head to toe.
How were you introduced to Pilates/Fuse Pilates?
Before I knew Pilates as Pilates, I was introduced to the some of the traditional Joseph Pilates mat exercises in their original context — military fitness. As a soldier in 2005, when the Army incorporated a lot of Pilates into their basic physical fitness routine, I got to do a lot of bicycles, spine twists, single leg stretches, and roll ups. My formal introduction to Pilates, and to Fuse, came in 2012, when I found — and immediately settled at — the studio, where Gillian’s classes built up core and back strength enough to let me excel past my previous levels of fitness, despite a long-term spine injury.
What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?
Pushups, naturally. Pushups are such an excellent fitness exercise because they are truly a full body workout. It feels great to really power through the legs, lift deep through the transverse abs, structure the body through the shoulders, and power though the back and the arms. And with pushups, you have a perfect jumping-off point for dozens of great exercise variations. One of my favorites is mixing a military/chataranga pushup with some hardcore oblique and outer hip work by slowing the pushup down, lifting one leg and squeezing the knee all the way past the same-side elbow. No matter what your fitness level, you can do this, but no matter what your fitness level, you can dig deeper and make this challenge you. It’s my favorite way to close out an arm-request class.
What is the exercise you love to hate and why?
Ugh, anything with straight legs, which is most things. Hip lifts, in particular, seem so simple, but combining the effort it takes to get a good hamstring stretch while using the low abs to lift your legs straight upward, even an inch, is a constant reminder of how easy it is to forget those all-important deep abs, and how there’s always more practice to do.
What is the best/your favorite thing Pilates has done for your body/self?
In 2008, I walked with a cane. These days, I feel in peak fitness. There are no words to describe the way that feels, to have my own body carve out the support and space for the movement I love. I feel more acutely in tune with the movement of my body in space, which can give anyone, regardless of their level, such incredible confidence and grounded-ness.
Do you have a favorite move/sequence/variation you like to teach in your classes?
Recently, I loved a Mariska variation of a lower ab exercise that added in a glute aspect. From a quadruped position, it involves using the lower abs and deep transverse abs to float the knees up, keeping nice roundness all through the spine to the tailbone, and then not sacrificing that shape when you lift one leg up and squeeze the glute to lift the heel. It looks basic. It’s the hardest thing you’ll do! I’ve been copy-catting this unique variation in a lot of my classes! Another one from Clare had me unexpectedly digging deep into willpower to keep up with a variation of the hands-and-knees glute/hip/thigh exercises recently. Instead of in a traditional “quadruped” stance, she dropped us forward on to our forearms, had us slide our knees back behind our hips, and focus on never losing length in the low back while we did leg lifts, heel lifts, and side lifts. The dropped, extended pose forced me to pay more attention than ever to rounding my low back, which added so much attention to the deep ab supports. On top of that, the knees extended back further meant we couldn’t rely on our bones to hold our hips up, so the supporting quads had to never stop working.
What is your favorite Fuse class and why? (Mat, Toys, Tower, Jump, etc…)
I’ve got a special place in my heart for Chair, which leaves me sore and shaking in a deep pool of existential questioning while Mariska looks on with a slightly unnerving grin. And what else could you want out of a fitness class? But for me, Mat will always be my favorite. More than anything, the fact that Mat makes you work every exercise with nothing but the resistance of your own body means that no matter what your level of fitness, you can always dig deep and discover something new about your potential.
Favorite pre- or post- workout healthy snack/meal?
I think every class ends with some seared broccoli crowns once I get home, but isn’t froyo a healthy snack? At least, after Fuse, you’ll have earned it….
I love lurking at the corner of my favorite spot on 14th and working my way through a plate of pupusas, especially if I they have cheap margaritas to accompany (and oh, they do).
Have any favorite spots around the studios in Dupont or 14th Street?
I love this city, and think it’s an especially exciting place to be right now, in the middle of a big development boom, but one that’s so far keeping a strong mix of diversity, where the 14th Street food hotspots can get balanced by absurdly good West Indian takeout. Right now, 14th Street, and the U Street corridor behind it, sports some of my favorite spots to shop (Current Boutique, Little Miss Pixie’s great midcentury decorative stuff, Dr K’s vintage clothing), and some awesome new restaurants like Lupo Verde–cocktails anyone? What I love most about the Dupont studio, besides all the fun food spots to recharge after class, is just the circle itself. You can’t help but find joy in the best people watching in the city.
