Fitness and advice, with an expert twist.

Sam, the founder of POWMAK demonstrates a move
Wherever possible I like to use this Maidenhead Mum blog to support local businesses and help tell their story to a wider audience. So when another local mum mentioned the POWMAK Pilates Studio at Windsor Marina, I was interested to find out more. I'm not paid to write these blog posts (unless I mention it upfront!) and this was just a chance to learn some new things and see a local business lady in action!

The Powmak website looks very swish.. but I wasn't sure how really worked.

Before we start, I have to confess: I’m not an exercise junkie. I’m not a member of a gym, I don’t go running, I’ve never been to an aerobics class and I don’t own any actual sports trainers… just a whole lot of adidas trainers for fashion purposes only! 

Matching trainers to my outfit? Yup, guilty as charged!
Although I’m a bit 'bah humbug' when it comes to exercise, at work I’m surrounded by people that run, go to the gym or do crazy assault courses like Tough Mudder… FOR FUN!

So when I opened the email about POWMAK Pilates I asked some of them and it was met with quite a lot of interest, particularly from my friend Monika who regularly does a Pilates class at her gym. 

If, like me, you've not heard of POWMAK before, here's what it says on their website:

The POWMAK studio in Windsor encompasses three disciplines: POWMAXPOWMIXPOWMAT which are designed to suit your body, schedule and budget. 
People who hate exercise and the gym love POWMAK. People who love the gym love POWMAK.
We have taught people to move and perform differently in exercise, break pain cycles and prevent injury.
POWMAK members know how to move their bodies in order to stay strong and effective whatever they do in life.

Monika was really intrigued by it… Pilates… with machines? Eh?! What about the mat? How does it all work? And by asking such questions and showing an interest she swiftly found herself being roped in as my guinea pig… or, as my husband aptly names it, my 'Stunt Double!  

Ladies and Gentlemen... meet Monika! 

Seeing as we both went along to the POWMAK studio, I'm going to include words from both of us in this post. I think it helps to hear Monika's version of events as she was at the epicentre of all the action, and its useful to see what I could see as a 'fly on the wall'.

But first things first, a bit about Monika:

Totally rocking the festival head dress in the office look!

In my words....

Monika is a bit of  fitness goddess/nutter! She’s young, strong, goes to the gym, has done several sponsored runs, the 'Three Peak’s Challenge' and has done the local 'Nuts Challenge' and even the 'Tough Mudder' assault course. Twice. Alongside all of that she’s just one of those people with brilliant inner strength and focus - when this lady wants to achieve something, she does it. Boom!
Looking 'fierce' in her gym kit.
Matching nails with her gym kit. She's a legend!
But its not all been plain sailing fitness wise for Monika. She’s had back problems and upper arm problems and this has meant that she’s not been able to work out as much as she wanted as doctor’s orders have been to lay off it all for a bit. I was intrigued to see what would happen at the POWMAK session, and whether she would be able to make the most of the session or use any of the equipment. 

Over to Monika:

In her words:

I am a DIY fanatic, with much love for power tools, who works in an office and has a dream of having her own pub. I’d do almost anything for charity (skydives, Three Peaks Challenge, countless runs - been there, done that). I’m an absolute control freak with blatant OCD who, on her weekends likes to let her hair down and run a half marathon through mud, crawl in water filled trenches, get electrocuted and climb over 3,5m walls for the sake of an orange Tough Mudder headband… That’s me in a nutshell.

Our visit to Powmak:

We booked our session with Sam, the owner and founder of POWMAK. (You can read more about her here) The plan was to nip there after work, have a one-to-one session so Sam could assess Monika’s fitness and needs and then do a class afterwards. I was going to come along to learn a bit more, take photos, and hear and see Monika’s reactions first hand. 

The POWMAK studio is located right in the Windsor Marina, at the entrance near Squire’s garden centre. It was pitch black by the time we were driving there, and although we found the gates to the Marina, we weren’t sure what to do, or if we had the right place. A quick call to their office confirmed we had the right place so we put the code on the gate, parked up and walked around to the centre. I’ll be honest, we weren’t quite sure what to expect… their website is rather swish, neither of us had ever been to the Marina before and there was a little bit of trepidation as to what it would actually be like.

