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Nov 29, 2023

Gentle, Fun Way to Exercise Is Perfect for All Ages, Body Types: Pilates Hilton Head

Lynne Cope Hummell

Photography By

M.Kat
Stichweh envisioned an intimate space for a limited number of clients at a time. The perfect location came available in the Village at Wexford, and she took it.

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It sounds almost too good to be true: There is a simple, stress-free way to change the way your body looks and feels at the same time you are building core strength and improving your health.

Kelsey Watson Reid, Martha Stichweh and Leslie St. Amant

There’s no magic pill, no rigid diet plan, and no painful exercise regimen. The process has been around since the 1920s and has continued to prove successful for bodies of all ages, shapes and sizes.

The secret is there is no secret. In fact, Martha Stichweh is eager to share with anyone the benefits she has experienced personally, as well as the benefits her clients of all ages have seen.

Stichweh, 76, is the founder and owner of Pilates Hilton Head, located in the Village at Wexford. She opened the studio in 2019, after 10 years of practicing the gentle form of resistance-based exercise that she took up to ease pain in her hip.

“I fell in love right away. It was the first time I had ever truly loved doing some kind of physical exercise.”  – Kelsey Watson Reid 

“I took up Pilates when I was 62 because I had hip bursitis,” Stichweh said. “My doctor wanted me to go see a hip expert up at MUSC … but by the time I could get an appointment, it was going to be three months. I had had bursitis since January that year, and I wasn’t going to see him until August. So, in July, I started taking a beginners Pilates class, and by the time I saw the doctor, I didn’t need the shot. Now, he tells all his patients to go to Pilates.”

Stichweh continued her Pilates practice and came to love it. The following year, she trained to become a certified instructor and then taught at a local studio. In 2018, at age 71, she retired. But she missed teaching, and she missed the people.

As life threw its curve balls, she reconsidered her path. Her partner was very ill, and she wanted to have something she could fall back on if or when he passed away.

“I loved Pilates, and all I could think of was a studio that would keep me busy and keep me active,” she said. “And not only that, but I would see people all day long.”

Stichweh envisioned an intimate space for a limited number of clients at a time. The perfect location came available in the Village at Wexford, and she took it. She purchased some equipment from a studio in Charlotte that was closing and stored it in her garage.

St. Amant trained in Pilates in the early 2000s, with a focus on Pilates for people with breast cancer. 

“When I started, I had absolutely no clue as to what I was doing. It was all by the seat of my pants,” Stichweh said. But the process proved to her that “you’re never too old to start anything.”

Pilates Hilton Head opened Nov. 4, 2019.

Following the traditional teachings of Joseph Pilates, creator of the exercise techniques and equipment, Stichweh operates as a “pure” studio. “Pilates is meant to be done in the quiet,” she said.

Clients are guided by cues from the instructor to stay in touch with their mind and body as they move gently. The same kind of equipment that Pilates created is still used today.

Joining Stichweh in teaching classes and individual clients are certified instructors Kelsey Watson Reid and Leslie St. Amant.

Reid, who grew up on Hilton Head Island, won a raffle that gave her free lessons at the studio just after it opened in 2019. “I was working next door at the pet shop, so I would come in and take an 8 a.m. class with Martha, then go over to work,” she said. “I fell in love right away. It was the first time I had ever truly loved doing some kind of physical exercise.”

It wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to become an instructor. In January 2022, Reid began training with the same instructors Stichweh worked with in Asheville, N.C. By August, she was doing student teaching back at home.

Pilates tip: When you get in your car (in the driver’s seat), sit up very tall and look at your rearview mirror. Adjust your mirror so you can see out of it properly. Then, every time you get in the car, you’re going to know if you’re sitting tall or not. If you are, you’ll feel a lot better.

Once she attained the required hours, Reid completed final training and started taking on clients and teaching classes. She said she especially likes the therapy aspect of Pilates, which works well with the clientele at Pilates Hilton Head, especially the older clients.

“Hearing people say how much better they feel is really rewarding,” she said. “I didn’t realize how special it would feel to help make somebody feel better.”

St. Amant trained in Pilates in the early 2000s, with a focus on Pilates for people with breast cancer. She was also a personal trainer.

The day after 9/11, St. Amant quit her full-time insurance company job and focused full time on exercise as a lifestyle. Her training expanded to work with people with all types of cancer and other chronic diseases.

In 2017, she and her husband bought a second home on Hilton Head. They came down from Connecticut whenever their children had breaks from school.

After COVID, St. Amant was ready to retire from her personal training career. In 2021, during a stay on the island, she was looking for a Pilates studio where she could practice. “And then I read Martha’s website,” she said. She turned to her husband and said, “Oh, I don’t think I want to retire anymore.”

The description of the studio and its philosophy resonated with St. Amant. “There’s just something you can tell about a person, the way they describe their studio, and how they work and how they teach,” she said. “So I knew it was someplace where I’d like to be.”

She joined the team in March 2021. The three women share a passion for helping others reach their fitness goals through the gentle and mindful practice of Pilates.

“It’s the connection between the mind and the body that happened with me that made me really love Pilates,” Reid said.

“I’ve had a number of cancer success stories of people with remission, strength, and working through treatment and seeing an improvement in their numbers,” St. Amant said. “I can’t say it’s all for Pilates because obviously they’re taking medication too, but it’s also the mind-body connection and feeling like they’re doing something productive and improving their health.”

“The fun thing about Pilates and the most rewarding thing too,” Stichweh said, “is that you can start somebody out as a very beginner, and then as they advance, you can change the exercise to make it a little more difficult or, in the case of somebody who’s injured, you can modify it, and they can still do it correctly.”

The instructors emphasize that Pilates is an excellent exercise option for all ages. Their oldest client is 87-year-old Fran. “She comes because she wants to be able to get up off the floor should she fall,” Stichweh said.

The instructors remind clients—and potential clients—of something Joseph Pilates, creator of this form of exercise, believed and shared: “After 10 sessions you will feel the difference; after 20 sessions you will see the difference; and after 30 sessions you will have a whole new body.”

Group classes at Pilates Hilton Head include no more than six individuals at a time. Private and duet sessions are available as well.  

Pilates Hilton Head is located at 1000 William Hilton Pkwy., E-2, in the Village at Wexford on Hilton Head Island. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.-noon. For more information, visit pilateshiltonhead.com or email info@pilateshiltonhead.com. All newcomers must visit the studio before signing up for classes. Call (843) 715-4545 to make an appointment.

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