Why did you decide to become a Fuse Pilates instructor?
I guess I’m just a true believer. Fuse made such a difference in my own health and happiness, how could I not share that?
What, for you, is the most fun/rewarding part of teaching?
Watching a student really settle into a deep comfort with their own body and push through a wall that’s been challenging them. I love that feeling!
What do you think makes your classes unique/fun/challenging?
I try to emulate my favorite Fuse teachers by mixing a light-hearted attitude with a little cruelty! (Only kidding!) But yeah, if you come to my classes, you will sweat. I will work your arms. Our breaks will be short. But I’m always willing to make a fool of myself while you work! I’m really proud of my playlists, too.
What are your all-time favorite workout songs or artists?
My playlists are full of lots of indie electronic funk stuff. The biggest star name on my playlists is always Daft Punk, but you’ll hear all kinds of stuff — Lemaitre, Chemical Brothers, Flight Facilities (love!), Capital Cities, and a lot of other dub and indie remixes. Sometimes, though, when I’m feeling extra fun, we’ll have classes that are all Scissor Sisters and Paula Abdul, so don’t think I can’t mix it up.
What are your favorite requests and/or least favorite requests? Why?
Arms are my favorite, of course! Obliques are my favorite request when I’m taking classes, because while, like Rox, they make me grumpy, they also do so much good for my stability and strength overall, and I love the feeling of sore obliques. I love teaching quads, because I take a perverse pleasure in watching everyone realize how fast their largest muscle group can feel the burn!
Whose classes do you try to take when you’re not teaching?
Gillian was my first regular Fuse class, and her constant attentiveness to form really accelerated my fitness and strength. Her classes are rigorous and her attention to each student is such a great and challenging resource. Her focus on form has always felt less about the vanity of how something “looks,” but more about discovering the truefunction of the body. Between her deep focus and intuitive cuing, I’d go from a purely academic knowledge of a particular muscle group to experiencing it in seconds. She’s a truly great teacher.
Monica has crazy awesome music in every class, and is the undisputed champion of the remix/mash-up. She always seems to instinctively know how to take a class with a wide range of skill levels and challenge everyone simultaneously. And if you’re looking to kick up a notch in arm strength and toning, Monica will not let you down. Not ever. You’ll hold your arms up…lift….lift…..lift. Literally…forever.
Lisa is my favorite ruthless cheerleader. Her classes are popular for a reason: the energy is warm, fast, funny, and the workout is hardcore. Lisa has a flow that pushes you past when you think you need a break almost before you know it, and I leave every one of her classes feeling the perfect mix of elated and challenged.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of Fuse?
I live and die for my kitchen. After all, my big arm tattoo is a garlic head with scapes, in case you wondered. I mentally recharge by indulging in creativity in front of the stove. But I also love being out of doors, and so I spend plenty of time on my colorful bicycle — my cardio machine. And this season, I’m loving bouncing back and forth between DC’s many excellent and free public pools.
Any other interesting facts or tidbits you’d like to share?
I own 34 bottles of nail polish. I brew beer and cider, so schmooze wisely. Ask me for an invitation to a giant doughnut party. And yeah, I was a debate kid.
Time to brag! Here’s what other Fuse teachers had to say about Abe and his classes:
Addie: Abe has a great comfort level in leading people, and has a great ability to be open, accepting and welcoming, which is great for new students.
Allie: Abe teaches an unassumingly tough class, and won’t let his students give up.
Erika: Abe is known for his pushups, but he makes sure to challenge the abs, back, legs and even glutes while you do them, so you end up getting a true full body work out.
Erin: Abe probably knows more push-up variations than any other teacher… seriously impressive!
Laura: Abe is strong and athletic. His classes emphasize upper body work and his focus on form will make you better!
Abe teaches Fuse mat on Wednesdays at 8pm. Register for one of Abe’s classes. Have a question for him? Leave it in the comments!