Ainslie McLean: Tenacious Fighter and Pilates Powerhouse

Ainslie McLean has been through it all, to say the least. While she grew up super active, doing everything from playing soccer to running, in her late 30s while working as a beverage salesperson for Starbucks, she started suffering from a slew of ailments. Now, at 49, she’s weathered breast cancer, a double mastectomy, type 2 diabetes, a heart attack and lupus…among other issues. Despite, or maybe because of them McLean has maintained a positive, tenacious and educated approach to not only her own health, but also the health of her clients at her Pilates hotspot in Birmingham, Alabama.

 McLean fell in love with Pilates after it helped her find relief from a hip injury, and she continued to adore it so much after working at a medical center that she started her own studio. Now, after a few iterations, clients are benefiting not only from her years of Pilates work, but also her life experience. Because of all her time with doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists (and more!), she can help each client get the most effective workout and offer tailored modifications in a challenging session.

Her personal research is paying off for clients—and for McLean. She’s been able to enjoy remission from her symptoms, largely through the use of exogenous ketones and other savvy wellness tactics. Read on to learn what EK means, how she uses it, how she integrates her life into her studio…and more!


SBS: How is your Pilates studio, ReformU, unique?

AM: We only train one, two, or three people. Most of my clients are between 40 and 60, and we all have different injuries and concerns. So, we have modifications for everyone. If you have something wrong with your rotator cuff, lower back or whatever, we can help you.

We also have Balanced Body Motrs and the jumpboard, so we incorporate a lot of balance in a power workout. You can burn about 700 calories. Altogether, my style is more athletic than classical.

It’s not very Zen, but that being said, my staff of four and I train kids all the way up to senior citizens. We ask everyone about personal goals, so sometimes it’s that they want to ride a horse again or sometimes a grandmother who wants to walk. Then we focus on that.


SBS: What should someone look for in an instructor?

AM: Look for an instructor that knows your body and cares about your issues. Often times you’ll go into a class, and you might be in there with 18 people. Not only do they not know your name, but they don’t even know your specific injuries or needs. Find smaller, personalized studios.


SBS: What’s your approach to owning a business?

AM: I have about 100 clients who have all been there for me throughout it all. I have a relationship business, and because of that I have not had a lot of turnover. It’s all about developing those connections and maintaining them.


SBS: How do you help your clients understand the line between pushing yourself and going too far?

AM: I’m all about honoring your body, so every day, I ask, ‘How do you feel today?’

Sometimes you slept like shit or something else is going on, and you have to take a pulse on how you’re feeling each specific time.

If you have a relationship with your instructor, they should be able to adjust. I don’t have a plan until you get here, and I develop the workout around you. So if you can’t lift your arm today, we can shift. Everyone has their own needs, and you work with that each day separately. We don’t push through pain, which is different than your butt being on fire from working or a stretch! A lot of pain actually is also from stiffness, so once you start moving, that goes away. Sometimes you might need to get over that hump, but then it’s worth it. The reformer helps keep that gravity at bay to help.


SBS: What have you learned about understanding your own body, and how has that helped you teach and lead the studio?

AM: Each of us has to listen to our own body. There is not just one answer. What works for me won’t work for everyone.

But since I also have a connective tissue disorder, I spent half of my life in physical therapy. So now if you come to me, I’ve done the exercises, I understand injury and modifications and issues. I’ve been worked on, and I work with great doctors. I’m familiar with everything from dry needle therapy to chiropractors and massage therapy, and I use all of it. I also have referral relationships with many of them.


SBS: You mentioned exogenous ketones helped you find relief from most of your ailments. What are they and how do they work for you?

AM: Exogenous ketones (EK) are external ketones (versus ketones that can occur naturally), and it pushes your body into the state of ketosis, which is when your body burns fat for energy. There are drinks and other products in this category, and you can’t overdose. What you don’t use, you just pee out!

This is in contrast to problems caused by glucose which were many for me as sugar was literally giving me cancer. Most of us use glucose for fuel and we’re not educated about other options. But that’s unfortunate, because for example, if you gave 100 people in a row glucose of the same amount, someone might get Chron’s, someone might be fine, someone gets migraines and so on. I developed lupus and cancer, which is extreme. Our brains are more than half fat, so when we run on glucose fuel, problems happen. When you stop the glucose, things run much better!

In my little world of Alabama, there’s an epidemic of all of these people getting breast cancer. When you learn about exogenous ketones, you learn about how you don’t have to be ingesting sugar. The issues can be coming from your hormones too, but ketones can help often.

Many people go on ketosis diets, but they’re very hard. You can’t cheat…not even a piece of fruit! But, if you use these products, you can help and trick your body into ketosis for an amount of time. I love Pruvit for products in this vein.


SBS: What else have you learned on your journey that you use in your studio?

AM: Pilates was invented by Joseph Pilates 100 years ago, but at my studio we do a more modern version. I make it part of my job to be an advocate for choices you can make, just as I learned there were many choices in the medical arena. And it’s important to look at the whole picture. For example, if you’re taking meds for your cholesterol but your blood pressure goes up, how will that help? Or, if you are overweight but exercising hurts, you won’t exercise. How can you exercise in a way that is useful and looks at the whole picture?


SBS: What has inspired you to continue on your path in fitness even after so many personal struggles?

AM: I don’t make a lot of money, and sometimes even my parents will ask that.  But I love to help people. I find out what’s contraindicated for you, what will make you feel better and what will help you. It’s powerful. My mantra is how can I help you. I want to educate.

Everyone is so busy taking care of everyone else. But what about you? I have clients who are doctors and nurses, and they’re taking the pulse of all the patients. But what is your blood pressure? When is the last time you took a walk?

The first principle of Pilates is to breathe, but I have to remind people to breathe.


Ainslie’s SBS Mantra: Be You! I’m pretty no nonsense. What’s done at Pilates, stays at Pilates. We are very unconventional in that we talk at my studio. Whatever my clients are upset about, we talk about. We laugh pretty hard. Friends are made for life.


Ainslie’s Birmingham Faves:
Splurge Restaurant: Gianmarco’s
Healthy Restaurant: Zoe’s Kitchen
Athleticwear: Zella and Nike
Shoes: Nike (We wear shoes in our studio!)
Nightlife: We live in a place called The Preserve, and that’s where we live, work and do everything, and I like this spot called Vecchia.
Calming Activity: Cook, drink red wine, and spend time with the family.
Fun Activity: I love pickleball and walking. It has hurt me the most, but I love it, so I’m so thankful I can do it.  
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1 comment

  • Dick Belsito

    So proud of my daughter, Ainslie McLean :)

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