How Injuries Led Leslie Lawson to Become a Better Pilates Instructor


There’s a reason injury prevention in sports has grown to become a multi-billion-dollar industry. After all, according to the University of Tennessee, up to 32% of athletes are forced to retire early—even at the peak of their careers—after a serious injury. Some do recover, but could never return to their previous level of play and activity. Those who grow to become even stronger after a grave injury are almost unheard of.

But among the athletes and fitness professionals in that last, elite category is Pilates instructor Leslie Lawson. After a botched shoulder surgery following years of lifting weights and practicing pole dancing for fitness, she thought her active lifestyle was headed to an early end.

Until she rediscovered Pilates.

Leslie Lawson and her friends first discovered Pilates as a hobby while working in television. At the time, they didn’t even consider it a serious workout. It was just something they would do to blow off some steam. Years later, when Lawson was feeling isolated and unmotivated while rehabbing her shoulder, she reminisced on the fun days she had doing Pilates with her friends. She signed up for some group classes, hoping to at least regain the sense of community she lost when she was forced to stop lifting weights and practicing pole dancing.

Lawson got so much more than what she bargained for. She didn’t just build lasting relationships with her classmates. She also gained inspiration and confidence to return to her active lifestyle, fueled by the newfound strength and flexibility she got from Pilates.

She appreciated how Pilates gave her a greater understanding of how the body works as a whole, empowering her to regain her health and build even greater strength, range of motion, and control than before she incurred her injury.

“In Western medicine, we always want to just treat that one body part that’s hurting,” Lawson says. “But it’s all interconnected. I had a bone spur in my hip and a herniated disc all because of my shoulder injury. And that’s one of the benefits of Pilates; you work your body as a whole.”

However, it wasn’t just the workouts that helped Lawson bounce back stronger.

“I felt truly lucky to have found Pilates teachers who allowed me to go to classes despite my injury,” says Lawson. “As long as I was safe, they let me join classes, which I considered a blessing because, between the costs of doing rehab and the stem cell treatment I needed for my recovery, I really could not afford private sessions.”

After completely recovering from her injury, Leslie Lawson decided to pay this blessing forward. She pivoted from her television job to opening her own Pilates studio to help people who are in the same boat she used to be in.

“I wanted to create a studio where people felt comfortable and inspired,” Lawson says. “Even if they have injuries, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t join classes if they prefer having that big community instead of being all by themselves.”

Today, Lawson takes pride in providing personalized guidance to her students despite the class setting. She commits herself to teach people not just the exercises, but the science behind those exercises, so her students can take what they need from the workout. Side by side in her classes, she has students recovering from injuries and modifying her workouts to meet them where they are. Next to them, somebody could be doing a more advanced version of the same exercise, in line with their current goals and abilities.

Overall, her Pilates studio, Renegade Pilates, has become a safe yet empowering space for all kinds of people seeking all sorts of things—healing, strength, flexibility, and anything else that leads to a better, healthier life.

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