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Assistance and Resistance

Sevastopol alumna Michelle Schuster opens Pilates studio

Walking into the Door County Pilates studio for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found: a small studio space that felt warm and inviting. After a year of stagnation, I was excited to get moving and try out owner Michelle Schuster’s new offerings.

Her fitness journey started in Denver, where she and her husband had lived. While there, she started experiencing joint pain and found that certain activities were becoming more difficult.

“I had been to various rheumatologists, and no one could tell me what was wrong,” Schuster said. “It hurt. My knees hurt. I couldn’t go upstairs. I could barely get out of bed some days.”

Her persistence in figuring out the root of her pain led her to a rheumatologist at the University of Colorado whose testing revealed that Schuster had an autoimmune condition called mixed connective tissue disorder: a combination of arthritis and lupus. 

Diagnosis in hand, she began exploring physical activities that she could do to make herself feel better without exacerbating her condition, but an attempt at water aerobics led to major back surgery. Her recovery took longer than expected, and she was still struggling to find the right activity, despite her friends’ suggestions of various fitness classes.

Some time passed, and Schuster had her first child. Around the time he turned one and was becoming more active, Schuster found herself needing to keep up with her now-mobile son.

“I thought, ‘I need to find something to do so I can move with him and teach him that getting out and walking and hiking are good, and we should be doing them,’” she said.

Michelle Schuster. Photo by Grace Johnson.

It was then that another friend suggested trying Pilates. Schuster signed up for individual sessions to learn about the basics and found she liked it. When she moved back to Door County in 2019, she signed up for Pilates training courses held in Madison. To become certified, she needed to complete 500 hours of training, which included general courses and assisting teaching.

Schuster’s Door County studio focuses on Reformer Pilates, which I discovered isn’t so different from mat Pilates. The main difference is that it uses a reformer: a bed-like frame with a flat platform that rolls back and forth on wheels. The reformer’s springs adjust the amount of resistance and can be tailored to the user’s needs: “assistance and resistance,” as Schuster explained. The exercises focus on core strength and stability.

“I think it can be very low impact on your joints,” she said. “Coming from someone who had lower-back surgery, I wish I would have found this beforehand. It provides low impact; it provides core stability training; and for people [who need it], there are a lot of modifications that we can do for people who aren’t as mobile.”

And as someone who has had knee and hip problems, as well as a recent injury that had to be rehabilitated, I found this class to be the perfect option. The reformer helped to take some of the stress off my problem areas, yet I still felt myself really working my body again. And the day after, I’m still feeling it.

As someone who feels uncomfortable and lost in a gym, the intimate setting of Schuster’s space felt safe. There are only four machines in the studio, so I felt more in tune with the instructor and developed a camaraderie with my fellow classmates as we transitioned from move to move, expressing our surprise at the intensity of some of the moves and working through them together.

“I think opening this space, the community feel of the studio that I had in Colorado is something that I am trying to bring [here],” Schuster said. “You see the same people week after week, and they are excited, and they leave standing a little taller and feeling a little better after.”

Find out more and sign up for classes at Door County Pilates – in the Fairfield Building, 242 Michigan St., Suite B101, in Sturgeon Bay – at doorcountypilates.com.