But we needn’t have worried. At the door we met Sam and she immediately put us at ease. She was keen to hear all about Monika (and also encouraged me to have a go too while I was there… more about that later!)

Powmax Founder Sam and Monika


When I was first told about POWMAK Pilates I though ‘Let’s try it!”. 
In my head Pilates was about using my own bodyweight to build core strength and improve posture so naturally I was quite surprised to see all the extravagant equipment on the website. 
I’ve always been an active person. I was a runner as a teenager and I’ve been a regular gym goer for quite few years now. Apart form the usual cardio and weights I also tried Kettlebells, TRX, Body Pump, Spinning, Zumba, Functional Conditioning, Yoga and Pilates. I’m not going to lie - I thought I had a fair understanding of how my body works and what it’s capable of. Then I got nervous. ‘Maybe I’m not fit enough to do it?’, I though to myself. I had a 1.5 month-long break from the gym due to lower back and shoulder/arm issues which meant I was starting from scratch with my workouts…

With my fears, a bottle of water and gym kit I found myself in the POWMAK studio. To clarify, if you’re now thinking of those really big, soulless gym halls with dumbbells and mats lying all over the place, you’re thinking wrong. Cosy and tucked away in the Windsor Marina, with, I’m guessing, lovely views of all of the boats (guessing, as it was already dark when I got there!), it’s a perfect setting for spending some quality time with your abdominal muscles. ;-)

Its all about the details

Everything starts with a form...

The first step was to fill out a form detailing Monika's medical history. Which I guess is pretty standard stuff when it comes to ‘proper’ exercise. When Monika was finished, Sam sat down to hear all of the details. And this for me was where it became interesting. As Monika talked about her back problems and regular trips to the doctors, Sam seemed to ask more and more questions, and it wasn’t as if she was rattling them off from a script in her head, she seemed genuinely interested. She prompted Monika to tell her more and describe how things had made her feel, and what she was hoping to achieve, but had been unable to do. It almost felt as if we’d stepped in to see a private health consultant, but not just any old consultant, someone who was genuinely interested in fixing people! Having regularly seen a doctor myself for some ongoing vertigo issues, I know how exciting it is when you feel you're talking to someone about your health and they're actually listening and offering good advice! 

Monica explained her arm issues.
Sam read through and asked lots of good questions. 

There was a moment, as we drew to the end of the discussion when both Monika and I wondered whether all of these questions were leading up to a ‘sorry, with your back and arm problems we can’t help you’, but instead Sam paused and then said ‘I’M SO EXCITED!'

Ummm, not quite the reaction we were expecting! I asked her why she felt that way.

Sam was very honest and replied that Monika was exactly the type of person that she could help. She was sad to hear about all of the things that Monika had been told she couldn’t do, when really, she could have still done exercise, but needed to be taught to use the right muscles instead of just a certain set that were getting over-worked. 
And with that it seems like Sam skipped into the main area of the gym to show us around! 


At the very beginning Sam, the founder of POWMAK, asked me to fill a health questionnaire - a standard procedure. The part I didn’t expect was the ever so detailed questioning that followed it, and I mean it in the MOST positive way! I was afraid that all my recent injuries could disqualify me from Powmak but to my surprise, Sam was genuinely excited not only about the opportunity of helping me with my recovery but also proving to me that Powmak was an ideal workout to prepare for the assault courses that I love doing. She was interested in everything: my conditions, treatments I had, my workout regimes and the events I take part in. At no point did I feel interrogated, intimidated or any of the negative stuff that can be associated with any sort of assessments. 

Getting down to business

Inside POWMAK there are two rooms; one which is like a fitness studio which can be used for regular style Pilates classes with mats (but which also has some interesting looking equipment along the walls) and another smaller room which has various different machines laid out next to each other. At first glance, this room looked a bit like a normal gym, but a closer inspection confirmed to me that these were very different machines AND I had no idea what they were for…  Hurrah for a 'stunt double' that understands all of this stuff! 

