Q&A with Pilates Instructor Leilah Kirsten

28 year old Leilah Kirsten is a Pilates Teacher, Personal Trainer and Contemporary Dancer. Kyle Haffajee chats to her about her career and love for exercise.

 When did you develop an interest in exercise and fitness?

I have always been an active person.  My father was a professional sportsman, so I was always playing tennis, hockey, netball or swimming as a child.  It was just part of my childhood.

I developed a deep love for dance at a young age and would often rearrange the lounge furniture, fiddle through my dad’s CD’s and spend hours dancing around the house.  My mom thought it was just a phase, but I ended up having a wonderful career in contemporary dance and have performed internationally and nationally.

Pilates Instructor Leila Kirsten

Pilates Instructor Leilah Kirsten

What made you decide to become a trainer/coach/instructor?

When I was 25, I burnt out completely and ended up having a panic attack due to extreme emotional and physical stress.  It was a bit of a wakeup call and I realized I really wasn’t as healthy as I thought I was.  I decided to stop dancing professionally full time and focus on finding other ways to use what I’d learned in the dance world and my skills as a teacher as well as improve my overall health.  Personal Training and Pilates kind of happened to me.  It was a natural progression from the dance studio to the gym floor/Pilates studio.

What’s your response to people who say they don’t have time to work out?

I honestly think there are no excuses for taking a walk around your neighbourhood or local park twice a week or for doing a few squats or push-ups while you wait for the kettle to boil or during advertisements on the TV.  You don’t need a gym membership to be active.  Movement is free and your body needs to move.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to sticking with an exercise routine?

 I sometimes feel people are afraid to ask for help, so they end up doing the same thing over and over again.  This not only leads to boredom, but it doesn’t challenge your body in any way. Change it up.  Get creative.  Ask for help.  Try something new.

 How do you stay motivated to keep training?

I think it’s very important to stay inspired as a teacher by trying new things and attending movement workshops whenever possible.  For instance, my next attempt will be Pole Dancing.  I’ve never done it, but I’m sure going to try!  I need to mention that on most occasions, I am inspired and motivated by the attitudes of the people I teach.


 How does the body benefit from variety in exercise?

The “Leilah” answer to this question is, “The body benefits from variety in exercise in that the body and mind are constantly being challenged and swept out of comfort zones.  This allows for a shift in energy and prohibits stagnant energy.  It’s good to be removed from our comfort zones and expose ourselves to different stimuli.  This keeps us alert and ready to respond i.e. you’ve fallen off your highs heels but instead of face planting into the floor, you catch yourself with one arm in a deep rotated squat! Whoa!?  Yup, that’s what variety in exercise will allow you to do.”

The more prescribed answer to this question is, “The body benefits from variety in exercise because of adaptations that will take place due to specific demands placed on it.  I.e if you do weight training, your body will adapt and eventually be able to lift greater weight. If you are constantly challenging the body, it will constantly try to adapt.”

 How do you change your personal exercise routine up?

 I love to mix things up!  Sometimes I’ll try to run (because I thoroughly dislike it, so I try to leave my comfort zone).  Sometimes I’ll do a quiet stretch session in a corner on my own and other times I’ll attend a High Intensity Interval Training class.  Sometimes I’ll throw some weights around or do Pilates. Lastly, sometimes, when I’m feeling emotionally strong I will take myself off to a ballet or contemporary dance class and remind myself of how much I have achieved with this incredible vessel (my body) I have been blessed with.

For people who have never heard of your form of exercise how would you explain it to them?

I am a qualified Personal Trainer and Pilates teacher.  I also have an extensive contemporary dance career behind me which has exposed me to many movement techniques and “ways of doing things”.  So, this question is a little tricky to answer.

Put it this way, if you had to become one of my clients, I would expose you to the best of those three worlds.  Breath and control from Pilates.  Intensity and form from Personal Training.  Creativity and flow from dance.

How important is eating right?

You’ve heard the saying “Abs are made in the kitchen”?  Well, I’m sorry, but it’s true.  Gymming for an hour twice a week without sorting out your eating habits isn’t going to do diddly-squat if you want results!

A lot of the time, new clients will ask me how to improve their daily eating habits, which is why I’ve teamed up with Kelly Scholtz of www.ctdietician.co.za to offer my clients a Complete Nutritional Cleanse Guide upon starting training with me.

What is your favourite workout or exercise?

I love any exercise that puts my spine into rotation!

So, anything from a Russian twist with a medicine ball or Pilates “Thread the Needle” to a simple rotational spinal stretch lying on the floor.

I also love to balance and jump!  Grande allegro used to be my favourite part of a Ballet class as I could feel how much power my body had as I sprung off the floor into the air.  Being airborne for just a few seconds, caused by the sheer power in one’s muscles is quite thrilling.

To finish, I also love being upside down.  So cartwheels and handstands are “all the rage” in my world.

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