As a child growing up in Russia, Maria Ivanova was diagnosed with severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine). She persisted as a professional rhythmic gymnast anyway, but when she retired, she says she was in a lot of pain.
“I was looking for medications or anything to help me feel better,” Maria says. Instead of finding a pill to cure her pain, she discovered Pilates, a form of exercise designed to improve physical strength and flexibility.
“Pilates made me feel so good,” she says. “And, when you’re in pain, you just want to feel better.”
That was the beginning of a journey that led her to become a master trainer, certified in all levels of Stott Pilates — known as a contemporary approach to original Pilates with a rigorous and thorough education method — and to spend the rest of her life teaching and training others using Pilates. She has been a certified instructor for about 12 years now.
Maria is the owner of Euro Pilates, located in the Countyline Professional Center, just south and east of the corner of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and County Line Rd. (behind Walgreens). Maria moved to her current location in 2015, after being upstairs in the MidFlorida Credit Union building, also on BBD, since opening about 10 years ago.
New clients to Euro Pilates start with at least three one-on-one personal training sessions to become familiar with this unique system of exercise. Then, they can then choose to continue personal training, or try out the many classes offered. Many clients do a combination of both classes and individual training.
“I’m here every day,” says Nicole Regush of Wesley Chapel. “Seven years ago, I had just had a baby and wanted to strengthen my muscles. I started doing private sessions three times a week and I just got addicted because I felt so good.”
Nicole adds, “It’s nice to have a combination of both independent and group training. In a private session, you focus on your needs more, like if your hips are tight or your back is bothering you that day. In groups, it keeps me motivated because I see others who are stronger than me, and we get to try so many different equipment options.”
- That includes Pilates equipment called a Cadillac machine, reformer, chair, barrel, and more, all designed to help people strengthen and elongate muscles throughout their bodies.
Maria says Pilates lengthens the muscles so they look lean and strong. She says once clients start, they often stay for years. “Some clients become very dear friends.”
In fact, Maria says, a group of clients recently attended Maria’s daughter Ania’s graduation from USF together. Ania also is a trainer in the studio, who now holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Sports Science and works at Euro Pilates full time. “I have successfully cloned myself,” Maria laughs, saying that Ania’s training style is so much like hers that Euro Pilates clients can easily train with either one of them and not skip a beat.
Ania has worked at Euro Pilates for three years now. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “The people who come here are awesome. Plus, I like to travel and this job gives me a lot of freedom to do that. For example, I’m getting ready to get a yoga certification in India.”
Maria explains that, as she did, some people first turn to Pilates because they are in pain. “If someone has scoliosis or rotated hips, or has little pains here or there, or if they’ve had major surgery such as a hip replacement or back surgery, we are trained to help.”
She says she is not a physical therapist, but has similar knowledge, thanks to her Stott Pilates training. “Everything we do is good for you,” she says. “We explain why we do certain things, like to make certain muscles tighter, to align the body and provide muscle balance.”
Others find Pilates for general strength training and physical fitness. Maria says Pilates doesn’t just work the major, global muscles, but also local muscles. So, for example, in the leg, the quad muscle does all the work and your gluteus maximus (butt muscle) does none. Pilates “wakes up” that glute muscle and strengthens it. Maria says, “We pay attention to the smallest details of movement.”
Many women discover Pilates when they are pregnant and don’t want to lose muscle tone. Maria says she and the other instructors at Euro Pilates are trained to help clients who are pre- and post-partum. Sometimes people come to Maria when other gym routines don’t seem sustainable.
“Ladies — especially those over 40 —often find us because they don’t want to be flipping tires in a parking lot or they realize running may not be good for them, so they want smart strength training. It’s not always working harder that gets results. Sometimes, it’s about working smarter.”
Maria says that’s what her extensive training in Pilates allows her to teach. For example, she says, there’s no need to push through pain in your lower back to make your back stronger. “The stronger your abs are, the more you can elongate your back, so you really want to work on ab strength. People just don’t know that.”
Connie Bainbridge, a New Tampa resident, found Euro Pilates nine years ago when she and her husband and were looking to get into better physical shape. “We both had previously had cancer and heard that Pilates was good for rehabilitation and strengthening,” she says. “We came in and tried it and it was the perfect exercise for both of us. It was strengthening, but it wasn’t as intense as a boot camp.”
Connie, who is now 60, reports she is in much better shape now physically than she was when she started. “The classes are small and you get personal attention,” she says. “It’s very motivating. The instructors know exactly what you can do, so they train you at your level to get you to a higher level.”
She says she’s been going to Euro Pilates three times a week for nine years, doing both personal training and group classes, and says, unlike other people she knows who train at other gyms, she’s never had an injury from working out at Euro Pilates.
“It’s a fun exercise,” says Connie. “In the past when I’ve quit going to gyms it’s been because I’ve been bored, but I’ve never been bored here. Plus, I have no aches and pains, no medications, and I feel I’m in better physical shape than many people my age.”
Professional Athletes, Too
Even professional athletes come to Euro Pilates to strengthen their core. Chad Reed is an international motocross and supercross champion, originally from Australia, who now lives outside of Wesley Chapel.
“Doing what I do on a motorcycle,” Chad says, “you need to be fit and strong, and also need to be flexible. Working with Maria gives me that combination of strength and flexibility. With her past experience as an athlete, she understands the recovery days and the hard days.”
He says he first discovered Euro Pilates in 2010, when he and his wife were living in New Tampa. “I really didn’t know or understand what Pilates was,” Chad says. “I had a vision of yoga, but it’s different and really challenging.”
He recently started working out with Maria again after a hiatus. “My wife and I have had three children in six years, so it’s been a whirlwind in our personal lives,” he says. Now that he’s back doing Pilates again, along with bicycling, running and spending time on a motorcycle, he says, “Pilates ties my fitness program together. To be honest, I felt like it was a missing link I had.”
Chad says the workouts are a good fit for him. “I have three kids and a wife and a professional career, and — like most people —my time is precious,” he says. “I can get in and get out and have someone looking out for me making sure I’m doing everything correctly, so I’m not going to put myself in a position where I’m going to get an injury.”
Give It A Try…
There’s no membership fee at Euro Pilates. Clients pay per class or purchase a package of classes. Classes are small, with a maximum of five students in classes with equipment and a maximum of eight with no equipment.
“Because we know everyone and how they are feeling,” says Maria, “we are attentive to their needs in a way that’s not possible in a larger group.”
Beyond Pilates, there are other classes that use Pilates techniques for a different type of workout, such as Barre or Yoga-Lates, a relaxing combination of yoga and Pilates, set to soothing music, that is offered on Sunday mornings.
Maria also teaches Kizomba classes, a smooth, sensual dance that originated in Angola. Maria was the first Kizomba teacher in Florida, and is known as “Kizomba Chick,” traveling the country teaching and organizing Kizomba festivals.
For more info, visit the studio at 20743 Center Oak Dr. in Tampa or at www.Euro-Pilates.com, or call (813) 756-4000.