A class in the studio.
The 'machine' room.

I started with a Pilates roll down as Sam said that it was the easiest way to see how my body was moving. Within seconds I realized I was in hands of a true expert. She observed, gave feedback (quite positive come to that!) and instructed on improvements. 

Sam was really hands on, a great teacher
Its all about finding the 'right' muscles
I have to say, lying on the bed in the POWMAK studio, surrounded by the reformers (‘sliding beds’) and being handed a bar on springs was a truly exciting experience for me. I also admit that it took me a significant amount of time to get the fancy roll down nailed but I guess that’s what happens when you try to figure out how to activate muscles you didn’t even know existed! Sam was ever so patient and didn’t even lose a pinch of her enthusiasm. The words ‘That was great! Good for you!’ soon became my benchmark and aim for next exercises.

Sam talked through muscles we didn't even realise we could utilise.
Pushing boundaries, with care and attention.

It was interesting watching Monika perfect the core 'roll down' move and hear Sam explaining that although Monika was incredibly strong with some of her muscles... there were also some key ones that she hadn't been using. And, by learning how to utilise these she could develop additional strength that would mean less of a reliance on her back or her upper arms where she had been having the problems. She even took us out to see their resident skeleton (true story!) so she could explain how it all worked in practice! Slightly random, I've not seen any skeletons in standard gyms, but I can see how it makes sense.

In-house Skeleton! Not many gyms have that.
So as we moved onto the 'Suspension' bars I could see that Monika was torn. More than anything she'd love to have enough upper body strength to do pull ups as they regularly feature in assault courses... but she was worried that this could aggravate any existing condition. Sam was very patient, and ever the willing demonstrator, showed her what she needed to do. 

Sam seemed light as air as she pulled herself up on the suspension bar.
Although Monika had fears Sam advised her all the way.
Success! This is the lady that says she can't do pull ups!

I’m the sort of a person who will try anything so even though I was actually scared of the suspension system I gave it a good go. As I wasn’t familiar with any of the Pilates equipment, other than a mat, at first it all looked quite distressing (‘Like a torture device’ I thought to myself). Yet, Sam explained the exercise to me like it was nothing! She sold it to me by promising that it would bring me closer to doing my first ever pull up (yes - I can run a half marathon, but I can’t do a pull!) I soon found myself clinging to the bars, with my feet resting on a sling. It was hard, but I didn’t give up and with Sam’s guidance I managed to do not one but TWO funky pull ups! I have to say, that pushed me to my limit. Nonetheless, there were three things great about it:
A new twist on familiar moves

After the pull ups we had a look at the reformers/sliding beds/torture devices (well, they do look a little bit funny!).
But its all a clever design to make sure that you can do the moves, but with perfect alignment and without straining yourself. 
I was even convinced to have a go myself. Woo! Get me. The closest I've been to actual exercise in 2014!

The 'slider' bench. NOT a torture machine!
It's all about using the strength in your legs.
OMG. I got involved. I'm laughing because Monika's face is AMAZED!
I can see how the machines help encourage you to exercise the 'right' way.

After discovering that Pilates can teach me how to do a pull up while being suspended I was soon to learn that it could teach me how to squat properly… while lying on a sliding bed. Yes. Sliding bed.

As always we started of with the basics. I sat on the bed with both feet on the bar, tried not to press too much on the upper pads with my shoulders. The trick was to slide the bed using not only legs but mainly my abdominal muscles. 

The next stage involved using footstraps in all sorts of variations. I was a bit frightened that the straps would be pulling my legs to an unbearable degree but, nope, everything was fine. Sam demonstrated the exercise - legs in straps go up to 90 degrees, then go apart to do a circle finishing low. Easy? It was not. Everything had to be done slowly and constantly engaging the lower abdominal muscles. After a few goes I fully trusted the straps and perfected the moves.

Using the footstraps.
Studio Time

Having mastered the machines and learned lots, we went next door to the studio, which is a bit more familiar looking... apart from the equipment along the wall which Sam designed!  I watched as Monika perfected moves that looked simple in theory, but were secretly working key parts of the body at the same time.

