Sometimes the bars, restaurants, and social clubs that require you to jump through hoops to get into can be a letdown once you’ve actually experienced them. But the exclusivity of Forma Pilates, the LA- and NY-based Pilates studio led by Liana Levi that requires a referral from a current client to participate IRL, might actually be worth the effort.

Full disclosure, I was among a lucky bunch of media folks who attended a recent event—put on by beauty brand EVA-NYC for the launch of two new hair masks, Mane Magic and Lift Off—where Levi took us through a series of workouts. So I did not have to jump through said hoops. That said, if anyone reading this has the Forma referral hook-up, LMK.

Among those frequenting Forma for Levi’s workouts are Hailey Bieber, Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner just to name a few star clients. The three Forma studios in Los Angeles cap classes at two to four students, and charge $100 a pop; in New York, it’s eight students for $75 each. (FWIW, you can access an online membership without a referral for $49.99 a month.)

Since, I haven’t experienced the in-person studio classes myself, I can’t say for sure what happens behind closed doors to keep such A-list clientele. But the sheer difficulty of getting in and the mystery of how to get on the guest list seem to be what makes this kind of exclusive fitness style work in a moment when most other fitness spaces are trying to become more inclusive. While Levi’s referral-only rule may have begun as a pandemic precaution, this next-level, VIP-only eliteness has generated major intrigue.

What this exclusive workout is like

I recently got back into Pilates after a few years of only doing split-style strength training, and I’m so glad I rekindled the relationship. I practice mostly on the reformer, which I find to be the perfect complement to heavily lifting days since it offers the chance to focus on slow and controlled resistance training, stretching, and deep core activation.

But despite a familiarity with the workout methodology, after just a few short minutes in Levi’s class, I already noticed my muscles quivering.

The celeb instructor introduced herself and explained that the 20-minute session would be broken up into four mini-workouts that were roughly five minutes each. While those who attend in-studio Forma classes typically use the reformer, this workout was entirely on the mat.

First was a series dedicated to core work—a staple of any Pilates routine. Levi’s moves got my abs fired up quickly, but she made sure to also target the obliques, which, in my experience, differentiates Pilates from many other workouts: You expect to hit your core from all angles. I was also happy to close out this first series with a set of exercises that focused on small movements to strengthen the pelvic floor, which can be an often forgotten element of your core.

Next, we focused on the glutes with multiple variations on exercises like fire hydrants, clamshells, and glute kickbacks. Oh, and how could I forget the set of glute bridges (single-leg and pulses included) that seemed to go on forever? Pilates devotees, and clearly Levi, know that strong glutes are the solid foundation to many of the other movements you’ll do in class—not to mention, life.

Then, we moved up the body to work the arms, shoulders, and back. What you can accomplish in five minutes—frankly, how many push-ups you can be asked to perform in five minutes—is surprisingly a lot. With no equipment at our disposal, Levi got creative with reverse planks, triceps dips, push-up variations, and more. My upper body was toasted by the end of this section.

Last up was a bit of a cardio burnout to take the whole routine home. Mountain climbers, bird dogs, oblique crunches, and plank pikes were all on the menu. After doing so many micro-movements, working my body with a bit more range of motion felt like a nice balance. But make no mistake: I was breathless by the end of it.

Reminder: Pilates class is tough AF

One common misconception I find about Pilates is that it’s “easy” or not going to be a challenging workout. While sure, some classes focus more on stretching than others, most Pilates classes I’ve taken, including Levi’s, are tough AF. Smaller, controlled movements don’t have a large margin of error when it comes to form. You have to stay focused and in your body (not your head) to push through these long sets.

And Levi brought the heat with her ability to make something that might look simple at first glance feel like death (aka total muscle fatigue) by a thousand reps. Levi has described her workouts as “athletic Pilates,” and she seems to mainly accomplish that through seemingly endless reps. While I can’t say that I’ll be able to gain access to the celeb-status studio anytime soon, I do know that taking Levi’s intense, fast-paced class solidified my love for Pilates even further.

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