In Elite Daily's I Tried series, we put celebrities’ favorite products, recipes, and routines to the test to show you what living like your fave star is really like. In this piece, we test out Olympian Colleen Quigly’s favorite pilates workout.
With the 2021 Summer Olympics on the horizon, now’s the perfect time to discover some new athletes for a dash of inspiration — and Olympic athlete Colleen Quigley is certainly inspirational. The 28-year-old runner isn’t afraid to chase her dreams, change her plans, and jump over hurdles when they come her way. Despite being someone with very little (read: any) formal running training, I got the urge to learn how to work out like Colleen Quigley after seeing her fitness videos on Instagram. What better way to embrace hot girl summer by doing strong girl sh*t, right?
Quigley has been winning awards for running since high school. After attending Florida State University for track, Quigley decided to go pro — and she went big. She finished eighth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2016 Summer Olympics and was named the third-fastest American woman ever after competing at the 2018 Internationales Stadionfest Berlin.
Quigley had her sights set on running at the 2021 Olympics, but on June 19, she announced she would be unable to compete this year due to various injuries. But that hasn’t kept her from moving. Now, Quigley’s working on keeping her body strong, and one way she does that, she shared on Instagram, is with pilates.
As a non-runner, learning this was music to my ears, as it meant I could work out like an Olympic runner without needing to, you know, run.
Despite never having actually tried pilates, I felt pretty confident in my abilities. I mean, I’ve worked out with a Kardashian trainer and somewhat successfully completed the #MileyChallenge. Even better: Quigley agreed to talk me through some of her favorite workout moves and reassured me it’s OK if I’m not amazing at it on the first try.
“I think a lot of times we look at what people are doing on social media, and we want to get to the end result as quickly as possible,” Quigley tells me. “The truth is, like anything worth pursuing, it just takes a long time, and you have to be really consistent with it. I've been doing pilates for years now, and there are moves I can do now that I couldn’t do when I first started, and things I did when I first started, but now I do them better. And it didn't take a week or a month. It took six years to get better.”
And with Quigley’s words of wisdom in mind, I set out to work out just like her.
Step 1: The Braid
The first step of any workout for Quigley is to braid her hair. “I do a lot of braids. I like them because they’re functional [and] keep your hair out of your face” she says. “There's [also] something about the ritual of braiding up my hair that makes me feel like I'm preparing myself both mentally and physically for a challenge, whether that's a hard workout or race or even if I'm just feeling really tired and need some extra motivation.”
In contrast to my lack of pilates experience, I know how to braid — not well, but I have the basics down. So, I weaved my hair into a sloppy French braid and felt pretty accomplished. I tried not to let the fact that my arms already felt a little bit tired damper my braid-induced optimism as I unrolled my mat and got ready to try out a few of Quigley’s favorite pilates moves.
Step 2: Roll-Ups
First up was Quigley's favorite exercise: roll-ups. To do this move, you lay on your back with your arms stretched straight above your head and then you, well, roll up and reach for your toes. “Every time we start class, the first thing we do is the roll-up,” she says. “It feels like a massage on your spine and [is] a nice, gradual way to warm up into your session.”
I eagerly laid down on the floor and immediately, both of my dogs came over and sat directly in my way. Luckily for me, this made cheating my way through the workout a little bit easier. While stretching out felt great, by the time I rolled up three times, my abs were already starting to feel a little heat. With the goal of completing 10 reps in a set, I managed a few more before calling it quits at seven. I was planning on doing Quigley’s whole circuit three times, so I figured I needed to pace myself in the first round.
Step 3: Rollovers
The next exercise was essentially the opposite of the roll-ups. The rollover involves laying on your back and lifting your hips up and over (get it?) toward your face. Then, while keeping your legs straight, you’re supposed to slowly lower yourself back down one vertebra at a time. To pull this exercise off, I had to really shift my weight in order to get my legs up and over (which is definitely not proper form), but once my legs were over my head, I felt like an extremely powerful pretzel. Was I fit? Yes! Was I flexible? Yes! Was I exaggerating? Yes!
Even though I was 100% doing the move incorrectly, I could feel a great stretch in my back when my legs were over my head. When I rolled back down, however, I ran into a little bit of a snag. My back was so tight, I couldn’t roll down; instead, I sort of collapsed my lower body back to the ground. After trying a few more times, I just decided to hold my legs over my head and snap a few pics instead of completing all 10 reps because honestly, it was the best I could do.
Step 4: Straight Leg Kicks
After untangling my legs from above my head, I moved on to Quigley’s next move, which is basically kicking your leg in front of you twice and behind you once while laying on your side. Quigley’s biggest note was to “make sure to keep your hips still” and to not let them move with your leg, which was much harder than expected. With each kick, my body wobbled.
Luckily, my dog was still lying next to me, so I propped myself against her in order to balance (you know, as opposed to actually using my abs). No, it wasn’t proper form, but teamwork is also important! If I had aspirations of competing for Team USA one day, I’d need to learn how to lean on my support system, right? And with the help of my furry teammates, I was able to complete all 10 reps.
Step 5: Rolling Like A Ball
TBH, I didn’t expect an exercise called “rolling like a ball” to be hard. I mean, the move is literally in the title. However, it turns out, if you spend every second of your life sitting in front of a computer or hunched over your phone, it’s actually nearly impossible.
Similar to the rollovers, this move involved keeping your back in the form of the letter C and rolling back and forth smoothly while balancing at the top. In theory, it sounded simple. In reality, I literally could not roll. As hard as I tried, each time I attempted one of my 10 reps, I flopped backward and forward before toppling over on my side. Once there, I took a moment to lay in agony and pet my dogs, contemplating my athletic abilities.
Step 6: The Teaser
Heading into Quigley’s final exercise, I knew I was doomed. In fact, Quigley herself says the teaser is the hardest exercise of the workout. “You definitely can’t do pilates without doing the teaser, so I had to put that in there,” she says. “It's something I've been working on for years with my pilates teacher [and] most of the time I'm still struggling. It takes a lot of practice.”
Essentially, you lay on your back and lift your arms and legs up at the same time, forming a V shape. After holding that for a few seconds, you slowly lower your limbs back down before repeating the move three times. It turns out, if you haven’t worked your ab muscles out in months, this move is not just challenging — it’s near impossible. After a lot of grunting and straining, I still hadn’t managed to complete one actual teaser, but I had scared my dogs and made my abs feel like they were ripping to shreds, so there was some progress.
For some reason, I went into this workout thinking it would be simple. Even though a literal Olympian told me how hard it would be, I figured it was just some light stretching and rolling around on the ground. In actuality, Quigley made me realize that not only is my body an amazing machine on its own, but also that there’s really no excuse to not get my blood pumping and my muscles stretching. I mean, I had one of the most intense workouts ever all while laying on the floor of my bedroom.
After attempting to do each set of exercises two more times, it was embarrassingly clear I was not cut out to be an Olympian, but it definitely gave me a better perspective of the athletes’ strength and perseverance. And even though Quigley is cheering for Team USA instead of competing this year, after trying her pilates workout, it’s clear she’s the epitome of what it means to be an elite athlete. Here’s hoping we see her at the next Olympic Games — maybe by then we’ll both have perfected the teaser.