Sam talked through the next moves and equipment.
Using the bar to get the right posture and balance
Oh, and I got convinced to join in again! Ladies!! Thats TWO bits of exercise this year. 


POWMIX studio was the one I was REALLY looking forward to! The workout there involved using something that looked like a tambourine (a disc on several small castors) and I could not wait to give it a go. What I didn’t realize was the fact it would set my abs on fire…

Sam introduced me to the steel frame that went along the length of the studio. ‘Have a good feel of it, don’t be scared to pull on it. Trust it and it will help you with your exercises’ Sam said. She was right. Going into a tabletop position, with my hands placed on one of the bars, it didn’t expect for it to play such a big role! Of course it only got harder when I was told to extend one leg behind me. Again. And again. When I though I mastered the move Sam pointed at the disc and I smiled to myself. It looked easy: while in the tabletop position place right leg on the ‘tambourine’, slide it behind, then to the right, then across to the left. I could feel my flab melting. Quite literally because the inconspicuous little piece of equipment occurred to be devil himself! 

The mystery disc...
After catching my breath we moved to planking. I was always quite proud of the quality of my planks however Sam rectified them straight away. The big difference was the sling attached to the frame. I was asked to get in between the frame and the sling, then roll down and walk my hands forward to a straight-arm plank position. The tricky part: allow the sling to carry the weight of the hips. Following several (read: hundreds!) adjustments I got the ‘That’s great! Good for you!’ from Sam. Having said that I moved to push ups and to my surprise push ups with clapping hands. It was a 'test and learn' with those. Trusting the sling is easier said than done but it was so much fun when I got there!

Adjusting posture
Going into the plank
Push ups!
The final thing I was shown was the blessing of the Pilates Miracle ball - a slightly deflated rubber ball, perfect for measuring pelvic floor engagement. I tucked it underneath my coccyx, put my legs up to 90 degrees and slowly lowered alternating legs. It was challenging because of my back injury but Sam said it was a perfect exercise for my condition. The beauty of it was I could easily do it at home!

Oh, and here's Jodie getting in on the 'Plank' action too....!

I try to learn from the expert

Moving into 'the plank'
Monika checks I'm doing it the right way.
Hubby says I look like I'm in a giant baby harness! Thanks for that!

Our final thoughts

I found the visit to POWMAK a bit of an eye opener, and I came home on a bit of a buzz. I was on a high from having witnessed an expert at work. She's taken a passion and created a business from it, and genuinely gets a thrill out of helping people- she was buzzing too as Monika picked up the new moves and adjusted her posture.

It was brilliant to see how her expertise had really given Monika a new perspective on her fitness and strength. Although the original plan had been for us to have a  preliminary assessment and then do a class, we had merrily whiled away a couple of hours learning about the moves and the equipment so Sam was keen to invite us back for another class. Both of us! EEK! Maybe that can be my January 2015 achievement: an actual exercise class!


I have to say my whole experience with POWMAK was a great and exciting journey. Sam’s enthusiasm was contagious. She really knew what she was talking about and she proved it every time she demonstrated the exercises. Not only has she made the effort to know my fitness level or dig into detail of my conditions but also get to know me a little bit. Her biggest asset: she listened and cared. When I was a bit reluctant she was determined to show me how to unleash the potential hidden deep inside my body. She succeeded too - I can still hear her tips in my head every time I plank, squat or even when I do my morning roll up from bed. Because of all this I will surely be back to join one of the classes at PowMak in the nearest future.

Ah! Did I mention that after this session, for the first time since August, my back stopped hurting…

As a final word, a big thanks to Monika for being my 'stunt double' and letting me share our experiences here on the blog ;-)

If you've enjoyed reading this post and want to read my blog on a regular basis, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook , visit my website or you can use the boxes on the right hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom of the screen (mobile) to subscribe and get my posts sent to you by email.

You can see more of my photography on my photography website and blog,

Labels: , , , ,